Rīga is the largest, liveliest and most cosmopolitan of the Baltic capitals. A heady mixture of the medieval and the contemporary, the city has much to offer architecture and history enthusiasts in the narrow cobbled streets of Old Rīga and the wide boulevards of the New Town, where beautiful examples of Art Nouveau architecture line Strēlnieku iela and Alberta iela.
With its cobbled streets, narrow lanes and hidden courtyards, it gives the impression of stepping back in time. To the east, Old Rīga is bordered by Bastejkalns Park, beyond which lies the New Town. Built during rapid urban expansion between 1857 and 1914, its wide boulevards are lined with four- and five-storey apartment buildings, many decorated with extravagant Art Nouveau motifs. If you want to see the city unfold before you, with its melange of church domes, vast parks, ribbon of river and squat Soviet creations, follow the urban throng to Šķūņu iela to St Peter’s Church, a large red-brick structure with a graceful three-tiered spire; climb the tower for excellent panoramic views.
From the doors of St Peter’s Church, Rātslaukums (Town Hall Square) is straight ahead and dominated by the House of the Blackheads (Melngalvju nams), whose facade is an opulent masterpiece of Gothic architecture and which once served as the headquarters of Rīga’s bachelor merchants, who adopted the North African, non-white St Maurice as their patron (hence the name “Blackheads”).