otrdiena, 2020. gada 21. janvāris

10 reasons why you should visit Riga and the surrounding area in winter

Winter doesn’t mean that you have to stay at home – not even if the temperature falls way
below zero. Latvia is a place where you can learn how to enjoy yourselves during the coldest
part of the year, whether that’s with a day in the capital city or a day out of town to
reconnect with nature. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Christmas markets. You will find them in Riga Old Town as well as in other parts of
the city, and each one of them has a different design and atmosphere. They are
perfect for shopping for local goods and Christmas gifts or to warm yourself up with
the seasonal dishes and drinks: soups, mulled wine, sauerkraut, sausages, potatoes,
hot chocolate and other local products. Don’t forget to try “Karstais Balzams”, which
is a drink that helps us get through the winter.

2. Concerts. Riga is a delight during the summer but one thing that’s missing is the
opera and theatre season. Did you know that Mikhail Baryshnikov comes from Riga?
We are particularly proud of the Latvian National Opera, which offers amazing shows
for very accessible prices but there is a vast choice of events for all tastes.

3. Museums. In winter there is no excuse for not visiting Riga’s amazing museums. One
Latvian artist, Vilhelms Purvitis, was once considered the most talented painter of
snow in the Western world. To see his work for yourself, head to the Latvian
National Museum of Art. But don’t limit yourself with that – there are dozens of
museums in Riga, offering entertainment for all ages and interests.

4. Gastronomic tourism. The winter is the best time to enjoy yourself at the table. The
weather is cold, the bikini season is still far away, and the warm restaurants and
cafes are so inviting. Riga has a lot to offer for gourmets: local cuisine, world cuisine,
the amazing Riga Central Market, cooking classes, beer tours, tasting menus and
much more.

5. Outdoor activities in Riga. When it gets cold, we dress like onions (meaning layers
and layers) and head outside to go cross-country skiing in Uzvaras Park, or skiing on
one of the skating rinks or on lakes or rivers. For those looking for the ultimate local
experience, we can suggest ice fishing – but be sure to do it together with an
experienced local professional.

6. Outdoor activities outside the city. There are many things you can do in the
countryside in the winter, and one of the most amazing is a dog-sledding trip. It is
most magical in a snowy forest, but you can do it even if there is no snow as sleighs
with wheels are also available. If you are able to ski or snowboard, you can also try
skijoring with dogs or horses.

7. Bobsleigh track. Sigulda Bobsleigh track is where Latvian Olympic champions have
trained since 1986. It is one of the few bobsleigh tracks in the world that is open to
the public. You can either just pay a visit to the site or go for a ride in a real bobsleigh

8. Visit a deer farm. Do you want to know where Santa’s fantastic helpers hang out
when not on duty? Take a trip to a deer park, where a local guide will tell you about
the animals and let you feed them, and where you’ll have a chance to take
unforgettable pictures with them.

9. Sauna. Latvians believe the perfect end to any day is a sauna. Once every Latvian
homestead had one and they are still an important part of our culture.

10. Low season advantages. When you go somewhere in the low season, you will be
rewarded with many pleasant surprises, including the lack of crowds and lower
costs. This is also a more sustainable way to travel and often makes for a more
authentic experience.

pirmdiena, 2015. gada 9. novembris

How to spend a rainy day in Riga

If you have arrived in Riga and it’s raining, don’t lose heart.
You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last. We’ve come up with several 
great ways to enjoy yourself -- even if you won’t be going for a boat-ride.

 Central Market

The Central Market is one of the emblems of Riga. It was launched in 1930 just outside Old Town and utilizes five large zeppelin hangars dating from WWI. Many locals prefer the Central Market to the brand-name supermarkets, and right they are. Here you can not only find fresh local goods for affordable prices but alsosee for yourself that people still talk to each other, bargain, shout, laugh, and generally live (and sometimes cheat).All very necessary in the North.

Art Museum Riga Bourse

Art Museum Riga Bourse embodies all the best traditions of a museum. Solemn yet friendly, it welcomes you to the world of art. Located in the spectacular building of the former House of Stock Exchange, Art Museum Riga Boursehas a large collection ofWest European paintings, art from the Far East and Middle East, and a frequently changing exhibition. Even if you are not an art lover, you will appreciate this museum for its diverse collections, beautifully restored interiors and cultural atmosphere.

National Library

The glassmountain on the other side of Daugava River is the National Library, which opened in 2014. It is one of the most polemic buildings of past decadesdue to the lengthy construction process and exorbitantcosts. The first project was designed in 1993, but workonly started in 2008.Costssoared to some 268 million euros. Nevertheless, it is the home of the most valuable book collection we have, available in the many reading-rooms that offer a wonderful view of the Old Riga. You can also access their movie collection in the audiovisual reading room, visit one of the exhibitions, or see the collection of the Latvian folk songs “Dainuskapis”.

 Splendid Palace

Splendid Palace is the most beautiful cinema of Riga – open since 1923. Today it offers an excellent choice of movies, both commercial and un-commercial, and houses many film festivals. Try to see a movie in the large hallthat has preserved its original interiors – a pure delight for culture-lovers. Don’t delay, as you mightwant to enjoy this spectacular place.

Try Black Balsam Black Magic Bar

Riga Black Balsam is one of the best elixirsfor surviving the Latvian winter. The drink has passed the test of time, having been imbibed since the middle of the 18th century. Legendhasit that Russian Empress Catherine the Great became ill during her visit to Riga but was cured by the herby balsam. Most cafes and restaurants have it on offer (Riga Black Magic Bar are particularly good in serving this drink). However, don’t overdo it, as the balsam has been known to cause quite a few serious headaches.

KGB building

The former KGB headquarters has been opened to the public since 2014, offering an exposition that tells the story of people who were once imprisoned there, the repressions of the Soviet regime, and the history of the building itself. The exposition is open every day, but if you want to see the cells and investigators’ offices, join the guided tour.The tickets are available online: http://www.bilesuserviss.lv/eng/venues-and-promoters/places/stura-maja-brivibas-iela-61-3667/

Latvian sauna “BaltāPirts”

You can’t overestimate the Latvian sauna tradition:travel to the Ethnographic Museum or any country home and you will find that the sauna (“pirts” in Latvian) is an essential part of a Latvian household. BaltāPirts is by no means a mainstream attraction. It’s a real sauna, highly appreciated by locals, much more affordable than the SPAs of our city. Everything that you might need is available on the spot. If you don’t have your swimsuit with you (which is quite possible taking into account that it’s November), don’t worry – there are separate areas for men and women, so a towel is all you need.

otrdiena, 2014. gada 14. oktobris

Ten interesting, surprising and strange things about Latvia and Latvians (Part two)

6. A perfect language doesn't need to change

     Latvians are, justifiably, very proud of their language, which is not, as many assume, a dialect of Russian, or even a Slavic tongue, but one of only two surviving members of the Baltic family – the other being Lithuanian. These languages are of great interest to linguists because of their conservatism; compared to most Indo-European languages, they have changed very little over the last few thousand years, and are thought to be the closest living relatives to Sanskrit. A famous French linguist even declared, in the early 20th century, that "anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant."
 It’s not the easiest language to pick up, what with seven cases, some terribly knotty consonant  clusters – try šaursliežudzelzceļš (narrow gauge railroad) if you want to give your mouth a workout – and a whole grammatical form for, essentially, making things sound cute. Luckily, most people in Riga speak English (or Russian) as well, so all you should really need to get by on your first trip is “paldies” (thank you) and “priekā” (cheers!).  

7. Fruit-picking, flower-crown-wearing, bonfire-making pagans

         While most Latvians have roots in the country, most are townies these days – indeed, almost half of the country’s entire population lives in Riga. But the deep connection of the people with nature is one of the most appealing things about Latvia, and sometimes extends to outright worship: the Baltic countries were the last part of Europe to be Christianised, in the 15th century, and even now boast probably the world’s most popular pagan religions. Visit the country on 23rd June, the night of the festival of  Jāņi, essentially the most important celebration of the year, to experience a pre-Christian festival in action, with all the bonfires, dancing and flower crowns you can handle.
Latvians are rather obsessed with outdoor hobbies (hunting, fruit-picking, gardening) – and it is an obsession; seriously, my Latvian textbook considered it necessary to teach me the word for “to pick berries” at the same point as I was learning “sit”, “stand” and “walk”. But this is understandable when they have such a beautiful and unspoiled country on their doorstep: Latvia is one of Europe’s most sparsely populated nations, and almost half is covered by forest. Home-grown apples will be left on the table for customers to take in many restaurants and bars in early autumn, and friends and acquaintances – and strangers – will tend to push home-grown or home-cooked products on you at a moment’s notice.

8. By the sea without Brezhnev

     Much as we love it, we have to admit that it’s pretty rare for “Latvia” and “break in the sun” to appear in the same sentence. But the Soviet Union was a very strange place in many ways, and one of these was the intensive development of the Baltic coast as a summer tourism destination. For those who didn’t fancy the Black Sea resorts of Ukraine and Georgia, the Baltic countries provided a cooler, but more developed alternative. They were really a taste of the West for Soviet citizens: a place where fashions, architecture, even alphabets were different. Estonia and Lithuania had their flagship resorts, at Pärnu and Palanga respectively, but the biggest-and-brightest was Latvia’s own Jūrmala, just 25 km from Riga. Latvians are not people to waste words, and “jūrmala” means, literally, seaside. And for generations of people, Jūrmala has been the definition of seaside; at its peak in the Soviet periodhundreds of thousands were coming here every summer. Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet Secretary-General and walking eyebrow, even built a dacha here (although apparently he never visited it). It still has a more Russian vibe than most of the country, and is still a compellingly weird mix: prettily painted wooden houses, a collection of unusually off-the-wall Soviet structures – check out the wrecked cruise-liner imitations that is the Baltic Beach Hotel – and the weirdcastle-like seaside residences of the country’s nouveau riche. Find out what Brezhnev was missing out 

9. The Latvians who guarded Lenin 

      Most Latvians don’t remember the fifty-year Soviet occupation with much fondness: after the country was invaded in 1939, thousands of Latvians were executed, many more deported, the previously successful economy was gradually run down, and the beautiful country was despoiled by tactlessly placed industry – but, despite all this, one group of Latvians does have a prominent place in Soviet history: the Latvian riflemen. This was a crack squad of local boys first createdby the Russian Empire 1915 to defend Riga from German attacks. They were alienated by the incompetent approach of the Tsar, and so many joined the Bolsheviks after the Russian revolution in 1917, being posted all over the former Empire in the battle against the royalist forces (the Whites); one particularly fear some band even served as Lenin’s personal bodyguards for a time. As many as 70,000 Latvians served in the riflemen at some point. An imposing and suitably red statue of three riflemen stands in Strēlnieku laukums (Rifleman Square) between the House of the Blackheads and the River Daugava. Other reminders of Latvia’s dark recent history include the1970s bunker-like slab of concrete that now houses the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia; the peach-coloured building at the corner of Brīvības and Stabu, once KGB headquarters; and the needle-like monolith in Uzvaras Parks (Victory Park), built to commemorate the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II, and still the scene for huge celebrations by one part of Riga’s Russian-speaking population every May 9th.

10. All a hero needs is bear ears

      National awakenings swept Europe in the 19th century, as the many stateless ethnic groups of the Russian, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires suddenly decided they wanted self-governance, and the Baltic states (which at that time, was usually considered to include Finland) were no exception: newspapers started to be published in the native languages, and people set to work compiling folk tales into national epics. Latvia’s national epic, Lāčplēsis, written by Andrejs Pumpurs, must be one of the odder ones out there, featuring a protagonist whose mother was a bear, something rather given away by his furry, sticking-up ears, from which he derives incredible strength. With little regard for his heritage, he first proves his strength by killing a bear with his bare hands (his name literally means “bear-slayer”). Mostly though, he spends his time beating up Germans, including his nemesis, the Black Knight, sent by Bishop Albert to convert the happy pagans of Latvia to Christianity. This was perhaps a slightly passive-aggressive way of taking out their anger on the German aristocracy, but it did seem to inspire a sense of nationhood, and is still an important part of the country’s identity today. The battle for Riga against German troops in 1919 that secured Latvian independence is still celebrated every year as Lāčplēsis Day – and the character gave his name to Latvia’s highest military honour, as well as a city centre street and a (pretty mediocre) beer.

Will Mawhood has lived in the Baltics on and off for three years. When he is not learning Latvian and writing amazing blog posts, he helps Latvians improve their English with his proofreading company, Sussex English Solutions. He has learnt to love dill and the letter "s"

pirmdiena, 2014. gada 6. oktobris

Ten interesting, surprising and strange things about Latvia and Latvians (Part one) 

1. Unusuals names

       Latvians have an interesting relationship with the letter “s,” which is rather like their relationship with the herb dill: namely that they love it more than can really be explained think that it should be used at every possible opportunity. In most countries, going up to someone and saying something like “Hello, my name is Will” in the native language presents few problems. A Latvian, faced with this, is likely to react something along the following lines: “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, a man whose named doesn’t end in “s”. How can this be?” *Head explodes* As a result, when in Latvia, I am stuck with the frankly silly name of “Viljams Mauhuds.” Foreign names in Latvia are changed to fit with Latvian grammatical and spelling conventions – that means “s” endings for the men, and “a” or “e” for the ladies. Even if your name is something seemingly Latvian-friendly like Thomas, they will look at you very suspiciously, as though you are trying to get away with something, and stick on an extra “s,” just for good measure. This does at least make reading Latvian newspapers rather like attempting some kind of strange word puzzle: Vladimirs Putins isn’t too hard, but who’s Džordžs Klūnijs?

2. Crazy cake buildings

           What do you think the world’s number one Art Nouveau city is? Go on, have a guess. Paris? Barcelona? St Petersburg? Well, you’re wrong. All of them, frankly, wish they were Riga, which is blessed with more Art Nouveau buildings than any other city on the planet. These are a result of a burst of prosperity and energy in the first decade of the 20th century, during which Riga became the fourth-largest city of the Russian Empire, after only Moscow, St. Petersburg and Warsaw. The suddenly-rich merchant class decided, luckily for us, to spend a lot of their new-found money on candy-coloured constructions decorated by mythological figures and screaming women. It says a lot about the over-the-top style favoured at that time that Mihail Eisenstein, the architect of numerous Art Nouveau buildings, was known as the “Crazy Cake Baker”. Even many of the less extravagant buildings are adorned with faces in surprising places, contributing to a general feeling that you are being watched. If you suffer from even very mild paranoia, it’s probably best to give Riga a miss. If you like nice buildings, though, put it right at the top of your “to do” list.

3. Not only Baltic

     Latvia is to the rest of the world, when it is noticed at all, usually referred to as one of the “Baltic countries”, suggesting perhaps that the three countries are more or less the same – or at least very similar. This is not quite the case, although there are longstanding connections between the two countries: Latvia is linked to Lithuania by its language (related, but not mutually intelligible), and to Estonia by its predominant religion (Lutheranism) and an almost identical recent history. The people of the three countriesdid co-operate closely to bring about their independence from the Soviet Union, leading to inspiring historical events like the Baltic Way, when millions of Balts joined hands, forming a line from Tallinn to Vilnius, through Riga. And yet despite all this, when you cross borders in the Baltics, you often have the weird sense that the country you have just come from has completely disappeared – few people know more than a couple of words of the others’ language, and often not the names of their leaders or major cities. The average Estonian, for example, only knows one word of Latvian: which is, weirdly, saldējums (ice cream). Affectionate jokes are frequent, however:  Estonians are convinced, for reasons I am still not completely sure of, that Latvians have six toes; Lithuanians, meanwhile, refer to Latvians as “horse heads,” for the not entirely logical reason that they feel the country is shaped like the head of the aforementioned animal  – whether they refer to the Italians as “boots,” or themselves as “potatoes” is not made clear. 

4. Latvia 2, Rest of the World 0

    Latvia has a knack of topping online polls: in a 2012 poll by the British travel company First Choice, conducted by Twitter and Pinterest, to find the most beautiful country in the world, Latvia came first with 36% of the vote, a result that you sense the commissioners of the survey were not totally prepared for, judging by their somewhat panicked response: “Latvia is a beautiful destination, although unfortunately it’s not somewhere we send our customers.” In another victory for Latvia over the rest of the world, just-outside-the-city-centre street Miera iela was named by Skyscanner in a poll this year as “the most hipster neighbourhood in the world,” beating off rather better-known districts in London, New York, Berlin and Barcelona. Whatever the case, it’s certainly a pretty cool area: packed with cutesy cafes, vintage trams rattling up and down every five minutes and one of Latvia’s hippest clubs in Piens. Plus there is an actual real chocolate factory bang in the middle, the headquarters of marvellous confectioners Laima. The inhabitants of Kreuzberg or Williamsburg may (may) have cooler clothes or better music, but do they wake up to the sweet aroma of chocolate wafting down their streets on summer days? I think not. Whether the country’s global dominance is because of a handful of mischievous internet-savvy Latvians or a simple reflection of reality, TravelJam gives you the chance to make your own decision. 

 5. Everyone wants a piece of Latvia

    Latvians are generally, if you go far back enough, country folk. Apart from a twenty year spell of independence between the world wars, and another one lasting from 1991 indefinitely (fingers crossed) the region has always been occupied by foreign powers: Russia, Sweden, Germany, Poland. The Baltic German aristocracy tended to be caretakers for whatever group were controlling the country at the time, and also dominated the skilled professions, while most Latvians worked on the land, or at best as teachers, doctors or merchants; a state of affairs that continued until independence in 1918. One of the results of this is that almost every city and village in Latvia has a parallel German name, and often another Russian one – everyone seemed happy enough with Riga, but cities like Liepāja were also known as “Libau” (German) or “Libava” (Russian); Cēsis is “Wenden” to the Germans and “Vonnu” to the Estonians, whereas the eastern city of Daugavpils has no less than eleven names. With this history, it’s perhaps not surprising that modern Riga is a patchwork of different cultural influence: much of the red-brick Old Town could come straight from Hamburg or Lübeck; while Russia is represented by the bulbous, multi-coloured domes of numerous Orthodox churches, as well as the severe grey boxes of the Communist period. Early 20th century National Romantic structures adorned with folk motifs remind us of Latvia’s brief interwar period of freedom – only the 200-year Swedish rule left few traces, represented only by one 17th century gate in the Old Town.

to be continued...

Will Mawhood has lived in the Baltics on and off for three years. When he is not learning Latvian and writing amazing blog posts, he helps Latvians improve their English with his proofreading company, Sussex English Solutions. He has learnt to love dill and the letter "s"

ceturtdiena, 2014. gada 10. jūlijs

Nine things to do for free in Riga in 2014

1.     The Museum of Architecture (The Three Brothers)

            One of Riga’s must-sees is the Three Brothers – three dwellings, one of which dates back to the 15th century. Visitors often only see them from the outside as not everyone knows that you can actually enter two of the brothers. Inside the buildings is the Museum of Architecture, which puts on free exhibitions. It’s a small space, so there is only room for information boards and an exposition of models, but it is very much worth visiting as it brings to life the planning of a medieval building. Ask the guard to direct you to the small courtyard. It’s a cosy place hidden away from the city noise – something that’s hard to find in 21st century Riga. Opening hours: Mondays 9a.m. – 6p.m.; Tuesdays – Thursdays 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Fridays 9 p.m. – 4 p.m. Closed on Saturdays and Sundays.

2.     The Gondola at Riga Bourse Art Museum.

            Riga Bourse Art Museum is located in a spectacular 19th century building, whose design was inspired by Venetian Renaissance-style palaces. It was built to be the House of the Stock Exchange, but since 2012 it has housed a collection of foreign art.
            In the atrium of the building there is an impressive piece of art which everyone can enjoy free of charge. Look up and you will see a deconstructed gondola – an artwork by the famous Russian artist Dmitry Gutov. The story behind it is that, as a teenager, the artist read the script of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point in a magazine and was so impressed by it that it became an intellectual inspiration for his art. Gutov’s 11-metre boat is a real Venetian gondola frozen in the process of exploding: a linear and clear spatial message, just like all this prominent artist’s other works. Open every day 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Fridays: 10 am – 8 pm; closed on Mondays. More info:http://rigasbirza.lv/en/gondola-0

3.     Riga Culture Free Tour

            The Riga Culture Free Tour is devoted to the city’s history and architecture, and the lives of renowned Rigans. All the tour guides are certified Riga guides with educational and professional backgrounds in fields such as the history of art studies, culture journalism, museums and theatre, urban planning and social projects, to name just a few. The 2.5 hour-long walk begins in the Esplanade and covers the Art Nouveau district, the beautiful Kronvalda Park and the Old Town, including many picturesque, interesting and historical places on the way. The tour, which is conducted in English, starts every day at 12 p.m. at the Rainis Monument on the Esplanade. Payment is based on tips, so you can thank the guide in your own way.

4.     The Former KGB building

            Since the 1950s, the former KGB building on the corner of Brivibas and Stabu Streets has been a symbol of the totalitarian Soviet regime, and the mass repression and genocide it carried out. From May 1 until October 19 2014 it is open to the public, who can visit various exhibitions and events telling the stories of people who suffered under the Soviet regime. The entrance to the exhibition on the first floor, which is curated by the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, is free, but you have to pay for the other exhibitions and guided tours. Opening hours: Mondays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Wednesdays 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Thursdays – Sundays 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays.

5.     Orthodox Cathedral

            Construction of the magnificent Russian Orthodox Cathedral finished in 1884. During the Soviet period, religious observance was not allowed in the country and so many of Latvia’s churches were given other functions. The cathedral was turned into a planetarium; there was also a cafeteria in the building, known as “God’s Ear” to locals. It has now been restored to its full glory and is open for worshippers and visitors.

6.     Promenāde and Spīķeri

            Historically, the area along the river bank to the south of the Old Town was crowded with warehouses, which were used for storing the goods which were brought by barge from the east down the River Daugava. For decades, the area was very run-down, but in recent years many beautiful brick buildings have been reconstructed and have become cultural venues, restaurants and shops. In 2013 a promenade was opened, more than 1 km long, offering great views across the river.

7.     Kalnciema iela

            The Kalnciema Quarter on the left side of the River Daugava is an ensemble of wonderful restored wooden buildings. The revival of Riga’s wooden architecture demonstrates an increasing tendency towards sustainable living. At any time, you can find a restaurant, a wine shop and a gallery in this area, but the best day to come is Saturday, when a very lively market takes place here, offering local products, crafts and excellent food. Find out more at: http://www.kalnciemaiela.lv/#actual

8.     Ķīpsala

            Ķīpsala is an island towards the left bank of the River Daugava. It was once used as a place for the ships that came to the port of Riga to unload their ballast before taking on heavier cargo, mostly timber. As a result of this, the street Balasta Dambis is partly built from sand and stone from all around Europe.
            Now the island is one of Riga’s most expensive areas to live. Balasta Dambis offers a wonderful view across the river to the port of Riga and the spires of Riga’s churches. The island is a haven of well-preserved wooden buildings and it’s inviting for visitors, thanks to its  relaxed atmosphere and beautiful environment.

9.     Žanis Lipke Memorial

In 2013 the Žanis Lipke Memorial was opened at 8 Mazais Balasta Dambis. Žanis Lipke managed to save the lives of many Jews during the Nazi occupation. Some of Latvia’s most talented artists (an architect, a theatre director, a scenographer and a painter) worked together to create the memorial, which is itself a work of art. Find out more at: http://www.lipke.lv/index.php?m=memorials&l=en

In consultation with:
Will Mawhood, Sussex English Solutions Ltd.

svētdiena, 2014. gada 4. maijs


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.