Top Historic Sights in Riga, Latvia

Explore the historic highlights of Riga

House of Blackheads

House of the Blackheads (Melngalvju nams) is a building situated in the old town of Riga. 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 ornaments. The structure was bombed to a ruin by the Germans June 28, 1941 and the remains demolished by ...
Founded: ca. 1334 | Location: Riga, Latvia

St. Peter's Church

First record of the St. Peter's Church dates back to 1209. The church was a masonry construction and therefore undamaged by a city fire in Riga that year. The history of the church can be divided into three distinct periods: two associated with Gothic and Romanesque building styles, the third with the early Baroque period. The middle section of the church was built during the 13th century, which encompasses the first peri ...
Founded: 1209 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Riga Old Town

Riga Old Town (Vecrīga) is the historical center of Riga, Latvia, located on the east side of Daugava River. Vecrīga is famous for its old churches and cathedrals, such as Riga Cathedral and St. Peter's church. Vecrīga is the original area of Riga and consists of the historic city limits before the city was greatly expanded over the years. In the old days, Vecrīga was protected by a surrounding wall e ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Riga, Latvia

Riga Castle

Riga Castle (Rīgas pils) is a castle on the banks of River Daugava. The 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. Sometime in the 1930s, some renovation work was done by architect Eižens Laube. ...
Founded: 1497-1515 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Riga Cathedral

Riga Cathedral is the Protestant cathedral in Riga, Latvia. Built near the River Daugava in 1211 by Livonian Bishop Albert of Riga, it is considered the largest medieval church in the Baltic states. It has undergone many modifications in the course of its history. Certainly one of the most recognisable landmarks in Latvia, the Cathedral is featured in or the subject of paintings, photographs and television travelogues. A ...
Founded: 1211 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Museum of the Occupation of Latvia

Museum of the Occupation of Latvia 1940-1991 (Latvijas okupācijas muzejs) is an historic educational institution. It was established in 1993 to exhibit artifacts, archive documents, and educate the public about the 51-year period in the 20th century when Latvia was successively occupied by the USSR in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and then again by the USSR in 1944. The museum's stated mission is to show what ...
Founded: 1971 | Location: Riga, Latvia

The Freedom Monument

The Freedom Monument if a symbol of independent Latvia. From the moment Latvia acquires its independence a search for a suitable artistic solution started and donations were gathered. The monument was built in 1931-35, its author was a well-known latvian architect Karlis Zale. The statue of Liberty (sculpturer R. Mirsmeden) holds three stars - the symbols of historical areas in Latvia: Kurzeme, Vidzeme, Latgale. The pede ...
Founded: 1931-1935 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Latvian Museum of Foreign Art

The Latvian Museum of Foreign Art was established in 1920 and contains the most extensive collection of world art in Latvia from Ancient Egyptian/Middle eastern art dating back to 5000 BC to present. Today Latvian National Museum of Art contains main building in Krišjāņa Valdemāra Street, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, the Museum of Romans Suta and Aleksandra Beļcova and since January 1, 2010 also the Museum of Decorati ...
Founded: 1920 | Location: Riga, Latvia

National Opera House

The National Opera House was constructed in 1863 by architect Ludwig Bohnstedt from St. Petersburg, for the then German-speaking City Theatre. It has been refurbished several times; 1882-1887 (following a fire in 1882), 1957–1958, 1991-1995 (following independence). A modern annex was added in 2001 with a 300-seat New Hall.
Founded: 1863 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Great Cemetery

The Great Cemetery (Latvian: Lielie kapi, German: Grosser Friedhof) was formerly the principal cemetery of Riga in Latvia, established in 1773. It was the main burial ground of the Baltic Germans in Latvia. Between 1771 and 1772, Catherine the Great, empress of the Russian Empire, decreed that from that point onwards no-one, regardless of their social standing or class origins, was to be buried in a church crypt or church ...
Founded: 1773 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Latvian Academy of Sciences

The Academy of Sciences edifice was built after World War II, between 1951 and 1961, collecting the necessary financing from the newly established kolkhozes in Latvia and - as further expenses increased, collecting the finances as 'voluntary donations' deducted from the salaries of the Latvian rural population. The building is decorated with several hammers and sickles as well as Latvian folk ornaments and motifs. The sp ...
Founded: 1951-1961 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Small & Great Guild Hall

During the centuries of German economic domination, the guilds were Riga's power brokers. The former, dating from 1384, was the home of the merchants, while the latter held the city's artisans. These slightly different audiences are reflected in the respective usage of the buildings today: while the Great Guild is home to the Latvian Symphony Orchestra, its smaller cousin hosts conferences and the occasional disco. The ...
Founded: 1384 | Location: Riga, Latvia

St. John's Church

St. John's Church was built in the 13th century, probably between 1234-1297. It was originally home of the Dominican monks, but over the centuries fell into the possession of the Lutherans. It has also served as an arsenal for the city. The most notable features of this unheralded church are the impressive 15th century sculptures of St. Peter and St. Paul which adorn the the 18th century altar. According the legend two m ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Riga, Latvia

Riga Luther Church

Completed in 1891, this neo-gothic church was belatedly built to commemorate the birth of Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) – founder of Latvia’s most popular faith. Although its yellow brick façade, soaring steeple and imposing location atop a hill are all impressive, the church’s main claim to fame is its beautiful timber ceiling. A cemetery is located next to the church. Take tram N°10 from Gr ...
Founded: 1891 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Latvian National Theatre

The Latvian National Theatre (Latvijas Nacionalais teatris) was built between 1899-1902 by the design of architect Augusts Reinbergs, becoming Riga's second (Russian) theatre. It closed during the First World War; on the 18th of November 1918, Latvia's independence was declared in the theatre building. In 1917 the first shows in Latvian were held in the theatre. The Latvian National Theatre was founded 30 November, 1919, ...
Founded: 1899-1902 | Location: Riga, Latvia

St. James's Cathedral

St. James's Cathedral, or the Cathedral Basilica of St. James is dedicated to Saint James the Greater. It is frequently referred to by the name St. Jacob because Latvian, like many other languages, uses the same name for James and Jacob. The church building was dedicated in 1225. It was not originally a cathedral since the Rīgas Doms served that function. At the beginning of the 15th century the Holy Cross Chapel wa ...
Founded: 1225 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Jewish Museum of Latvia

The museum “Jews in Latvia” was established in 1989 to research, popularize and commemorate the history of Latvia's Jewish community. The museum's exhibition is housed in three halls in the historical building of former Jewish theatre. The visitors of the museum can get acquainted with different aspects of Latvian Jewish history and culture from the beginnings in XVI century and to 1945 – legal status a ...
Founded: 1989 | Location: Riga, Latvia

The Powder Tower

The so-called Powder Tower originally served as one of the Riga defensive system buildings. There is no information on the exact date of the construction, but the first tower on this place was built in the 13th century. The name of a tower - Powder, has appeared later. In documents for the first time this place has been mentioned in 14th century by the name of Sand tower. The modern tower has been constructed on a bound ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Riga, Latvia

Holy Trinity Orthodox Church

Although an older church dating back to 1453 once stood here, the current 17th-century Russian baroque-style building was completed in 1893. Designed in the shape of the Orthodox cross, its soaring belfry and blue and green onion domes can be seen from quite a distance. Inside you’ll find the smell of incense and hundreds of icons common to Orthodox churches.
Founded: 1893 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Reformation Church

Built from 1727-1733, this is one of the few Calvinist churches in Latvia. After renovations in 1805, its basement was turned into a warehouse, while the Soviets turned the whole building into a recording studio. Now the upstairs is used for occasional concerts and the downstairs is waiting for yet another entrepreneur to open a club there.
Founded: 1727-1733 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Latvian War Museum

The Latvian War Museum is a war museum in Riga, Latvia. It began as the Riflemen Museum in 1916 during World War I. The building that houses the museum was erected in the years from 1937 to 1940. The mission of the War museum is to save collective, historical memory of the nation about political and military history of Latvia, the influence of the military conflicts (especially 20th century World Wars) on the destiny of ...
Founded: 1916 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Nativity of Christ Cathedral

The Nativity of Christ Cathedral (Kristus Piedzimšanas pareizticīgo katedrāle) was built to a design by Nikolai Chagin in a Neo-Byzantine style between 1876 and 1883, during the period when the country was part of the Russian Empire. It is the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Baltic provinces built with the blessing of the Russian Tsar Alexander II on the initiative of local governor-general Pyotr Bagration and bishop ...
Founded: 1876-1883 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Orthodox Church of the Annunciation

The original church that once stood here was destroyed when the entire area was razed in 1812 to deprive Napoleon’s army of shelter. The army took a different route. Fortunately, some of the historic icons were saved and now adorn the walls of the current yellow wooden church that was built in 1818. Although it looks like it’s falling apart on the outside its simple interior is still worth a quick peek.
Founded: 1818 | Location: Riga, Latvia

St. Saviour's

This little church commissioned by British traders living in Riga was built in 1857 on a shipload of English soil specially imported from the UK. Consecrated in 1859, the church was only full when British warships visited Latvia. Transformed into a student disco during Soviet times, it is once again a place of worship which is attended by Riga's English-speaking expat population. Its pastor and his dedicated flock are als ...
Founded: 1857-1859 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Latvian Museum of Pharmacy

The Latvian Museum of Pharmacy is a medical museum in Riga, Latvia. It was founded in 1987 in association with the Pauls Stradins Museum for History of Medicine and is located in an18th century building which itself is an architectural monument. The museum is dedicated to understanding the development of pharmacy and pharmacies in Latvia and contains documents and books from the 17th-19th century, pharmacist tools and dev ...
Founded: 1987 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Old St. Gertrude's Church

The monumental neo-Gothic church was consecrated in 1869. This red brick masterpiece topped with a green copper spire was designed by one of the city’s most prolific architects, J.D. Felsko. Unfortunately, some of its decorative ornaments cast in concrete are now in a sad state and hang precariously above passers-by. Many of the art nouveau buildings surrounding the church are also worth a look.
Founded: 1869 | Location: Riga, Latvia

St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Church

Construction of this Classicist wooden building began in 1820 and was completed five years later. In 1862 its eclectic-style belfry was added. Yellow and round with a large green dome, it’s hard to miss it on the corner of Brīvības and Blaumaņa. Inside you’ll find three porticoes, beautiful icons and, unusually, a central altar in the middle of the room.
Founded: 1820-1825 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Daugavgriva Castle Ruins

Daugavgrīva Castle was originally a monastery converted as a fortress by Swedish in the 17th century. Today there are no remnants of the medieval castle above the soil. In 1208 there was a Dünaburg castle built by the Teutonic Knights which initially served as a monastery. The Swedish fortress of Dünamünde, designed in a Dutch style by General Rothenburg in 1641, replaced the ruined Daugavgrīva C ...
Founded: 1680 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Bikernieki Memorial

Bikernieki Memorial is a war memorial to The Holocaust victims of World War II in Bikernieki forest, near Riga. Bikernieki forest is the biggest mass murder site during The Holocaust in Latvia with two memorial territories spanning over 80,000 square metres with 55 marked burial sites with around 20,000 victims still buried in total. The memorial was initially planned and construction started in 1986, but was delayed aft ...
Founded: 2001 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Grebenshchikov Church

The first wooden place of worship was built here in 1760, and the current building was completed in 1814. It is home to one of the largest congregations of Old Believers in the world (about 10,000), an Orthodox Christian sect that fled persecution in Russia in the 17th century.
Founded: 1760-1814 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Mentzendorff House

Mentzendorff House, a subunit of the Museum of History and Navigation, with its 17-18th century atmosphere is the only museum of its kind in the Baltics. The exposition is set up in a building of 1695, which up to 1939 was a dwelling-house with a shop and warehouses. A dwelling-house museum renders the everyday life of wealthy Riga residents in the past. The unique ceiling and wall paintings of the 17th-18th centuries ha ...
Founded: 1695 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Jungfernhof Concentration Camp

The Jungfernhof concentration camp was an improvised concentration camp in Latvia. It was in operation from December 1941 through March 1942, and served as overflow housing for Jews from Germany and Austria, who had originally had been intended for Minsk as a destination. The former estate of 200 hectares in size, had built on it a warehouse, three large barns, five small barracks and various cattle sheds. The partially ...
Founded: 1941 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Beersel Castle

The moated castle at Beersel is one of the few exceptionally well-preserved examples of medieval fortifications in Belgium. It remains pretty much as it must have appeared in the 15th century. Remarkably, it was never converted into a fortified mansion. A visitor is able to experience at first-hand how it must have felt to live in a heavily fortified castle in the Middle Ages.

The castle was built in around 1420 as a means of defence on the outer reaches of Brussels. The tall, dense walls and towers were intended to hold any besiegers at bay. The moat and the marshy ground along its eastern, southern and western edges made any attack a formidable proposition. For that reason, any attackers would have chosen its weaker northern defences where the castle adjoins higher lying ground. But the castle was only taken and destroyed on one occasion in 1489, by the inhabitants of Brussels who were in rebellion against Maximilian of Austria.

After being stormed and plundered by the rebels it was partially rebuilt. The pointed roofs and stepped gables are features which have survived this period. The reconstruction explains why two periods can be identified in the fabric of the edifice, particularly on the outside.

The red Brabant sandstone surrounds of the embrasures, now more or less all bricked up, are characteristic of the 15th century. The other embrasures, edged with white sandstone, date from the end of the 15th century. They were intended for setting up the artillery fire. The merlons too are in white sandstone. The year 1617 can be clearly seen in the foundation support on the first tower. This refers to restorations carried out at the time by the Arenberg family.

Nowadays, the castle is dominated by three massive towers. The means of defence follow the classic pattern: a wide, deep moat surrounding the castle, a drawbridge, merlons on the towers, embrasures in the walls and in the towers, at more or less regular intervals, and machiolations. Circular, projecting towers ensured that attacks from the side could be thwarted. If the enemy were to penetrate the outer wall, each tower could be defended from embrasures facing onto the inner courtyard.

The second and third towers are flanked by watchtowers from which shots could be fired directly below. Between the second and third tower are two openings in the walkway on the wall. It is not clear what these were used for. Were these holes used for the disposing of rubbish, or escape routes. The windows on the exterior are narrow and low. All light entering comes from the interior. The few larger windows on the exterior date from a later period. It is most probable that the third tower - the highest - was used as a watchtower.