I spent most of my time in the Baltics sleep-deprived but that will happen when you are in a time zone nine hours ahead and trying to cram as many activities as possible into a whistle stop tour. That does mean, though, there are plenty of stories and recommendations. I may have arrived in Riga in a state of exhaustion but the blue skies and fresh air quickly perked me up.
My explorations were a bit haphazard so I am going to group my adventures rather than documenting them chronologically. Riga is divided into an (very old) Old Town and a (not so new) New Town. Both are spectacular and evidence of the prosperity of the Hanseatic League.
Will start in the Old Town since it came first. The best place to start your tour is Rătslaukums, the Town Square. It`s a large medieval square that will take you back to 1344 and the Blackheads House, a fraternity house for unmarried German merchants. Astonishingly, the original building was flattened by the Soviets but the original blueprints survived and what you will see is an exact replica completed in 2001 for Riga`s 800th birthday.
Another noteworthy structure is St Peter`s Church. It`s a Gothic
church with a spire that is part of the Riga skyline, yet another structure destroyed and rebuilt. It`s thought to be about 800 years old and one of the oldest medieval buildings in the Baltics. There is an observation platform, which provides a spectacular view of pretty Riga.
The largest church in Riga is also the largest medieval church in the Baltics. It`s the Riga Cathedral, founded in 1211 as a Catholic church but now
Lutheran. Nearby are the Three Brothers, three old stone houses that showcase Riga`s architectural delights. No. 17 is over 600 years old, making it the oldest house in town.
Another place to check out is the Cat House. The cat became a symbol of Riga and you will see it on various souvenirs. Local legend is that the building`s owner was rejected from the Great
Guild across the street and his revenge was to point the cats`butts toward the hall. The members of the guild were outraged and, after a lengthy court battle, the merchant was admitted into the club on condition that the cats be turned in the opposite direction.
While these are some of the most spectacular buildings, it is rewarding just to wander Old Riga at random, imagining you are in another era – but with food and drink from a very 21st century and a region that boasts lots of great local ingredients.
It`s also a good place to shop for souvenirs. The big thing in this part of the world is amber, which is definitely worth checking out. There are also great textiles and some funky costume jewelry. I now own earrings sporting the Riga Cat House cats 🙂
While you may feel like you are in medieval times, it`s a Disney style medieval world – cute but with all the modern conveniences…