Riga, the historic capital of Latvia, is the largest city among the Baltic States and home to a third of the country's population. The city is located at the mouth of the Daugava river in the Bay of Riga. Riga was founded in 1201 and was a member of the Hanseatic League, which linked a number of trading cities on the North and Baltic Seas. Riga and Latvia then came under the rule of Poland-Lithuania and later Sweden. After a siege by Peter the Great, the city fell to Russia, but retained many of its former privileges. At the beginning of the 20th century, Riga was the third largest city in the Russian Empire after St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Latvia gained its independence in the aftermath of the October Revolution, but was retaken by the Red Army 20 years later. This was followed by a three-year occupation by Hitler's Germany before the Red Army under Stalin retook all Baltic States. Latvia became a Soviet Republic in 1944.
The country gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but the large population of ethnic Russians in the capital means that Riga still has a Russian-speaking majority to this day, making it an excellent place to learn Russian. Latvia became a member of the European Union in 2004. Since then, Riga has become a vibrant hub for business links between Russia and the EU.
Riga's historic city centre is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and has some of the most beautiful Art Nouveau architecture in Europe. The old town Vecriga, the medieval heart of the city, is home to the widely famous Blackheads' House in the town hall square. Just outside the city is Jurmala, a wonderful seaside resort with wide beaches and pretty parklands - a great place to unwind from the busy city centre.