Top 10 Unmissable Museums in Riga, Latvia

by Jules on November 25, 2013

The Baltic capital of Riga is set to shine throughout 2014 as the joint host of the prestigious European Capital of Culture. And with over 50 different museums covering every conceivable subject, we pick our favourite ten museums in Riga;

Art Nouveau Museum – The abundance and sheer beauty of the Art Nouveau architecture across Riga is absolutely eye-popping. Art Nouveau took the world by storm in the early 20th century and Riga is home to the finest examples in the whole of Europe. In fact Riga is dubbed “the metropolis of Art Nouveau” thanks to the 800 or so examples across the city, as well as the history and technical details contained within the excellent Art Nouveau Museum. Head to Alberta Street for the greatest concentration, where the museum is also located and which was home to local architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns.

Museum of the Occupation of Latvia – This sombre and thought-provoking museum details the Soviet and Nazi occupation of Latvia between 1941 and 1991. Located in the heart of Riga’s Old Town district, the stark black box in which the museum is housed only adds to the atmosphere. Chilling yet interesting, the exhibits cover photographs, objects and documents.

Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum – This is one of the oldest surviving museums of its type within Europe and the 87 hectare site faithfully covers some 118 traditional Latvian buildings. The structures are located within a forest beside Lake Jugla and include examples dating from the 17th century though to the 1930s. Don’t miss the examples from the regions of Kurzeme, Latgale and Vidzeme.

Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation – The oldest public museum within both Latvia and Europe, details the rich and colourful history and heritage of Riga. The 16 halls detail Riga through the ages, from its inception in the 10th century. Visitors can explore a 13th century ship, ancient Latvian ornaments and traditional weapons. The setting is pretty awesome too: as this museum is located within the 13th century Riga Dome Cathedral.

Museum of Decorative Arts and Designs – The ancient stone St. George’s Church building was built in 1204 and is home to this museum which is a must-visit for all interested in arts, crafts and designs. Here you’ll find a vast and unique array of articles on textiles, as well as examples in ceramics, metalwork, porcelain, leatherwear, glassware and woodenware.

Jelgava Castle Museum – The sprawling Baroque-style Jelgava Castle was home to the former Duke of Kurzeme. Built in 1738 the castle passed into the hands of the national University of Agriculture in 1939. Then in 1968 it became a museum focussed on the life and times of the former dukes, the castle’s exquisite architecture really shines in its own right. Head down to the crypts to visit the ancient tombs.

Riga Ghetto Museum – Another moving yet essential destination is the Ghetto Museum. In the heart of the historic district which is beside the former ghetto, the exhibits detail over 70,000 names who were victims of the Holocaust.  The photo exhibits deal with anti-Semitic propaganda and the resistance movement in Latvia.

Riga Aviation Museum – History buffs will appreciate the vast array of planes and helicopters on display here, such as the Mi-6 heavy transport helicopter, as well as the other 50 or so aviation-related objects.

Latvian Sports Museum – Riga’s gorgeous Old Town plays host to this museum which contains traditional sports equipment and historic sportswear. There are also fascinating photographs from a wide range of sports events and local sporting greats.

Latvian Railway History Museum – The transport system of yesteryear is explored at the Railway History Museum, which provides an intriguing look into the earliest steam locomotives and the arrival of the motor car.

Museum Closures

  • The Latvian National Museum of Art is closed for reconstruction until mid-2015
  • The Riga Motor Musuem is closed until autumn 2014.
  • The Latvian National History Museum is closed temporarily (at the time of writing) after  a fire

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