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Riga History

Be in no doubt, Latvia’s capital has been through the mill. Riga has been sacked, occupied, reoccupied and then sacked again, by everyone from the Teutonic Knights to the Polish.

But it all started so well. Its location next to the Daugava River made Riga an important trading hub from the moment the Vikings first laid their helmets down in the city.

Riga continued to flourish until the 13th century when the Bishop of Livonia, Albert, landed with his Teutonic Army and annexed the city. Save for the odd skirmish, Riga remained largely calm until the Livonian War in 1558. From here on Riga would have to endure constant tugs of war between neighbouring powers, who wrestled for control over the city.

The Livonian War dragged on for 25 years, during which Riga was annexed by the victorious Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. They proceeded to battle with the Swedish for the next 50 years, who eventually took control of Riga in 1625. Back then Sweden wasn’t the pacifist nation it is today and another conflict ensued with the Russo-Swedish War. Once again, Riga was dragged into the mud.

In spite of the endless run of conflicts, Riga continued to prosper. But in 1710, the city was attacked again with Tsar Peter the Great taking the city for Russia – a state of affairs that lasted until 1915 when the Germans attacked.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 effectively gave the Baltic States to Germany, but the ensuing armistice meant the Germans had to relinquish control, finally paving the way for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to claim independence.

Latvia claimed sovereignty on 18 November 1918 and declared Riga its capital, swiftly distancing itself from Russia in the process. But independence proved short lived and by 1940, the Russians and then the Germans were back.

When the Nazis were defeated, the Russians returned. Hidden behind the Iron Curtain, Riga and the rest of Latvia would struggle under Communist rule until 1991 – official Latvian independence.

Did you know?
• The Daugava River was known as ‘the Amber Way’ by the Vikings.
• Arvids Blumentāls, the man on whom Crocodile Dundee was based, was born in Riga.
• In 2002, Riga broke the record for the largest ever serving of potato salad made, serving up 3.277 tonnes of the stuff at Riga Technical University.

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Featured Hotels


Hestia Hotel Jugend

The latest offering from this rapidly growing hotel chain offers state-of-the-art rooms with high-speed internet access, albeit a lack of soul. The location is handy, just on the edge of Old Town and within walking distance of most of the main points of interest.

Grand Palace

Regarded by many as the finest hotel in Riga, the Grand Palace is a supremely enjoyable place to stay. It manages to conjure up an old world feeling of luxury and decadence while also staying ahead of the game with Wi-Fi now available in all guest rooms. Slick service, a sauna and gym help complete the impressive picture of perhaps the best hotel in the country. First class.

Hotel Bergs

When it first opened it was ranked by Condé Nast as one of the world's best boutique hotels. This slick operation in the new town is indeed impressive, both in terms of the designer décor and the seamlessly smooth service. It’s easy to see why this Riga hotel has won so many awards. Still one of the most fashionable places to stay in the Latvian capital, Hotel Bergs also has an excellent restaurant on site.

Radisson SAS Daugava

The free airport transfer helps make up for the location on the opposite bank of the River Daugava from almost everything you will want to see and do. The views of the Old Town are superb across the water. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available for all guests.

Rixwell Centra

This boutique hotel in Riga is a stylish option handily located between Old Town and the bus and railway stations. The 26 minimalist rooms are elegantly decorated and all have satellite TV and internet connections. Some of the rooms on the upper levels boast great views of Old Town.

Dodo Hotel

Latvia’s answer to the Premier Inn, Dodo is the flagship property for a new chain of budget hotels. What the 100+ spacious rooms lack in individuality they more than make up for in comfort and value for money, making this a good choice for budget travellers. The breakfast buffet costs extra, and the hotel is about a 15-minute walk into town. Even so, this is one of the better value hotels in Riga.