Riga’s Old Town, known as Vecrīga in Latvian, is an enchanting maze of cobbled streets and brightly colored buildings that date back as far as the 13th century. Although it exudes an aura of centuries past, the Old Town is no living museum. This vibrant neighborhood buzzes throughout the day and night with sightseers, shoppers and diners. It is also where the country’s laws are made.
Begin your tour at the remaining section of the defensive wall that used to surround the Old Town. Nearby, walk through the 17th-century Swedish Gate, the only surviving gate to the old city. Stop by the 15th-century Riga Castle, the official residence of the President of Latvia. See more of Riga’s historic structures when you visit the Three Brothers. Constructed between the 15th and 17th centuries, these are the oldest stone residential buildings in the city. Each property has its own architectural style, reflecting the different era in which it was built.
The Old Town is also a place where you can see a number of historic churches. Find St. George’s Church, an early 13th-century church in white dolomite. This is the oldest building in Riga and is now home to the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. Also worth seeing is the Gothic-style St. Jacob’s Cathedral, which is next door to the Saeima, the Latvian parliament.
When you need a break from walking, enjoy a coffee at one of the many open-air cafés found throughout the neighborhood. In the evening, the Old Town is a lively place to grab a drink or dine on some traditional Latvian dishes like rasols, a potato salad or karbonāde, breaded pork chops.
One of the best times of year to visit the Old Town is during the annual Christmas fair. Learn about Latvian holiday customs, sample specialty Christmas foods and shop for local handcrafts. The Old Town is located on the east side of the Daugava River. This area is a popular spot for strolling, dining and shopping year-round.