Riga is the beautiful capital of Latvia, the largest metropolis of the Baltic states, and one of the business, political and cultural centers of the region.
Riga, or Rīga (Latvian), is known as “the Pearl of the Baltic States”. With a long history and rich cultural heritage, this city has always something to offer even for those who have visited it many times. Here, perhaps, is the most unusual architectural cocktail in Northern Europe: from medieval churches, masterpieces of Art Nouveau, to Socialist realist architecture and present-day high-rise buildings.
Where is Riga?
Riga lies on the banks of the Daugava River, which picturesquely divides the city into two parts; its historical center is located on the right bank, only 10 km/ 6 mi from the Baltic Sea. Due to the proximity of the sea, summers in the city are relatively cool and cloudy, and winters are relatively warm with frequent dampness.
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Riga was founded as a port and merchant trading city by Albert von Buxthoeven, a German clergyman, at the very beginning of the 13th century. At this time, the Germans were actively exploring the Baltic lands, creating new colonies, one of which was Riga. Later, between 1621 and 1709, the city was under Swedish rule, and from 1710 until 1918 it was part of the Russian Empire.
Riga was incorporated into the Soviet Union as the capital of the Latvian SSR in 1944. After the restoration of Latvia’s independence, in 1991, it became the capital of the Republic of Latvia. In 2014, the city was the European Capital of Culture, together with Umea, Sweden.
Art Nouveau architecture
The historical center of Riga is included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List and notable for its Art Nouveau architecture. According to UNESCO, the city has the finest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the world.
Art Nouveau gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This style was distinguished by the rejection of old traditions in architecture and the intention to bring something new and beautiful to it. Most of the best known Art Nouveau buildings of Riga were designed by the Russian architect Mikhail Eisenstein.
Five interesting facts about Riga
- In 1510, the world’s first Christmas tree was installed in the city. Later, this tradition spread to many countries.
- One of the oldest pharmacies in Europe, still operating, is located in Riga.
- Here is the only Museum of the Sun in the world.
- With a height of 368.5 m (1,209 ft), Riga Radio and TV Tower is the third tallest tower in Europe (after Ostankino Tower in Moscow, Russia, and the Kyiv TV Tower in Ukraine.
- The coldest temperature recorded in Riga is –34.9 °C (–30.82 °F) and the warmest temperature ever recorded is +34.5 °C (94.1 °F).
You can reach the city center from the airport by taxi or bus number 22. Using public transportation within the city, the Old Town can be reached by trams (No. 5, 12, 25, 27), buses (No. 13, 22, 26, 37, 41, 57) and minibusses (No. 222, 236, 241, 280). Fly Taxi, Taxify, Uber are also available.
You may also like: In pictures: The trams and streets of Riga, Latvia
Photo walk in Riga
I am very fond of walking. This is not only a great opportunity to get to know the city better but also the easiest and most affordable form of physical activity. Below are photos of Riga from my walks around the city center.
Riga Old Town, or Vecriga (Latvian), is a top-notch attraction and a must to visit when in the city. Iconic buildings in different architectural styles, old streets, cozy little shops with stylish restaurants, bars, and coffee houses – you can stay here for a while longer.
In order not to get lost in the narrow streets of Old Riga, you can focus on the main squares of the Old Town: Town Hall Square, Livs’ Square, and Dome Square.
I visited Riga many times, as the city is not far (only 288 km/179 mi by car) from Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where I have lived for 30 years. Many people think that three Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — are very similar (and perhaps their capitals, too) but that is not true.
To me, the Catholic and Baroque city of Vilnius is much like Lviv (Ukraine), Lublin (Poland), or other Eastern European cities. Riga reminds me of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. And this is not strange at all: in the 17th–18th centuries, Riga belonged to the Kingdom of Sweden for almost 100 years and was considered the second most important city after magnificent Stockholm.
Riga is a wonderful place where all the sights can be reached on foot. I especially like the fact that car traffic is limited in the Old Town (unlike in Vilnius), so you can take a leisurely stroll through the narrow streets while enjoying the architecture of historic buildings.
I hope you enjoyed my travel guide for Riga. Please share it with your friends on your social media. Here are a few more articles that I recommend you read next:
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