During 2014 two cities will jointly host the prestigious European Capital of Culture honour: Riga in Latvia and Umea in Sweden.
The bright bold city of Riga has firmly established itself as the unofficial capital of the Baltics, so what better choice for a European Capital of Culture City? During 2014, Riga ramps it up another notch as it looks to capitalise on its fantastic nightlife reputation by also showcasing its superb culture and history to explore by day.
Founded in 1201 and ruled by many other countries over the years, the historic center of Riga is today a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of only two sites within Latvia. The city prospered during the 13th to 15th century thanks to trading within Europe. Strong economic strong impacted the city’s growth in the 19th century with the addition of rich architecture that can still be seen today. The traditional medieval architecture was complemented by the addition of neoclassical wooden structures and Jugendstil (German art nouveau) buildings in the suburbs. In fact, the Art Nouveau examples are lauded as the finest collection within Europe, hence the UNESCO status which was bestowed on Riga in 1997.
Most notable things to do in Riga include exploring the medieval Old City district which is also known as Vecriga - watch in the video above. As you’d expect from a Culture City, there are plenty of diverse museums including the Motormuseum which has over 100 cars, motorbikes and military vehicles on display. There is the Riga Art Nouveau Museum which is located in the Latvian architect, Konstantīns Pēkšēns former residence. And there is also the Latvian National Museum of Art which displays over 52,000 works of art including many pieces from Baltic artists.
Climb St Peters Church Tower for a fantastic view over the city of Riga below and pay respects at the Freedom Monument, where the statue atop the plinth holds three stars to denote the three Latvian regions. There are also some superb examples of churches and cathedrals such as the Nativity of Christ Cathedral and St. Mary's Dome Cathedral which dates back to 1270.
Located in northern Sweden is the town of Umeå. Whilst only the twelfth biggest conurbation in Sweden, the town grew rapidly after achieving university status in 1965. Nicknamed the "Town of Silver Birches", Umea has lively nightlife scene, a good selection of eclectic shops and a thriving arts scene thanks to the large student population.
There are plenty of cultural sights and must-sees too, in particular the Gammlia Museum district which features the Bildmuseet, Maritime and Vasterbottens Museums. The authentic Swedish atmosphere is further added to as the museums are within the Friluftsmuseet, where staff are all in period Swedish dress. Admire the curious modern art of the Umedalen Skulptur.
Music, film and sports fans will be in their element in Umea as various festivals are held each summer. The Umeå International Film Festival runs each September and the House of Metal is a must for all metal and rock music fans! The annual Umeå Jazz Festival takes place each October and the annual Umeå Open is held each springtime, usually in March, to celebrate Swedish music. And one thing is for sure, 2014 will be buzzing!