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View of Riga castle from across Daugava river, Latvia

Riga, Latvia

The capital of Latvia, Riga is an Art Nouveau gem, rich in fun, flamboyant architecture that somewhat belies the many centuries of war and changes of power in its long history. Founded in 1201 by German traders, the port city was a powerful member of the Hanseatic League for several hundred years until it came under Swedish rule; in the 1800s, the Russian empire assumed control, with turbulent periods of uprisings, followed by Nazi and Soviet occupation. In 1990, Latvia regained its independence and Riga quickly became a popular tourist destination thanks to the beauty of its Old Town—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and flourishing restaurant and nightlife scenes. Among the top attractions are Riga Castle; the 13th-century Riga Cathedral, with one of the largest organs in the world; Alberta Iela (Alberta Street), a stunning Art Nouveau street; and the Central Market, housed in former zeppelin hangars. The city also has a booming bohemian quarter, centered around Miera Iela, or “Peace Street,” where you’ll find hipster bars, cafés, galleries, and quirky boutiques. For a sobering look at the hardships endured by Latvians under Nazi and Soviet regimes, the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia is a must-visit; it includes a tour of the Corner House, the former headquarters of the KGB.

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