This post is special because right now I live in the suburbs of Riga, Latvia. However living in the capital of Latvia means that everything that tourists see that excites them and pleases them I see with every day ordinary eyes. You get used to everything so that it doesn’t particularly stand out anymore. I have written quite a bit about Riga and it is truly a spectacular city to visit. Riga is divided into two parts by the Daugava River. On the right bank sits the city and on the left bank known as Pardaugava are the suburbs where we live. I have gathered up information for you about the highlights to be seen here. It seems that there is more to Riga than to other capital cities because there are two banks of the river to explore and so much to delight the eye.
Old St. Gertrude’s Church
Walking in the city along Gertrudes Street you will see a lovely old neo-gothic church just at the beginning of the street. It is a magnificent red brick structure with a green copper spire. All around you’ll see lots of art nouveau buildings worth taking a look at.
Riga Luther Church
This is a spectacular church sitting atop of a hill on the left bank of the Daugava in the area called Tornakalns. It was finished in 1891 and is a neo-gothic church that was built to commemorate the birth of Martin Luther. It has a yellow brick façade, a tall soaring steeple and looks impressive. The church is famous for its lovely timber ceiling. Next to the church is a cemetery.
Krišjānis Barons Memorial Museum
Well worth a visit this museum is in honor of Krisjanis Barons who collected and codified more than one million Latvian folk songs. He walked all about the country and gathered up folk songs for future generations so that they could understand their ancestors. This museum is house in the apartment where Barons once lived. Here are displays of photographs, manuscripts and the original furnishing dating for the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before the change in currency to the Euro Barons picture was on the 100 Lats bank note.
Laima Chocolate Museum
Take a most delicious tour. Laima is Latvia’s largest chocolate producer. The factory has opened up an interactive museum in its historic premises on Miera Street. There are many different exhibitions showing the history of the company dating back to 1870. You can watch videos which show the history of chocolate making and how Laima produces some of its most delicious treats. Visitors can have their photos taken and shown on an in-house Laima clock, create their own chocolate video or have a personalized message printed on a chocolate bar that can be given as a gift. You can shop in the adjoining Laima shop and café.
There are many lovely parks to be seen in Riga on both banks of the Daugava. A lovely park on the right bank is the Esplanade Park. This are goes back to the 12th century and at one time served as the parade grounds for the local garrison. Today it is a wonderful place to take a walk and relax. There are statues of renowned popular Latvian writer Rainis and the Latvian Army’s first Commander-in-Chief, Oskars Kalpaks. The lush green lawns and shady paths are surrounded by the Orthodox Cathedral, the Latvian Art Academy and the National Art Museum.
Vērmane Garden Park
This is the oldest and most popular park in Riga. Here locals gather to sit and play chess, city residents escape from the streets and walk the paths or sit on the benches and read. In the summer there are free concerts in the amphitheater and people can picnic on the grass. There is a play area for children to enjoy.
One of the most popular landmarks in Riga is the Freedom Monument or affectionately this tall green lady is known as “Milda”. The monument was designed by Karlis Zale and around its base you can see depicted Latvians singing, working and fighting for their freedom. The lovely lady holds three gold stars in her hands which reach up toward the sky representing three historical regions of Latvia – Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale. Residents and visitors place flowers at the base of the monument remembering the people who were deported to Siberia during Soviet times. You can also see the honor guard changing each hour.
Latvian National Opera
The Latvian National Opera is a spectacular white building with iconic columns. A new annex was added to the original building in 2001 with an additional 300 seats. Opera and ballet performances are given here. The opera is surrounded by lovely gardens including a fountain with a bronze statue. It stands by the well known Riga Canal that stretches through the city and next to the Old Town.
House of Blackheads
This is one of the architectural treasures of Riga. The original House of Blackheads was built in 1344 but was destroyed during war times. They rebuilt it in its original form in the 1990s. It is an amazing Gothic building with a Dutch Renaissance façade and in its time was a meeting place for the merchants’ guild. It has an amazing interior well worth taking a look at and sits in the Town Hall Square.
Finally when you think that nothing could top what you have already seen there is the Old Town which is the historical and geographical center of Riga on the right bank of the Daugava. Here you can step back into history and see medieval architecture which has survived both world wars. The narrow cobblestone streets just lead you on discovering many amazing things along the way like the Gothic style of St. Peter’s Church, the beautiful synagogue of Old Riga, the yard at the Convent of the Holy Spirit, the complex of residential houses “The Three Brethern” and so much more. There are art galleries and little shops to explore and lots of restaurants and pubs. In the summer it’s great to sit in the outside cafes and watch the world go by.
Latvian Ethnographic Museum
When you have had enough of pounding the city streets head on out to the north shore of Lake Jugla and you’ll find yourself in a world of farmsteads, windmills, fishing villages, churches, country houses and other historical structures moved here from their original locations all over Latvia and preserved here. You can get to see craftsmen creating various things and have some Latvian food and drink in the country tavern.
These are just some of the highlights. There are two banks of the Daugave to explore when you visit Riga and a wonderful Riga region to see as well. So come on over and see all that we have to offer.