Riga Travel Guide
Introduction to Riga
Free from the iron grip of Communism for barely a generation, Riga has rapidly rebuilt its centre to become of one of the most attractive urban destinations in the Baltic region. Whether you seek to walk amidst its many picture perfect Art Nouveau structures, or take in some of its world famous performing arts at its equally beautiful opera house, those that love culture will take to this city like a duck to water.
Cultural Experiences in Riga
While Riga wasn’t as fortunate as Tallinn was in escaping damage in the wars of the 20th Century, many of the buildings in Vecriga, the traditional name for Riga’s Old Town, have been lovingly restored to their former glory, making it a great place to begin your tour of Latvia’s capital.
Best known for its old churches and cathedrals, Vecriga’s charm comes from strolling its many streets, in which one can get delightfully lost while exploring many boutiques, restaurants, museums, and historical sites. Don’t miss the newly restored House of the Blackheads, which used to serve as a guild headquarters for German merchants that had yet to find a partner to marry in Riga.
Those craving a bit of culture during their stay in Riga can satisfy it by attending a show at the Latvian National Opera. Not only will you get a chance to see the finest plays, operas, and ballets that this creative Baltic nation has to offer, you’ll be surrounded by a building that is often described as one of the most gorgeous structures in the city. Incorporating architectural styles that range from Renaissance to Empire, you’ll understand within moments of arriving why locals are so passionate about their finest theatre.
Seeking an understanding of how life was for rural Latvians in prior generations? Heading over to the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum will enable you to do this, as the staff behind this institution have moved farm houses from four separate regions of the country to a park in Jugla, a suburb located northeast of Riga’s city centre.
118 buildings and a cast of living history actors/actresses will bring alive both the romantic notions and harsh realities of life in the Latvian countryside in previous centuries, making it well worth the visit for inquisitive travelers.
Other Attractions in Riga
Not all attractions in Riga are easy on the senses. The former KGB headquarters in the Latvian capital is such a place, as it was here where persons of interest to the all-seeing security and spying apparatus of the USSR were interrogated, tortured, or even killed. Those that didn’t end up getting capped were often shipped off to gulags (forced labour camps) in Siberia, where many lived the remainder of their days.
Walking the cramped hallways, you will be shown isolation units behind crude steel cell doors where political prisoners awaited their fate, interrogation rooms where skilled questioners shook down captives for anything they knew, and artifacts that do a chilling job of underscoring the paranoia that ordinary citizens felt towards the secret police that walked among them on a daily basis.
After the most emotionally draining site that you will visit this side of Tuol Sleng (the Khmer Rouge prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia), cheer yourself up by dropping in to the whimsical World of Hat Museum, where hats from human societies all over the world have been gathered for your viewing pleasure.
Boasting head decorations from every inhabited continent in the world, you will be impressed by the breadth of this specialty museum’s collection. Whether it is a Native American headdress from Minnesota, to ceremonial hats worn by the Hiuru people in Papua New Guinea, the diversity of what we put on our heads to spice up our look will astound you.
Finally, photogs looking for the best vantage point from which to capture a killer picture of Riga should head up the belfry of St. Peter’s Church. From the top of its haughty bell tower, avid photographers can capture an unforgettable view of the Old Town, and the best part of it all is that you don’t even have to break a sweat for get the shot, as an elevator is available to zip you to the top. Take note that the tower is closed on Mondays.