Sightseeing in Riga quickly becomes a relaxing pastime. Just walking the cobbled streets in the
Old Town is enough to slow the pace, leaving all the time in the world to enjoy the visible signs of
the city’s historical passage.
Riga’s key attractions are all the more remarkable for having survived the devastation wrought on other cities during World War II. Of particular interest is the Freedom Monument, the tallest of its kind in Europe. Built in 1935, it survived the communist era as a source of humour, regarded as a travel agent offering a one-way ticket to Siberia.
Now renovated, it has become a popular meeting place for the city’s youth. The city is also home to Europe’s most comprehensive examples of Jugendstil German-style Art Nouveau architecture. A wander through the New Town will be rewarded with sights of this highly suggestive and ornate style, most evident along Elizabetes iela.
The market is a must-see for those wanting to rub shoulders with the locals. The Centraltirgus, as its known, lies under five cavernous zeppelin hangars. As with most markets, a wary eye is advised.
Walking tour of Old Riga.
St. Peter’s church is the geographical heart of the city, and its wooden steeple, once the highest in Europe, is an ideal place to get a panoramic view of the Old Town and surrounding areas.
A few steps from St. Peter’s is the House of Blackheads, once a Hanseatic seat. Behind St. Peter’s can be found the city’s oldest stone building still in use.
Once the church of St.George, it now houses the Museum of Applied Arts. The church’s rear entrance leads into a maze of streets and courts which spill into Livu Square, home to a concert hall. Walking on to Dome Square, UNESCO’s decision to designate the Old Town as a world heritage site becomes understandable.
Dome Cathedral itself dates back to 1211, a century older than Riga Castle, a little further down the road, and currently the residence of the country’s President. Walking back along Small Castle Street, three buildings curiously called Three Brothers illustrate architecture of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.
A few streets further on, and through a gate, carved through a dwelling house to celebrate Swedish occupation in 1698, lies the longest building in the city, Jacob’s Barracks, and the oldest remains of Riga’s medieval fortifications. At the end of the fortifications lies the Gunpowder Tower, presently the Museum of War.
From here its well worth walking across tram tracks and on up to the top of Bastion Hill, a hilly park which offers the best view of Freedom Monument, considered the heart of Latvia.