Today, 76 towns and cities are located in the relatively small Republic of Latvia. Latvian cities have undergone diverse changes throughout the centuries. Latvian cities have developed and grown around trade and traffic routes, nowadays, more so around significant manufacturing facilities.
The biggest city: Rīga with 643,368 inhabitants
2nd biggest: Daugavpils - 87,403 inhabitants
3rd biggest: Liepāja - 71,926 inhabitants
The smallest town: Durbe - 543 inhabitants
Rīga, founded in 1201, has always been the political, economic, and cultural centre. Nowadays, around one third of Latvia’s population lives and works there. The Historical Centre of Rīga is listed by UNESCO as one of the world’s most important cultural and architectural sites. Rīga has hosted a NATO summit, a World Ice Hockey Championship, the Eurovision Song Contest, and many other large-scale international events: in 2014, Rīga was the European Capital of Culture; in 2015, Rīga is home to the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Rīga’s cityscape represents the multi-layered history of Latvia from the Middle Ages until today. Art Nouveau and wooden buildings of the 19th century are trademarks of Rīga, although the architecture is a mix of everything – from medieval houses to apartment blocks of Soviet times, and the contemporary architecture that makes Rīga so special. Rīga International Airport is one of the fastest-growing travel hubs in Europe and provides direct flights to 83 destinations.
Daugavpils – the second largest city of Latvia and the centre of East-Latvian region – has given to the world the outstanding painter Mark Rothko, the "King of Tango" Oscar Strok and the actor, stage director, public and political figure Solomon Mikhoels (Vovsi). The symbols of the city are the 19th century fortress and the Church Hill that has gathered the churches of four different confessions. The historical centre of Daugavpils is a town planning monument of national importance. The central part of the city was developed in the 19th century in accordance with the design documents approved in St. Petersburg in 1826. The historical centre is the most attractive place of the city and one of the most successful examples of reaching a compromise between the old and the new. Daugavpils is one of the few Latvian cities that can boast of a unique ensemble of classical and eclectic buildings. The cultural and historical heritage, including town planning, architectural, artistic, industrial and historical monuments, together with the surrounding landscapes shapes the image of Daugavpils and adds special charm to the city.
In every country there is a city which is treated like a favourite child – it is sufficient just to mention it, and people put on a happy expression or a dreamy smile. For Latvians, this is Liepāja. Many residents of Latvia treat this coastal town like their own private honeymoon retreat - a perfect place to spend a romantic weekend for two, indulging in the city’s cosy cafes, charming bedand-breakfasts, and the beautiful seaside location. Liepāja is also the third largest city in Latvia and a major Baltic port. The city offers classical music concerts by the excellent Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, and a wealth of theatre productions by the renowned Liepāja Theatre. For Latvians, it is “the city where the wind is born” and where many Latvian rock musicians come from.
Kuldīga is possibly the most romantic and cinematic town of Latvia, characterized by narrow, winding streets, wooden, stone and brick houses from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, babbling rivers and picturesque views from the old brick bridge. These days, tourist traffic is the main industry of Kuldīga. Among many other things, the Venta Rapids are one of Kuldīga’s sources of pride – in spite of being not much higher than the average Latvian, it is the widest waterfall in Europe (approximately 250 m). With all its cultural affluence, Kuldīga’s creative spirit has not rested in the 19th century: present-day Kuldīga residents, inspired by an ancient tradition to bathe in the morning dew on the Summer Solstice, have come up with an updated version of it – a “naked race”, when during the Midsummer night, Kuldīga’s bravest men and women, covered only with flower wreaths on their heads, take a symbolic sprint over the historical brick bridge of Kuldīga.
Can a booming industrial city still be green and offer a high quality of life? Yes, it can, if it is Valmiera – a medium sized city with smart industries, for example, the glass fibre factory. What is glass fibre? A chemical inorganic fibre, obtained from molten glass of a specific composition. As it is made from natural materials, it remains ecologically pure. It is used for numerous purposes from surfing boards to space rockets. Although Valmiera has been home to all kinds of business ideas, from game industry to food production, it is also well known for its theatre house, university college and athletic facilities.
Rēzekne, the centre of Blue Lakes, is a city in Latgale, the most distinctive region of Latvia. It is Latgale where many ancient Latvian crafts and traditions – pottery, traditional cooking and bread making, weaving and folklore – are still very much alive. It is the most religious region, with Catholic and Orthodox believers prevailing. This region is home to the most sophisticated dialect of Latvian – Latgallian – sometimes not even understandable to other Latvians. The concert hall Gors and creative centre Zeimuļs recently opened in Rēzekne.
Jūrmala is the city by the Gulf of Riga stretching along 26 km of coastline with modern relaxation and resort facilities. It has become the largest resort area in the Baltics as well as a popular location for international conferences and meetings. The city characterized by its wooden architecture with woodcut accents, cottage-style buildings and resort centers of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Romantic streets and wooden cottages surrounded by pine trees also nowadays create the vision of the olden days. The wooden buildings of Jurmala are significant and unique cultural heritage. Jurmala buildings are made unique by the fact that historicism-style wooden houses are quite rare.
Jūrmala is divided into 14 residential areas - Priedaine, Lielupe, Bulduri, Dzintari, Majori, Dubulti, Jaundubulti, Pumpuri, Melluži, Asari, Vaivari, Sloka, Jaunķemeri and Ķemeri. For example, Dzintari is famous for the Dzintari concert stage, unique in Europe, which regularly hosts outstanding artists and ensembles. Majori and Jaunķemeri - for the Blue Flag beaches, Ķermeri - for the Ķemeri National Park.
Jūrmala – the place to meet, the place for love, the place to come back to again and again.
Cēsis is a charming city fusing together medieval history and contemporary culture. The unique feel and hospitality of this 810-year-old city attracts tourists all year long – from the Baltic’s biggest ski resorts to the preserved medieval layout of the cobbled streets of Cēsis Old Town.
The rich cultural heritage stemming from as early as the 9th century lets anyone visiting feel like they are experiencing time travel. Spanning from Stone and Bronze Age dwellings at the Āraiši Lake Castle to the intricate interior motifs of the 18th century Cēsis New Castle, Cēsis is a time capsule waiting to be discovered.
But when it comes to the cultural life of the city, it is anything but ancient. The Vidzeme Regional Concert hall proudly bears its name “Cēsis” and provides state-of-the-art modern, multifunctional facilities for world-class operas and concerts. It is no wonder then that the annual Cēsis Art Festival in July attracts the best local and foreign talents as well as appealing to Cēsis residents and tourists alike.
The Latvian Institute 2016; Photos: Imants Urtāns, Daugavpils Municipality archive, Liepāja region Tourism information office's archive, Kuldīga Municipality, Eduards Jegorovs, Indriķis Stūrmanis, Jūrmalas Municipality, Cēsu Municipality