Riga Latvia is much more than Old Town. Although we only scratched the surfaces of the area outside of Old Town, we did find some interesting—and in one case, fascinating—sections beyond the walls.
- Art Nouveau District is, by far, the most interesting area. Although wonderfully decorative and fanciful Art Nouveau buildings can be found through the entire city, the greatest concentration and some of the best examples are within a triangle bordered by Elizabetes, Alberta and Strenieku Streets. We can’t even begin to describe some of these buildings or their extraordinary decorations. So rather than even try, we will let the buildings, or at least our wholly inadequate photos of them. Speak for themselves.
- Central Market, a series of WWI-era German dirigible hangers that have been repurposed into one of the oldest and largest food and clothing markets in Europe. It is also one of the most organized, with produce largely in outside stands, meat and poultry in one building, fresh, frozen and smoked seafood in one, dairy products in another and clothes in yet another.
- Spikeri Creative Quarter, a neighborhood that now houses some of the city’s most important cultural and artistic groups. It also hosts art exhibitions and concerts and has a number of restaurants and cafes. The morning we visited, all the action was focused on a flea market.
- Kalnciema Iela Quarter of large wooden homes, some of which have been renovated and others still awaiting the processes. The neighborhood is incongruously anchored by a Soviet-era building derisively nicknamed, Stalin’s Birthday Cake.
- Bergs’ Bazaar, a historic, upscale pedestrian mall which is hidden inside a city block. It has been dramatically updated since its debut in the late 19th century.
Other nearby districts that sound interesting, but we did not get a chance to visit, include:
- Moscow Suburb (named for its main road that went to Moscow), was a community of relatively poor Russians and Jews who were forbidden from living elsewhere during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Germans converted into a barbed-wire-lined Jewish Ghetto and filled it with Jews before burning it to the ground. It is now home to the Riga Ghetto Museum that depicts life in the ghetto and memorializes both the victims and 270 Latvians who rescued a number of the city’s Jews.
- Agenskains District, on the Left Bank of the river, reportedly houses some of the city’s most architecturally significant wooden buildings and a Soviet-build monument to its soldiers who “liberated” the city from the Germans—a monument that Latvian nationalists twice tried to blow up.
There are also a number of important, historic, and otherwise notable indiviual buildings scattered through the near city. Among these are:
- Orthodox Cathedral, a Russian Cathedral that the Russians tried to repurpose into virtually anything but a house of worship
- National Library, the so-called “Castle of Light”, a large cultural complex just across the river from Old Town.
- National Museum of Art, a 20th-century a neo-Baroque celebration of art on its own façade.
- National Theater, with its carved stone façade and city crest.
- National Opera, a lovely 1863 building that went through a complete restoration in the 1990s, is located in a lovely park, next to the canal.
There city also has a couple particularly noteworthy monuments.
- Freedom Monument, a tall staff on a carved stone base that is topped with three stars commemorates the country’s independence and serves as a city landmark.
- 1905 Monument, which commemorates Bloody Sunday (January 13) when workers and middle-class Rivans joined in a peaceful protest against a their then Czarist Russian masters only to have 70 protesters killed, 200 more wounded and uncounted others drown in the river while trying to escape Russian Guns.
The city, however, is about much more than buildings and monuments. It is also about:
- The Old Town squares, traditional meeting and marketplaces that are faced wth grand buildings and that now serve as locations for dozens of cafes with outdoor seating.
- The cobblestone streets, of which the original rounded stones came from a combination of farmers (who were allowed to pay taxes in the form of stones) and ship ballast. The newer, squarer stones have been bought from Gotland Sweden.
- The lovely parks that form a Boston-like Emerald Necklace of green around the city and that contain fountains, public art pieces and in some, great children’s sections, some of which include inflated playhouses and trampolines in addition to swings, slides and jungle gyms.
- The hills (originally defensive earthen bastions) that have been dramatically cut down and the canals (originally a moat around the city wall) that has been reduced from 90 to 10 meters wide with the soil from the bastions.
We also had the fun of seeing one evening of weekend partying, eating, drinking and music among the squares and prettily lit buildings of Old Town, where all the cafes and bars were filled and bands were playing. And we also ventured into some of the areas atmospheric, subterranean bars (especially one in which you’re surrounded by stone arches and vaulted ceilings). We, however, unfortunately missed the lighted canal and river bridges and river-front buildings which, from what we were told and saw from Web photos, are supposed to be even prettier.
Nor did we have a chance to visit a number of the city’s museum. It, for example, has a number of art and history museums, each with a somewhat different focus. A number of museums related to the Soviet occupation. These include an underground KGB bunker, a museum dedicated to Latvian Jews, one that honors those who defended the Parliament Building against Soviet troops who were attempting to quash a 1991 independence movement, and one that focuses on the German and Russian occupations (similar to the Occupation Museum we visited in Tallinn).