Riga was officially founded in 1201, just over eight hundred years ago, as German merchants came over to colonise the Baltics. By 1282 the city was granted admittance into the powerful Hanseatic trading league of predominantly German towns, allowing Riga to flourish. Since that time Riga has been a free town, part of the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom, part of the Swedish empire, part of the Russian empire and part of the USSR. This has always led to Riga being a cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse town, a fact reflected in today’s population which comprises of only 45 percent Latvian people. The remaining 55 percent consitutes an almost equal number of Russians to Latvians, with Belarussians, Ukrainians, Poles and Lithuanians making up the last ten percent or so. Some hostility exists from Latvian nationals towards ethnic Russians, stemming from the history of Soviet occupation and the widescale deportations of Latvians that took place in the early days of Soviet rule.

Riga is in fact the largest city of the Baltic states, despite a relatively small population of 800,000. It has a large Old Town (Vecriga), which stretches alongside the Daugava river, and boasts a number of historic monuments, the most striking of which are the Doms Cathedral and St. Peter’s Church; whilst the area of Riga referred to locals simply as ‘the centre’ is famous for its Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) architecture. The Historic Centre of Riga as a whole is included on the UNESCO world heritage list.


Riga is also home to two of Latvia’s largest academic institutions, the University of Latvia and Riga Technical University; it houses the Latvian parliament (Saeima); boasts the largest airport in the Baltics – Riga International Airport; and can claim the tallest building in the Baltics – the Riga Radio and TV Tower. Riga maintains sister relationships with cities around the world, including Moscow, Beijing, Dallas, Santiago, Stockholm, Florence and Slough.