A week after I wrote a vague, floaty post about having no specific goals or sights to see in Rīga, here I am telling you ten things to see!
1) City Park & Bastion Hill
City Park is a bit of tree-lined greenery just at the north-east limit of the Old Town. It’s peaceful, it’s leafy, there’s a man playing the accordion who thinks he’s in Paris and there’s a small rubbly hill with an art installation on top of it called Benches. City Park is also adorable at night (and I don’t use the word “adorable” for cities and places lightly) because it’s illuminated with thousands of tiny lights. And of course, the Freedom Monument is right outside.
2) The City Market
This one’s next to the station. It’s a giant flea market but it’s housed in four or five rounded hangers. I thought they were railway arches but they’re not – they’re repurposed zeppelin hangers. I know we used zeppelins in real life but it just sounds so steampunk.
3) The Cathedral of the Nativity
This gold-domed Orthodox Church (planetarium in a previous life) is so pretty and I love the way it sits right next to the blue-glass tower of the Radisson hotel. The pair are best viewed from the Esplanade, a bit of leafy peace & quiet in a relatively noisy city.
4) The Latvian National Library
If you want to see the most unlikely building ever to be placed opposite a UNESCO World Heritage medieval town, hop across the river to the building described in my hotel’s local info pack as “the one that looks like a ski jump”. It’s very striking but very different to… well, anything else I saw in Latvia. You get a good panorama across the Old Town from there too.
5) Black Cat House
The black cat has become a symbol of Rīga, ever since a disgruntled merchant who wasn’t allowed to join the Great Guild stuck a metal cat on his roof opposite, tail firmly towards the offending Guild. He was promptly ordered to turn it round but the story remains and the souvenir shops are full of cats.
6) The House of the Blackheads
Medieval architecture at its most… I can’t think of a better word than extra but I’m far too old to describe things as extra. It’s eccentric and eye-catching. And actually, it was built in the 1990s. It’s a copy of the fourteenth century original but it was destroyed in WWII and what you see today is a very modern reproduction.
7) Rīga Cathedral
The Cathedral of St Mary is hard to miss. It was once the biggest church in the Baltics and it’s still a hefty building, which towers over all the other spires sticking out of the Old Town. My favourite thing about it is the collection of bronze animal statues outside. It’s part of a children’s playground, really, but I liked them a lot, especially the armadillo.
8) Rīga by Canal
I’ve been recommending this to everyone but it’s so worth it. At City Park, hop on the wooden electric boat (blankets on board in case you want to sit outside – where you can see everything clearly – but it’s cold) and go on a tour down the canal, which is the remains of the moat from the days when Rīga was a walled city, onto the Daugava River, panoramic view of the Old Town from the water and back onto the canal. €9 and so good.
9) Elizabetes iela
A couple of streets north-east of the Old Town is a collection of spectacular Art Nouveau buildings, from the days when Rīga was rich, prosperous & booming. I’m not into architecture but some of the buildings are just so over-the-top that you can’t help appreciating it.
10) The Small Guild
Opposite Black Cat House and next to the offending Great Guild, the Small Guild is much more eye catching. Rīga has quite the collection of eccentric buildings and this is another of them. It’s a neo-Gothic palace-castle thing with a crenellated roofline and an actual turret. I called it medieval but actually, it only dates back to 1866.
Is there anything you particularly feel should be seen in Rīga? What did I miss?