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
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.