Riga, Latvia

Sitting on the Baltic Sea at the mouth of the River Daugava, Riga is the extraordinary capital of Latvia, and the largest city of the Baltic States. Art nouveau buildings and a medieval Old Town await.

In 1201, Riga was a base for German knights, and flourished over three centuries as a member of the Hanseatic League. It later became part the Swedish and Russian empires.

Riga’s Old Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, thanks partly to its medieval architecture. It is also home to one of Europe’s densest concentrations of Art Nouveau buildings, mostly constructed just over a century ago, and Albert Street offers perhaps the most famous examples. Many of these were designed by Russian architect Mikhail Eisenstein, the father of Sergei Eisenstein, the famous Russian filmmaker.

One of Riga’s major landmarks is the White House, otherwise known as Latvian National Opera and Ballet, which offers classical opera, modern opera and ballet. Even if your visit doesn’t coincide with a performance, it’s still worth admiring the building’s grand columned façade.

Among the many highlights are Riga Castle and the Dome Cathedral, whose tower and spire are real symbols of the city; the latter also houses a vast organ which has over 6,800 pipes.

The House of the Blackheads is probably Riga’s most emblematic medieval postcard-friendly landmark, and its red-brick façade will no doubt make it into many of your photos too. Inside is just as ornate, with banqueting rooms and conference halls that are unforgettably opulent.

The tiered tower of St. Peter's Church is an iconic feature of the Riga city scape. The church has been there since 1209 and its tower has been built and destroyed several times. Now made of metal, the 400-foot structure has a lift inside and a viewing platform around two-thirds of the way up, inviting you to look out over Riga’s orange rooftops.

One of the great browsing spots is the city’s Central Market, created by the conversion of five vast former Zeppelin hangars into pavilions. It’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with Old Riga, a cavernous place where tens of thousands browse for smoked fish and eel, meats, exotic spices, and colorful fruit and vegetables every day.