Today I’m going to introduce you a city in the north-east of Europe which might not come on your mind immediately when planning a city trip anywhere in Europe. I mean Riga which is the capital of Latvia. I often realize that people either get the Baltic states mixed up or they even don’t know anything about them. The most common travel destinies for city trips in Eastern Europe usually are Prague and Cracovia. Of course I love both of these cities and I appreciate their cultural and historical character but everytime when I’m there I realize that I have too many tourists around me. In 2018 Riga will be the place of the famous Latvian Song Festival so there’s one more reason for you to plan a city trip to the capital of Latvia this year.
Vienna of the north-east – Influences from all over Europe
What I love about Riga is that you have cultural and historical influences from all over Europe in one quite small city here. The three gorgeous little houses which you can see on the picture of this article are the so-called Three Brothers or Trīs Brāļi in Latvian. They are a relict of Scandinavian influences as Riga has been occupied by Sweden and Denmark in the past. The same case is Tallinn in Estonia where you will find the little bit less known Three Sisters which are called Kolm Õde in Estonian. Don’t miss them both if you are planning to visit both cities during your tour through the Baltic states. Next to the Three Brothers you will also find the so-called Swedish Gate or Zviedru vārti in Latvian.
And now I want to tell you one funny secret about it. The street on the left of the Swedish Gate is called Trokšņu iela which in Latvian means the street of noise. To be honest this street is very small and nothing is happening there so you will ask yourself why they called it the street of noise. In the Middle Age this was a popular street of prostitution and women offered their services there. Of course you also have influences from Germany like for instance the famous House of Blackheads or Melngalvju nams in Latvian. By the way I recommend you to take a map of Riga for free from the House of Blackheads as this is the place of Rigas tourist information. I would call Riga Vienna of the north-east as the architecture reminded me of my city trip to Vienna many years ago. And in whole the city you will find houses in the so-called art nouveau which you might also know under the German name Jugendstil. A street which I can recommend you is Alberta iela . It’s about two kilometres behind the Esplanāde Park. This building is only one pretty example of Rigas art nouveau.
Looking at this building you might think that you are in Vienna and not in Riga. And believe me there are many more buildings in this style even outside of Riga. For instance you will find houses in art nouveau when making a trip to Jūrmala. It’s obvious that you will also find some Russian influences in Riga from the Soviet times especially if you make a trip outside of the Old Town of Riga.
Green parks in the middle of Riga
Do you want to take a rest after your tour through Riga? No problem. In the middle of the Latvian capital you will find the pretty Esplanāde Park with a fountain and a small stream.
Another green and much bigger park is the famous Mežaparks which is a little bit far outside of Riga city centre. I recommend you to take the streetcar from Esplanāde Park and you will get there after about 20 minutes. I really love the combination of green meadows and trees and these old buildings from all epochs.
The year 2014 – An important year for Latvia
2014 was a very important year for Riga for two reasons. The first reason is that Latvia introduced the euro as the official currency. This happene exactly ten years after having joined the European Union. The other and probably more essential reason is the fact that Riga became the European Capital of Culture. Many manifestations reminded of Latvias way to independence and Latvian culture. One sight which you will see when coming to Riga city centre from the airport is the National Library next to Daugava river. In Latvian it’s called Gaismas pils which means castle of light.
There’s a legend behind this building. An old Latvian legend says that the castle of lights will rise from Daugava river and will release the Latvian nation from foreign oppression. Come and visit Riga as you will have a lot of culture and history to discover in this city!