Raging Riga

There can’t be too many cities in the world that can be described as being cute but Riga, the capital of the Baltic country of Latvia, is surely one of them.

It’s possible to cal Riga cute because it contains some wonderful Art-Nouveau architecture, buildings festooned with steeples and turrets, an historic old quarter and magnificent parks.

Despite all of this olde world charm, Riga actually rocks.  It has a really good restaurant scene and a very active nightlife where music is all the rage and the young take over.  Music put Latvia on the map when the country won the 2002 Eurovision contest. It is fair to say that those who are not European may not find Eurovision inspiring, but it does have gravitas in Europe, even if it is more of a geopolitical battle than a true test of musical magnificence.

Transcending all of those architectural traditions is the Latvian propensity for proving that they are indeed part of the modern world by erecting great glass towers to house the business and hospitality communities.

The city of Riga is built upon the banks of the Daugava River, about 15 kilometres from its mouth.  The heart of the city is the historic Old Riga, which stretches along the eastern side of the river, and quite a way back from its banks.

Riga is actually the largest city in the Baltic States, which constitute Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and although it has been occupied many times by various conquering forces, it has mostly hung on to its own identity.

The old city is defined by a number of steeples, which can hardly be missed by the casual visitor.    

The tallest of these is the steeple of St Peter’s, which you can climb for some great views over the city, but the biggest is the cathedral dome and is part of the largest church in the Baltics. This cathedral continues the Latvian musical tradition by having the world’s 4th largest organ with which to fill the cathedral with sound.  The old town is a conglomerate of boulevards and lovely parks, which form a type of barrier between Old Riga and the glitz of New Riga.

Today many young people, of all nationalities, head for Riga because of its many clubs which range from the uber-chic to thumping.  For visitors who are unfamiliar with Riga there is a nightclub tour you can do which gets you into all the hippest places.

If you have a yen for shopping you should to the Central Market which is housed in five massive former zeppelin hangars.  About 1250 stall holders sell all types of goods DVDs to animal carcasses.  The markets are so big you can’t miss them, but it is possible to lose your way once inside.

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