You would never really associate Riga with hills and yet there are many districts of the Latvian capital the names of which come from the Latvian word for hill. Seven districts of Riga owe their names to the Latvian word “kalns”, meaning hill or mountain in Latvian.
Agenskalns is one of the most delightful districts in all of Riga. It is found on the opposite bank of the Daugava River to Riga Old Town and is sometimes called a “garden suburb”, because of the plenty available green spaces. Most of the buildings date to the 19th and 20th centuries with many (often) dilapidated wooden structures still remaining.
The focal point of the district is Agenskalns Market, historically the second important market in Riga. A fascinating indoor and outdoor market place that exudes character.
Bastejkalns is the most familiar of the “kalns”. It connects the stunningly timeless streets and buildings of Old Riga with the sometimes equally alluring boulevards and Art Nouveau apartments of central Riga.
From the pathways of this well-kept park there are excellent winter, summer, spring and autumn vistas of the Latvian National Opera House, the Latvian Freedom Monument, some nearby centuries-old embassy buildings, as well as the red-tiled roofs of Vecriga.
Come here to witness icebound ducks in winter or ankle-deep leaves of every color in autumn. Or young lovers canoodling in spring time and the care free white light nights of summer.
Bastejkalns does live up to the “kalns” part of its name with a small hillock, Bastion Hill, higher above the rest of the nearby terrain.
It offers an excellent vantage point over this part of the city. There are a number of stones in Bastejkalns, which commemorate the five victims of January 20th 1991 who died from gunfire when Russian special forces attempted to take the government buildings on Raina bulvaris.
Torņakalns means “tower hill” in Latvian. This is one another of the delightful districts of Riga, which borders Agenskalns. Torņakalns is full of parks, tourist free streets and marvelous wooden architecture.
This underrated area of Riga has a handful of quirky museums, some amazing crumbling mansions, while new restaurants and bars open almost every month. There was once a watchtower in this district, which could be used to raise the alarm if the city was about to be attacked from the west bank of the river.
While the embassy district of Riga is often called “the quiet district”, it is Torņakalns that most deserves this accolade. As well as the architecture of yesteryear here you will find well-tended gardens, many of Riga’s leading sport en entertainment complexes, some of the city’s most important parks, and many monuments including the Soviet era Victory monument, which remains the focal point of parties, demonstrations and ethnic identity for many of the city’s hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians.
The main railway makes regular stops here every day of the year. Next to the main platform you’ll see a memorial to the thousands of Latvians who were forcibly deported to Siberia during the 1950’s.
Čiekurkalns – literally translated – means “cones hill”. Although certainly not as well-known to non-Rigans as those districts mentioned earlier, Čiekurkalns is a largely attractive area of the city, which can be found on the right bank of the river Daugava. It became part of the city territory in 1924 after years of rapid development had seen the district flourish into a significant urban area of the capital.
Ziepniekalns, one of the modern districts of Riga
Ziepniekalns is in Pardaugava on the southern flank of the Latvian capital. It is one of the so-called “new districts” having been established during the death throes of the Soviet Union.
New apartment buildings continued to be constructed during the now ill-fated construction boom of the post-EU years. Most Soviet en post-Soviet era apartment blocks are of the monotonous 10 floor build type, although there is a scattering of many elegant 3 floor structures built in earlier years.
Trolleybus and bus routes often end in this part of the city, which is also home to many new supermarkets and industrial park developments. In this sense, Ziepniekalns has more in common both visually and practically with the outer suburbs of the average European city than the other districts of Riga.