The capital of Latvia, Rīga, is a charming city where it is good to escape for a short getaway or even an extended holiday. It is home to a beautiful architectural heritage, markets where it is good to stroll, and the fact that it is on a human scale adds to the desire to explore every nook and cranny of a city that remains unknown, but is definitely worth a visit. It is also a green city where the numerous parks surrounding the old town offer beautiful spaces for resting and daydreaming. Proof that Rīga deserves to be among the top destinations to discover in Europe, it has been designated European Capital of Culture in 2014. And for all those who have not had the opportunity to discover it by then, it is never too late
Take a trip to the Central Market at Rīga
In the Maskavas Fortate district, visitors discover a special atmosphere. It is the part of the city where you can see the old wooden buildings from the beginning of the 20th century, but also the district that attracts thousands of people every day who come to stroll through the alleys of the central market at Rīga. It takes place in three former zeppelin sheds built before the First World War and locals and tourists like to gather there to buy Latvian rye bread, local dairy products or Latvian eel. This colourful, Soviet-style market is a must for those interested in local gastronomy, all at very good prices.
Passing by the Freedom Monument
Anyone interested in the history of Rīga should visit the Freedom Monument, a memorial erected to honour the fallen soldiers of the Latvian War of Independence. It was unveiled on November 18, 1935 and is considered by locals as a strong symbol of Latvia's independence, freedom and sovereignty. The memorial is one of the highest of its kind in Europe, and today the square surrounding it is very often the venue for official ceremonies and public celebrations. Designed by the Latvian sculptor Karlis Zale, the inhabitants affectionately call it "Milda"
Visit the Maison des Têtes noires on the square Rātslaukums
The House of the Black Heads is the monument that inevitably catches the eye when you reach the square Rātslaukums of Rīga. Although the architecture of the building has been redesigned many times in the course of history, the current façade is a reconstruction of the appearance it had in the 16th century, where the red bricks, rooms and ornamentation were the symbol of a late Flemish and Dutch Renaissance style. It was destroyed in a bombing raid during the Second World War, but the vaulted basement is still original. Nevertheless, even though its renovation is quite recent, it remains one of the most elegant monuments in the city.
How to get to the National Library of Latvia
Lovers of architecture cannot fail to visit one of the most interesting and controversial monuments on Rīga: the National Library of Latvia. It is located by the river in the Pardauvaga district. The idea of building a new building to house the library was born in 2008 and the construction will be completed in 2014, the year Riga was designated European Capital of Culture. Designed by Latvian architect Gunnar Bikerts, its contemporary look is reminiscent of a mountain. Once one has taken the time to contemplate the monument, one should not hesitate to go inside to discover its important collection of books and reach the 7th floor, which offers an exceptional panorama of the river and part of the city.
Admire the cathedral at Rīga
The cathedral of Rīga is a superb monument dating back to 1211. It is also one of the most imposing cathedrals in the Baltic States and it took several million bricks to build it. It offers an astonishing contrast to the Lutheran churches in the capital of Latvia. History has given it several architectural styles, as the Romanesque has over time been adorned with elements of the Gothic, Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau styles. During its contemplation, one must take time to admire its exceptional cloister, the few rare stained-glass windows and the Dome, the largest religious building in the Baltic countries. It is particularly renowned for its impressive organ with 6,768 wooden and metal pipes
A gastronomic moment at the Kalnciema market
Although Kalnciema market is smaller than the central market, it is still a must in the city. It is a good opportunity to reach the bohemian district of Rīga, where there are charming wooden houses dating from the 19th century. The market takes place every Saturday morning and delights the discerning palate in search of quality local products. You can also take advantage of the handicrafts that complete the offer. It is the perfect place to stock up on Latvian products, and you can also chat in a friendly atmosphere. The market also regularly hosts cultural events and culinary workshops
Getting lost in the old town
Strolling through the old town, or Vecrīga in Latvian, is a real treat for the eyes. Along the narrow, cobbled streets, you can see some of the oldest buildings in the city, including splendid, charming houses built between the 16th and 18th centuries. You pass through the Duomo square, then Livu square before finally sitting at a restaurant table. Latvian gastronomy is indeed succulent and it would be a shame to miss the best salty and sweet specialities. The old town is a jewel in the crown of Rīga and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Climbing to the top of St. Peter's Church
St. Peter's Church, originally built in the 13th century, is one of the oldest monuments in the Baltic States and its tower is the highest point of Rīga. The spire stands at a height of 123.50 metres. Since its foundation, the tower has suffered the ravages of weather, wind and lightning, as well as those of history when it collapsed under artillery fire during the Second World War. However, a replica of the building was completed in 1973, and today visitors can take a lift to the top of the tower and enjoy a beautiful view of the old town
Stroll through the Museum of the History of Navigation
It is within the walls of the church of the Dome, in the heart of the Old Town Rīga that this museum, which was inaugurated in 1773, takes place. A stroll allows you to learn more about the history of the city as well as Latvian navigation. The collection includes more than half a million objects! The history of the region can be discovered on several floors at Rīga, from prehistory through the life of the inhabitants in the villages in the 12th century, then through successive wars ending with the independence of the country and life in the 20th century. The port of Rīga also has a very rich past, plans and models of ships recount the important voyages that were made by Latvian navigators over the course of time. A very beautiful museum that fascinates history buffs.
Contemplating Art Nouveau buildings
Rīga is known for its monuments of splendid Art Nouveau architecture. A third of the city's monuments even feature this style, making it one of the largest concentrations of Art Nouveau structures in the world. To better understand why, you need to know that Rīga was in the midst of a financial boom at the same time as Art Nouveau itself was booming. Art Nouveau monuments can be found in all the city's districts, especially in the unmissable Rue Albert. And to better understand how Rīga saw the style take hold in its territory, it is possible to stop at the Musée d'Art Nouveau, an exciting museum.