The capital and largest city of Latvia, Riga, is a delightful surprise to most of its first-time visitors. The city has only recently become part of the booming tourist industry, due in large part to the emergence of low-cost flights and the construction of a large international airport.
Riga is home to well over a third of Latvia’s entire population, and is currently scrambling to catch up with growing demand for accommodations. However, once you’ve booked your hotel or B&B, you’ll have no trouble getting around to all the sights, and there are plenty of them within walking distance of each other.
Riga can certainly claim a long history; in the 12th century Henry of Livonia called it an ‘ancient port’, since its natural sheltered harbour on the Baltic Sea made it a vital port and refuge since the earliest days of seagoing commerce. The resulting variety of cultural influences has merged into a marvelous palette of artistic and architectural gems, each with its own historically fascinating story.
The city’s Old Town has a UNESCO World Heritage designation and it includes the majority of Riga’s most impressive sights. You won’t need a car; just walk and gaze, rest on one of many benches arranged for that purpose, stop for tea or beer when the urge strikes, and take advantage of the many old-style and very inexpensive trollies if you get tired.
A good starting place is the magnificent House of Blackheads, built in 1344, destroyed during one of Riga’s many foreign occupations,and rebuilt to its original form, now a museum and concert hall. The Freedom Monument only dates from 1935; it’s in honour of Latvia’s fight for independence and an icon rather like the Statue of Liberty in the U.S.
Churches, parks, old cobblestone streets, markets and museums – the list goes on, but we cannot.
It’s well worth a note that the array of gorgeous old European architecture is liberally interspersed with shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and prices are still far lower than in the UK and the rest of Europe