‘The entire Old Town in Riga is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a must-see when visiting the Baltic city…’
The colours, sights and sounds are wonderful and it’s handily compact and very easy to explore on foot. There are hop-on tour buses and trams but if the weather is good, wrap up warm and hit the streets of Riga.
House of the Blackheads
Built in the 14th Century, this house used to house unmarried German merchants (well, single men should all be confined to one space, no?). The property was originally known as the New House before being changed to reflect the Brothers of Blackheads who lived there. During the Second World War, the house was damaged, but has since been fully reconstructed. The building standing today was finished in 1999 and is generally regarded as the most beautiful building in the city.
KGB Building/Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
Given Riga was under Soviet occupation for such a long time, it’s perhaps unsurprising to find out the KGB were quite active. Nowadays they’re far more interested in US elections… Anyway, now that the KGB has gone, it’s deemed acceptable for Latvians to conduct tours. These are mainly concentrated around the basement cells of the former secret service property. The property is known locally as the Corner Building and sits on the edge of Brivibas. It’s a chilling reminder of the dark days of Soviet occupation and remembers the people that lost their lives within its walls.
‘Gaze out across the city from the chic surroundings of the Skyline Bar…’
Riga Radisson Blue Skyline Bar
On the 26th floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel on Elizabetes Street, there’s a Skyline Bar. It offers unrivalled panoramic views across the Old Town. The bar itself is very chic and the cocktail prices rather reflect that. There’s a dedicated Skyline elevator which take you straight to the bar. This is a glass fronted affair, so you can peer out across the city on your way up. We expected to pay a €3 entry fee (as noted on the hotel’s website), but it turned out to be free of charge. The views are spectacular from all sides of the bar, although the lighting does make taking photos without glaring reflection a bit difficult. The Clavis Riga cocktail, which is the city’s official drink is made with the very popular Riga Black Balzams liqueur.
The Cathedral of St Mary sits in the central region of the Old Town. It’s one of the oldest churches in Latvia and the Baltics and one of the most recognisable buildings in the Riga. During the Soviet occupation from 1957 to 1989, there were no religious services permitted there. Anyway, these days, it is free to host as many sessions of Mass as it can cram into one day. After all, it has many years to make up for, no?
Next to the central bus terminal, there are 5 massive zeppelin hangars that are home to the central market. Each hangar is filled with different produce – – from meat, fish, cheese, herbs and spices, and fruit and veggies – – and is the largest of its kind in Europe. I have never seen so many neon coloured pickled veggies in my life.
‘Whilst under renovation in 2013, the castle was devastated by fire’
The first thing that stuck me about Riga’s Castle was its position. It’s not on a massive rock and it isn’t surrounded by a moat, so it didn’t look all that secure to me. It looked very much like the kind of castle I’d choose to invade, if I was An Invader. I’m not, though; I’m a tourist. However, most of the castles I’ve visited are perched somewhere that would put you off bothering attempting to take it over. Anyway, just because it’s not at the top of a massive hill doesn’t mean it’s a bad castle; it’s not. It’s a perfectly lovely castle, and it’s been sitting on the banks of the Daugava River since 1330. When the Swedes invaded (I told you it was too easy..), they built a few extensions and the complex is now quite sizeable. Whilst under renovation in 2013, the castle caught fire and suffered extensive damage. Not only was part of it destroyed, but some historic collections in the museums suffered water damage. These days, the castle is home to the President of Latvia. This is nice, as it’s really close to town so he can pop out for a pint of milk whenever he wants.
The Three Brothers
The houses, in the row at 17, 18 and 21 Maza Pils Iela, are the oldest complex of occupied residential properties in Riga. The oldest house (No. 17) dates from the 15th century and is representative of the Gothic period. Number 19 shows the influence of Dutch Mannerism architecture and dates back to the 1640s. The property at 21 is Baroque in style and dates back to the 17th Century.
The Riga Ghetto
Riga ghetto still exists in its former state, although the museum and memorials are located in the Creative Arts district. The whole space is chilling and I haven’t be so moved by something since I visited Auschwitz. The area is primarily made up of cabins, and much of the museum is set outside. Featuring an entire wall length of panels, these give the names of everyone who perished there. There’s a train carriage to symbolise the various locations across Europe where Jews were transported to Riga and the list is horrifically long. Although there hasn’t been much funding for the exhibitions, they’re so well done. It’s well worth taking time out to visit and pay your respects.
The gate was built as part of the city walls and provided access to Swedish barracks for soldiers stationed in Riga during their occupation of the city. Swedish Gate is one of the oldest remaining parts of the wall. It’s a beautiful archway and another nod to Latvia’s diverse history.
Rozena has the rather quirky glory of being the narrowest street in Riga. If your arms are long enough, you’ll be able to reach out and touch both sides. Amazing, huh? I know. Also, the street is extremely pretty and it’s a bit of a hidden gem. Because of this, it’s unlikely you’ll have to compete with hoards of tourists. When you tire of all the arm stretching, grab a beer in the bar at the end of the street. OR, do some stretching, grab a beer and then go back and do more; it’s completely up to you.
Whatever you do; enjoy your time in Riga.