On a recent trip that saw some friends and me through Latvia, my companions and I headed off one morning to see the popular autumn destination out in the suburbs of Riga that is Sigulda. The yellow leaves were supposed to really cast the castles in the area in an inimitable frame, and it was the number one place to go in Europe in the fall of 2013, according to the Guardian.
We were to hike through some of the countryside, so first some sustenance was necessary. Our dear friend and host, Anna, drove us to what would be our most extravagant meal of the trip – a Lido.
Lido is actually a brand name, but one that has become so popular in and around Riga and Latvia that it has become synonymous with a hearty, buffet-style meal. There are now about nine Lidos around Riga, all privately owned by the same guy. The Lido revolves around food and beer. The food is served in large quantities, and customers go to different tables and help themselves to anything they desire; beer and desserts are located toward the end of the line, and then the customer would arrive at the cashier who would ring up each item on the plate before heading off to sit down to eat.
*These above four photos were taken from the Lido website (www.lido.lv).
The Atmosphere: LIDO at Atpūtas Centrs
The Lido I visited was the brand’s largest and most lavish location – the Lido at Atpūtas Centrs (Lido Recreational Center). When we pulled into the parking lot, the place looked more like some kind of child’s version of an old Dutch fortress: there was a towering windmill, a massive log cabin which is the actual Lido, and scenic gardens, amusement park-style rides, and gazebos scattered around the rest of the property. Stepping inside, we were immediately met with a pleasantly-loud and lively atmosphere; it seems to be the perfect place for Latvian families to go for the day.
The Food: LIDO at Atpūtas Centrs
There are about a half-gazillion options to choose from, most from the cuisines of Latvia and Russia. I entered along a winding line with fresh, hot food on one end, pointing to each item that looked appetizing so that the cook could serve a portion onto my plate. There were dozens of meat options, soups, pastas, vegetables, and more, and my tray became heavy quickly. Aside from the long buffet line, there are also several buffet islands with other goodies, like a dessert island, coffee island, and the ever-important beer island. Anna helped me choose some traditional Latvian dishes, and then I stepped to the cashier who rang me up; I thought it would be by weight, perhaps, but it was actually rung up at a fixed price per item. My entire tray, which held three bowls and plates, as well as Anna’s meal, came to just under 10 Lats ($20/€15) – quite a bargain!
The Beer: LIDO at Atpūtas Centrs
We each checked out and then followed Anna as she made her way through the various paths, ducking under low-hanging log beams, towards where we would sit. We went downstairs, where there seemed to be no one at all, and the five of us sat down at a huge, wooden table fit for a medieval feast. It turns out I was lucky that I hadn’t room on my tray to grab the beer that I’d wanted to accompany my lunch; directly behind me was the in-house brewery. This particular Lido brews their own beer – several different varieties – and is about as fresh as you can get; actually, if having the beer brewed on the premises didn’t make it fresh enough, the taps at the bar are piped directly to the beer tanks. As a novelty, we each chose their largest size, something about a liter or more, served in the largest, thickest stein I’ve ever had to struggle to reach my lips.
The Location: LIDO at Atpūtas Centrs
The LIDO Recreation Centre is located on Krasta iela 76 (#76 Krasta St.) in Riga, Latvia. It is a bit far to walk to, as it is more on the outskirts and distant from the center and the Old Town. However, simply take bus #12 from the train station or any of trams #3, #7 or #9 to the ‘Atpūtas centrs LIDO’ stop, getting off to walk about 5 minutes; you can’t miss it – there’s that huge windmill there.
The grounds have a variety of small rides that can be fun for the kids outside, and others can stroll around the property or sit on a bench overlooking the pond and reflect on the gluttonous volume of food just consumed. The Lido, particularly this one, is a great idea to visit next time you’re in Riga. It doubles as a tourist attraction as well as providing some quintessential foods of the region. Don’t miss it!