Of the cities in the Baltic Countries, Riga enjoys the most tourism, and is also the largest and most cosmopolitan.
Latvia has Estonia to its north and Lithuania to its south. To the east it borders Russia and Belarus and the Baltic Sea lies to its west. It's a must for anyone who loves partying, markets or architecture.
Riga developed as a typical northern European medieval town. With the help of crusaders, German Bishop Albert subjugated its population and Riga became a member of the Hanseatic League and developed as a dynamic trading town until the 16th century.
Because of its location, Riga has been under German, Polish, Swedish and Russian rule, but in the second half of the 19th century it began to transform from a busy harbour town into a modern European town. Its rapid economic progress continued until World War I.
Early in the 20th century a ring of boulevards was created around Riga, with the art nouveau Albert Street and its houses as its heart. In 1918 it became the capital of the newly independent Latvia until Soviet occupation put the country and its citizens through degradation and stagnation.
Independence was again enjoyed in 1991 and much renovation and modernisation has taken place. Its first democratic elections in 1993 were quite contentious. Only pre-1940 citizens and their descendents automatically became citizens of modern Latvia, leaving around 30 percent of the population without voting rights. The decision was made out of fear of a non-ethnic electorate and a disintegrating language and culture happening. Reforms were made to include those born after August 21, 1991 being given automatic citizenship, but still a large chunk of residents who did not pass language and history tests have no real rights.
More than half of Latvia is less than 100m above sea level, and the generally green and rolling country is split into four regions which have a mix of forests and fertile farmland and several thousand lakes. The Daugava River, which flows from Belarus to the sea at Riga, is full and fast-flowing and the Gauja which flows from the north-east is the longest at 452 kms.
Old Riga has whole squares of German buildings which have stood since the 17th century some even earlier. It is neatly halved with the Dome cathedral dominating the northern side and St Peters the southern. The Dome has examples of almost every medieval architectural style, with Gothic and Romanesque features being the most prevalent. St Peters is mainly from the 15th century, but its pink stone western façade is 17th century. The 72 metre spire has a lift which gives wonderful views of Old Riga.
p>Getting around on foot is the way to go, but remember to look up for the playful statuettes and carvings which adorn many buildings. They are leftovers from the sauciness and sensuality the city used to enjoy. The only gate to survive in its original form is the Swedish gate which was built into the fortification wall which surrounds the old city in 1698.
Parts of Riga Castle, at Pils laukums 3, date from 1330, though it has been rebuilt many times. It was built on the banks of the Daugava for German knights, but now the canary yellow building is home to Latvia's president, as well as the Museum of Foreign Art.
The central market in New Riga is lively and colourful and is very cheap. It is so vast and busy, most people get lost, but there is plenty to see. Don't forget to look for some Latvian amber, or dzintars, which has been used as jewellery, pendants, buttons and beads since ancient times.
Riga's Motor Museum is a must to visit. Its collection of more than 100 vehicles includes cars, motorcycles and bicycles, ranging from vintage Rolls Royces to amazing Soviet creations.
The Metropole Hotel is one of the oldest western style hotels in Riga. It was built in 1871 as a hotel and during the 1930s was a hub of western and Soviet espionage. It had a Swedish makeover in 1992 and now the beautiful old building has a delightful Scandinavian flavour.
The 18th century Rundale Palace Rundales Pils is just a day trip from Riga and is probably Latvia's architectural highlight. It was built in the 1700s in two phases for Baron Ernst Johann von Bühren by Rastrelli, the Italian baroque genius who created many of St Petersburg's finest buildings, including the Winter Palace at the Hermitage Museum.
The capital of Latvia in the Baltic Countries.
Well Connected Travel has three-day personalised tours of Riga, staying at the Metropole Hotel, starting at $900 per person, twin share.
Qantas flies daily to Bangkok with Finnair connections to Riga, via Helsinki. Princes start at $1800 per person from Perth and Darwin and $1900 per person from the east coast and Adelaide. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of recording but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.
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Riga Motor Museum
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