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  • Writer's pictureKaren O.

The Baltics – 5 hours in Riga

Riga, a city found in the gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the Daugava River, is the capital and largest city in Latvia, one of the three Baltic states (the other two being Estonia and Lithuania).

The city holds a lot of history which dates back as far as the 12th century, although today’s Riga was called Duna Urbs which Has its history in the 2nd century. Today I am in magnificent Riga for a business meeting and I have 5 hours to explore the city before I head to my next destination.

Riga and Latvia as a country is not a popular tourist destination amongst Africans or even Americans or Asians and I am quite intrigued at how much history the city holds and the volume of activities one can do in Riga. This place could use some tourist publicity especially to reach people who are unfamiliar with European destinations. My time is short so let’s go on a journey that gives us a bit of insight into this beautiful laid back city of Riga in Latvia.

I am staying at the Radisson Blu Hotel Daugava, overlooking the old town, a view of the Vansu bridge, the stone bridge or Akmens tilts and the Daugava River.

A view of the old town from Radisson blu Daugava

Vansu Bridge

A few meters to the right of Radisson blu Daugava is the Latvian National Library, also known as the castle of lights. It’s shape is a symbolic expression of the Hill of glass and the castle of light found in Latvian folklore. Legend has it that the castle of lights sank into an ancient lake and would only arise from the great deep when Latvians were once again masters of their own land.

The interior is a beauty for a library, five storey bookshelves with its subtle lighting, modern decor and soothing ambience. I definitely would utilize this if I needed to study or do some research.

From the National Library, I take a 10 mins walk across the Stone bridge into the old town. It is mid March, mildly cold with temperatures about -3 degrees Celsius and a bit of snow.

Akmens tilt (Stone bridge)

At the old town, i am face to face with a large red granite statue, dedicated to the Latvian red Riflemen. The monument is believed to be tribute to Latvians who fought in the early years of WW1. Well, I’m told some people feel it’s a statue that reminds them of the old communist times and would rather have it disappear. Whatever the case, it’s history and it’s quite the monument.

Monument to the Latvian Riflemen

My next stop is the old town square which in historic times was the city center. In the present day, it is the home to the city council, the main tourist office, the occupation museum and the house of Black heads. In the center you will see a statue of Roland, a fair executor of judgement and symbol of peace.


Status of Roland at Old town square

After the town hall, the house of black heads is the 2nd most popular building in the old town square. History has it that the first structure was erected in the 13th or 14th century for the brotherhood of blackheads, a guild for unmarried merchants, foreigners and shipowners. The building was bombed to a ruin in 1941 by the Germans and the remains demolished in 1948 by the soviets but it rose from the ashes in the late 1990s, in keeping with its medieval saying inscribed above its entrance that states “If I should fall, build me again”.

Old town square

House of blackheads

The old town is a vast cobble stoned area with interesting buildings, lots of traditional Latvian restaurants and tourist attractions including the Riga castle which houses several museums and is the official house of the president of Latvia.

Riga Castle

There are medieval restaurants and trinket shops along the small streets which showcase amber made jewelry.

I like the feel of being in historic times, being able to see and touch structures that date back to medieval times and also imagine what those times would have been like, the people, the language, the food, the culture, their fashion and their way of life.

I head into Domes square, the largest square in the old town, housing several architectural buildings and monuments.

The Latvian radio is the only Neo-classicism-style building in dome square.

The Riga cathedral (Rīgas Doms) located in the Domes Square is one of the distinct landmarks in Latvia. The evangelical Lutheran cathedral is said to be the largest place of worship in the Baltics and has one of the biggest organs in Europe (6,718 pipes). Nowadays, it is the seat of Riga and Latvia archbishop.

Riga cathedral

A view of Dome Square showing Riga Cathedral

At this point, I am directionless haha… Google becomes my expert tour guide and the exploration of old town continues.

Three brothers together form the oldest medieval complex of dwelling houses in Riga. The oldest brother was built around 1490 where manufacturing and trade were carried out. The house had one big room where the work, trade and everyday life took place, and it has retained its original appearance.

The middle brother is the richest of the three, built in 1646. It was one of the most typical as well as most modern dwelling houses in the 17th century. There is an inscription “Soli deo Gloria!” (“Glory to God alone!”) above the entrance, and the facade features the style of Dutch mannerism. In contrast to the oldest building, the one had a spacious room with large windows above the ground floor hall, and there were special restidential premises in the yard side of the building.

The youngest brother was built in the second half of the 17th century and had small apartments on each floor. The youngest building in the narrowest and the smallest one of the three brothers. It has a very interesting facade element – a mask, which according to the owners of the building, protected its inhabitants from evil spirit. Lol at least some Europeans do believe in evil spirits.

St Peter’s cathedral, Riga’s tallest church is also a Lutheran church in Riga dedicated to Saint Peter. Take the elevator to the tower of Riga St. Peter’s church which offers a breathtaking views of the red roofs of old town, the modern parts of the city, Riga bay and the Daugava River with its large port.

St. Peter’s Cathedral

Tower of Riga at St. Peter’s Cathedral

Walking long hours in the cold means growling stomach and freezing hands at some point. It’s a good time to refuel and get some warmth as well. Lunch is at Steiku Haoss and I settle for Pork tenderloin, some homemade bread and Spice punch, a hot non-alcoholic cocktail. Lunch cost about €22 and it’s not disappointing. The waitress Ms. Gerda is a lovely, friendly, polite lady and she made every minute in the restaurant worth my while.

The freedom Monument or Milda as she is affectionately known, is a memorial to soldiers killed during the Latvian war of independence from 1918 – 1920. It is considered an important symbol of the freedom, independence, and sovereignty of Latvia. The woman on top of the monument is holding up three golden stars, which represent Latvia’s historical regions of Kurzeme, Vidzeme, and Latgale. The motto “For the Fatherland and Freedom” is inscribed upon the base. It was unveiled on 18 November 1935 and financed entirely from public donations.

Freedom monument

Satiekamies pie Laimas pulksteņa – let’s meet at the Laima clock! History has it that the clock in front of the Freedom Monument has been a meeting place since it was erected in 1924, so people wouldn’t have an excuse for being late to work.I don’t quite understand the logic behind not having an excuse to be late to work but I’m very sure the Latvians know what this means. The famous clock was renovated at the end of 2017 and now also includes a digital countdown clock to Latvia’s centenary on November 18, 2018. It also plays one of Latvian maestro Raimonds Pauls’ sugary tunes every hour.


Illusion rooms was one of the things I really wanted to do. It’s interesting and fascinating how the eyes and mind can play tricks on us. At the illusion rooms, you can find the Upside Down Room, the biggest Mirror Maze in the Baltics, Ames Rooms, incredible “MJ anti-gravity Room” and a lot of other exhibits that will make you believe your head much more than your eyes.

The upside down room

Hello gravity

Some of the things I believe you will find interesting if you ever find yourself in Riga Latvia are but not limited to;

1. Museum of the occupation of Latvia.

2. Riga motor museum.

3. Central Market.

4. Cat house.

5. Cosmos Illusion museum.

6. Several churches and museums.

7. Try the Riga black Balsam herb liqueur.

8. Swedish gate.

9. Laima chocolate museum.

10. Latvian museum of National history.

11. Panorama Riga observation deck

12. Art Nouveau – Alberta Iela

You could also plan a trip of all trip Baltic states visiting Tallinn in Estonia, Riga in Latvia and Vilnius in Lithuania.

Next time you plan a trip around Europe, make sure to head to these parts of the continent.

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