Located in the Baltics, Riga, the capital of Latvia, is a vibrant city. One third of the country’s population calls Riga home. It’s a town full of history with narrow streets, impressive architecture, and coffee houses. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the perfect destination for Art Nouveau lovers with the biggest collection in the world.
The official language is Latvian, but English is very well spoken in the city of Riga. The euro is the official currency of the country, so if you are already in Europe, Riga is a great weekend destination.
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Here is a list of the places to see while in Riga.
1. Old Town Riga
It is no wonder Old Town Riga became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. The town’s narrow cobblestone streets have a lot of stories to tell. Your walk will take you to see amazingly preserved historical buildings. You can do this walk on your own or sign up for a free walking tour with one of the many tour providers available in Riga. The tourism office has all of the times and companies that offer tours.
2. House of Blackheads
This famous landmark in the Old Town cannot be missed. This building was originally used by a guild of merchants and ship owners. It was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt in 1999.
3. St. Peter’s Church
This is a Lutheran church, and the highest church in Riga at 404 feet. Here you can see a panoramic view of Riga from the second gallery at the height of 236 feet. Yes, there is an elevator.
4. Bremen Town Musicians
On Skarnu Street between St. Peter’s Church and the Convent Yard, you will find the famous donkey, dog, cat, and rooster standing on each other’s backs. The sculpture is based on a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. It was created by Bremen artist Krista BaumGaertel in 1990 and presented to Riga as a gift from its sister city.
5. Three Brothers
This is one of the most famous buildings in Old Riga. This complex of three houses is the oldest residential dwelling place in Riga, built in the 15th century. The name of Three Brothers was given because of a legend that mentioned that the houses were constructed by men of one family.
Today, the buildings house the Latvian Museum of Architecture and State Inspection for Heritage Protection.
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6. Art Nouveau
Riga hosts 800 Art Nouveau buildings that have survived throughout the years. This is why Riga is also called “the Metropolis of Art Nouveau.” Head over to Alberta Street where most of these buildings are located. You will be treated to one of the best views of outdoor art. Make sure to look up to enjoy the stunning designs and decorations!
7. Central Market
On the banks of the Daugava River, very close to Old Town Riga, there are four hangars (once used for German army zeppelins) that have been transformed into one of the biggest markets in the world.
Since opening in 1930, the market has been a great place to have a delicious taste of real Latvian food. I can confirm that, having had the best meal there. You can easily get lost in this colorful garden of flowers, veggies, breads, cheeses, meats, and pastries. In 1997, the Market was honored with a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
8. Coffee Shops
All around Riga you will find a great cup of coffee (or tea) and the most delicious pastries. I was only able to visit two places in Old Town during my short visit.
BakeBerry is where classic desserts transform into modern delicious creations, while Rigensis offers a more traditional approach to traditional Latvian desserts. I need another trip back to Riga just to visit these shops again.
9. Viesturdarzs Garden Park
This is Riga’s oldest park with nearly 20 acres of green spaces, water fountains, and a river. The place was once the summer residence garden of Peter the Great, a Russian Emperor.
In 1841, the park was given to the city of Riga. Here you can see the locals playing tennis in the summer and sledding in the winter. The park holds concerts, theater performances, and other local activities. This is a beautiful area to rest after all the walking around town.
10. Great Kristaps
Latvians are great storytellers. On the right bank of the Daugava River, there is a big statue of a man with a little boy on his back. Legend says that once there was a very strong man living on the river. He earned his living by carrying people across the river on his back.
One night a little boy asked him to cross him to the other side of the river. The man agreed although the weather was stormy. As the man was carrying the boy, he realized that the boy was getting heavier and heavier. Only with great effort was he able to make it to shore.
It is said that the little boy was Christ’s son, so the man was named Kristaps by the Latvians.
11. Freedom Monument
This monument is a symbol of the Latvian desire for independence and freedom, entirely financed by public donations. It was unveiled on November 18, 1935, after four years of construction byarchitect Ernests Štālbergs, implementing the design of Latvian sculptor Kārlis Zāle.
The woman on top of the monument is holding three golden stars, which represent the three historical regions of Latvia: Kurzeme, Vidzeme, and Latgale.
As you can see, Riga has a lot to offer to every visitor. It is a great destination without the large crowds of tourist you’ll find in many European capitals.