The concept of taking holidays to improve one’s health is by no means a new concept. The cities of Spa, Belgium and Baden-Baden, Germany were popular destinations in the early 1800’s when visitors from across Europe sought the therapeutic qualities of the areas’ numerous minerals springs. In the 1920’s the American town of Hot Springs, Arkansas was a popular destination for baseball players, athletes and others looking to stay in shape or cure ailments in the areas hot waters.
In the 1800’s the term was called “taking the waters”, now it is called “medical tourism.” As medical, vision, and dental procedure costs have rapidly escalated in Europe and America, a large number of people are looking for lower costs for both elective and necessary procedures, while still receiving top tier care. One of the newer medical tourist destinations is Riga, Latvia. Despite its relatively new status, the quality of care, the cities attractions and a convenient location have all contributed to make Riga Europe’s medical tourism capital.
The benefits of a visit to a Riga are far more concrete and measurable than that of its centuries old predecessors, one tradition of the old resorts holds true today. Visitors wishing to take advantage of the health benefits spent several days in the town. Therefore a vibrant culture of dining and nightlife sprang up around the resorts. While the attractions are not necessarily new, Riga stands out as one of the most vibrant medical tourism destinations in the world.
Riga dates back to the 16th century, and the winding streets and buildings in Old Town reflect that time of the city’s history. Open-air restaurants are plentiful and the square has impressive cathedrals.
For a true taste and feel of Riga, a stop at the Central Market is in order. You’ll be able to sample and purchase some of the best local foods, include rye bread, eel and locally made sauerkraut. The areas dairy farms are among the best in the region and they also bring their wares to the market regularly. On Saturdays, there is also a farmer’s market in the Kalnciema quarter. The market is in the bohemian section of the city across the Daugava River and features lots of local delicacies.
Riga is packed with unique historic and cultural attractions. Just by walking through city you are exposed to a wide range of architecture, ranging from Art Nouveau, to modern, to simple wooden structures from the 1500’s. Spectacular cathedrals, art museums, and galleries abound as well.
Visitors can also experience the pleasures of the seaside at Jurmala, Latvia’s “Summer Capital.” The seaside resort is just a half an hour outside of the city and features gourmet restaurants and long sandy beaches.
Riga is deservedly known for its wide-ranging choices in nightlife. One the weekends especially, Old Town basically transforms into one giant nightclub. There are dozens of dance clubs and bars. The music ranges from the blues to the latest club music played by top tier DJ’s. The atmosphere can be a bit frantic, but is decidedly friendly.
One of the popular starting points for a night in Old Town is the Spot Kafe, a shot bar located in a basement. The bar offers an amazing variety of beverages at great prices and a fun atmosphere.
Every area has its trademark beverage. In Latvia it is Riga Black Balsam and one that has to be sampled. Almost every bar or restaurant serves Black Balsam, but the best place to try it is Old Town’s aptly named Riga Black Balsam Bar.
For a different type of treat, you can try the Black Magic Bar. Here it is chocolate that is the star and delicious treats are varied and plentiful.
If you want to enjoy local nightlife in a slightly less frenetic atmosphere check out Piens (Milk). Piens is a local hotspot and a favourite of hipsters, musicians, artists, journalists and media professionals. You can dance or just chat in eclectic surroundings. On weekdays you can even get a great dinner prepared behind the bar, right before your eyes.
Just as in the old cities of Spa and Baden-Baden, casinos contribute to the entertainment menu in Riga. The casinos not only feature poker, poker tournaments and poker leagues, but a wide variety of table games including roulette, blackjack and baccarat as well as electronic games. The casinos capture the iconic European elegance and flair, without being stuffy. Two of the most popular are the Royal Casino and the Olympic Voodoo Casino in the Radisson. Both feature vibrant nightclubs and great dining choices; the Royal also has a full spa to help you relax after a night of partying.