Riga - The medieval Old Town in the capital of Latvia

Posted by ~Summer~ on September 01, 2010

Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. To be honest, when we first knew we would be visiting Riga, we didn't really know what to expect. None of our friends had been here before and Lativa just sounded like a too exotic place for us to plan as a holiday destination. 

It's really weird how when you least expect something in life, it turns out to be much more rewarding than you could ever imagine.

We visited the Old Town of Riga and it was home to so many historical buildings and beautiful monuments that we couldn't even finish exploring all of them. From the cobbled streets, stoned churches to the medieval architecture, the Old Town was a strikingly unique place that we had ever come across.


A famous tourist attraction in the Town Hall Square, the House of Blackheads was originally destroyed during the war in 1941 and buried by the Soviets in 1948. It was rebuilt in 2001 with detailed attention to its initial structure and exterior ornamentation to celebrate the city's 800th anniversary. It served as a memory of Riga's still-healing historical scars from the WWII. The statue, named the Roland statue, was also re-erected in front of the House of Blackheads.

This was taken at the Riga Rathus, also known as the Riga Town Hall.

I liked the look of the outdoor restaurants, cafes and bars, somehow they had a fairly unique Latvian style.

The St. Peter's church stood out in the skyline of Riga, however it was said that the jinxed tower had a malicious habit of collapsing at the mere mention of fire, lightning or WWII, considering how many times it had been reconstructed.

It was drizzling when we were in the Old Town, luckily we had our Maclaren stroller with us that had a really useful, protective rain cover which would shield the kids from the rain. Well, it was actually our first time using it and we had to get help from our friend on how to fit it on. Doesn't Angel just look so snug and comfy inside?

The above shows St John's church, which was famous for the story of two monks who were bricked into the southern wall. They spent all their entire lives and were fed through a window from the outside.

This was the statue of the Town Musicians of Bremen, a folktale recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Bremen is the second most populous city in North Germany and tenth in Germany.

If you are interested, here's how the story went: 
In the story, a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster, who were past their prime years and usefulness on their farms, were soon to be discarded or mistreated by their masters. One by one, they left their homes and set out together. They decided to go to Bremen, known for its freedom, to live without owners and become musicians there.

On the way to Bremen, they saw four robbers in a cottage enjoying their ill-gotten gains. Standing on each other's backs, they decided to perform for the men in hope of gaining food. Their music had an unanticipated effect; the men ran for their lives, not knowing what the strange sound was. The animals took possession of the house, ate a good meal, and settled in for the night.

Later, the robbers returned and sent one of their members in to investigate. He saw the Cat's eyes shining in the darkness and assumed he was seeing the coals of fire. He reached over to light his candle. Then, things happened in quick succession; the Cat scratched his face with her claws, the Dog bit him on the leg, the Donkey kicked him and the Rooster crowed and chased him out the door, screaming. He told his companions that he was beset by a horrible witch who scratched him with her long fingers (the Cat), an ogre with a knife (the Dog), a giant who had hit him with his club (the Donkey), and worst of all, the judge who screamed in his voice from the rooftop (the Rooster). The robbers abandoned the cottage where the animals lived happily for the rest of their days.

(Read more here in Wikipedia)

If you looked carefully, you might have noticed that the front hooves of the donkey had become shiny. It was also rumoured that touching the front hooves would make wishes come true. Which sadly, I didn't know it at that time. Or else...

This was such an 'welcoming' but interesting poster in front of a bar. I guess, the reverse effect does work sometimes.

We passed by a black magic shop but for some reason, we didn't enter.

The Freedom Monument is a memorial that honoured soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence. It is considered an important symbol of the freedom, independence, and sovereignty of Latvia. The woman at the pinnacle, known simply as the 'Liberty Statue' or affectionately as 'Milda,' holds three stars symbolizing the three regional parts of Latvia: Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale.

Next, we took a stroll to the Bastion Hill park which was situated near the monument of Freedom. It was a tranquil and peaceful place where you could see fountains, blooming flowers, wandering ducks and statues of all sorts.

The most interesting of all had to be this 'love bridge', a small little bridge with countless padlocks clamped onto it. Attaching locks, which had your names engraved, onto bridges is a popular tradtion among newly wedded couples in Latvia - it symbolises the hope for stability in their marriage. Well, though we didn't happen to bring along a lock, I am still certain that we will have a firm and lasting marriage, right, dear? 

 See, that's a proof of how much we love each other. =) Even when we turned into stone.

We had a great, delicious at an outdoor cafe restaurant in the Old Town. I had steak and hot wings while jw had a giant pork shank that we had to wait for about half an hour. Nonetheless, it was really an enjoyable and memorable meal.

We spent a couple of hours just walking around admiring the medieval architecture and unique buildings. It is said the Vecriga, which referred to the Old Town and historical center of Riga, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city is particularly notable for its extensive Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) architecture, which UNESCO considers to be unparalleled anywhere in the world.


The Cat House was another notable landmark in Riga that we saw. It was pretty easy to see how it got its name - it had two cat sculptures with arched backs and raised tails on its roof. It was said that the owner of the house wanted the cats to be placed with their tails turned towards the house of the Great Guild, which is nearby, as he held a grudge against its members. It was later ordered that cats should be turned to face the guild house.

I had to admit that there were too many nice sights to explore in the short time, however, we still enjoyed every moment of it, just taking a leisure stroll as one happy family. Ok, Angel couldn't take a stroll since she couldn't walk yet, that meant we had to take turns to carry her. Luckily I had a slim baby.

The Dome Cathedral is considered the largest medieval church in the Baltic States. It had been featured in paintings, photographs and television travelogues, thus it is certainly a not-to-be-missed landmark in Riga.

Here was my helpful baby trying to help Daddy read the map and navigate the way around.

This was when she realised she just gave us the wrong directions. Ok, you get credit for trying to help and for your lovely innocent look.

After walking through the Old town with all its narrow street lanes, not forgetting to snap away at the beautiful architecture even though sometimes I did not know what they were, we arrived at the Daugava river.

There was a famous statue here named The Big Christopher (Lielais Kristaps). The story went like this:

A long time ago a very strong ferryman lived on the banks of the Daugava. Once in the dark a little boy came to him and asked to be carried across the river. Though a thunderstorm raged, the man could not refuse the little boy, took him on his shoulder and carried him over the turbulent waves. Half way across, the weight became so heavy that the man could only continue with great effort. However, he pulled himself together and with the last of his powers put the boy safely on the riverside. This boy turned out to be a child-Christ and so the carrier received the name of Kristaps (Christopher). 

(Extracted from the Riga municipality portal)

The people of Riga loved this wooden sculpture and they would often visit Big Christopher, decorate him with ribbons and floral wreaths, light candles and beg for his protection against evil.

 The Vansu bridge above is one of the five bridges crossing the Daugava river.

Before we boarded the bus back to the cruise ship, we saw a stage performance where people were playing musical instruments and kids were singing along. Of course, our little one found it intriguing and couldn't take her eyes off the stage. She really does love music and dance!

So, that marked the end of a pleasant day in the Old Town of Riga. It was truly beyond our expectations and we would definitely recommend it as a holiday destination in future.

Check out more updates from the other ports of call on this cruise: Helsinki (Finland), St Petersburg (Russia), Gdansk (Poland)

To see more of the world, visit my Travelogue page here.


Here's a simple video I did that shows the highlights of the entire Baltic cruise. Enjoy viewing!

For a complete list of my videos, click here.


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