The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
All you want to know about the troubled history of Latvia, and Riga in particular, can be found in the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia which is just off the Townhall Square. It provides the facts of the Latvians’ fight against German and Soviet occupation, while providing personal accounts of those who were tortured and killed. It’s well presented and it’s free, although a donation is encouraged.
If you want to feel like you’re mixing it with the Riga locals, this is the place to be. It’s a collection of hangars, which were used during World War II, with all sorts of goods. There’s loads of meat if you want to cook up your own feast or, if that doesn’t take your fancy, stock up on sweets which are sold at dozens of stalls. It’s situated near the bus station.
It’s somewhat ironic that this monument was finished in 1935, for not long after, Latvia was to undergo a turbulent period of occupation. The inscription reads “For the Fatherland and Freedom”. From World War II to 1991 Riga would be under the control of the Soviet Union and, for a brief period during WWII, the Germans. It still stands proudly in the centre of Riga and was an inspiration for the locals during occupation, that one day independence would be restored. Latvian guards still stand on duty protecting the city’s most important landmark.
The Victory Memorial to the Soviet Army
The antithesis of the Freedom Monument, the Victory Memorial to the Soviet Army was built in 1985 to commemorate the World War II victory. It’s an impressive and imposing memorial which was obviously built to show the Riga locals who was in charge. Like the Freedom Monument, its completion didn’t bode well for those who commissioned it – the Soviets were gone less than six years later. To find it head over Akmens Bridge away from the centre and walk straight on for about 10 minutes – you can’t miss it.
Much of central Riga is very beautiful. There are wonderful cobbled streets to wander and the Art Nouveau architecture, which thankfully survived World War II, is world-renowned. One of the most recommended examples is the Stockholm School of Economics.
St Peter’s Church
One of the oldest churches in the Baltic region, St Peter’s was first built in 13th century. It burned down during World War II and was restored in 1973. Most people visit to go up the steeple which is 123.25 metres high – but be warned, if you go in winter make sure you’re well rugged up because it’s freezing.