I visit Riga as a tourist every year, ten times so far.
The following plan describes my best everyday experience, as a tourist and an expat, in Riga:
1. Stay in Radisson Blu Ridzene hotel (see photo View From My Room) or Radisson Blu Elizabete hotel;
2. Walk the cobble streets of the old town, Vecriga, to see people and architecture, day (see photo Stone People in Socks) and night (see photo Canal Bridge At Night), have a cup of coffee and a piece of cake in a cafe;
3. Take a short (couple stops) tram trip as a regular passenger, for about $1, in the center part of the city;
4. Eat at International SV restaurant or at Zvejnieku Dels fish restaurant (see photo Fish Soup), Double Coffee restaurant is a good and inexpencive one too;
5. Take some food at Gastronome Veikals in the hotel Latvija for the evening meal (see photo Olives In The Gastronome) or at Stockmann.
6. Try not to use taxi.
I wandered through Esplanade park on my way to explore the Art Deco buildings of the Centra district.
It's a lovely, leafy park with many mature trees and beautifully-planted flowerbeds (the gardeners..mostly female...were out tending them by 9am). There's a children's playground, some small fountains and a few statues. The one in the photo is of General Field Marshal Prince Michael Barclay de Tolly ...born in Lithuania but of Scottish ancestry, a Russian Field Marshal and Minister of War during Napoleon's 1812 campaign. I'm not sure why he's got a statue in Riga, except that his grandfather was mayor of the city.
A very pleasant city park to stroll, meet friends or take the children for a run-around (all these things were happening as I walked through).
In this house you can actually see what a house inside looked like during the art nouveau period. Most buildings you only see from the outside, but here you can also see wallpaper, furniture etc.
Most beautiful are the stairs when entering the building. Don't forget to look up.
This display was erected on the ruins of a synagogue burned to the ground with the entire congregation inside during the Holocaust. A monument inside is dedicated to the memory of Zanis Lipke and other "Righteous Gentiles" who managed to save 400 Riga Jews from certain death. The monument itself consists of a wall, with several columns symbolically propping up the wall. Each column is inscribed with the name of one of the "saviors" who risked their lives to rescue others.
On the way back to our hotel we passed Esplanade Park. It is a nice park to relax your feet after walking around the Old/New Town. It is a perfect setting for a nice stroll and dream of the next trip. The Nativity of Christ Cathedral and the statue to Mihail Barclay located nearby. It is between the Art State Museum and Nativity of Christ Cathedral not far from the Monument of Freedom.
Prince Michael Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818). He was a hero of the First Patriotic War and anti-Napoleon campaigns in Europe. The statue was made by Wilhelm Wandschneider and located at Esplanade Park. The statue standing is the third replica as the original was stolen in 1915 and the second replica got hit and dislodged by a tree in 2005.
The statue of George Armitstead, his wife and a dog are located near Latvian National Opera. He was the mayor of Riga from 1901 to 1912. In 2006, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a statue of him while on tour in Latvia, in the presence of his great grandson. (Wikipedia).
I took a shot at this Railway Bridge on Daugava River. The shape of the bridge look like several mini Sydney harbor bridge joint together. The iron bridge was damaged in both World War and was rebuilt both times.
Stretching from the Daugava to the train station, the Riga canal snakes through some beautifully landscaped parkland. The water is filled with boats and fountains, and on hot blue sky days the banks are lined with sunbathers. Criss-crossing the canal across the bridges makes for a nice escape from the tight, tourist-clogged streets of the old town.
Offering some of the best views of the Old Town, Riga's AB Dam sits on the west bank of the Daugava river. The dam was originally built in the 1880s to protect Riga from flooding. There were plans to destroy it, but it was saved in the 1960s and rebuilt. Today it's a little bit scruffy, and in need of some regenerative love, but it's also quiet and shy of people, unlike the old town.
Built on the west bank of the Daugava, the Sun Stone building (Saules akmens or Hansabank Central Office) was the first of its kind built after the end of Soviet rule. It's also, at over 120 meters, the tallest building in Latvia. While many people think the building is beautiful, it came in for criticism from UNESCO who felt it was built too high.
Stretching along Jacob's barracks is a reconstructed fragment of the original city walls. The wall and tower were built in the 13th century and the reconstruction finished in 1987. The walls formed a defensive structure along with the gunpowder tower 70 meters further down the street.
On an island in the Daugava, looking like something from a 70s sci-fi movie, is the Riga Radio and TV tower. At over 360m high it is the tallest structure in the European Union. Only the TV towers in Kiev and Moscow reach higher. Despite its height, the observation deck is only at 97m, which is a little disappointing. You can climb the Mainturm in Frankfurt, which isn't even the tallest building in the city, and lookout from the viewing platform at 200m, over twice the height. Still the building does like quite incredible, and on clear days you can see for miles.
Getting there isn't easy. The island of Zakusala where it stands is over a kilometer from the nearest bus stop.
The centre of Riga next to the Old Town attracts with its spacious parks. In spring, when the leaves open, they have a unique bouquet of scents.In summer the parks are a good place to hide from the heat. In autumn the parks turn into an incredible mixture of colours, while the heaps of snow in winter will please children. Latvian National Opera is situated in the Opera park and will surprise ballet and opera lovers with world class performances.The nearby Riga Central Market has spacious pavilions once built for military purposes and is a great place to have a taste of the delicious products from Latvian countryside. A short walking distance further you will find Spikeri with a chamber music hall, several exhibition halls, as well as restaurants and bars.
The so called embassy district in its turn is filled with the spectacular Art Noveau architecture of Riga. There are so many examples of this kind of architecture in the city that Riga is called the capital of Art Noveau. The essence of Art Noveau can be enjoyed on Alberta Street and the nearby streets. Alberta Street also houses the Riga Art Noveau Museum.
A city like Riga is one that needs to be walked to be enjoyed.
As there are lots of Art Nouveau buildings, this is the best way to experience and have a good look at all the sculptures. There are so many, I really didn't know which way to look first.
The city has lots of Museums, lots of squares, lots of Cafes and parks where I could have a rest.
One thing I found with walking, is that it isn't a small compact area, and that I had to do a lot of walking from the Art Nouveau area to the Central Markets, so be aware of this.
The old town area is a great place just to wander and get lost, you never know what you are going to find! I found an extra large rocking horse!
I did notice Horse & carriage rides are available, and there are plenty of trams and buses if you are worn out!
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