Riga – the capital of Latvia, and a major commercial and cultural centre. Population: 735000 inhabitants
Some historical facts
Riga was founded in 1201 by German crusaders. Before then, a Liv village of merchants and sailors existed where Old Town now sits. The Livs were one of several nations that resided in the territory now known as Latvia. At the beginning of the 13th century, international trading opportunities grew rapidly. Riga joined the Hanseatic League, Europe’s first common market. At its height in the 14th and 15th centuries the Hanseatic League was as powerful as any monarchy in Europe, and Riga thrived. The houses in Old Town and the city centre remind us of this period of major German cultural influence.
In the 16th century, Riga was occupied by Polish troops, but in 1621 was conquered by the Swedes and became the largest and most developed city in Sweden. In 1710, during the Great Northern War, Riga and most of Latvia was invaded by the Russian Tsar Peter the Great and annexed to Russia.
At the turn of the 20th century, Riga possessed the second largest port in the Russian Empire. Once again the city was flourishing; magnificent Art Nouveau style buildings were erected. These masterpieces created by German, Russian and Latvian architects are still very much appreciated by locals, and cause foreign tourists to gaze upwards in amazement. The historic centre of Riga has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which recognizes that Riga has the finest collection of Art Nouveau architecture in Europe.
In 1918 Latvia declared its independence, and for the first time in history, Latvian became the official language of Latvia. From then until World War II, Riga became known as a premiere city of style and produced Europe’s highest number of university graduates. Because of its numerous shops, cafes, and elegantly-dressed people, Riga was dubbed the “little Paris”. After World War II, Latvia was annexed into the Soviet Union and regained sovereignty only in 1991.
Over the last decade, Riga’s buildings are being restored and the city modernised. Gradually Riga has converted itself into a cosy and modern European city, as well as a centre of various cultural and sporting events. In 2002, Riga rang in its 800 anniversary in fine style, offering both traditional and modern festivities as the entire city celebrated for days. In 2003 the Eurovision Song Contest and the international “Cutty Sark” regatta took place in Riga. In 2006, Riga will host the Ice-Hockey World Championship, an event which the hockey-loving Latvians await with much anticipation.
Local sights and attractions
(for more detailed information please see: sights and attractions)
- The Old Town: Originally constructed by Germans, the Old Town now attracts visitors from all over the world with its stunning architectural monuments These attractions include Dome Cathedral, St. Peter’s Church, the Swedish Gates, Riga Castle, the Powder Tower, and more.
- Art Nouveau (Jugendstil): Architecture dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries is known as Art Nouveau. Although Jugendstil architecture may be seen throughout the city centre, Alberta and Elizabetes Streets display an unusually abundant variety of such buildings.
- The Ethnographic Open-air Museum: The extensive, park-like grounds demonstrate how Latvia’s countryside looked in previous centuries. It features wooden houses (dwelling houses, windmills, barns) from all over Latvia and often hosts traditional craft fairs.
- Freedom Monument: The monument was erected from money donated by Latvian citizens, and was unveiled in 1935, during the first independent Republic of Latvia. It symbolises the long-cherished dream Latvians held of freedom from the yoke of German landlords and the Russian monarchy.
- House of the Blackheads (Schwarzhäupterhaus): This architectural monument was first built in the 14th century, destroyed in 1941 and then rebuilt in 2001. It once hosted a brotherhood of foreign merchants.
Places to go
- Latvian National Opera (see more - theatres)
- Riga Motor Museum and Museum of the History of Medicine (see more - museums)
- Entertainment centre “Lido”, Zoo (see more – children entertainment)
- Central Market – The central market, or “tirgus” as it is locally known, is the largest open market in Europe. A large variety of goods are sold from and around various Zeppelin hangars. Traditional and natural foods as well as flowers, crafts, cheap CDs and clothing may be found here. The honey-sellers offer tastes of their different varieties.
Riga Tourism Information Centres:
- Ratslaukums 6 (in the Blackheads House), tel: +371 703 79 00, fax: +371 703 79 10, email@example.com
- Pragas iela 1 (in the Bus station), tel: +371 722 05 55
- Stacijas laukums 2 (in the Railway station), tel: +371 723 38 15
- Smilsu iela 4 (in the Latvian Tourism Information Bureau), tel: +371 722 46 64, fax: +371 722 46 65, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rigatourism - Riga Tourism Coordination and Information Centre website (LV, EN, RU)
- Riga Municipality website (LV, EN, RU)
- Map of Riga- (1417 x 992 pix, 582 Kb)
- Map of the Riga centre – detailed map of the city centre up to Lacplesa Street, including the Old Town (2278 х 1891 pix, 1 156 Kb)
- Riga Airport – flight schedule (LV, EN)
- Riga Central Railway station – domestic and long distance train schedule (LV, EN, RU)
- Riga Bus station – bus schedule (LV, EN, RU, DE)
Public transport in Riga
For more detailed information, please see specialised sections on this website.