Destination Latvia: Why Not Choose… Riga?
Discover a city full of beauty and surprises. Divided into two parts by immense green spaces, Riga is a blend of history and modernity. Faithful to its rich heritage, but also looking resolutely to the future, the capital of Latvia is a great place for an unforgettable holiday. Between the Old Town and the New Town, history and culture await! But Riga also has many other surprises in store…
A City Rich in History…
Start your exploration of the historical centre (Vecrīga), at Riga Castle. Built in 1330 to serve as the headquarters for the Livonian Order, Riga Castle is now the residence of the Latvian president. Continue your sightseeing with a visit to Riga Cathedral, an emblem of the city which boasts one of the largest organs in the world. Also not to be missed is St Peter's Church. Its wooden spire is a key feature on Riga's skyline, standing 123m high and crowned with a 1.5m golden cockerel. In the Middle Ages, it was the highest building in the country.
Don't miss out on an architectural wonder known as the "Three Brothers": a complex of three houses which offers a reminder of the city's Hanseatic past, when merchants prospered there. You will also undoubtedly be keen to learn the story of the House of the Blackheads, a famous mediaeval house and a temporary residence for unmarried merchants passing through Riga who belonged to the powerful " Brotherhood of Blackheads ".
Finally, make time to admire the Powder Tower, the only remaining part of the fortifications which surrounded the city in the Middle Ages, and which is now a military museum. A particularly interesting place to visit!
… Yet Resolutely Modern!
The Esplanade Gardens offer a peaceful transition between the two parts of the city: old and new. Stop to admire the Freedom Monument. Built in 1935, this memorial pays homage to the soldiers who died in combat during the Latvian War of Independence ( 1918 - 1920 ). Threatened several times throughout its history, it is now protected by the guard of honour. Admire the superb orthodox Nativity Cathedral, one of the largest orthodox cathedrals in the Baltic states.
In Riga, Art Nouveau takes centre stage. In the mid-19th century, the city underwent a major period of urbanisation, and many architects adopted this style, which became the norm in most areas of the city. To discover their work, take a stroll along Alberta Street and Elizabetes Street, or Brīvības Street and Valdemara Street.
Has all this sightseeing made you hungry? Head south, towards the buzzing central market housed in former World War I airship hangars. And if you fancy escaping to a quiet, natural space, jump aboard a little suburban train, which will take you 25km out of the city to gorgeous white sand beaches.
Top 10 Must-Sees
Riga Castle: on the banks of the Daugava , this 14th-century building is one of the most remarkable and oldest monuments in the country.
Riga Cathedral: this 13th-century Protestant cathedral is the most imposing cathedral in the Baltic states. It took several million bricks to build! Initially built in the Roman style, it was then modified in the Gothic period.
St Peter's Church: one of the oldest and most precious monuments of mediaeval architecture in the Baltic states. In 1997, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Powder Tower: like all mediaeval cities, Riga was once surrounded by fortifications. Only this tower remains today. Its name comes from its use to store gunpowder.
The Central Market: this highly impressive market fills four former airship hangars dating back to 1930, and is one of the largest indoor markets in Europe. The perfect place to sample local produce!
The Freedom Monument: discover the astonishing history of this building constructed in 1935 thanks to donations from citizens. It was almost demolished by the Soviets, but was saved by Culture Minister Khrushchev.
The Art Nouveau neighbourhood: if you love Art Nouveau, you'll adore Riga! In this area, you can admire the famous building with its colossal sculpted faces on the façade. Find it at numbers 10a and 10b Elizabetes Iela.
The Orthodox Nativity Cathedral: gaze upon the great architectural beauty of this neo-Byzantine style building, decorated with numerous icons.
The Jewish Ghetto: Riga's World War II ghetto was in the suburb of Maskavas, home to the only remaining synagogue in Riga, as well as the city's Jewish Museum.
The Canals: why not try a different way of exploring the town, on its canals?
What's to Eat in Riga?
Influenced by the Baltic Sea, Latvian gastronomy has a great fondness for fish: smoked or marinated salmon with rings of raw onion is a delicacy. The food also takes much inspiration from the neighbouring cuisines of Russia, Poland and Germany. For a quick, delicious and nourishing snack, enjoy some rye bread with biezpiens (a raw-milk cheese much like quark), or the famous pankukas: small, thick, soft pancakes which can be eaten either savoury or sweet. If you fancy a drink, Latvia has excellent beer (both golden and brown), as well as delicious pear cider.
June: Salsa Festival : This event welcomes salsa dancers from around the world. On the festival programme: dance shows, music, gatherings… There are also dance workshops by professional dancers, for anyone who wants to learn and/or perfect certain dances.
23-24 June: Ligo Diena (Grass Day) : Over two days, St John's Eve and St John's Day, this festival is celebrated across Latvia. According to tradition, all the families strew grass around their houses, to ward off evil spirits and negative energy. The next day, a fire of joy is lit and traditional songs are sung.
Late June/early July: Latvian Song and Dance Celebration : This traditional dance and music festival attracts many song and dance groups, each representing an ethnic community. You can hear over 36,000 folk songs.
December: Riga Christmas Market : Starting in early December every year and continuing until Orthodox Christmas in early January, in the Old Town park.
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