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Historical Churches and Cathedrals (Self Guided), Riga

One great thing about Riga is that many of the city's religious buildings are concentrated in its historical center. A variety of faiths are represented in Riga, although the majority of city residents are Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Lutheran. Explore the historic churches and cathedrals of Riga on this self-guided tour.
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Historical Churches and Cathedrals Map

Guide Name: Historical Churches and Cathedrals
Guide Location: Latvia » Riga (See other walking tours in Riga)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: helenp
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Old St. Gertrude Church
  • Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ
  • Saint James Catheral
  • Riga Cathedral
  • Saint Peter's Church
  • Saint John's Church
  • Reformation Church
  • Church of Jesus
Old St. Gertrude Church

1) Old St. Gertrude Church (must see)

Located at 6 Ģertrūdes Street, Old St. Gertrude is one of the oldest churches in Riga. It is named after Saint Gertrude of Nivelles who lived between 626 and 659. Before the current, red brick building was constructed, the site was occupied consecutively by seven wooden churches, each named St. Gertrude and burnt down by invading barbarians. The present, Neo-Gothic style edifice was designed by J.D. Felsko, a prolific local architect. Works on the temple started in 1864 and continued until 1869. The brick walls were left uncovered on purpose, whereas the façade and the spire got embellished with concrete decorations.

The building has the shape of a cross, featuring a nave, incorporating three segments, and a shorter cruciform nave. The church organ was custom bought in 1906 at a cost of 8,000 roubles. The instrument is still functional and is a great pleasure to the ears of multiple worshippers and tourists who come to the church every day.

Old St. Gertrude Church is surrounded by a number of Art Nouveau buildings which are also well worth seeing.
Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ

2) Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ (must see)

The Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ, also known as simply the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, is a Neo-Byzantine church designed by architect R.Phlug. The cathedral is considered to be the largest orthodox temple in the Baltic region and was erected with the blessing of Alexander II, the Tsar of Russia, between 1876 and 1883. The church features five domes with florid decorations on the exterior, while its interior is embellished with traditional icons, painted by Vasily Vereshchagin, and numerous gold plated items.

Two world wars had their toll on the building. During WWI, when Latvia was under the German occupation, the cathedral was converted into a Lutheran church. In 1918, it was given back to the Russians and, even though the local government wanted to impose Latvian as the main language for religious rituals, the cathedral’s masses were still held in Russian. During World War II, the cathedral was damaged both on the outside and inside, and in the 1960s it was closed down completely, transformed into a planetarium, with its interior refurbished and split into two levels. The upper floor held a scale model of the universe, while the lower was taken up by a conference hall and café.

In 1991, the cathedral was returned to its rightful owners, the Orthodox Russian Church. Since then there has been a profound restoration performed. Today, the building fully resembles the original 1883 look and is used for religious services again.
Saint James Catheral

3) Saint James Catheral (must see)

Located in the old part of Riga, on Klostera Street, Saint James' Cathedral (or St. Jacob's Cathedral) is one of the oldest catholic temples in Latvia. The first mention of the church dates back to 1225, although the building itself is believed to have been in place since 1210, when Bishop Albert requested three churches to be built to serve rural parishes. In 1522, it became a Lutheran church, the first one to hold a Lutheran sermon in Latvian, although in 1584 it was given back to the Jesuits. In the following centuries the church had changed hands several times, serving consecutively the Swedish, Russian and even Estonian Lutheran communities. In 1812, it was even used as a storage depot by the French troops. In 1901, Saint James' altar (oldest in Riga), built in 1680, was replaced with a new one. Since 1923, the cathedral has been in Catholic possession.

The church represents a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles and is made of red brick and limestone. Art Nouveau motifs are also present in the decoration. The three floor Gothic tower is the only church tower left in Riga that has a spire. The cathedral forms part of the old Riga UNESCO world heritage site.
Riga Cathedral

4) Riga Cathedral (must see)

Riga Cathedral is the oldest religious site in the city and one of the oldest in Latvia. Its foundation stone was laid on July 25th, 1211 by Bishop Albert of Riga. Originally, the church was built in a geometric, Romanesque style and was meant to become a centre of Christianity in the Baltic region. In the 14th-15th centuries it had side chapels and a western cross-nave added, along with the tower walls elevated and an octagonal spire built in. In the following centuries, the cathedral endured many reconstructions. The most drastic ones took place between 1881 and 1914, when part of the building was completely remodelled. Another reconstruction was undertaken in the 20th century. During the Soviet period, the cathedral was used as a concert hall.

Presently, the Riga Cathedral features a combination of Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque and Art Nouveau styles. Its key feature is the 6718 pipe organ, built by E.F. Walcker & Co in 1883-1884, which is considered to be one of the most precious organs in the world.

Today, the cathedral serves as the country's main Lutheran temple and is the seat of the Archbishop of Latvia Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Saint Peter's Church

5) Saint Peter's Church (must see)

Saint Peter’s Church in Riga appeared in documents for the first time in 1209, as a masonry church that had survived, virtually unscathed, the fire that devastated much of the city that year. Since then, the history of St. Peter’s has been marked by a number of misfortunes, including fires, strikes of lightning and wars, all of which had their toll on the building. The most destructive of them were the lightning of 10 May 1721 and World War II.

Today, the church reflects a mixture of styles, revealing Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque influences. Its current appearance emerged in the 20th century after the last restoration. Those works were preceded by a serious research conducted in 1954 by Pēteris Saulītis. The actual restoration started only in 1967 and lasted until 1983 under the supervision of Saulītis and Gunārs Zirnis.

Saint Peter’s got back in service in 1991 and in 2006 was reinstated under the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. From time to time, it hosts concerts, exhibitions and other cultural events. The main attraction of the church is the tower with an esplanade, much popular with tourists, offering a bird's eye view of Riga from a 72 metre (236 ft) altitude. To get this high, visitors have to take an elevator. On December 4th 1997, St. Peter’s Church was added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.
Saint John's Church

6) Saint John's Church (must see)

Saint John’s Church is a 13th century temple presumably built by the Dominicans. Its original shape and location are unknown and may only be assumed. Legend has it that two monks were immured in the church's southern wall when it was built and were fed through a hole, which in the Middle Ages was considered a supreme form of asceticism.

After the Dominicans had been expelled from Latvia, the building was passed into private hands and turned into a stable; later on it was even used as a weapon workshop. In 1582, the church was sanctified again and returned to the Latvian parish. Five years later, it underwent major reconstruction and an altar was added.

Today, Saint John’s serves the local Lutheran community and forms part of Riga's Old Town area, remaining one of the top tourist sights in the city. Its Gothic interior, ascetic medieval outside appearance and rich history are equally appreciated by tourists and locals.
Reformation Church

7) Reformation Church

The Reformation Church, or the Reformed Church, was built from 1727-1733. This Calvinist church, since its founding, has served as a warehouse, recording studio and, more recently, as a restaurant and concert hall. However, religious services are still held here on Sundays.
Church of Jesus

8) Church of Jesus

The Church of Jesus in Riga is a Lutheran temple. Its original building was constructed in 1621 by the Swedes in celebration of their victory over the Russian army. The Russians didn't take long with a vengeance and in 1656 promptly “settled the score” with the Swedish Crown and destroyed the structure. Several more buildings were erected on the site over time, each sharing the fate of the first Church of Jesus. The current wooden building was erected in 1818-1822 to a design by architect H. F. Breitkreic. It is the biggest wooden church in Latvia and one of the biggest in Europe, reaching 27 metres high. Its predecessor, dated 1733, was razed by the Russians in 1812 out of fear of a Napoleonic attack.

The interior of the church is painted white and red and features a row of balconies for an additional space. Large columns decorate the interior and four similar columns support the façade.

Walking Tours in Riga, Latvia

Create Your Own Walk in Riga

Create Your Own Walk in Riga

Creating your own self-guided walk in Riga is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Museums Tour, Part 1

Museums Tour, Part 1

Often the historic area of Riga gets all the attention, as some of the city's most beautiful museums and buildings are located here. This tour, however, will take you not only to Riga's well-known museums but to some of the city's more obscure, yet fascinating museums. Take this self-guided tour to fully explore Riga's fabulous array of museums.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Riga's War Memorials

Riga's War Memorials

Over the years, Riga has many times served as a battleground as evidenced by the many monuments, gates and towers in the city that honor those who suffered or died in conflicts. In addition to war memorials, the city also has numerous landmarks related to Latvia's independence. Take this self-guided tour to discover some of Riga's most notable landmarks.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

It would be a pity to leave Riga without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Riga, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.4 Km or 4.6 Miles
Museums Tour, Part 2

Museums Tour, Part 2

Riga, the capital of Latvia, boasts an amazing array of museums. Items on display include everything from historical artifacts and photography to antiques and modern toys. There is a museum to satisfy almost any interest. Check out the most popular museums in the historic area of Riga on this self-guided tour.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles
Vecriga Walk

Vecriga Walk

Riga, the capital of Latvia, is the country's cultural center, home to many museums, theaters and concert venues. It is known particularly for gabled, art nouveau and medieval architecture concentrated in the Old Town (Vecrīga), situated on the east bank of the Daugava River and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Vecrīga is also famous for its old churches, among which the most...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Riga's Specialty Shops

Riga's Specialty Shops

Riga is not only a city with amazing Art Nouveau architecture, a rich cultural life and interesting museums, it is also a great place to shop. Latvia offers so many quality local products, including ceramics, woolens and amber accessories, that it would be a pity not to bring home a gift or souvenir. Take this tour to find some of the best locally-made merchandise in Riga.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

Traveler's Choice of 12 Uniquely Latvian Souvenirs from Riga

Traveler's Choice of 12 Uniquely Latvian Souvenirs from Riga

Reemerged after regaining independence in the early 1990s, Latvia is anxious to reveal its beauty to the outside world. The country's capital Riga is a good showroom for the country's cultural riches and traditions. Here's the list of the unique Latvian products to look for while in...