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Latvia Travel & Holiday Tips
 
 
 
 
 

General

Latvia is a small country on the Baltic Sea with ancient history and traditions. If you want to enjoy nature, there is not only the serene Gulf of Riga and the open Baltic Sea, but also nature parks, lakes and beautiful forests. Old Riga offers not only fabulous architectural monuments, but also various nightclubs and pubs.

Long being the Baltic favourite, Latvia is now also beginning to emerge as a tourist destination further afield, championed as one of Europe’s hidden treasures. Those who visit will appreciate the small picturesque medieval towns, country castles, museums and folk parks, ruined fortresses and, occasionally, grand palaces. They will also appreciate the little Latvian quirks still entrenched in customs, crafts and culture.

Riga

Situated on a sandy plain 15 km (9 miles) from the mouth of the River Daugava, Riga is the capital of Latvia and is one of the most beautiful of the Baltic cities. According to legend, once every 100 years the devil rears his head from the waters of the River Daugava and asks whether Riga is ‘ready’ yet. If the answer were ‘yes’, the now nearly 900-year-old city would be doomed to sink into the Daugava. The Latvian capital is a major tourist attraction, and has excellent air, train and road connections. It is rich in history and culture with remarkable Gothic, Baroque, Classical and Art Nouveau buildings.

The centre of the city is considered to contain the finest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Old Riga contains a remarkable diversity of architectural styles, perhaps best epitomised by the Dome Cathedral. Begun in 1211, the building has been added to throughout the centuries, resulting in a fascinating blend of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical styles. The cathedral’s organ, with nearly 7,000 pipes, is recognised as one of the world’s greatest musical instruments and concerts are regularly performed here. The numerous other historical buildings in Riga bear witness to Latvia’s chequered history. Since its restoration after World War I, the old quarter of the city has been a protected area. The one surviving town gate is the so-called Sweden Gate, whilst the symbol of Riga, the 137 m- (450 ft-) high tower of St Peter’s Church, rises above the city. The St John’s Church of the former Dominican monastery was built in the 14th century and is one of several interesting churches in this former Episcopal seat. Most of the structure dates back to the 15th century and was constructed in a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles. The Catholic St Jacob’s Church was built in 1226 and is a fine example of Gothic architecture.

The delightful Viestura Garden is ideal for relaxation. Its foundations were laid by Peter the Great who planted the first tree, an event commemorated by a flagstone in the park. Alexander Gate, the entrance to the park, was erected to mark the Russian victory over Napoleon’s army. It was in this park that the first Latvian Song Festival was held in 1873. At the end of the 18th century, Katharina II built the Peter and Paul Church north of the castle. Merchants’ houses from the Middle Ages such as the Three Brothers and the 24 warehouses in the old quarter are also picturesque examples of Latvian architecture. The residence of Peter I near the Cathedral has been dramatically altered and rebuilt.

Riga has several museums including the Historical Museum of Latvia (founded in 1896), housed in the castle, and the Latvian Museum of Medicine, as well as two art galleries – the Museum of Foreign Art, which contains Flemish masterpieces, and the state Art Gallery of Latvia. The Riga Motor Museum displays the history of motor-car engineering, with veteran cars including rarities such as Stalin’s and Brezhnev’s private cars.

In central Riga, the Freedom Monument (Brivibas Piemineklis) is a very significant site for Latvians. Built in 1935, the monument is a striking obelisk crowned by a female figure with upstretched arms holding three stars which represent the three historic regions of Latvia: Kurzeme, Latgale and Vidzeme. Reminiscent of the famous Statue of Liberty in New York, though much smaller at 42 m (138 ft), the statue ranks among the most distinguished monuments in Europe. Another place of interest is the Warriors’ Cemetery which was designed by the sculptor Zale, the architect Birznieks and the landscape gardener Zeidaks. Approximately 2,000 graves from World War I are divided into three sections.

Not far from the city is the open-air Latvian Ethnographic Museum. With buildings from all over the country, ranging from wooden churches to windmills, it covers traditional rural architecture from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

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