With a rough itinerary in mind and our ‘Baltic States’ guidebook to hand, we jumped on the plane for a short break to Riga. Having booked a modern minimalist apartment for 4 nights, we had set aside plenty of time to explore the city. From a trip to the coast to the Natural History Museum, we had a taste of Riga’s culture, sampled the cuisine and saw a monument or too. As we thoroughly enjoyed our time spent there, here are my top ten things to see and do!
1. Panoramic Views from The Latvian Academy of Sciences
Whichever City one chooses to visit, a panoramic view is a must. Going against the grain of the traditional Rigan tourist, we chose to witness these magnificent views from a more unusual spot. With views from St Peter’s Church costing a dear €9 each, we ventured a little further afield to the Latvian Academy of Sciences. Representing Stalinist Architecture, this structure was resurrected after World War II and is located behind the Central Market close to the border of the Daugava River.
For a cheaper price of €5 euros each, we gained access to the Panorama Deck situated on the 15th floor. Accessed by lift and a flight or two of stairs, the route took you onto a platform with 360° views at the height of 65 metres. At such great heights you can see a large variety of exquisite architecture, from bridges and buildings to churches and museums. Be sure to wrap up warm in the Autumn as the platform can be a little breezy!
2.A Day Trip to Jurmala
Located only a short train ride away from Capital lies the City of Jurmala. Situated between the Lielupe River and the Gulf of Riga, this resort town is home to 25km of sandy beaches. The train makes numerous stops at the beach resorts along the way, the most popular being Kemeri, Majori and Bulduri.
Tickets cost €1.70 per single from the Central Station’s ticket office and around €3.00 for a return. We chose to stop in Majori, a quaint yet cultural area, well known for its main street Jomas iela bustling with market stalls, craft shops and a variety of restaurants. A short walk from Jomas street you will find the Baltic Sea, rippling onto the sandy beach that stretches for miles from East to West. Having visited in September, a dip in the sea was not high on the agenda, however a stroll in bare feet across the sands sufficed.
We stopped for coffee and a spot of lunch at Cafe 53, a great restaurant in the centre of the main strip offering a wide range of dishes for affordable prices. Aside from the beach, Majori offers beautiful architecture, a museum showcasing the ‘history of the Jūrmala resorts’ and of course the Livu Akvapark.
3.Dzintari Forest Park
Whilst visiting Jurmala, you cannot leave before taking a trip to the Dzintari Forest Park. Just a 20 minute walk away from Majori Station, this beautiful 200-year-old Pine Grove is not only a protected natural wonder but also home to a wide range of activities too. From high ropes and adventure playgrounds to a rollerblading route and watchtower, this park offers more than just beauty.
Strolling amongst the pine trees we came across the Dzintari watchtower. The structure stands at over 30 meters high, with 12 viewing platforms on your way to the top. The climb however is not for the faint hearted. With grated stair treads leading all the way to the top, be careful not to look down as you get higher and higher. The structure sways in the wind which can be felt when you reach the final platform. With views stretching over the tree tops, this is a fear-conquering challenge for many.
Once on the ground, you can enjoy the natural beauty once more of this breathtaking park. But watch out for experienced rollerbladers and cyclists alike, or you may go home with a broken bone or two!
4. Natural History Museum of Latvia
For two lovers of botanical, anthropological and entomological paraphernalia, the Natural History Museum of Latvia was high on our agenda. For a mere €2.13 each, we took a step into the world of terrible taxidermy, graceful butterflies and luminescent minerals.
The tour begins with the Botany Collection and Geology Collection, showcasing minerals, rocks and herbariums. The Amber collection is fascinating along with the luminous minerals that are rather magnificent.
Next is the Zoology Collection, ranging in 27,000 units of stuffed animals and birds. Many could be labelled as ‘bad taxidermy’ due to their distorted faces, unnatural smiles and misshaped limbs. Comical to say the least!
The most beautiful of them all has to be the Entomology Collection, home to over 63,000 units. The butterfly and moth collection hosts over 2000 species alone, showcasing an anthology of magnificence.
Having covered every other species besides humans, the final floor showcased a gruesome exhibition of skulls and foetuses. With skeletons in glass cases and unborn babies pickled in jars, this isn’t for the fainthearted. Although somewhat sickening, the artefacts were fascinating.
5.1991 Barricades Museum
Whilst traipsing through the Old Town, through the windy cobbled streets, you may stumble across the Barricades Museum. Tucked away on Krāmu Street, this free upstairs exhibition is somewhat of an unexpected discovery. It is a dedication to bravery in favour of those who defended the Latvian Parliament from Soviet Soldiers who were trying to end the movement of Independence and prevent a communist coup. The museum itself presents a recreation of the Night of the Barricades in January 1991 as well as broadcasting media coverage from that night. Replicas of 1980’s styled kitchens appear with a significance that is unknown.
6. Central Market
Whether you are in need of fruit and vegetables or not, visiting the Central Market is a great experience. Watching the locals complete their daily shop, bartering for the best produce and tucking into indulgent pastries, this is where you may experience the true culture of Riga. Currently Europe’s largest market and bazaar, the historic building houses over 3000 stalls daily. Visit for vibrant colours, Rigan Culture and post-Soviet history at you fingertips (or tastebuds if you wish!)
7. The Powder Tower & Latvian War Museum
The Latvian War Museum is located in Riga’s Powder Tower in the Old Town. This free museum is key to revealing Latvia’s military and political history. With an abundance of collections of artefacts, weapons, photographs and much more, this is both a visual and factual tour throughout history. As all descriptions are written in Latvian, translations can be found in a portable guide located in each room.
8. Freedom Monument
The Freedom Monument is an iconic landmark commemorating the lives of Soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence.Funded entirely from donations, this monument stands tall at end the of Brīvības iela, leading directly into the heart of the Old Town. The three stars above the woman’s head represent the 3 historic provinces of Latvia, made from granite and copper. The statue not only symbolises Freedom, but also National Unity and Latvian Statehood. If you are lucky, you can witness Guards of Honour standing at the base of the statue, changing hourly when the weather is beautiful.
9. The Three Brothers & Cat House
On every Rigan sightseeing list, the Three Brothers and the Cat House will appear. Located only streets apart, the two landmarks are usually found amid crowds of tourists photographing the architecture.
The Three Brothers represent different stages in the development of Architecture of Latvia, dating back to the 15th Century. The complex on the right is the oldest brother, built in the late 1400s and served its purpose as a trade and production house.
The middle brother is the second eldest, dating back to 1646 as inscribed on the buildings Dutch-style facade. Embellished with patterns and large windows, this is the most visually pleasing of the three. Finally, on the far left stands the youngest brother. A smaller building in stature, No.21 was built after 1650, embodying small apartments that are protected against evil powers from the mask displayed on the building’s front.
The Cat House, known to Latvian’s as Kaķu nams, is situated on 10 Meistaru street. Benign to our knowledge, there was a little story behind these feline creatures that perched atop the roof. With arched backs and raised tails, these cats were said to have been placed, backside first, towards the members of the Great Guild. Why you may ask? Legend says that the owner of such building was denied entry to the guild and therefore sought revenge. A myth or not, this story has granted Riga such fame and has now become a symbol for the Capital City.
10. The House of the Blackheads, Nativity of Christ Cathedral & St Peter’s Church
As far as architecture goes, Riga is home to some of the most beautiful. Originally built in 1334 and renovated in 1999, The House Of The Blackheads stands proud in the Town Hall Square. Gothic with an essence of Dutch Renaissance, this building is striking in decor and features, in particular the ornate clock face.
On a more religious note, the Nativity of Christ Cathedral is exquisite both inside and out. The Neo-Byzantine styled church was built when Riga was still part of the Russian Empire, dating back to 1876. The interior is open to the public, rich in vibrant colours and ornate decor.
Finally, Riga’s tallest church, with a Gothic tower standing at 130m tall is St Peter’s. This religious building offers spectacular views over Riga’s red rooftops, overlooking the river and port too. However, tickets are set at a pricey €9 each, so make those photographs count at the top!
Our feline friend in Majori