Vecriga Walk (Self Guided), Riga

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 prominent are Riga Cathedral and St. Peter's church. To find out more about Old Riga, follow this orientation walk.
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Vecriga Walk Map

Guide Name: Vecriga Walk
Guide Location: Latvia » Riga (See other walking tours in Riga)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 18
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: helenp
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Town Hall Square
  • House of Blackheads (Melngalvju nams)
  • Cathedral Square
  • Riga Cathedral
  • Big Christopher
  • Riga Castle (Rigas Pils)
  • Three Brothers
  • Saint James Catheral
  • Swedish Gate and City Wall
  • Powder Tower
  • Bastion Hill
  • Laima Clock
  • Freedom Monument
  • Opera Square
  • Latvian National Opera
  • Galerija Centrs
  • Bremen Musicians Statue
  • Saint Peter's Church
Town Hall Square

1) Town Hall Square (must see)

In the very heart of Riga, the Town Hall Square (Rātslaukums) houses the Town Hall building (seat of the Riga City Council), the House of Blackheads and Roland's Statue.

The Town Hall itself is pretty to look at, but not open for visitors. Just underneath the Riga City Council building (destroyed during World War II, rebuilt in 2003) is a narrow cobble-stone street which is home to different souvenir and flower shops, a giant cascading waterfall three stories high and the remains of an ancient tree stub unearthed during the re-construction process. A small plaque states that when this oak was growing on the banks of the River Daugava.
Sight description based on wikipedia
House of Blackheads (Melngalvju nams)

2) House of Blackheads (Melngalvju nams) (must see)

House of the Blackheads is a building situated in the old town of Riga, Latvia.The original building was erected during the first third of the 14th century for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild for unmarried German merchants in Riga. Major works were done in the years 1580 and 1886, adding most of the ornamentations.

The structure was bombed to a ruin by the Germans June 28, 1941 and the remains demolished by the Soviets in 1948. The current reconstruction was erected from 1995 to 1999.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Cathedral Square

3) Cathedral Square (must see)

Cathedral (Dome) Square is the largest square in the Old Town of Riga. It houses several architectural monuments: Riga Cathedral, Riga Bourse House and other buildings from the 19th and early 20th century. A lot of activities of the city meet here, flowing in from seven streets. Many important Latvian events were held here in the past 20 years. There is even a marked point from where you can see all three golden cockerels on top of Old Town's churches.
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.
Big Christopher

5) Big Christopher

Lielais Kristaps (Big Christopher) is the legendary founder of Riga, who is widely recognised as the city’s protector from floods and other natural calamities. Sailors and fishermen would habitually ask Big Christopher for help whenever they ventured out to the sea. Legend has it that Big Christopher was a ferryman who used to carry people across the Daugava river. One night he heard a baby crying on the opposite side of the river and rushed to its rescue. As he picked up the baby from the water and carried it to the bank, the closer he got to the bank, the heavier the baby would grow. Finally, as he reached the dry land and put the baby down, he fell asleep almost immediately because of the extreme exhaustion. The next morning, when he woke up, to his surprise Christopher discovered, instead of the baby, a big pile of money. According to the legend, that money was used to build the city of Riga. Some people claim that that baby was none other than Jesus himself, although the authorities prefer to keep it free from religious context so that everyone could love Big Christopher regardless of their faith and recognize him as the city’s benefactor.

In 1683, a wooden statue of Big Christopher with the baby was installed in the place where the hero supposedly lived. Riga citizens come regularly to the statue; they bring flowers and light candles when asking for Big Christopher's protection. Today, the original statue can be seen at the Latvian Museum of History and Navigation, while its replica adorns the Daugava river bank.
Riga Castle (Rigas Pils)

6) Riga Castle (Rigas Pils)

Riga castle was founded in 1330 and it is the symbol and home of Latvian secular authority. Today it serves as the offices and home of the Latvian presRiga Castle was founded in 1330. This structure was thoroughly rebuilt between 1497 and 1515. Upon the castle's seizure by the Swedes, they constructed spacious annexes in 1641. The fortress was continually augmented and reconstructed between the 17th and 19th centuries. The Latvian government declared the castle its residence in 1938. Today it is the official residence of the President of Latvia as well as home to the Latvian Museum of Foreign Art and the Rainis Museum of Literature and Art History.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Three Brothers

7) Three Brothers

The "Three Brothers" is a collection of medieval buildings which depict different stages in the architectural development of Riga. The oldest house is the white one. It was build in the 15th century. The yellow house, in the middle carries trains Dutch Baroque and the year 1646 in the gable. The youngest brother dates from the 18th century.
Saint James Catheral

8) 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.
Swedish Gate and City Wall

9) Swedish Gate and City Wall (must see)

The Swedish Gate and the Old City Wall are what's left of the once mighty fortification system that surrounded Riga in the Middle Ages. Much of the complex, built between the 13th and 16th centuries, was destroyed by time or invaders or torn down in the 19th century. The Swedish Gate is the only city gate still in place, and was built in 1698 by the Swedes, who ruled the city at that time. It stands on the site of the Jürgen tower, a semicircular defensive structure, whose lower part was later built into the nearby house no.11. The apartment above the gate is said to have been, at some point, occupied by an executioner who used to put a red rose in the window each time a convict was beheaded. In 1926, the property was leased from the Society of Architects of Latvia, and rebuilt.

During the Soviet period, the complex underwent two renovations: one in 1953-1956, run by A.A. Reynfeldsa, during which it was extended with a new building, no.13; and another time in 1986-1987, during which it was attached with the freshly built house no.15.

Today, the gate and the walls no longer serve their original fortifying purpose, but merely separate the Old Town from the busy nearby area, packed with bars and other distractions.
Powder Tower

10) Powder Tower (must see)

Built in the 14th century, the Powder Tower was first known as the Sand Tower and formed part of the town's fortification system, called the Sand Gate. The system comprised in total 25 towers which stood along the Sand Road, leading into the town. Its walls were made of red brick and measured up to three metres in thickness, which was enough to withstand any military assault in those days. In the 17th century the tower was transformed into a gunpowder depot and, subsequently, changed its name to Pulvertornis (Powder Tower).

In 1625, it successfully fended off the attack of the Swedish army, but the walls suffered severe damage and required serious restoration. It started only 25 years later. Another war – with Russia – left nine cannon balls embedded in the walls of Pulvertornis, calling for a new overhaul.

Between 1935 and 1940 the tower was fully refurbished and enlarged to accommodate the Museum of War.
Bastion Hill

11) Bastion Hill (must see)

Bastejkalns or The Bastion Hill is a former sand rampart which has been redesigned into a place for outdoor recreation. Works on this 16 metre hill started as far back as 1859, when the first trees and flowers were planted. In 1883, to ease public access, a pedestrian wooden bridge was built across the former defensive moat, converted into a winding canal. In 1888, the entire hill was redone by landscape architect Georg Kuphaldt, who moved some of the plants to a new place and added walking paths, heading up to the top of the hill, and waterfalls. Four years later, in 1892, the wooden bridge was replaced with a stone one, designed by A. Agte. In 1893, a couple of swans were released into the park, presented to the City Garden Committee by the Society of Bird Breeders. To accommodate the swans, Henrich Shell built a special house which remarkably blended with the landscape.

Nowadays, the Bastion Hill is an established outdoor leisure spot within the city, particularly popular with locals and tourists during the warmer months. Lush greenery and water fowl residing by the canal, combined with the cultural and recreational activities organized from time to time, make the Bastion Hill one of the most popular parks in Riga. In winter, the place is just as attractive, especially the view of the city which opens from the top of the hill.
Laima Clock

12) Laima Clock

Laima Clock or Laimas Pulkstenis is a public clock situated in the very heart of Old Riga, near the famous Independence monument and the Riga Canal. The clock was installed in 1924, courtesy of the local Social Democratic Party, who thus wanted to help the citizens keep track of their time and prevent them from being late for work. In the 1930s, the word “Riegert” appeared on the clock stand for the first time, as an endorsement of one of the local businesses. It also happened to be the first occasion on which a clock would be used for advertising. In 1936, a new name “Laima” showed up on the clock, being the name of Riga's chocolate factory whose products are still widely known across the nation.

After World War II the clock was used mostly as a board for political messages. In December 2017, the Laima factory renovated the clock again in honor of the 100th anniversary of Latvia. Today, Laimas Pulkstenis lives up to its name - the word “laimas” translates from Latvian as happiness - and is one of the most favoured meeting spots in Riga, much loved by dating couples as well as businessmen. Public gatherings also take place here quite often.
Freedom Monument

13) Freedom Monument (must see)

Brivibas Piemineklis - the Freedom Monument - commemorates the soldiers who fell during the Latvian War of Independence of 1918-1920. Built in 1935 to a design by R. Mirsmeden, the monument asserts Latvia's national values. It stands as the symbol of two battles fought by the country for its independence and is a ground zero for the majority of political demonstrations held in Riga nowadays. Surprisingly enough, the monument has survived almost 50 years of the Soviet rule, in part due to its high artistic value and also because of the alternate interpretation of its symbols, which agreed with the Soviet doctrine. Still, many of those who did dare to lay flowers at the monument in those days in commemoration of its original cause, i.e. Latvian strive for independence, had problems with the authorities and were likely to be prosecuted.

The structure consists of three major blocks decorated by 14 statuary groups. The base block features Latvian riflemen and singers; the one above depicts scholars, people of work, Guardians of the Fatherland and the Family. Other groups include “The Battle against the Bermontians on the Iron Bridge” and “1905”, “Lāčplēsis” (bear slayer, the folk hero), “Vaidelotis” (pagan Baltic priest), “Chain Breakers” and “Latvia”. The central element of the monument, topping a 19 metre (62 ft) column, is the bronze statue of a woman holding up three golden stars above her head, symbolising three Latvian regions: Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale.

With a total height of 42 metres, the Freedom Monument is visible from almost every corner of Old Riga, and acts as a sort of navigation aid for tourists en route to different locations.
Opera Square

14) Opera Square (must see)

Opera Square in situated in front of Riga's Opera House. The central element of the square is a renowned fountain, created in 1887 by the architect Augusta Folca. The artistic fountain resembles the mythological character, Nimfa, from which it got its name. The fountain was reconstructed in 1986.
Latvian National Opera

15) Latvian National Opera (must see)

The history of opera and ballet in Riga started in 1782, when a German-speaking troupe was brought to entertain the local public with a new form of theatrical art for the first time. The very first attempt to establish in Latvia its own national opera was made in 1912, when Pāvuls Jurjāns opened the Latvian Opera House. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War One led to the departure of Latvia's first opera singers to Russia. In 1918, Jāzeps Vītols revived the house and kept it running until the Soviet takeover of 1940, after which it was renamed the Latvian S.S.R. State Opera and Ballet Theatre and its repertoire was significantly affected by the Soviet ideology. In 1991, along with Latvia’s independence, the theatre regained its original name and artistic freedom.

The Latvian National Opera is housed in a 1863 building, designed by architect Ludwig Bohnstedt. It was fully renovated during 1990-1995 to provide best conditions for both performers and audience. A new annex, combining 19th century and today's architectural elements, was added to the building in 2001.

The Latvian National Opera is the home of Latvian opera, choir, orchestra and national ballet. The opera and ballet of Latvia have established themselves well on the international stage, and been particularly popular with the younger audience.
Galerija Centrs

16) Galerija Centrs (must see)

Galerija Centrs is a shopping mall in Riga, Latvia. The center opened in 1938 and presently occupies nearly an entire block in the historic Vecrīga neighborhood. The center is 29 000 sq. m in size, and contains 110 shops. The center received the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) award for the best design project in the world in the “Renovation and Expansion of an Existing Project” category in 2008.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Bremen Musicians Statue

17) Bremen Musicians Statue

Located in the Old Town of Riga, the Bremen Musicians Statue illustrates the famous tale by the Grimm Brothers, featuring the donkey, the dog, the cat and the rooster who stand atop each other. The statue captures the moment when the four form a pyramid to peek into the house that they intend to free from the highwaymen.

The monument was a gift to Riga made in 1990 (when Latvia was still part of the Soviet Union) by the fraternal city of Bremen, Germany. It wasn't, however, the copy of the monument in Bremen, but the original work which some people suspected of having a subtle political undertone. One interpretation was that the animals peep through the iron curtain (represented, in this particular case, by the frame) with much surprise, hence the look on their faces. Another interpretation is that the four animals represent four types of politicians.

Regardless of them both, the statue remains one of the top tourist sights in Riga. It is said that rubbing the donkey’s nose three times may bring luck. Locals, however, believe that rubbing it four times may considerably increase one's lucky chances.
Saint Peter's Church

18) 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.

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.
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
Historical Churches and Cathedrals

Historical Churches and Cathedrals

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.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 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

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