In addition to being the European Capital of Culture for 2014, Riga is, as many of you probably already know, the capital of Latvia – a country that was previously part of the Soviet Union. Not only does this little Baltic gem boast impressive medieval and art nouveau architecture, it also gives you the chance to peek behind what was once the Iron Curtain. Here’s a selection of must-see places in Riga that are legacies of the city’s Soviet past.
1. Get great views at the Academy of Sciences aka Stalin’s birthday cake
Constructed between 1953 and 1956, The Academy of Sciences is an imposing Stalinist-style structure that resembles a gigantic birthday cake. Physical evidence of the Soviet occupation can be hard to find in Riga, so this place is well worth a visit. For just under €4, you can head up to the 17th floor balcony for breathtaking views of the city’s skyline.
Photo credit: Alistair Young
2. Play old-school board games at Bufete Gauja
Bufete Gauja is a cosy little bar reminiscent of a Soviet-era apartment or cafeteria, with authentic Soviet-era décor and an authentic Soviet-era vibe. Fortunately, the only thing missing is the Soviet-style service. Stop by to play old-school board games while enjoying a glass or two of Latvia’s famous Brenguļu beer.
3. See old Soviet fighter jets and supersonic bombers at Riga Aviation Museum
Located right next to the airport, this museum is packed with all manner of flying machines that once formed the mighty Soviet air force. Take the chance to see how aviation evolved from rudimentary planes into extremely complex pieces of technology. It’s up to you to decide whether the biggest part of the Soviet budget was well spent or not. Note that bookings are required for weekends.
4. Enjoy spectacular 360° views from the top of Riga TV Tower
Standing at an incredible 368 metres tall, Riga TV Tower dominates the city skyline and will likely be the first thing to catch your eye. Its design doesn’t really reflect the traditional Soviet style of architecture as it was built in the ten years prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Head up to the observation deck for gorgeous 360° views of the city.
Photo credit: Tom Godber
5. Learn about Latvia’s Soviet past at the Museum of Occupations
This museum strives to give an honest account of the Soviet and Nazi occupations during and after WWII in Latvia. It houses an amazing collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, posters, weapons and more. If you’d like to learn more about Latvia’s Soviet past, this place is definitely one not to be missed.
Photo credit: William Whyte