The first unforgettable impression that most visitors get of the Latvian capital is its majestic skyline, as viewed from the left bank of the Daugava River. The slender Gothic spires of the Old Town’s numerous churches attest to the city’s long history that dates back to the 13th century.
Nowhere is that aesthetic more pronounced than in Centrs, the central part of Riga, which is the city’s economic, financial, and cultural core, as well as a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. One will find a breathtaking range of architectural styles in the historic centre – from Baroque to Classicism, from Renaissance to Art Deco, from Romanesque to National Romanticism. Furthermore, Riga’s wealth of Jugendstil or Art Nouveau buildings, complete with their fantastically ornate flourishes, stands out as unparalleled anywhere in the world. Yet equally unique are the many 19th century wooden buildings that have proudly withstood the pressures of commercialization and gentrification, retaining their place in Riga’s architectural cornucopia and currently undergoing state of- the-art face lifts.
But Riga is much more than just its history. Proud of its heritage, it is a thoroughly modern city with a highly developed infrastructure and opportunities for a variety of activities and entertainment. A city with rich musical traditions, today it boasts an excellent opera, several world class choirs and outstanding classical orchestras, not to forget jazz, rock, and blues ensembles, plus a variety of other popular music bands performing both in concert halls and clubs. At the vanguard of dramatic art not only locally but on the European scale, the New Riga Theatre has much to offer to locals and visitors alike. Riga’s museums are definitely not dusty repositories of the past, but are instead putting an increasing emphasis on interactive displays and modern technologies, while the many art galleries compete with each other in trying to predict the trends of the future. Add to that the varied shopping venues and myriad cafés, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, and you get Riga in all its lively variety. What has always been central to the energy of the city, however, is its people. Located by an important waterway – the Daugava River – connecting the city to the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic Sea and thus to far-off lands, Riga has always been a transportation hub and a crossroads, where different cultures meet and intersect. Among its more than 700 000 inhabitants there are Latvians, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, and other ethnic groups. All have left and are still leaving their mark on the customs, cuisine, and the very appearance of Riga. While the city’s relatively compact, urban space is ethnically mixed, it features many distinct neighborhood, each with its own unique history and landmarks. Among Riga’s many treasures are its beautiful, well-tended gardens and parks, which occupy a substantial part of the city’s territory. In fact, there are several good-sized forests within the city limits, where the locals love to take Sunday strolls, jog, watch birds, pick mushrooms in the autumn, and go skiing in the winter. In the spring, when the city’s many orchards are in bloom, white petals can be seen drifting through the air; then come the purples and pinks of lilacs, which are particularly spectacular along the crooked, dreamy side-streets of Pārdaugava, on the left bank of the river, to be followed in late June by the pale honey of blossoming lindens that line Riga’s stately boulevards.
Source: Riga Tourism Development Bureau & Latvian Tourism Development Agency
Here’s a sampling of major yearly recurring events in Riga:
If you have never been to Riga, then participation in a marathon or half-marathon is a good reason to visit one of the most beautiful cities on the Baltic Sea coast. Since 2007, the Riga Marathon is officially in line with the AIMS standard, guaranteeing the race international recognition.
For more info visit the official website www.lattelecomrigasmaratons.lv
The Riga Festival is a major event that is organised in the Latvian capital city in June each year. Year after year, the organisers of the festival expand on what is a truly splendid cultural programme. Concerts are staged by the most outstanding artists from Latvia and other countries. There are theatrical performances, art exhibitions, multimedia events, open-air performances, as well as events for children.
For more info visit the official website www.Rigasfestivals.lv
Riga Opera Festival
The Riga Opera Festival was one of the first large-scale opera festivals to be held in Northern Europe and has become an eagerly awaited, annual event by both Latvian audience and opera-lovers from abroad. Every summer, the festival marks the end of the Latvian National Opera’s performance season with an overview of the best moments of the previous year, offering fans a chance to relive their favourite scenes or see what they’ve missed. The high quality of the opera’s productions (including its innovative stage design) has been noted outside of the country, and has helped the opera to attract brilliant guest conductors and soloists to Riga.
For more info visit the official website www.opera.lv
White Night Forum of Contemporary Culture
One night only for art, music, theatre, circus, dance, philosophy, anthropology and cooking, combined here to produce a single message about the time and space in which we live. White Night brings new meaning to public space: places that have been abandoned or which are closed to the public, isolated areas of the city, places that are part of our city’s history, now re-discovered by artists in a new and decidedly innovative way.
For more info visit the official website www.baltanakts.lv
Staro Riga Light Festival
Staro Rīga offers an international programme of light and multimedia installations. Buildings, squares, bridges and monuments turn into unique pieces of light art, supplemented by performance art and musical and theatrical elements.
For more info visit the official website www.staroriga.lv
Liigo! market on Old Town Riga’s Dome Square
Celebration of the Latvian pagan holiday, the year’s shortest night, is the “most Latvian” of all traditions, and its key features are beer, caraway cheese, dances and Liigo! songs by the bonfire until dawn. Before you head out for the country, visit the special Midsummer Fair annually held on Dome Square to properly prepare. Impressive flower bunches and garlands, delicious smoked meat and fish, home made cheese from all Latvian regions – all that along with cheerful singing, and shopping all day long at the Fair!
For more info visit the official website www.kultura.riga.lv, www.avesol.riga.lv
Midsummer Liigo! festivities at 11.novembra krastmala and at Dzegužkalns
In Riga, riverside, at the 11 Novembra krastmala (11 November Embankment), is where the city-sponsored Līgosim Krastmalā! event offers everyone [opting not to go countryside] the chance to enjoy a programme that is replete with folk singers, dancers, Latvian actors, artists, bands and DJs. The entertainment goes on into the wee hours and visitors can enjoy special foods and bonfires in the heart of the city. Riga-Pardaugava’s Dzegužkalns Park is another setting for the traditional all-night celebration. All Rigan and visitors to the city are invited to learn how to make your own oak-leaf or flower crown, and take part in the bonfire lighting ritual. Free of charge.
For more info visit the official website www.kultura.riga.lv
Christmas markets in Riga
Markets on Doma Square, at the Esplanāde, and on Līvu Square entice visitors with their pleasant scent of mulled wine and roasted almonds, gingerbread, and merchandise by Latvian craftsmen such as aromatic wax candles, woollen socks, hats and scarves that are perfect for the cold winter weather, eco-friendly wooden toys for children and teddy bears made with love, as well as amber products and silver jewellery – all you would need for original Christmas gifts for your loved ones. Old Riga Christmas markets are a sure sign that Christmas is around the corner!
For more info visit the official website www.liveriga.com
European Christmas Festival
The glorious time of Advent, Christmas and New Year’s Eve goes so well with the most jovial heritage of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Vivaldi and other classics, as well as Gregorian chant music, Christmas songs in vivacious jazz rhythms and the New Year’s Eve concerts – splendid as always. World-famous soloists and conductors perform here together with the Riga Dome Cathedral Boys Choir, the Latvian Radio Choir and the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra.
For more info visit the official website www.eiropasziemasvetki.lv
Welcoming the New Year in Riga, with fireworks
December 31st, Riga residents and visitors can welcome in the New Year doen by the riverside at 11. Novembra krastmala where – from 22:00 and lasting until 02:00, everyone will be entertained by an interesting and dynamic pop concert programme by Latvian recording artists, while the obligatory fireworks display will hit the skies right after 12:00 midnight.
For more info visit the official website www.kultura.riga.lv