It is simply fantastic that a city which has survived two World Wars has been able to preserve so much of the old walled part of the city ("old Riga"). Here, you will find a broad spectrum of old, very old and really old buildings. The magnificent cathedral dating back to the 12th century. The impressive gothic facades on St Peter’s church. The city’s oldest private dwelling, known as the "Three Brothers". The small decorative houses around Livu Square. Today, the city has adapted to the throngs of tourists flowing through Old Riga. Charming hotels, loads of places to eat and attractions have arrived – without losing the ancient soul and charm of the city.
Riga - A Hanseatic City
Yes, Latvia is a relatively small country and, yes, Riga is the capital in a relatively small country – but only if you measure it against today’s globalised world. In medieval times, Riga was a powerful Hanseatic city. The largest city in the Swedish empire in the 16th century, a leading port for the Russian empire in the 17th and 18th centuries and a powerful commercial centre throughout the region. Riga’s status increased when it became a member of the Hanseatic League. In old Riga, you can still see traces of the Hanseatic period today in the form of the "great and small guild halls” and the renovated House of Blackheads.
Unique History And Cultural Sights
The best thing about Riga is that it has something for everyone. If you are interested in architecture, you can look marvel at the variation in styles in, for example, the cathedral. If design is more your thing, you will be amazed by all the Art Nouveau architecture and design. Historians will prefer to focus their attentions on the ancient buildings and museums in the old town. Families with children, meanwhile, will like Riga’s ethnographic open-air museum, complete with farms and other buildings from Latvia’s agricultural past.
Art Nouveau Metropolis
When art nouveau, the highly decorative form of architecture, first put in an appearance towards the end of the 19th century, Riga, which at the time was rolling in money, immediately took this style of architecture to its heart. Architects competed to design buildings more grand than the rest. Despite the fact that many fantastic interiors were lost during the Soviet era, the area around “Elizabeth Street” is still a treasure trove for those who appreciate this artistic movement inspired by nature. Many buildings have been renovated and now gleam with a new shine and splendour which Mikhail Eisenstein and other architects of the day strove to achieve.
Say It With Songs
It was no accident that Latvia’s way of regaining its independence from the former USSR was known as the "singing revolution": if there is one thing that all Latvians do, it is sing! Latvia’s song festivals are attended by choirs, with up to ten thousand singers. Meanwhile, Latvian choirs win prizes the world over. Singing is also an important part of many public festivals, especially the summer solstice, known in Latvia by the name of "Jani".
Europe’s Second Biggest Market
What do you do with your zeppelin hangars when zeppelins are no longer en vogue? In Riga, four of these enormous buildings were moved to a location near the river Daugava to be turned into a gigantic market selling fresh fruit and vegetables direct from farms, along with fresh meat, live fish and much more. The market is just a few minutes away from old Riga and is well worth the walk – just watch out for pickpockets!
Riga is said to be the only European city with five different religious denominations, all with their own building for religious worship. The cathedral and the magnificent St Peter’s church are protestant, St Jacob’s cathedral is the high seat of the Latvian, roman-catholic cardinal and the beautiful synagogue in old Riga is the only Jewish temple that remained after Nazi Germany’s terrible attempt to eradicate Judaism during the Second World War. This and other holy buildings are usually open to the public and each one has something unique to offer.
When the mediaeval city walls were torn down in the 18th century, the powers that be at the time had the great idea of laying out green spaces where the walls had once been. The result was one the creation of one of Europe’s greenest city centres, with lovely parks, bordered by some of the city’s finest and most important buildings. Other parks spread up all across Riga. And even though it is good etiquette in Latvia not to walk or sit on the grass, there is a whole host of things to see and do in the parks, especially in the summer. Mezaparks is particularly popular: it is said to have cleaner air than any other part of Riga – good both for the people who take a stroll here and also for the animals in the zoo that is here.
Riga At Night
It is an overstatement to call Riga the city that never sleeps, but there are many restaurants, bars and night clubs to be found here, offering something to satisfy most tastes - and budgets. During the summer, Riga is full to bursting point with open-air cafes and pubs. Old Riga in particular is as busy at 12 o’clock midnight as it is at 6 p.m.
Before The USSR
People who have visited Riga regularly over the past 10-15 years generally point to the major changes that have taken place here since the fall of the Soviet Union. A well-trained eye, however, will quickly discover that the traces of the former empire have not been entirely erased. The brown brick building (known locally as “Stalin’s Birthday Cake”), home to the Latvian Academy of Sciences, is a clear example of Soviet architecture, even if the large, red, flashing plastic star on top of the tower has since been taken down. Lots of theme restaurants serve cuisine reminiscent of the Soviet era whilst the Latvian museum of occupation is a grim reminder of the Soviet period. Fortunately, the Soviet era is now in the past, missed by very few. Today Riga is a thriving, modern capital city. Welcome!