I was adamant that when our map described the Moscow District as “one of Riga’s shadiest neighbourhoods” that this meant plenty of foliage in Latvia’s 35°c summers. Unfortunately, barely a tree can be found in this area of the city. Instead, wide barren streets, a looming soviet skyscraper and derelict buildings mean that your first instinct might be to clutch your valuables tightly. It’ s very different from the tourist utopia of the Old Town, but dig a little deeper and there are some interesting attractions in this neck of the woods. You may even develop a strange fondness for these battered Baltic streets like I did – and the best part is it’s highlights are all FREE to enjoy at no cost at all.
Riga’s Central Market is a relatively well known attraction and sits a block away from the Old Town as a gateway to the Moscow District. It provides a slice of everyday Latvian life to visitors as it’s primary function is to simply sell produce to locals. There are two elements that really make this such a unique experience; size and settings. The market is comprised of five massive halls in former Zeppelin hangars, which create a strong a stoic benchmark in Riga’s cityscape. The halls are more or less consistently segregated into meat, bakery, dairy, fish, and fruit and veg. Amongst these you will find smaller stalls and sections offering everyday items like clothing, pet supplies, nuts, honeys and other artisan products. While in the market I grabbed a quick local breakfast of a roll baked with cheese inside and a sweet pretzel style biscuit. Most of the stalls and products were relatively practical, but there was a beautiful soap stall offering a kaleidoscope of options.
The Academy of Sciences has a strong and distinctive look on the skyline of Riga, but it is not a unique building, this design was the staple of the Soviet Union and similar towering blocks can be found in Moscow and Tallinn. I do really like this style though, utterly menacing and dystopian it’s exactly the kind of thing I imagined while reading 1984 years ago. There is also meant to be a budget friendly viewing platform inside although there was no sign of life at the entrance, academic or touristic when we approached. Instead I just admired this beast from the ground, a giant among its neighbours.
Until the Swedes invaded bringing stonemasonry, wood was the only construction material used in Latvia. This traditional style of building can be seen a to in the city and famously in the nearby seaside resort of Jarmala – but the Moscow District offers this to visitors in an convenient location with an extra bit of edginess. Several concentrated blocks of the wooden houses sit within this area, a place that was used during the war as the Jewish Ghetto. They are in varying states, some were clearly thriving businesses like hotels and daycare centres while others stood derelict and abandoned. They create an environment I would describe as not unlike a Baltic Wild West. This area also has a great example of the Latvian style of wooden churches. Despite being there during opening times I wasn’t able to peek inside but the exterior architecture was beautiful in itself.
The Jewish Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum provides and outdoor exhibition retaling the stories of the Jewish population of the country during the Second World War. There’s also a replica ghetto house which would have been inhabited by around 38 people that you can walk through. The element that really makes this museum worth a visit is the exhibit “3000 lives”, housed in the adjacent warehouse, providing profiles on the victims.
For more on the museum you can read my dedicated blog post here.
An infant compared to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral on the other side of the city,this church nevertheless provides a glimpse into the lie and style of Latvia’s biggest minority The exterior sits like a frosted fancy in and otherwise arguably bleak and unfriendly neighbourhood – it is after all only across the road from the Academy of Sciences. On closer inspections many of the walls are wooden and in need of tlc, but this just adds to the charm. The interiors are pastels and golds a medley of duck egg blues and gilded facades. Photos are not allowed so you’ll need to witness this first hand when you visit Riga’s off the beaten track district.