Welcome to Riga. This city deserves a visit that lasts for at least a couple of days, but even in one day you can manage to see the cultural highlights without feeling rushed. There’s a lot going on in Riga this year, seeing as Latvia was announced as the European Capital of Culture 2014.Except in Riga, you’ll find three capitals in one, the capital of Latvia, the European Capital of Culture 2014, and the capital of Art Nouveau.
A great day starts with a great morning. Latvians consider breakfast to be the most important meal of the day. So, most of the cafes, bakeries and restaurants will have at least several delicious options for you to choose from.
If you’re in Riga for the first time, you shouldn’t miss the Old Town. It can get crowded, especially in the summer, but it’s still beautiful and very enjoyable. In spite of the growing tourism industry, the Old Town of Riga belongs to the locals as well, so you won’t feel too much like you’re in Disneyland. Early morning or late afternoon is the best time to visit, particularly if you want to avoid the crowds.
We have chosen our favourite sights from the Old Town, but keep your eyes open so you won’t miss something that stands out to you.
Start with Riga’s touristic epicentre – the Town Square. Here you’ll spot the beautiful House of the Blackheads, the fairly ugly yet authentic Museum of Occupation and the statue of Roland. The Blackheads were a society of wealthy merchants while the Museum of Occupation was builtin 1970s as the museum chronicling the history of Communism in Latvia, so comparing the buildings doesn’t make much sense. If you need a map for the rest of your day, the Tourist Information Centre isright in the Town Square.
Head in the direction of St. Peter’s church, the oldest part of the city. Take a good look around you, as this is the place where Riga began to develop more than 800 years ago. Just next to the church you’ll see the popular monument of the Musicians of Bremen. It’s supposed to bring you good luck if you touch the nose of the donkey, and has an interesting backstory. It was given to the city of Riga as a present from Bremen on 1991 after breaking free of the Soviet Union’s iron curtain and the flat part of the monument is meant to symbolize the iron curtain. There is another monument, almost exactly like this in Bremen that was erected in 1989 after the destruction of the Berlin wall.
The next stop is the old warehouse area along Vecpilsetas, Peitavas and Alksnaja Streets. This is the most ancient part of Riga and some of the buildings date back to the 17th century. This area is a bit off the beaten track and you’ll notice that some of the warehouses are in a terrible condition. However, there are some that have had better luck, like the two galleries on Alksnaja Street, gallery Daugava and gallery Bastejs. Usually both of these galleries have excellent exhibitions of Latvian artists. If you have appetite for art, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Now that you have seen the highlights of the Old Town, head to the Central Market. To get there, you’ll have to walk through the tunnel underneath 13Janvara Street. The market is a real find. Take your camera with you, as here you will get some great pictures, see someLatvian curiosities and the local faces. It’s also a great place to buy some souvenirs that won’t adversely affect your budget.
To get to the Art Nouveau district get on tram Nr. 7 or 9 and take it to the stop “Nacionalaisteatris”. The ticket costs 1.20 Euro if you buy it on the tram and it can be used for one ride. Take a walk through the park to the Art Nouveau district.
The Art Nouveau area is the perfect place for lunch. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants. Rossini, Riviera, LidojosaVarde and Burga Bar are just some of our favourites.
To explore Riga’s Art Nouveau district,just walk down the streets of Elizabetes, Antonijas, Alberta and Strelnieku. Walk slowly and try to spot all the decorations on the façades, such as screaming faces, birds, animals, and mythological creatures. If you get tired from the visual stimulus, just sit down and enjoy the atmosphere of the city.