Riga Travel Guide
Central Riga at Christmas time ©
The enchanting city of Riga, capital of Latvia and the biggest city in the Baltic States, has emerged from behind the Iron Curtain and is slowly coming into its own as a major European tourist destination. Situated on the south-western coast of the country, Riga is split in two by the River Daugava, and served as a major trading port and a crossroads between western Europe and the East. The modern founding of the city dates back to the 12th Century with the arrival of German traders, mercenaries and missionaries; while its older roots date back to a settlement of the ancient Finnic tribe, the Livs.
The city, and Latvia as a whole, was long caught in a tug of war between the Germans and the Russians, and suffered greatly in World War II when roughly a third of the country's population was exterminated, displaced or fled Nazi persecution. However, despite this lamentable past, there are still plenty of things for tourists to see and do in Latvia.
Riga boasts a collection of exquisite Art Nouveau buildings that rival those in Vienna, Barcelona and St Petersburg, and the fairytale-like historic city centre is a delight to explore. As the cultural and economic centre of the country, Riga is home to plenty of top-class museums, galleries and performing arts centres, as well as a range of sophisticated bars, clubs and restaurants. The city is fast gaining a reputation as a party capital, and its vibrant nightlife draws hundreds of weekenders from all over Europe.
For a more traditional Latvian experience, it is well worth braving the winter cold to enjoy a spot of ice fishing, ice-skating on the frozen Daugava River, or a pirt - a rigorous sauna that involves being beaten with dried birch branches. With over 800 years of history, a UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed historic city centre and a modern buzz, Riga remains a largely undiscovered gem with plenty to delight and enchant the visitor.
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