The wonderful city of Riga is the capital of Latvia. This is a perfect location for a weekend break for Europeans as it’s easily accessible and you can get some really good deals on flights. This amazing city has a very long history and is quite simply stunningly beautiful. Riga is the largest city in the Baltics with a population of over 700,000. It has been called the ‘art nouveau capital of the world’ and this is not surprising as more than a third of the city’s architecture is built in this style.
There’s so much to do here and if you are visiting for just a few days you will be spoilt for choice. On a cultural level it has a great deal to offer, with more than 40 museums, theatres, the Latvia National Opera, the Latvia Philarmonic Orchestra and art galleries. No matter what your taste in the arts, you’ll be sure to find something of great interest here. As for sightseeing, there’s just so much to see here from breathtaking architecture to beautifully kept parks and gardens. Everything is within easy reach as public transport in Riga is excellent. The locals buses and trams enable you to get to any part of the city quickly and easily.
Visit The House of Blackhead
I’d recommend starting your tour of the city with a visit to the House of Blackhead. It’s located in the Town Hall Square, so it’s an ideal place to begin your sightseeing. This has got to be one of, if not the most iconic buildings in Riga. Built in 1344 by the Brotherhood of the Blackheads for the guild members, who were mainly well-connected, influential tradespeople, craftsmen and ship captains, this magnificent piece of architecture has only recently been rebuilt to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the city in 2001.
Sadly it was a casualty of war and was destroyed in 1941 by a bomb and what was left of it was completely ruined during the clearing up of the city by the Soviets in 1948. After having undergone painstaking renovation it stands proud once again in this prominent location. Ordinarily, you can take a tour of the house and admire the fabulous rooms but this is not possible at the moment as it is being used temporarily by the President of Latvia whilst Riga Castle is being renovated, however it’s still worth visiting if for no other reason than to admire the building’s incredible facade.
Discover Riga Old Town
Riga old town should definitely be explored. There’s no better way to enjoy the city than to wander through the cobbled streets of this fabulous medieval city and take in the sights. There are plenty of beautiful churches to discover, such as the Riga Dome Cathedral, Saint Peter’s Church and Saint Jacob’s Church to name but a few, as well as the splendid craftsmen and artists houses. Such is the beauty of this historic centre that it was actually included on UNESCO’S World Heritage List in 1997 and in 2007 was awarded the European Heritage Label. Make sure you don’t miss the three historical buildings which stand side by side known locally as The Three Brothers, which were said to have been built by three male members of the same family.
These are actually the oldest medieval stone homes in Riga and the oldest of the three was built circa 1490 for the purposes of a manufacturing workplace. It is comprised of one large room and the facade of the building is very plain. The middle brother, which is far more ornate, was built in 1646 and unlike the former which was built in a Dutch Renaissance style, this one was built in the style of Dutch Mannerism. The last of the three was built in the latter part of the 17th century with residential apartments on each floor. It is the smallest of the three buildings and another thing that sets it apart is the unusual feature to the front in the form of a mask which is said to protect its inhabitants from any evil spirits.
Saint Peter’s Church Tower
The most dominant feature of the city’s skyline is the tower of Saint Peter’s Church. The church has a staggeringly long history, in fact, the first written record of it dates back to 1209 and it served originally as a Catholic church until 1523 when it became part of the Lutheran church. The Gothic tower stands at over 123 metres in height and was completed in the 15th century. The wooden tower, which was the highest of its kind in the world at that time actually collapsed in 1666 and had to be rebuilt in 1690, with the addition of several domes and galleries.
Tragedy struck again in 1721 when it was struck by lightning and was burned down. After being renovated again under the instruction of Tsar Peter 1, the church and tower were destroyed during the second world war. Once again, it was renovated with work commencing in 1967. During this last renovation, an elevator was built allowing the galleries to be used as platforms for sightseeing by visitors, offering the most amazing views of the old city. The church interior is very impressive and I would definitely recommend it as a great place to visit.
The Ethnographic Open Air Museum
Located just outside the city of Riga is the fascinating Ethnographic Open Air Museum. This is an incredible place and is one of the largest as well as one of the oldest open-air museums in Europe. On display here are 118 historical buildings which make you feel like you have simply stepped back in time. The area spans nearly 90 hectares and gives great insight into what life would have been like for the average Latvian farmer, fishermen and craftsmen with buildings dating from the 17th century until the 1930s.
You can see how homes would have been furnished as well as enjoying traditional crafts. You can try your hand at different skills like pottery and basket weaving and see how they enjoyed traditional yearly festivals. Moreover, it gives real understanding of what the working life was like for such people, particularly the traditional homesteads. Bearing in mind that this is all set in the most beautiful lakeside location where you can enjoy the wonderful Latvian countryside, this is one place you should definitely have on your must-see list!
The Central Market
Whilst you are enjoying the delights that this city has to offer why not take the opportunity to visit the largest market in Europe? Riga Central Market opened in 1930 and is located in the centre of the old town of Riga. You can’t miss it as this gigantic market covers an area of 72 thousand square metres with over 3000 stalls. The market was built using old recycled German zeppelin hangars which form the five pavillions.
It is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a major attraction in the city. Apart from the vast range of fresh produce on sale here, there are also plenty of eateries where you can enjoy some of the finest Latvian food. It’s also worth heading to the old warehouses next to the pavilion as this is a great arts and entertainment quarter. It’s very lively, drawing crowds of roughly 80-100,000 people each day and a great place to soak up the atmosphere of a bustling market place.
There are so many reasons to visit this wonderful city and no matter how you spend your time here, you’ll find plenty of wonderful things to see and explore and will no doubt be eager to return.