Along with its esteemed title of 2014 European Capital of Culture, today saw confirmation that Latvia will become the 18th country to join the Eurozone early next year, a move regarded in certain quarters as a reward for having imposed and indeed survived the harsh austerity measures required to weather these uncertain economic times.
Part of the European Union since 2004, Latvia and its capital, Riga, have long been regarded as ‘the big boy of the Baltics’. Indeed, the impressive Art-Nouveau architecture of its cobbled Old Town – comprising some 800 buildings of which the Dome Cathedral, St Peter’s Church, the Swedish Gates, Riga Castle, the House of Blackheads and the Powder Tower take centre stage – is originally of German construction but today is more than reminiscent of Paris and is the deserved recipient of UNESCO World Heritage status.
Whilst the Old Town is undoubtedly the starting point on any itinerary to Riga, be sure to check out some of the following whilst in the city…
Central Market (Tirgus) – The largest open market in Europe dating back to 1930, here you’ll find all manner of traditional crafts, food and drink, electrical items and other curios, all housed in former WWI Zeppelin hangars.
Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum – Situated on the outskirts of the city but considered a Riga essential, you’ll encounter farmsteads, fishing villages, churches and other historic buildings paying a fascinating homage to a bygone era.
Freedom Monument – Unveiled in 1935, this bronze-topped monument symbolised the long-held dream of freedom from the constraints of German landlords and the control of the Russian Monarchy.
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia – Housed in the former US embassy building, this museum offers a rather sobering and thought-provoking audiovisual history of the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Latvia.