Riga is the capital of Latvia, overlooking the Baltic Sea searching for its sister cities of Helsinki, Tallinn and Stockholm. Fearless, it turns its back on aristocratic St Petersburg and, for the conventional tourist, it´s almost unknown territory. The experimented traveller, the one in search for authentic places that not many tourists go to, will find a beautiful and vital city in Riga. The Latvian capital is also going to the the 2014 Capital of Culture.
The old town and the new part of Riga, created after the 19th century, were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The city, especially in summer, is bustling with locals who are looking to enjoy the leisure and the sea as well as its dreamy surroundings. The old architecture and especially the late-19th and early-20th century buildings follow the Art Nouveau style and are essential visits. Let´s go through the list:
What to see in Riga?
1. Riga Castle, on the banks of the Daugava river, was built in the 14th century as a defensive fortress and is today the official residence of the President of the Latvian Republic. Some areas are open to the public and it´s especially spectacular in winter, with the place is covered in snow.
2. The Old Town (Vecriga in Latvian) consists of many small and narrow medieval and pedestrian streets filled with small shops and restaurants. In summer, during high season, it´s full of people. You have to see its most beautiful buildings: the Fraternity Palace and the Lutheran Cathedral. The Christian temple has an organ that has over 1000 tubes and that is used weekly for memorable concerts. For more info on the timetables of those concerts, you need to ask at the cathedral in person.
3. The Lîvu district, on the outskirts, is full of colourful two-floor houses and beautiful gardens. It´s ideal for sitting down in its many open-air terraces for a drink in spring or summer.
4. A visit to Riga isn´t complete without a walk around the new area, filled to the top with modernist buildings and one of the reasons as to why it was declared a World Heritage Site. The central spot is Albert St, where the architect Mikhail Eisenstein filled this Baltic city street with beautifully adorned buildings at the end of the 19th century. The colour white combines with sky blue (especially using tiling). The facades of these modernist buildings are decorated with sculptures, arabesques, balcones with artistic touches and many spiral shapes. The great sculptures (especially feminine ones) confer a magnificent doorway to the many private residences.
5. The Freedom Monument (Brīvības piemineklis in Latvian) is also of the same art trend. It was built in 1935 as a tribute to the more than 5000 soldiers that lost their lives in the Independence War with Russia. It´s over 137ft tall and it´s, quite simply, spectacular.
If you have more time, you need to visit the Riga Radio Tower, located in a park, and relax in one of the exclusive beach clubs.
Even though there are cruise ships that arrive at the Latvian capital, the best thing is to book apartments in Riga to discover this beautiful city and its surroundings at your own leisurely pace.