A trip to Latvia is nothing short of a meditative experience and the monuments of Latvia are worth visiting. Life moves mindfully, the cuisine is soulful and the ambiance is pure bliss. Monuments, caves, forests, mountains, adventure sports, and waterfalls are some of the unique features of a holiday in Latvia. The country is home to many ethnic groups and has a wild terrain. Latvia can be visited anytime because the climate is tropical throughout the year. Here are some of the historic monuments in Latvia on your trip:
List of Monuments in Latvia
1. Freedom Monument
The Freedom Monument, a 42.7 m tall granite and copper work of art, has been Riga’s central landmark for almost a century. This famous monument in Latvia is a symbol of the Latvian nation’s striving for freedom and independence. On the top of the monument, a woman is holding up three golden stars, which represent Latvia’s historical regions of Kurzeme, Vidzeme, and Latgale. “For the Fatherland and Freedom” is the motto that is inscribed upon the base. On 18 November 1935, it was unveiled and financed entirely from public donations. According to the design by the outstanding Latvian sculptor Kārlis Zāle (1888–1942), the Freedom Monument was erected; he was also the artist for the Memorial Ensemble at the Brethren Cemetery. By architect Ernests Štālbergs (1883–1958), Zāle’s idea was implemented and the construction lasted for four years. The monument is built to honor soldiers who were killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918-1920). Nowadays it’s one of the main meeting spots in the city. The monument is situated in the very center of the city and is easily accessible. It’s a piece of the history of Latvia. If you are visiting the monument between 10 am and 4 pm you can also see a two-man Honour Guard standing there. They change every hour.
Address: Brivibas Laukums Central District, Riga 1050 Latvia.
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2. Soviet Victory Monument
Situated on the Pardaugava side of the River Daugava, the Soviet Victory Monument in Riga is a huge structure. Constructed in 1985 it symbolizes the liberation of Europe and the victory over Nazism and commemorates 40 years since that victory. The large column of 5 stars stands 79 meters tall and is surrounded by a group of sculptures, 3 soldiers and a lone female. From the Old City of Riga, the Victory Monument can be reached on foot. Just cross over Akmens Tilts (Stone Bridge) past the National Library and the Railway Museum and keep heading straight. You cannot miss it! It is located in a large piece of parkland called Uzvaras Park, (Victory Park) next to a rollerblading or skiing track, depending on the season. Note the dates on the monument that read 1941 – 1945. These dates represent the years of conflict, often called ‘The Great Patriotic War’, after the Molotov-Ribbentrop had fallen apart. The 5 stars that crown the columns symbolize these years of fighting. Every year on the 9th of May, Soviet veterans and their supporters gather at the Victory Monument and services, memorials and an events program are held. This day is, for many, a day of remembrance. However, for others it is a reminder of the years that followed the liberation of Latvia from Nazi forces. It is certain that if you are in Riga on the 9th of May, you will see many people heading for this popular monument in Latvia and it is certainly an event that is worth witnessing. A see of flowers fills the area in front of the monument, there is singing, dancing and the smell of shashliks cooking nearby.
Address: Uzvaras bulvāris 15, Zemgales priekšpilsēta, Rīga, LV-1048, Latvia
3. Art Nouveau Architecture
Art nouveau architecture is one of the reputed national symbols of Latvia. Do not get confused with 1930s art deco that is so famously illustrated in the Chrysler and Empire State buildings of New York, the ‘new art’ or ‘new style’ often referred to as Jugendstil is a slightly older form of expression that gained popularity at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Confused? A general rule of thumb is that if something looks sleek, angular and shiny it’s probably art deco, but if you’re faced with elaborate, flamboyant naked maidens, floral motifs and funky gargoyles, it’s most likely art nouveau. Over a third of all buildings in Riga are examples of this unique school of design which begs the question: why are there so many in the Latvian capital? The answer is actually quite simple. Riga just happened to be at the zenith of an unprecedented financial boom when art nouveau was at the height of its popularity. This iconic monument in Latvia also coincided with an earlier lifting of a ban against erecting masonry buildings outside the city walls. In medieval times, all of the wooden buildings outside the ramparts would be razed to prevent an invading army from using them for shelter. By the mid-19th century it finally dawned on the Russian authorities that ‘modern’ warfare had rendered the city’s ancient walls and fortifications obsolete. If only someone could have built an art nouveau shopping centre after independence instead of the boring, functional metal and glass monstrosities that now litter the city!
Address: Centra rajons, Alberta iela 13, Rīga, LV-1010, Latvia.
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This is a sand dune that is covered with pines and has a monument to soldiers from Company 6 in Rīga, who defended the city in 1919. It was from this place that the soldiers went into battle against the numerically much larger army of Bermont-Avalov to liberate Rīga and its Pārdaugava neighborhood. Created by the sculptor Kārlis Zāle, the monument features a wall facing Slokas Street that is 12 meters tall and is a depiction of the head of a lion that was once part of the gates to Rīga. On both sides of the side, walls have bas relief depictions of Ancient Latvians and soldiers from 1919. Atop the dune is an area with an altar, a sacrificial dish, and a memorial plaque to commemorate those who fell in battle. This old monument in Latvia was unveiled in 1937 by President Kārlis Ulmanis.
Address: Between Slokas Street and, Kurzemes prospekts, Rīga, Latvia
5. Salaspils Memorial Ensemble
It was used to be a former Nazi labor camp and now is a poignant memorial, complete with giant Soviet-style monuments. This one of the top monuments in Latvia was established in 1941, Salaspils served as an “extended police prison,” which later included a “labor correctional camp.” Latvian Security Police originally intended for the grounds to be used for a concentration camp, but the leadership of the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin did not give permission. But that distinction didn’t keep the camp from its own share of experiments, exploitation, and death. Though Salaspils was not a death camp, there were no gas chambers or gassing trucks between 2,000 and 3,000 prisoners died there. Conditions for the survivors were grim and laborious. And the prison didn’t only house adult detainees it’s estimated that roughly 2,000 children passed through the camp as well. The children were held in special barracks, separated from their parents, and given badges with their names. While they weren’t forced into the same labor as the adults, they suffered through their own miseries of malnourishment, outbreaks of disease, and medical experiments. Some reports show that only 200 children died in the camp, as many were sent to foster families throughout the region. But around the time the construction of this memorial began, a grave containing the remains of more than 600 children was found near the grounds. From Riga, take the train to Dārziņi Station (not Salaspils station). From there, cross the tracks and follow the dirt trail leading into the woods. At its first split, go up the hill and soon after, a paved road can be followed to the memorial. But it is worth keeping an eye on your GPS just in case as there are shortcuts through the woods along the way. While the memorial has opening hours, they only apply to the small indoor section. So getting sun rise/set photos of the monuments outside of those hours is possible. Also note, there are no shops, employees, or bathrooms. Bring a flower to leave at The Metronome exhibit.
Address: Dienvidu iela, Salaspils Latvia.
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6. Museum of the Occupation
To learn about the history of modern Riga, the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia is a necessary spot. The facade of the building is as dark and grim as the information within it but what else can you expect from a museum cataloging the atrocities committed under the Soviet and Nazi-occupying regimes. The museum’s aim is to ‘Show what happened in Latvia, its people and land under two occupying totalitarian regimes from 1940 to 1991’ and to ‘Remind the world of the crimes committed by foreign powers against the state and people of Latvia.’ A mixture of videos and readings, the Museum of Occupation is truly an eye-opener. Guides are available though you can follow the displays at your own pace. This heritage monument in Latvia is for a fascinating and sobering experience to visitors across the world and an essential to understanding this city and the relationship between Latvians and Russians living here to this day.
Address: Raiņa bulvāris 7, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia
7. St Peter’s Church
Dating back to the early 13th century, St Peter’s Church is not only architecturally striking but it provides some of the best views of Riga. From its tower, one can see the modern section of Riga, the Riga Bay, the Daugava River, and its port and old town. More than 130 meters tall, this Gothic building was constructed and then destroyed over and over across the centuries, giving it a melange of architectural styles ranging from the Baroque to the Gothic. In 1967 it was renovated after the bombings in World War II. Today St Peter’s Church displays outlining its history and the history of the city itself and is full of art exhibits, and concerts. St. Peter’s was a Catholic church until 1523, when this religious monument in Latvia turned Lutheran first mentioned in ancient chronicles in 1209. Highest in Europe this wooden tower was destroyed several times. It first collapsed in 1666 and was rebuilt a year later. To see how long it would last, the builders hurled a glass from the top: the more pieces the vessel broke into, the greater the tower’s longevity. For spectacular views of the city take the lift to the observation platform.
Address: Skārņu iela 19, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia
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8. Black Heads House
In the very heart of Old Riga, the Black Heads house is located. Wonderful, surprising, royal – the house deserves to be complimented and is a must-see for each and every visitor to the city. For nearly 700 years the House of the Blackheads has delighted and enchanted locals and visitors. This most popular monument in Latvia is among the most splendorous buildings in Riga, home to the unique history of the legendary Brotherhood of the Black Heads and the city of Riga. Historically, the building’s function was to promote business activities in the city – it was a place for a gathering of traders and shippers for many centuries. The soul of the Black Heads house was its active and joyful “blackheads”, who, as young and unmarried traders, were known for their temperament and enthusiasm for the organization of various celebrations and events. Their enthusiasm transformed this building into one of the main cultural venues in the city, which set the pulse of Riga’s societal scene. Also today, the building offers one of the most magnificent premises to organize events, concerts, celebratory dinners, receptions, conferences or other cultural events in the city.Visiting the House is a trip through its history, which reveals both its luxurious halls, historical cabinets, and medieval cellars. You will see the largest-in-Baltics private silverware collection, weapons, armor, crystal chandeliers, ceiling paintings at the Celebration hall and much more.
Address: Rātslaukums 7, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia
Of course, there are lots of other important cultural monuments in Latvia, and if we’ve missed any, be sure to share them in the comments below. In the meantime, you can also read about the future of tourism in Latvia.