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A guide to the European Capital of Culture, part 1 – Riga, Latvia

Featured image by Riga City Council

Looking for a break to the continent this year, but can’t decide where to go? Discover something different by checking out the 2014 European Capital of Culture – an accolade that is shared this year between the cities of Riga and Umea. We started our exploration of this year’s cultural centres in the Latvian capital of Riga…

 

Image by Live Riga
Image by Live Riga

 

Since 1985, the annual European Capital of Culture has been bringing the continent closer together in a celebration of the rich and diverse cultures we enjoy in this part of the world. More than 40 cities have been designated this honour so far – and with each wanting to outdo the last, you may just find the array of events on offer in 2014 will make this the best year yet. Read on for our guide to the festivities that lie in wait in Riga over the coming year.

Image by Riga City Council
Image by Riga City Council

 

How much do you know about Riga, Latvia?

As the capital of Latvia, Riga is a major commercial and cultural centre of the Baltic region and home a multicultural society, making up more than one third of the country’s population. Lying at the mouth of the river Daugava, the historical centre of Riga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Architecture aficionados will be in their prime here, with nearly 800 Art Nouveau buildings of note concentrated in the Old Town and city centre. In fact, Riga is thought to have the largest (and best) collection of Art Nouveau buildings in the world.

Image by Institute of Latvia, I.Urtans
Image by Institute of Latvia, I.Urtans

 

So what’s happening in Riga in 2014?

Hundreds of events will be taking place in the Latvian capital this year to mark the city’s place in European Capital of Culture history. The overriding theme for the year in Riga is ‘Force Majeure’ – the central message of which projects culture as a force for positive change. From music, cinema, theatre and dance to street art, science, sport and design, there is something here to fulfill every cultural craving.

 

This year’s events are split across six main programme chapters:

  • Survival kit – offering creative solutions for all situations in everyday life.

 

  • Amber vein – Latvia is known for its natural production of Amber and this theme explores and celebrates the region’s achievements in the fields of science and culture.

 

  • Riga carnival – not just one carnival, but a whole host of festivities. From concerts, opera and theatre to huge street celebrations, the weird, the wonderful, and everything in between will be covered off for all fun-loving visitors.

 

  • Road map – focusing on the lives of the city dwellers and celebrating urban life. Most artists in this category come from the town’s neighbourhoods, making it a great way to showcase local design, photography, music, art and performance.

 

  • Thirst for ocean – a study of the ocean through a number of mediums.

 

Freedom Street – work inspired by the history of Latvia, from the aftermath of WWI to the emergence of the modern, bustling city of Riga we know today.

Image by Riga City Council
Image by Riga City Council

 

Within the huge calendar of events that is taking place, look out for some of the bigger festivals and competitions. July’s bi-annual World Choir Games brings together over 20,000 competitors from 90 nations. And if thousands of people singing in harmony isn’t your bag, take your pick from the Staro Roga Light Festival, the amazing Boulevard of Theatrical Collision or literally hundreds of other cultural delights.

Image by Institute of Latvia, A.Kendenkovs
Image by Institute of Latvia, A.Kendenkovs

 

What else should I see?

53 kilometres from the capital, the picturesque town of Sigulda is known as the “Switzerland of Vidzeme”. This stunning location is home to jaw-dropping scenery, a smattering of magical-looking medieval castles, and a host of historical and musical events to boot. With great winter snowsports opportunities and long summer days (and nights) that lend themselves perfectly to al fresco dining, relaxing and concert-going, this is a Latvian escape that’s worth the trip at any time of year. Hire a car in Riga to reach it.

Image by Maurice
Image by Maurice

 

Look out for the next installment in our European Capital of Culture guide, when we’ll be hitting the road and heading to Umea in Sweden!

 

 

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