The capital of Latvia is a cultural centre, with museums and concert halls, art nouveau architecture, and a pedestrianized Old Town that opens onto the vibrant Livu Square.
Set on the Baltic Sea at the mouth of the River Daugava, Riga’s Cathedral is the largest Medieval Gothic church in the Baltics, and it was constructed in 1211 when Bishop Albert, founder of the city, laid the first stone. St. Peter’s Church dates back to the 15th century and has experienced considerable adversity in its time, from a major fire to bombing during World War II. The church was restored in 1967 and you can climb the tower for an impressive view of the city.
Art nouveau architecture is one of Riga’s distinguishing features and about a third of all the buildings in the centre fit this style, with elaborate facades, opulent trimming, floral motifs, and scary gargoyles all characteristic. Home to the highest concentration of art nouveau buildings in the world, almost all date from the beginning of the 20th century, and were designed by Mikhail Eizenstein.
With a more difficult history, the Corner House was the headquarters of the KGB in Riga between 1944 and 1991, and it is where political prisoners were imprisoned, interrogated about their crimes, and tortured during this period. In the first year that the KGB was active there, many of the people captured were executed in a killing area in the basement, and they are all remembered here.
Cafe Osiris, a much-loved post-Soviet meeting point has been drawing intellectuals, artists, and politicians to its laid-back setting for over 20 years. One of the most interesting galleries in Riga, Alma Gallery was founded in 2005 with the sole purpose of promoting Latvian contemporary art.
The Central Market is worth a visit, especially at lunchtime, when you can feast on smoked fish, strong cheese, black bread, and traditional sausage. Taking in a game of highly competitive ice hockey while there is guaranteed to bring you closer to the proud Latvian locals.
As long as you live, you learn ― Latvian proverb
Jūrmala, the Northern Riviera
Just west and on the Gulf of Riga is Jūrmala, a resort town with a 24-km white-sand beach. Windswept and pristine, with vast skies and deep forests that grow wild edible blueberries, Jūrmala’s Dzintari Concert Hall near the beach has been delighting audiences with performances for over a century. Quaint homes with wooden architecture, decorative towelette and glazed verandas add to the beauty.