A struggle for independence! The surprisingly nice Baltic capital of Riga, Latvia.

According to legend, Riga was build with gold left by a man named Big Kristaf. He had earned the gold by carrying people across the river.

Latvia is one of three Baltic states and the capital Riga is the largest city in all the states. Latvia was a new country for me this year and a very pleasant surprise. Here’s a guide to a quick weekend trip to the Hanseatic city!

WHAT TO SEE & DO ⇓

The city is not that big, and you can very easily walk around everywhere. Make sure the weather is nice, since a lot of the sights are outside!

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The House of the Blackheads. Photo by my friend.

→ Historic center

Riga is one of the Hanseatic cities, that I have visited so many of – including Lubeck, Visby and more. (I feel an article developing…)

The historic center of Riga is UNESCO-listed world heritage, and the city boosts Medieval, Renaissance and Art Noveau architecture as well as Soviet Style and Latvian wooden houses.

There are several architectural sights, you must see:

  • The buildings on the Town Hall Square. The most photgraphed and beautiful is the House of the Blackheads. It was build in 1344 by the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, but destroyed during WWII. It wasn’t rebuilt until 1990s.
  • The cat house. The black cat on top of the house is showing it’s ass to the owner’s foes.
  • The Three Brothers houses shows what window taxes do to homes.
  • Riga’s castle, the Swedish gate (the only one from the original fortification from 1698) and the Powder Tower.
  • Beautiful Art Nouveau buildings rivalling Vienna. The streets to go to are Elisabeta Iela and Alberta Iela.
  • The cathedral from 1211 with it’s impressive organ.
  • Riga Russian Orthodox Church with its beautiful golden dome. It was a planetarium during the Soviet era.

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→ Freedom Monument

The most historical important spot in Riga is definitely the Freedom Monument. Mother Latvia with the 3 stars signifying the 3 historic regions. Everyday there are fresh flowers and the guards will keep an eye on you. This is where demonstrations took place until independence was reached in 1991! We also saw protesters, but it was a little unsure as to what they were protesting…

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Freedom Monument

→ Museum of Occupation

The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia tells the story of Latvia’s long road to independence – not so long ago. This made a huge impact.

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Museum of Occupation was under construction, but an exhibition was shown in another building. Photo by my friend.

The collection shows the historical period after the Molotov-Ribbentrop deal from 1940-41, the occupation by Nazi Germany in 1941-45, and then when Latvia finally came out of WWII, the Soviet took over and occupied Latvia until it became independent!

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The Baltic Way

The map shows The Baltic Way – a unbroken human chain from Vilnius through Riga on to Tallinn made up by two million people holding hands trying to get independence!

There are of course many more museums like the International Museum of Vodka, a Railway Museum and a Jewish Museum, but we only managed one this time. (Yes, quite shocking!)

→ The Academy of Science

This building was constructed to glorify Stalin, and you might recognize the architectural style from Moscow. But from the top of the building you have a magnificent view of the city and it is not as crowded or expensive as the church tower.

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Academy of Science

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You can see the National Library of Latvia – a modern futuristic structure on the west side.

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→ Central Market

Not far from the Academy of Science is the Central Market – the biggest Market in Europe. They have everything in bakery, meats, fish and delicious cheeses. We bought a nice cheap lunch – pastry filled with spinach. Outside there are stalls, and I got a top souvenir: some home knitted woollen socks from a nice old lady.

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There are many green parks and areas and many of them filled with sculptures.

We found a great flee market behind the Central Market at Spikeri. It is an old warehouse district now trying to become a cultural hotspot. Not there yet…

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The old and the new in Moscow District in Riga.

One thing we didn’t have time for was a spa. As the rest of the Baltic region, this is a speciality dating back to the 1500s. Many of the big hotels have one of their own like ESPA Spa at Radisson, but there are also day spas like Baltã Pirts.

WHERE TO STAY, EAT & DRINK ⇓

It is always difficult to travel as uneven number. My mom, my sister and I always have great difficulty. For 5 friends the trouble was not only finding a hotel with a triple room, but also getting the two rooms on the same level. We stayed in the town center at Old City Boutique Hotel – it was a nice clean and comfortable hotel near everything in a quiet street. The fine building has a long old history dating back to the 17th century and has been a warehouse, a cinema, a gym and later the walls fell in, but some of the old brick walls are still visible. Hereby recommended.

This year Riga is one of the European Region of Gastronomy along the Danish region of Aarhus and Lombardy. For eating cheaply go to the Central Market or find a small local eatery with a buffet. Just beside the Central Market near Spikeri was a small butcher shop selling good meat dishes, but one of us is a vegetarian, so we skipped this. For gourmet food is recommend Muusu, 3 Paváru Restorans and Ferma.

For drinking a glass of wine, we found a favourite spot right next to Hotel Berg. Here is also some expensive shopping. For cheaper shopping go down Térbatas iela!

Have you been to the Baltics?