The second capital city that we visited on our tour through the Baltic States, Riga, Latvia is also the largest city in the Baltics, with a population of just over a million people in the metropolitan area.
Tour of Old Town & Art Nouveau District
We started off our sightseeing in Riga with a free walking tour through old town to learn about the history of the city. Like Tallinn, Riga was a member of the Hanseatic League and trade played a major role in the development of the city.
St. Peter’s Church dates from the 15th century.
The House of the Blackheads was a guild for unmarried merchants. Unfortunately the original structures were heavily damaged in WWII and after the war the Soviets demolished what was left. The buildings were reconstructed in 1999 using the original blueprints. Like Tallinn, Riga claims that the first Christmas tree was erected by the brotherhood in the city.
The Freedom Monument is a memorial to those who died fighting for Latvia’s independence in 1918-1920 (during our visit, the 100th anniversary of the declaration of independence was being celebrated across the Baltic states). Unfortunately independence did not last long, as Latvia was occupied by Germany in WWII and by the Soviets after the war. In 1989, two million people joined hands in a 420 mile long human chain across the Baltic states to express their resolve to be independent. Latvia finally regained independence in 1991.
Riga’s Art Nouveau buildings were built in the early 1900s while the city was enjoying a growth boom. Many of the buildings are concentrated on Alberta iela (street), and quite a few were being refurbished during our visit.
The Riga Motor Museum has a fascinating collection of automobiles ranging from Model Ts to Soviet-era limousines. The current museum building opened in 2016 and the exhibits make great use of modern technology including touch-screen panels and augmented reality.
This 1903 Krastin pre-dated the Model T and was made in the US by Augustus Krastins, an immigrant from Latvia. Only 10 Krastins were made; the company dissolved after a fire destroyed the factory.
Riga Central Market
Shopping at Riga’s Central Market is a great cultural experience. The main market is housed inside buildings modeled after Zeppelin Hangers, with high arching ceilings. Inside the sellers are grouped by category (produce, cheese, meat, etc). The market spills outside where there are even more stalls.
Latvian National Museum of Art
The Latvian National Museum of Art primarily features works of Latvian artists. Upon entering, young visitors can borrow a backpack full of activities that relate to various works in the museum. This really helped to engage the kids in exploring the museum.
Kipsala Beach & Playground
Riga has several great playgrounds. Our favorite was the pirate ship play structure on the island of Kipsala located at the west end of the Vanšu Bridge. In addition to the playground there are volleyball courts, a beach with changing areas, and a small bar where we Intrepid parents enjoyed a cold drink while watching the kids run off some energy.
Riga is a fascinating city and was an excellent stop on our European road trip. It was interesting to learn how the city was influenced by foreign powers and how Latvians overcame many struggles to form an independent, vibrant nation.
Next up, we complete our tour of the Baltics with a stop in Vilnius, Lithuania!