The Soviet era ended only a little more than two decades ago and has left many traces all over the Baltic States. Here is a little guide to some of the most interesting relics from the recent past and the top Soviet sites in Latvia, which will tell you the story of completely different times.
Photo by Per Salomonsson.
The Academy of Sciences
The Academy of Sciences of Riga is a huge, impressive building that can be taken as a perfect example of the communist imperialist architecture style. It was built between 1953 and 1956, and it is also known by the nickname of Stalin’s Birthday Cake. Wonder why? It owes its nickname both to the Stalinist style of the building and its kind-of-cake shape. Formed by 17 floors, you can get up to its top and enjoy the stunning views of Riga from the roof.
Riga Aviation Museum
The Aviation Museum is mandatory for all those fascinated by war stories. In this museum you will find all kinds of flying machines, from fighter jets to supersonic bomber planes, while having a look at the whole evolution of the aviation machinery in the Soviet countries. A great part of the Soviet army’s budget was spent on transforming the rudimentary first plane into pieces of fine military technology, so after visiting this museum it will be up to you to decide if this huge amount of money was well spent.
Museum of Occupations
Also located in Riga, the Museum of Occupations recuperates every interesting detail about the years in which Latvia was under the Soviet occupation. Here you will find all kind of documents, from historic moments captured in photography, propagandist posters from the war, original newspapers from the time, and even real weapons. A place to understand how the day to day life in Latvia during the Soviet years was for its citizens.
This bunker in the region of Līgatne, 75 kilometers away from Riga, was once the best kept secret of the Latvian Soviet lands. Constructed nine meters deep into the ground, its purpose was to serve as a shelter for the Communist elites in case that the nuclear war would start. It was equipped with everything needed to survive for several months after a complete fallout of the system. Nowadays, there are many things you can do if you decide to visit the bunker. It is possible to have 1980 style dinners inside, but if you are looking for something more exiting, you can take part in the reality game “Object X”, in which you will play the role of a secret agent that has to save his homeland from a national catastrophe.
Liepaja War Port Prison Museum
Welcome to Karosta, the Soviet prison of Liepaja, a city that played an important part in the Soviet times due to its port, which was home of the Russian and Soviet Baltic fleet. It was operating until 1997, but nowadays it is not the terrifying creepy prison it used to be anymore, but a museum that can be visited by tourists. Furthermore, if you are brave and curious enough, there is the possibility of living as a prisoner in Karosta, as the prison has also been converted into a hotel for those who want to experience history in their own skins. Lots of people died in the prison, so this hotel is said to be haunted by their ghosts. Would you dare to stay one night?
This cozy little cafeteria located in Riga will give you the feeling of going back through time to the Soviet era, but in a nice, warm way. The decoration, the furniture and the vibe are completely Soviet, but the service is considerably nicer. Here you can play famous old style board games for hours, or enjoy some glasses of Brengulu Latvian Beer, which comes from the cafeteria’s own independent brewery.
Riga TV Tower
Perhaps it’s not as Soviet as the previous examples, but still obligatory for any visitor of Latvia. The TV Tower will be the first thing that will catch your eye in Riga’s skyline. It was built ten years before the end of the Soviet occupation, so that might be the reason why it does not resemble the classic communist architecture. If you climb up to the top of its 368, you will find an observation deck with one of the most wonderful 360 degree views you have ever seen. Unforgettable.
Don’t wanna do all the sightseeing by yourself and need a little adventure in between? Come and join the Baltic Run, a snow filled race all across the Baltics!