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. No one carried me, but I did find some gold in the Hanseatic city of Riga.
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.
Let's take a weekend trip to the capital of Riga
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN RIGA
Riga 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!
Historic Center of Riga
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 photographed 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 1990’s.
- 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.
The most historical important spot in Riga is definitely the Freedom Monument. Mother Latvia with the 3 stars signifying the 3 historic regions. Everyday, someone place fresh flowers and the guards will keep an eye on you.
Under the towering woman, demonstrations took place until independence was reached in 1991! We also saw protesters, but it was a little unsure as to why they were protesting…
The statue kind of reminds me of the monument in Sofia of Sveta Sofia. A woman also representing the city, raised high above on a pedestal holding something golden. Her laurel mimic the 3 stars. But I find Miss Freedom a lot less vulgar. Find our more in 24 Cultural Hours in Sofia, Bulgaria!
The Laima Clock – another symbol of Riga – is just opposite the statue. This is the city’s top meeting point. It’s basically a huge advertise for a bad chocolate.
Museum of Occupation
The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia tells the story of Latvia’s long road to independence – not so long ago.
Museum of Occupation was under construction, but an exhibition was shown in another building. It still made a huge impact on me.
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!
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
Typical stalinistic architecture. So no wonder, this building was constructed to glorify Stalin, and you might recognize the architectural style from Moscow.
But it’ not just impressive from the outside. Go inside (which not everyone knows is possible or worth it) and enter the elevator. 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.
You can see the National Library of Latvia – a modern futuristic structure on the west side.
Riga has some nice parks if the weather is for it. Some of them have sculptures like a space monkey?
Try the romantic Bastion Hill next to the Freedom Monument for small hills, stone gardens and waterways. Or the larger Kronvalds Park with a piece of the Berlin Wall.
WHERE TO STAY, EAT & DRINK IN RIGA
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. Or have a bear burger in the lovely spot by the canal Kas dārzā. For a more gourmet experience I recommend Muusu, 3 Paváru Restorans and Ferma.
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 woolen socks from a nice old lady.
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!