Riga, art nouveau capital of Europe, the largest of the Baltic capitals, also known as the Paris of the East, has approximately 700,000 inhabitants. Once a Hanseatic town, then part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Swedish kingdom before Riga and Latvia became part of the Russian Empire. In the period between the two world wars Latvia was independent but after the Second World War the country was again conquered by the Soviet Union. In 1991 Latvia regained its independence.

Riga old town

The Old Town is a UNESCO heritage site. Sights include Riga Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the Baltics, and St Peter's Cathedral with its 72 meter high tower. The Powder Tower is the only surviving part of the old city wall. And there is the St James' Church, one of the oldest churches in Riga with a famous bell. According to legend, this bell heralded as adulterous women passed. The center feature more beautiful art deco architecture like the stock exchange and 'the cat house'. At the edge of the center you'll find the striking Freedom Monument, a green copper statue of a lady holding three stars, dating from 1935.

The quit center

The so-called "Quiet Centre" north of the old town is about Art nouveau. Art Nouveau or Jugendstill is the more baroque predecessor of Art Deco. When this style was at its peak, Riga experienced a financial boom and the ban on the construction of stone houses outside the city walls had just been lifted. In the Middle Ages the wooden houses outside the city wall were destroyed in case of a siege to prevent the enemy to use them for shelter. When the technique of warfare made ramparts meaningless construction with bricks was allowed with a small construction boom as a result. The most famous art nouveau architect was the father of the legendary filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein of 'Battleship Potemkin'. The row of buildings on Alberta Iela is his most famous work.

Riga outside the center

Outside the center the city is a combination of Soviet ugliness and Scandinavian-looking wooden buildings. A nice mix of styles makes wondering around enjoyable. Just take a tram and hop of at random. Also check out the central market, which is in former zeppelin hangars. Plenty to explore in this town.