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Originally published on 28/05/2016 - Filed under: Home » City Guides » Home » City Guides » Europe »

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Jenny Southan strolls the peaceful boulevards of the Baltic city – then shoots an AK-47

1) Art nouveau district

Latvia’s capital is a peaceful UNESCO-protected city of beautiful gardens, wide boulevards and elaborate art nouveau architecture. If it wasn’t for the towering Soviet-era Academy of Sciences and the odd Russian Orthodox church, you could be in a mini Vienna.

Begin just outside the restored medieval old town. In the early 1900s, when Riga was a wealthy port, the concentration of art nouveau construction was higher than anywhere else in Europe. Much of this was down to Russian architect Mikhail Eisenstein, father of Sergei Eisenstein, the director of films such as Battleship Potemkin.

You’ll spot examples of Mikhail’s work on Elizabetes Street (10a/b), but the most impressive is around the corner on Alberta Street, where an entire terrace of apartments is decorated with Grecian faces, coloured tiles, Aztec masks, feline gargoyles and stylised floral motifs. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin was born at 2a, while number 12 is home to the Riga Art Nouveau Museum.

2) Nativity of Christ Cathedral

A ten-minute walk will bring you to this gold-domed Russian Orthodox cathedral, located just in front of the 27-floor Radisson Blu Latvija hotel. The extraordinary neo-Byzantine edifice was completed in 1883. In the early 1960s, when religion was banned under Soviet rule, it was turned into a planetarium and café, remaining so for 30 years until it was reborn as a place of worship.

The interiors are painted floor-to-ceiling in turquoise, red, gold and green; at the back is a shimmering “iconostasis”, a wall of gilded angels, apostles and Lord Saviour figures. The air is filled with the scent of incense. If you’re here when a service is on, you will find the nave packed with people standing – there are no pews. Brivibas Bulvaris 23; free entry.

3) Latvian National Museum of Art

Stroll a few minutes through the park to the National Museum of Art, which reopened in May after more than three years of renovations. With its grand columns and sweeping staircases, the building is worth seeing in its own right, but its collections of Latvian art spanning the 19th and 20th centuries are impressive.

On the ground and upper floors are examples of Russian avant garde, socialist realism and neo-expressionism – the monochrome image by Leonards Laganovskis of Lenin surrounded by vodka shots stands out, as do the 1920s graphic Soviet prints by Gustavs Klucis, and the winter landscapes by Vilhelms Purvitis. Open 10am-6pm (8pm Fri, 5pm weekends); entry €6. Krisjana Valdemara Iela 10a;

4) Bastejkalns Park

Make your way through the verdant gardens of Bastejkalns Park, where bright tulips bloom in spring and summer. Pause on Bastion Hill to take in the scenery or watch as people kayak down the canal. Head over the bridge adorned with lovers’ padlocks and exit at Freedom Monument, which is topped by a statue of Lady Liberty holding a trio of gold stars, representing the three historic regions of Latvia. The memorial honours soldiers killed in the 1918-20 War of Independence.

5) Walters Sautuve shooting range

Enough history… it’s time to crank up the adrenalin. Take a taxi ten minutes to this shooting range just outside the city centre. Ask the driver to drop you next to the red Russian Orthodox church, enter the car park and turn right. Down in this dark basement you can experience the thrill of shooting an AK-47. Buy the “Bond Pack” and you can fire a Glock 17, a Sig Sauer handgun, a Makarov pistol and a Brazilian revolver. The most powerful is the SPAS-15 combat shotgun – the kickback can leave bruises. Weapons are semi-automatic; packages from €25 to €70.50. Call ahead and bring ID. Meza Iela 1; tel +371 2215 8877;

6) Terrace Riga

Continue channelling Bond and head back into town for a stiff martini. Go to the Galleria shopping mall near the Radisson Blu, take a lift up to the seventh floor, and then the stairs, and you will emerge on to a 3,000 sqm roof terrace with panoramic views of the city. There are four bars (Martini, Bacardi, Stoli and Remy Martin), and an oyster and sushi menu – order up a vodka martini (shaken not stirred) made with locally distilled Stolichnaya. Open 12pm-9pm (may close later in summer). 67 Dzirnavu Street, Galleria Riga;


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