Riga, Latvia: City Guide
Riga, the capital of Latvia and one of the largest cities in the Baltics, annually attracts millions of tourists from all over the world. Here are the cathedrals and houses built by the best architects of the past ages. Riga’s streets are filled with living history, which, at first sight, charms and captivates travelers.
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Riga has always had a high economic and political status, which was also reflected in its appearance. Now, Riga is a curious example of the many architectural styles that have made the city’s street space so unique. In 2014, Riga was selected as one of the European Capitals of Culture.
Spread across two banks of the Daugava River, the city demonstrates visual and cultural integrity. The city’s long history, which began in 1201, has been imprinted on ancient buildings and some streets still bear traces of the Middle Ages. The facades of many of Riga’s houses are decorated with original carvings and drawings.
If you are going on a trip here, it is worth bearing in mind that the city is conditionally divided into two parts – Old Riga and the historic center – each of which has its own unique atmosphere and curious sights. Therefore, you should plan your walking route according to this division, so that you can logically move from one area to the other.
View of Old Riga
Old Riga: a riot of architectural styles
Old Riga has existed as the center of its region for the past eight centuries. Because of its geographical location and economic status, the city has hosted many visitors and immigrants. Moreover, at certain times there have been more Germans than Latvians living here. Although at present the Latvian population clearly expresses its ethnic identity, the architecture of the city still bears witness to its multiethnic past. The fact is that visiting intellectuals and wealthy people from other countries built houses in the styles accepted in their homeland, so that the streets of Old Riga are overflowing with buildings by Italian, Dutch and German architects.
Swedish Gate in Riga A street in Old Riga The Dome Cathedral’s tower peeks through a narrow street in Riga
The main attraction of these places is Riga Castle. The palace was originally built in 1330, but over the following eight centuries it was regularly rebuilt by the rulers and had various functions. At the moment the residence of the president of Latvia and the National Museum of History are located on the territory of the complex. Visitors can walk around the castle and take a tour for free every day from 11:00 to 17:00.
The Powder Tower of Riga
If you are in Old Riga, you should also visit the Dome Cathedral, founded in 1211. The decoration of the church is one of the richest in Europe, as each era has made its own architectural contribution to the appearance of the cathedral. Elements of the Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Romanesque styles can be discerned here. But the highlight of the cathedral is the organ. Its structure consists of 6,768 pipes, and their maximum height reaches 25 meters.
Despite the fact that regular services are held there, the doors of the temple are open to all visitors. From May to September it is possible to examine the interior from 9:00 to 18:00, and from October to April from 10:00 to 17:00. There are also organ concerts on Wednesdays and Fridays at 19:00, which are worth a visit in order to appreciate the magnitude and beauty of this musical instrument.
Historic Center: Territory of Freedom
Riga was for a long time divided into two zones: the old town, where wealthy residents and the government lived, and the rest of the territory, where there were ordinary citizens’ homes. But from the middle of the XIX century the situation began to change and the dividing line between the two estates began to disappear. After the defensive walls of the old city were demolished, the so-called historic center appeared, which was rushed to be built by architects of international fame. The uniqueness of this area consists precisely in the fact that each house is a work of art, which has no analogues. Due to the stylistic diversity, this part of Riga is particularly popular among tourists, because here you can simply spend hours wandering the streets and contemplating masterpieces. This creative freedom of architects and artists has found its logical dominant in the Freedom Monument, which is the main attraction of the historic center.
Attractions in Riga
Shopping in Riga
Every traveler knows from his own experience that it is absolutely impossible to resist the desire to buy at least one souvenir of the trip, because it is precisely these little things over time revive memories of past adventures. But lately, buying things is increasingly becoming the main purpose of the trip, turning the vacation time into a full-fledged shopping tour. Riga is one of those European capitals that has quickly responded to the needs of tourists.
Shopping centers here are not just stores with things, but real cities, although on a smaller scale. The space of the complexes is so ordered and equipped with everything you need, that the buyers are able to walk along the long corridors and halls all day long, not denying themselves any desire. Stores of famous brands constantly delight customers with seasonal discounts, about which you can find out in advance on the websites of manufacturers. The food court areas are crowded with all kinds of cafes and restaurants from all over the world, and a guest from any country can find exactly what he would definitely like to try. Most shopping centers also have an entertainment floor with movie theaters, skating rinks and children’s rooms.
Winter in Riga Origo Shopping Center
Perhaps the most popular shopping destination among tourists is the Origo shopping center. The secret of success of the complex is very simple – it is located right on the railway station, so everyone who leaves the city, be sure to walk through the avenues of stores and get something for the road. It is also convenient to wait for your train in one of the cafes or the bookstore, which offers a wide range of Russian-language publications.
Fortunately, Riga’s urban planners know how to combine consumer desires and cultural leisure, and for this purpose they have located the Galerija Centrs complex in the very center of the Old Town. The entire building is designed as a glass passageway, which blends harmoniously with the surrounding architecture. In addition to its exterior, Galerija Centrs attracts visitors with an assortment of goods that are priced tax-free.
A little farther from the center of Riga, there are less popular supermarkets, but they are also worth a visit. In Spice, for example, in addition to clothes, you can find interesting furniture made by Latvian craftsmen. In the Domina Shopping Center, you can browse through models by local designers and buy something unique. But for those who went to Riga exclusively to buy things from the most popular brands, the most suitable place is Podium. Here you will find the most current collections of Dolce & Gabbana, Just Cavalli, Tru Trussardi, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and other famous fashion designers.
Going shopping, it is worth bearing in mind that shopping centers in Riga open at 10:00 and continue their work until 20:00 or 21:00. Because of the density of development of the city not all complexes are equipped with parking lots, so it is worth thinking ahead about how to get to the right place. But once you walk through the doors of the center, be prepared for a leisure time filled with entertainment, pleasant shopping and cozy conversations over a cup of coffee.
Small Shops on Riga Street Vegetable Market in the City Centre
Hotels in Riga
Hotel selection by hotellook
Getting to Riga
Due to the fact that Latvia is a neighboring country to Russia, tourists have at once a few convenient options for transportation.
Those who value their vacation time and want to get to their destination as quickly as possible should consider flying. There are regular flights to Riga from the airports of Moscow and St. Petersburg, but you should buy tickets in advance. This direction is always crowded, because the Riga airport is the closest to Russia, where the low-cost low-cost Ryanair fly. In addition, pre-purchase gives the opportunity to buy a ticket with a big discount.
Another convenient way to get to Riga are the trains that run daily from all major cities of Russia. For example, from Moscow and St. Petersburg train leaves every evening and in the morning passengers step on the Riga platform. Trains of this direction are quite comfortable and, thanks to existing international agreements, very quickly cross the border of the two countries.
The third option – buses, the ticket for which is cheaper than the train. Unlike the train, passengers have to sit in the bus for the entire journey, which can take from 10 to 14 hours. But this way of travel has its advantages, because you can always choose a flight that makes stops in major Latvian cities, and visit a few more interesting places.