WEEKEND RIGA “ALL IN”
4 DAYS / 3 NIGHTS
DAY 1 / RIGA (ARRIVAL)
Arrival in Riga.
First orientation tour of Riga (depending on arrival time, only if arrival is before 14h00).
Transfer to the hotel.
Optional: Dinner at the hotel.
DAY 2 / RIGA
Breakfast at the hotel.
Walking tour in the historical centre of Riga. Riga, the capital of Latvia, is the biggest and the most cosmopolitan of the three Baltic capitals. Situated on the banks of the Daugava -or Dvina- River and 10 kilometres from the Baltic Sea, Riga was an important trading post of the Vikings and then, again, of German merchants. By the 12th century, German missionaries arrived, and soon the Pope declared a crusade against the Baltic tribes in order to convert them to Christianity by force. The Christian army was commanded by Albert Von Buxhoeveden, Archbishop of Bremen, who arrived in 1201. He fortified Riga, which under his rule became a city that minted its own money and in 1221 signed its own constitution. After Albert’s death, Riga continued its development and in 1281 it became a member of the Hanseatic League, while the German nobility continued to rule the city under Polish, then Swedish, and finally Russian domination. After its annexation by Peter the Great in 1721, Riga experienced a great economic boom, becoming the fourth city in the Russian Empire after St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Warsaw, and its most important port. Between 1920 and 1940 it became the capital of newly independent Latvia, and after World War II Riga, and all of Latvia, along with the other Baltic republics, was incorporated into the Soviet Union. The capital of newly independent Latvia since 1991, the city is regaining its old splendour, and its historical centre is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, with Riga declared European Cultural Capital in 2014.
The centre of Riga is richly decorated with an incredible variety of architectural styles, including gothic, renaissance, baroque, classicism, Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, and national romanticism. In the modern section, the Art Nouveau buildings and their fantastic decorative elements are extraordinary and unrivalled, while the wooden buildings of the 19th century that still survive are also unique. We will enjoy a panoramic walking tour around the historical centre, with its perfectly preserved paved streets and charming medieval atmosphere in which we will admire the magnificent buildings that belonged to the rich merchants of the Hansa. We will start our tour with a view of Riga Castle, built in 1330, one of the most well-preserved castles in Northern Europe, and now the official residence of the President of Latvia and home to the National History Museum of Latvia. We will then visit some parts of the old city walls, including the Swedish Gate and Powder Tower, after which we will continue our visit through the old Nunnery and Hospital of the Holy Spirit. We will admire some of the city’s most ancient civil buildings, such as the House of The Three Brothers, the oldest residence in Riga; the House of the Black Heads, which was the seat of the famous brotherhood of captains and Hanseatic merchants; and the more recently built Small and Great Guild Halls, which were the cultural centres of the craftsmen and merchants, respectively. We will also visit the most important religious buildings in Riga: St. James’ Cathedral, St. John’s Church, St. Peter’s Church, and the Dome, or Riga Cathedral. We will finish our walk in the old Market Square in front of the town hall.
Visit to Riga Central Market. It is the largest market in the Baltic States and one of the biggest markets on the European continent. Inaugurated in 1930, its five pavilions were designed to be zeppelin hangars, though they were eventually converted into the central market. Located in the centre of Riga and constructed in the Art Nouveau style, it was the largest construction project in pre-war Latvia. The main function of the central market has not changed since, as it is still the largest and most popular shopping and trading location in the city. Its pavilions and the market’s open area see farmers from all over the country offering their wares: Vegetables, berries, fruits, fish, meat, and dairy products, as well as other agricultural produce—a pleasure for the senses!
Visit to St. John’s Church. The church began its life as a chapel for a Dominican cloister that was established in 1234, becoming a church in the late 13th century. In the 16th century, King Stephen Báthory gave the church to the Lutheran community. Its architecture features a step-type pediment and magnificent arches inside, with major works of sacred art inside the church.
Visit to St. Jacob’s Cathedral (St. James’s Cathedral). Built in 1225, it is one of the most ancient churches in Riga. During the Protestant Reformation of 1523, it became the first Protestant church in Riga, though 60 years later, when the city came under the control of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, King Stephen Báthory gave the church to the Jesuits as a counter-reformation measure, making it Catholic again. In 1621, when Gustav of Sweden invaded Latvia, the church was given back to the Lutherans, while in 1812, when Napoleon took Riga on his way to Russia, the church served as a food storage facility. In 1923, it was finally given back to the Catholics as the Catholic Cathedral of Riga. Its proper name is St. James, but it is usually confused, because in Latvian, as in many other languages, there is only one name for both Jacob and James.
Exterior visit to St. Peter’s Church. A beautiful gothic building that dates back to 1209, it was carefully renovated after being damaged by fire due to bombings during World War II.
Visit to the Dome (Riga Cathedral). The biggest church in the Baltic countries and a gothic pearl built in 1211 near the Daugava River, it also incorporates elements of many other styles, including Romanesque, baroque, and even Art Nouveau. Dedicated to the Protestant cult, its austere interior gives an impression of solidity, with some of its walls more than two meters thick. It is famous due to its spectacular organ. One of the greatest in Europe, it was inaugurated in 1844 with four keyboards and more than 6,700 pipes.
Visit to Riga’s Art Nouveau district. With more than 750 buildings featuring distinct facades and rich decoration, it is the biggest collection of Art Nouveau in the world. Its construction started between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, but its most famous buildings are wonderful examples of Jugendstil, which was characteristic of the inter-war period. There are two main types of Art Nouveau architecture and decoration in Riga: Rationalist-perpendicular, with vertical lines along many floors, and National-Romanticism, which incorporates elements of traditional architecture and natural materials. In 1997, UNESCO included 475 hectares in Riga’s centre in its World Heritage List, a protected area that embraces the historical heart of the city and the surrounding districts on the right bank of the Daugava River and includes most of the Art Nouveau district.
Dinner at the hotel.
DAY 3 / RIGA – RUNDALE – JELGAVA – JURMALA – RIGA
Breakfast at the hotel.
Departure to Rundale.
Visit to Rundale Palace. This was the summer residence of the Duke of Courland-Semigallia, Ernest Johann Von Biron. Von Biron was born to a family of servants in the Kettler dynasty, the dukes of Courland-Semigallia, and later entered the service of Bestuzhev, the Russian ambassador, one of the most powerful men in the duchy, and the Russian princess Anna Ivanovna’s lover. A handsome man, Von Biron managed to replace his master as the princess’ lover, and when she became empress (tsarina) in 1730, Ernst Johann Von Biron was rewarded with estates, money, and titles. He followed her to Russia and quickly expanded his influence in the court, becoming the most powerful man in the Russian Empire. When the last Duke of Courland-Semigallia from the Kettler dynasty died without an heir in 1737, Empress Anna Ivanovna managed to secure the duchy for her protégé and lover. Von Biron then returned to his homeland as duke, where he lived a life of opulence and extravagance. Shortly after arriving, he ordered two luxurious palaces to be built by the most famous architect in St. Petersburg, Bartolomeo Rastrelli: The Jelgava Palace, as his main residence, and the Rundale Palace, as his summer residence. Rastrelli built in Rundale a beautiful baroque, Italian-inspired palace with harmonious proportions, lavish stucco decorations, and beautiful French gardens. After the duke’s death, the palace changed hands several times, including becoming the property of the Shuvalov family and even the Soviet authorities. It has been recently restored and nowadays is used by the Latvian authorities to house the most important visitors of the country and heads of foreign states. Its most stunning halls are the Golden Living Room, the White Living Room, and the Great Gallery, as well as the duke’s private rooms, all of them decorated in the rococo style.
Departure to Jelgava.
Panoramic tour of Jelgava. In spite of the destruction suffered during World War II and the reconstruction done in the Soviet style, Jelgava still retains some remnants of its important past. We will admire several historical buildings along the streets of the old town and some patrician manors of the German nobility, such as Valdecka Palace. Among the religious monuments, we will discover the Lutheran Church of St. Anne, the oldest building of the city; the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. George and St. Mary, with its neo-gothic style; the Orthodox St. Anna and St. Simeon Cathedral; and the spire of the Holy Trinity Church. The Petrina Academy was built during the 18th century using a beautiful mixture of late baroque and early neoclassical styles and is an old spiritual centre of the Duchy. Without doubt, the most impressive of all buildings is the Jelgava Palace.
Departure to Jurmala.
Visit to Jurmala. The largest resort city in the Baltic States is well-known for its natural treasures: its mild climate, sea, healthy air, therapeutic mud, and mineral water. The city’s main attraction is almost 33 kilometres of long white sandy beaches that are hedged by large pine forests and the city’s natural border, the river Lielupe. More than 3,500 traditional wooden houses used to be summer residences for Riga’s elite, while most of these buildings are now declared national monuments.
Dinner at the hotel.
DAY 4 / RIGA (Departure)
Breakfast at the hotel.
Transfer to the airport.
Optional, depending on the departure time:
Visit to the Latvian Open-Air Ethnographic Museum. Riga’s Open-Air Ethnographic Museum was founded in 1924, including homesteads from Kurzeme, Zemgale, Vidzeme, and Latgale—Latvia’s four regions. In 1928 the first building was erected next to Jugla Lake, an 18th century threshing barn. In 1932 the museum was opened to the public and six houses from Vidzeme and Latgale served as its first exhibits. Today, the Latvian Open-Air Ethnographic Museum’s collection is made up of 114,000 items, including 120 ancient buildings with more than 3,000 household objects on display across an area of 87 hectares. Almost all population cross-sections and ethnic groups along with their cultures are represented, making this a unique opportunity to see traditional Latvian countryside life.
The order of visits is subject to change at any time due to operational reasons and museums schedules.
3* Sup. : Rija VEF Hotel, Rija Port Hotel, or similar
4* Sup. : Islande, Bellevue, or similar