Riga Castle – Ancient Presidential Residence (History & Travel Tips)

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The beautifully well-maintained Riga Castle is situated on the shore of Daugava River in the capital city of Riga, Latvia. The castle is one of the largest medieval structures in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, dating to as early as the 14th century, with a long history of reconstruction projects since then. 

Riga Castle became the official headquarters of the Latvian government in 1938 and today the castle serves as the home of the Latvian President. Several museums, open to the public, also occupy the castle.

The latest Riga Castle reconstruction project was given the go-ahead in 2020, at a cost of  €12.43 million ($14 million USD).

Riga Castle, located in the capital city of Riga, Latvia.
Riga Castle, located in the capital city of Riga, Latvia. Guntars Mednis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Frequently Asked Questions

FOR HISTORY | BEAUTIFUL IMAGES | INTERESTING FACTS | TRAVEL TIPS

Early History

Livonian Order

Records suggest that Riga Castle has existed since around 1330. During the 14th century, there was persistent strife between the Livonian Order and the inhabitants of Riga. The Order eventually decided to build a new castle outside the town’s borders. The chosen location was occupied by the Convent of the Saint Spirit which was transferred to the original castle site in-town, while the convent site became the start of Riga Castle where it stands today.

The new castle was used as a residence by the Master of the Livonian Order but was vacated due to ongoing friction with the Rigans, who eventually destroyed the uninhabited castle in 1484. The destroyed castle was a four-sided structure that enveloped a quadrangle with four corner towers.

Sketch of Riga Castle in 1782, Latvia.
Sketch of Riga Castle in 1782, Latvia. Johann Christoph Brotze, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ultimately, the Rigans were forced to rebuild the castle when they lost the ongoing battle. The reconstruction featured prevalent technological military improvements of the time, namely two military-style circular towers  The two towers are positioned diagonally to one another on opposing sides. The northwest tower is known as the “Tower of the Holy Spirit” whilst the tower on the southeastern side is named the “Lead Tower”. The reconstruction was completed in 1515.

Governing Headquarters

The castle was then governed by the Lithuanian title-holders after the termination of the Vilnius Treaty, and in 1569 the castle served as a Polish-Lithuanian fortification. The Swedes became the rulers of Riga in 1621, the castle was occupied by the Swedish administration center. 

View of Riga Castle, Latvia.
View of Riga Castle, Latvia. Natalia Semenova, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A later extension was made in 1682, incorporating an armory at the site which stood for around a century, and finally, a courthouse building was erected over the armory foundations. Construction projects continued at the castle site during the 17th and 19th centuries respectively.

In the early 18th century, Riga fell under the Russian Empire until 1922, when it became the capital of independent Latvia. The castle has been used as the domicile of the Latvian President, except for a brief occupation by the Soviet Union after which it again became the presidential residence when Latvia’s independence was re-established.

A closer look of Riga Castle.
A closer look of Riga Castle. Riga Castle flickr photo by lost penguin shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Current Times

Riga Castle stands dominant in its prime location in Latvia’s capital. The castle, as it stands today, still maintains its early proportions. Externally, the castle features smaller quadrilateral corner towers and two more prominent, plastered cylindrical corner towers incorporating pierced modern windows, while internally, the castle’s 16th-century form has been well-kept-up. 

The green grounds near Riga Castle.
The green grounds near Riga Castle. Riga Castle (Рижский замок) flickr photo by peterolthof shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

A chapel and a dining hall exhibiting Gothic décor have been preserved. Part of the castle interior has been occupied by the Latvian National History Museum since 1920 and was awarded state museum status in 1924. The Latvian Art Museum is also located at the castle site. Additional renovations, designed by reputable architect Eizens Laube, were completed at the castle in the 1930s. The castle was almost completely destroyed by a fire during renovation efforts in June of 2013 but was subsequently fully rebuilt.

View of Riga Castle in Latvia.
View of Riga Castle in Latvia. Xil, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The main exhibition of the history museum had been temporarily moved to Freedom Boulevard during the 2013 renovations. Thankfully, the move had been completed pre-fire. The museum remains at Freedom Boulevard with plans to return to Riga Castle after the latest round of renovations, approved in 2020, is completed.

Interesting Riga Castle Facts

  • Riga Castle is insured for over €3.6 million ($4.1 million USD)
  • The latest Riga Castle reconstruction project was given the go-ahead in 2020, at a cost of  €12.43 million ($14 million USD).
  • Architect Reinis Liepiņš designed the latest reconstruction blueprint.  
  • Reported in May 2021, construction workers discovered what experts believe to be an extremely noteworthy 600-year-old kitchen heating system/ fireplace, in the oldest part of Riga Castle.

Visiting Riga Castle – Tips and Tricks

While Riga Castle itself is a magnificent tourist destination in Latvia, the city of Riga is full of interesting historical landmarks well worth exploring as well. If you’re imagining a trip, here’s some information about the castle to help you plan.

Riga Castle at night.
Riga Castle at night. Nightview of Riga Castle flickr photo by Jevgenijs Slihto shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

How to get to Riga Castle?

There are four ways to travel from Riga International Airport to the Riga Old Town where the castle is situated. Rent a car at the airport and get to the Riga Old Town in around 16 minutes at a fuel cost of around €2-3 Euros ($2-$3 USD). This is a good option if you intend to stay in the town for a few days to explore the many other tourist attractions in the area.

There are two bus lines between €8-18 ($10 -$20 USD), taking approximately 27 minutes and 31 minutes respectively to travel to the Riga Central bus station. A 2-minute walk will get you from the station to the castle.

You can also use a private transfer by town car and travel by road from the airport to the castle. The trip takes around 14 minutes and costs between €20-40 ($23-$34 USD).

Ticket Prices, Visiting Hours & Travel Tips

Riga Castle is an active government site under renovations, during Covid no less–it’s unfortunately not currently open to the public. However, certain guided tours of Riga do have the opportunity to take you inside, TripAdvisor is an excellent resource for finding one that fits your vacation style! Alternatively, the exterior is worth a visit while you are in Riga, so consider planning your own walking tour.

The tower of Riga Castle.
The tower of Riga Castle. Riga Castle flickr photo by Fearless Fred shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

How Long Will It Take to Tour Around?

A tour of the castle takes around 1-3 hours.

Some words of advice and tips: 

  • It is worth your while to take a tour through Riga Old Town when visiting Riga Castle. There are several walking and bus tour options that are fantastic choices.
  • Wear comfortable shoes when you visit and take a stroll through the Riga Old Town before and after your tour of the castle.
  • Remember to snap many pictures during your trip to treasure your memories later when you are back home.
  • COVID: Check for any regulations, opening hours, and restrictions on the official Riga Castle website, as rules have been changed and adapted several times since the pandemic started.

Quick Video Tour of The Main Riga Castle Areas

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Charmaine Waterston
Charmaine Waterston
After studying Law and Industrial Psychology, I went on to start my own ICT data recovery business. Some years later I qualified locally as a Financial Advisor and ran my own business with a portfolio of clients. Throughout my life, I traveled extensively to many interesting countries around the world. While enjoying my life’s adventures, I absorbed the rich history of various cultures and experienced the beauty of so many different places! Today, I am an author. I combine my career and travel experience with my thirst for knowledge about our captivating world and the remarkable people in it. My writing is an expression of my passion for personal growth and my love of communication. I am truly fulfilling my dream through my work!

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