Riga Turns 813: Celebrating at the Riga City Festival

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This year the city of Riga celebrated its 813th birthday! Founded in 1201 by Albert von Buxthoeven, the German crusader who brought the Christian faith to the Baltics, this resilient capital has managed to maintain its unique Latvian culture while adapting to outside influences. This is evident by the remarkable mix of architectural styles, cuisines and languages found on its streets. As an American, I find Riga’s age incredible since North America wouldn’t even be “discovered” by the rest of the world for almost three centuries.

This August, I was lucky enough to celebrate Riga’s birthday with what seemed like half of Latvia at the 2014 Riga City Festival. Family-friendly events were held all over town. The Art Nouveau district adopted the theme “100 Years on Albert Street,” with costumed performers acting out scenes from daily life circa 1914. Musicians played in doorways, artists painted their muses, women sold flowers and salted fish, and couples danced on a bandstand while a military band played. As followers of my Facebook and Instagram accounts will attest, I love a good costume and enjoyed every minute of this charming display, despite intermittent rain.





Riga City Festival

A large craft market was set up in Dome Square, with vendors from all across the country selling their wares. There was beautifully-colored pottery, hand-knitted mittens and scarves, amber jewelry, woven baskets and rugs, and honey. The list easily goes on. I made the mistake of not buying everything I wanted on Saturday and turning up Sunday to find some stalls nearly sold out. But it was fun to take note of the regional specialties and mentally file things away for next time. Plus, there were costumed buskers on hand to entertain the crowds.



Riga City Festival1




The banks of the Daugava River were the site for much of the festival’s entertainment. We caught a performance of the Australian acrobatic troupe Strange Fruit and marveled at how they could sway so gracefully above the crowds without once losing their balance. Saturday night, we stood on the Vansu Bridge to watch the city’s truly breathtaking fireworks display. On the other side of the bridge, carnival rides thrilled kids of all ages. Riga sure knows how to throw a party!



Riga City Festival2


Riga City Festival3

Sunday afternoon we were treated to a free performance by Latvian pop star Lauris Reiniks at the Riga Congress Center. The whole weekend was so much fun, I can’t wait for Riga’s 814th birthday next year!


What are some of the best festivals you’ve attended around the world?

23 thoughts on “Riga Turns 813: Celebrating at the Riga City Festival

  1. Latvians definitely know how to throw a good party! 🙂 My sister was lucky enough to attend the 800th anniversary celebrations — that was an enormous event, complete with special off-cycle song festival! Sorry to hear that some of the artisans had already sold out of their crafts, though…luckily, you’ll still be in Latvia for a while. I highly recommend the yearly market held at the Outdoor Ethnographic Museum in early June – you’ll be able to stock up on a plethora of beautiful Latvian items there!
    Daina recently posted…Social Season Begins: Reception at House of SwedenMy Profile

    • Ooh, I bet the 800th anniversary party was incredible! That’s quite a milestone!

      I went to the Riga Food Fair this weekend and was delighted to see some of the same vendors from the festival – including those selling baskets and river stone necklaces. I don’t think I’ll be short on shopping opportunities here 😉

  2. This seems like SUCH a fun festival! I love the crafts and costumes, and HUGE sucker for fireworks;-)

    I went to a vintage street fair festival in NYC this past weekend which was super fun! They had music, entertainment, and tons of really great vendors…I walked away with a costume necklace from the 40’s which I’m wearing non-stop;-)
    Jess @UsedYorkCity recently posted…UYC’s Book Club: Astor Place VintageMy Profile

    • These fireworks were seriously amazing. A symphony orchestra was playing along and everything was timed perfectly. I had no idea fireworks could be so graceful!

      And I saw your Instagram photo of those gorgeous pearl necklaces – that would have been trouble for me!

    • I love the old-fashioned costumes, too, and it was such a pleasant surprise to find so many performers reenacting the time period. What I really didn’t show was the gorgeous old buildings lining the street they were on. The architecture is getting a post of its own!

  3. Looks like it was a wonderful celebration! We might have to consider a visit for 814! 😉

  4. Looks like a fun time. I’ve never been to a festival like that.
    We have the Dickens Christmas here in November but it’s
    mainly vendors selling jewelry and it’s in the Convention
    Center. Not very exciting. Great pictures as usual. Glad
    you had a good time.

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