1. The Old Town, 2.The Old Town
A brief history:
During the 19th century nationalism in Latvia was revived. However, in 1918 Russia collapsed and their territory was taken over by the Germans, this included Latvia. By November 1918, the Germans surrendered to which the Latvians redeclared their independence.
Unfortunately, Communist Russia wanted Latvia back and on the 3 January 1919, they captured Riga and installed a tyrannical regime. In May 1919, the Germans returned and drove the Russian’s out of Riga, and by the end of 1919 the Germans also withdrew from Latvia. The Russian’s still held parts of South-eastern Latvia, but were driven out by force between 1919-1920. By 11 August 1920, the Russians finally recognised Latvian independence.
In 1939 the Nazis and the Communists agreed to divide Eastern Europe between them. This meant, Latvia was under control of the Soviet Union and in 1940 the Red Army occupied Latvia. Afterwards thousands of Latvians were deported to Siberia, others were shot. By June 1941 the Germans had invaded and were in control of Latvia. The Nazis began gathering the Latvian Jews and subjecting them to the concentration camps.
By October 1944, the Russians regained Riga. Many Latvians fled to the west and those who were left were killed or deported. Luckily, by 1987 Communism began to collapse as demonstrations began in Latvia. Latvian independence was recognised on 2 September 1991. Information gathered from here.
3. Latvian National Opera, 4. Art Nouveau, 5. Art Nouveau
Things to do:
Freedom Monument- this monument symbolises the idea of independence, something that the Latvian’s fought long and hard for. If you are ever lost in Riga, just look up and head towards the Freedom Monument and you will be near the centre of town.
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia– this was a really interesting and informative museum regarding the history of occupation between 1940-1991. It displays the totalitarian ideologies and regimes of Communist Russia and displays what their censorship had tried to remove and hide, such as the Hitler-Stalin pacts, the Holocaust, mass deportations and the repressive nature of the society they had created. The museum aims to remember, commemorate and remind people of what happened in Latvia. You can also go on a tour and see the bunkers that the prisoners were kept in. The museum is open from 10am-6pm everyday. The admission is €10 per person. Allow 2 hours for this.
Vērmanes Garden- enjoy a peaceful walk in Riga’s second oldest public park right in the centre of the city.
Latvian National Opera- I strongly suggest seeing a opera whilst in Riga. The outside gardens are vibrant and beautiful, and the inside chandelier was absolutely magnificent. That alone is enough to draw one in! I was lucky to get to witness one of the most famous operas, Rigoletto, which was just an absolute treat! We managed to score really cheap tickets on the night and while we weren’t dressed very extravagantly, it was part of the experience getting to witness all the locals dress up and enjoy their special night out.
Cat House, Riga- this house dates back to 1909 and is a mixture of architectural styles; medieval twin turrets, which the cats are perched, and the Art Nouveau portal surrounding the main entrance. The house stands on Livu Square in the centre of Old Town opposite the Great Guild hall. One legend regarding the cats of Riga suggests that the building owner was denied entrance to Great Guild hall and in disgust had two cats with arched backs placed on his house facing the offending guild. The cats were only turned around once he had gained admittance. Nowadays, the cats have become a symbol of the city of Riga. Be sure to get your own photo of the Cat House!
Art Nouveau- this movement began in the late 19th century and the movement reached its peak in the early 20th century, when majority of Riga’s Art Nouveau houses were built. Travel along Elizabetes and Alberta Street to take in the awe-inspiring architectural designs. Allow 1 hour for this.
Riga Old Town Walk- this is a free walking tour and I always love partaking in these and do them at the beginning of my stay in any city. I went on this one. Toms was my tour guide; he was very funny and knowledgable. While the title does boast it is free of charge, the general rule of thumb is that you give a donation for whatever you thought the tour was worth. Generally, people would give around €5 per person.
If time permits other things worth seeing- Museum of Popular Front, Riga Ghetto and Holocaust Museum, the markets near the bus terminal.
6. Around Old Town, 7. Cat House, Riga, 8. Old Town
Food: If you’re a foodie like me (and let’s be honest, who isn’t), do yourself a favour and go to Big Bad Bagels. I went here 2/3 days whilst in Riga. You can find it at Baznīcas iela 8, Rīga, LV-1010, Latvia.
Walking: Having starting my trip from Tallinn, is realised Riga is a much larger city so be prepared to walk more. You don’t have the small town feel anymore. Bring comfortable shoes!
Travelling onto Vilnius: If you’re travelling onto Vilnius, Lithuania we used Lux Express travelling by bus. If you book far enough in advance your ticket should be well under €20. The trip took just over 4 hours and you receive free internet (which is always a plus). It drops you a 15 minute walk to the old town in Vilnius. Check out my post on Lithuania here.
9. Three Brothers, 10. Art Nouveau
I won’t recommend the airBnB that I stayed in during my stay in Riga. However, I would recommend trying to stay as close to the old town as possible in order to be right in the heart of Riga.
11. Old building
As mentioned in my post on Estonia, the Baltic countries are excellent countries to make your euro go far.