It was during a conference (the Woman in Travel Summit) that I spent a week in Latvia last fall. During this trip, I was able to discover different facets of this Baltic country: from the historic town of Kuldiga to Rundale Castle, through the beaches and spas of Jurmala and the peat bogs of Kemeri National Park … Latvia has many beautiful surprises! It only remained for me to tell you about the Latvian capital, where I spent the majority of this trip: the beautiful Riga.
WHAT TO DO IN RIGA?
As a great lover of Art Nouveau, I had wanted to visit Riga for a long time, famous in particular for its splendid architecture. But Riga is not only one of Europe’s Art Nouveau centers, it is also a UNESCO-listed historic center, imposing buildings reminiscent of the Soviet era, a hipster district full of micro-breweries. , but also a varied and very interesting culinary scene, articulated around the largest food market in Europe. In short, as you can imagine, I really liked this city!
Below you will find the main activities to do during your trip to Riga. Riga Old Town can be easily explored in a day, but to have time to enjoy all the beautiful corners of this Baltic capital, I recommend that you spend at least 2-3 days there.
EXPLORE RIGA OLD TOWN
Riga Old Town (or Vecriga) is the UNESCO-listed part of the city and also its tourist center. It’s a pretty unique mix of medieval, Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Art Nouveau buildings. The old town is not very big, so the best way to discover it is to walk there and get lost in the small cobbled streets. It is also possible to participate in a guided walking tour to learn more about its history.
Here are some places not to be missed during your strolls:
- Riga Cathedral (Doma): one of the oldest buildings in Riga, construction of which began in the 13th century. It is the largest medieval church in the Baltic States.
- St. Peter’s Church: in addition to visiting its interior, you can climb to a panorama from which you will have a panoramic view of Riga. However the access to the interior of the church and to the panorama costs the “modest” sum of 9 € (very expensive for Latvia…), I therefore decided to abstain (but I propose to you another one). , and I think even better, a little further down in the article)
- the Three Brothers: a collection of old houses dating from between the 15th and 17th centuries (Mazā Pils street numbers 17, 19 and 21) – good luck having your photo with no one in front!
- Riga Castle: this cannot be visited, but is the official residence of the President of the Latvian Republic
- the Swedish Gate and the Jacob’s Barracks, former 18th-century barracks now transformed into a long line of shops and restaurants.
- the Maison du Chat and Livu Square: Livu Square is one of the main squares in the old town and one of my favorite places. There are beautiful houses there, and in particular the famous Maison du Chat, an Art Nouveau house topped with statues of cats!
- the House of the Blackheads in Riga (see below)
The House of the Blackheads, built from the 14th century, was originally the residence of the single merchants passing through Riga from the Brotherhood of the Blackheads (this name refers to the patron saint of the brotherhood, Saint-Maurice, who would have been of African origin). Unfortunately, the building was bombed during World War II and was rebuilt identically at the end of the 20th century.
Even if only the basements are still original today, the visit remains interesting enough to learn a little more about the history of the city and of this brotherhood.
STROLL THROUGH RIGA’S SUBLIME ART NOUVEAU DISTRICT
Around Riga’s Old Town lies the Centrs district, also known as Riga’s Art Nouveau district. This district, which developed at the beginning of the 20th century, is said to have the highest density of Art Nouveau buildings (Jugendstil) in Europe – it’s pretty amazing! Alberta iela is often considered the most beautiful street in the neighborhood (and indeed, it is splendid), but I also recommend that you take a stroll in the neighboring streets: Strelnieku iela (with the Stockholm School of Economics, one of the most beautiful buildings Art Nouveau in Riga!), Elizabetes iela, Vilandes iela,… It’s worth exploring this area, because there are beautiful houses all over the place.
If you like Art Nouveau, I also recommend a visit to the Rīgas Jūgendstila Centrs , the Art Nouveau museum, where you can admire the splendid Art Nouveau apartment where the architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns once lived. The really cool thing is that there are actors who walk around as if they really live there – it gives a little life to this incredible place… I even got a hot cake coming out of the kitchen ! Even if you don’t want to visit the museum, push the door of the building anyway to admire its splendid spiral staircase.
EXPLORING RIGA’S GREEN BELT
Between the Veille Ville and the Art Nouveau district, there is a sort of green belt, with a series of parks crossed by a canal. These must be particularly pleasant in the summer, but since I was there in the middle of November, I must say that I did not linger there! In summer, it is even possible to take a boat trip on the canal
On the other hand, the central place of this “green belt” which one cannot miss since it is opposite the main entrance of the Old Town, it is the Freedom Monument , built in memory of the soldiers. died during the Latvian War of Independence.
Right next door, the Esplanade Park is also home to three important buildings: Riga Cathedral of the Nativity , a large Neo-Byzantine style Orthodox cathedral which is also worth a visit, the Latvian Academy of Fine Arts and the Latvian National Museum of Arts (see below).
DISCOVER THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ARTS OF LATVIA
Located in a splendid neo-classical building dating from the beginning of the 20th century and recently renovated, the National Museum of Arts of Latvia is a good complement to a visit to the Art Nouveau district of Riga since it allows you to discover other facets of the city. Latvian art from the 19th century to the present day. Temporary exhibitions take place in the basements, where you can also see the museum’s reserves.
SOME IDEAS FOR EXCURSIONS FROM RIGA
To end this article, here is also a small recap of the most popular excursions that you can do from Riga.
- Jurmala: a pretty historic seaside resort on the Baltic Sea, for spa and wellness enthusiasts. Accessible in 30 minutes by train from Riga or by organized excursion.
- Kemeri National Park: Right next to Jurmala, a national park between forests and peat bogs, with an easy walk of a few kilometers easily achievable as a day trip. Accessible by train from Riga or by organized excursion.
- Rundale Castle: also called the “little Versailles of Latvia”, a beautiful recently renovated castle located in the south of Latvia Accessible by car or organized excursion.
- Sigulda: another popular destination but one that I haven’t visited, known for its castle. Accessible by car or organized excursion.
- Gauja National Park: another popular national park whose visit can be combined with that of Sigulda. Accessible by car or organized excursion.
RIGA IN PRACTICE
To reach Riga, nothing could be simpler: Brussels Airlines offers direct flights to Riga from Brussels. And if you want to combine a visit to Riga with that of the other capitals of the Baltic States, the LUX Express bus company offers direct and really cheap trips (from € 7) between each city: allow 4 hours for the trip Vilnius – Riga, and 4h30 for the Riga – Tallinn journey.
Riga can be visited very easily on foot. For longer trips in the city or between the city and the airport, I advise you to use Bolt, an application similar to Uber (which does not exist in Latvia) widely used in the Baltic States. The operation is identical to that of Uber (just download the app on your smartphone) and the trips are generally very cheap. It’s more convenient than the bus to get around, and sometimes even cheaper when there are 2 or more of you. My sponsorship code 7GUPD allows you to have 5 € reductions on your first Bolt trip (this is usually enough for a city-station or city-airport trip).