by Lydia Schrandt for USA TODAY 10Best

Take a virtual tour of Riga, Latvia

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Riga, Latvia’s capital city, ranks as the largest of the three Baltic capitals – a hub for Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture, UNESCO World Heritage charm, and a cool, modern edge.

The Daugava River passes through the heart of the city before emptying into the Gulf of Riga on the Baltic Sea. The river has long been an important trade corridor – there’s still a railway running along its northern bank.

In 1698, when Riga was part of the Swedish empire, the Swedish Gate was built as part of the city’s medieval walls. Today, the gate is the last remaining, and it opens up onto Trokšnu iela, one of the city’s narrowest streets.

Photo courtesy of Jānis Bautra / latvia.travel

Riga is considered the Art Nouveau Capital of Europe. As many as one-third of the buildings in the city center follow the style, giving Riga the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.

Built in 1334 as a banquet hall (and rebuilt in 1999), the House of the Blackheads is one of Riga’s most impressive structures. The Dutch Renaissance façade faces Town Hall Square.

It gets its name from the Brotherhood of Blackheads – a social organization for unmarried men known for throwing wild parties.

The granite and copper monument that towers over Riga symbolizes Latvian statehood. Often called the 'Latvian Statue of Liberty,' the Freedom Monument stands around 140 feet.

The historic center of Riga, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, was once a major trade center of the Hanseatic League. These days, it maintains its historic charm.

Three of the oldest (and most photogenic) buildings in the old city are called the Three Brothers. Legend has it that three men of the same family built them.

An old moat that once protected Riga’s medieval walls now serves as a charming canal that winds its way between the old town and Central Riga. Boat tours take visitors along the canal and Daugava River.

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