Famed for its Art Nouveau, beautiful nature, wooden architecture, Europe’s widest river rapid, and various castles and palaces, Latvia is a gem worth discovering.
Although there are plenty of exciting things to see in the whole country, it makes sense to begin your trip in the capital, Riga. So, if you are wondering what to do in Riga, read on and discover some of the top things to do in this beautiful Baltic city!
What to do in Riga
1. Explore the Old Town
Top Things to see and do in Riga’s Old Town
- Town Hall Square
- House of the Blackheads
- Swedish Gate
- Riga Cathedral
Old Riga [map] is the oldest part of the capital of Latvia, and it is one of the most popular places for tourists to relax and wander around. In 1997, the historical centre of Riga was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Therefore, it truly is an area worth exploring and features many of the city’s main attractions.
If you are interested in architecture, you will admire the fact that most of the buildings in Riga Old Town have the status of a cultural monument. As you stroll through the streets, you will stumble upon examples of romance, baroque, classicism, and modernist architecture.
When visiting the old town, you can’t miss the Dome Church and St. Peter’s Church which offer a magnificent panorama of the whole city. There are no better views of Riga than from the 72-meter-high tower.
Whenever hunger kicks in, stop by one of the many restaurants and cafes. Beware of the prices, though. Since locals mostly eat outside Old Riga, they can be pretty high.
2. Visit the House of the Blackheads
The House of the Blackheads was first built in the 14th century to house the “Brotherhood of Blackheads”; a group of unmarried merchants and foreigners living in Latvia.
The building was completely destroyed during Operation Barbarossa during the Second World War but has since been painstakingly rebuilt. The only original part of the building to survive the war was the cellar.
The House of the Blackheads now houses a museum charting the city’s history. The exhibits include many multimedia displays and recreations of the old city as it was centuries before. It also is home to the Tourist Information Centre.
Entrance to the museum is €6 and it’s open from 10:00 to 20:00 daily.
3. See the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia details the country’s history of occupation by both the Nazis and the Soviets. Latvia was occupied between 1940 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The museum hosts over 60,000 exhibits and contains audiovisual displays and documentaries. Well worth a look for those interested in Dark Tourism.
4. Climb the TV Tower for Incredible Views
One of the best things to do in Riga is to go up to the viewing platform of the TV Tower [location]. The tower is 368 metres tall, making it the third-tallest structure in Europe. The viewing platform is at 97 metres and offers fantastic views of the city and Gulf of Riga.
Unfortunately, the restaurant that was once in the tower closed, but it’s definitely worth doing for the views.
Entrance to the tower costs €3.70 and it is open from 10:0 to 20:00 at weekends and 16:00 to 20:00 on weekdays.
5. See the National Museum of Art
Are you looking for your daily dose of culture? Making a stop by the National Museum of Art is one of the best things to do in Riga. The museum is the most important repository of professional art in the country.
Renovated in 2016, it’s now in a much more modern form but still preserves the majesty of the historic building.
Although the art itself is quite fascinating, most people visit the museum just to explore its glorious interior and architecture, making it one of the best things to do in Riga. Be prepared to make some funky Instagram selfies as it is the perfect backdrop for photos.
6. Explore the National Library of Latvia
Opposite the Old Town, you will spot the National Library of Latvia [location], one of the most significant cultural buildings in the whole country. If you are looking for a quiet place to read your favourite book or have an undisturbed working session, this is the place to be.
Furthermore, the library offers all kinds of exhibitions, concerts and lectures, therefore it is considered one of the most important cultural hot spots in Latvia. It is also the home of “Dainu Skapis”, which has been included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
Whenever you get tired of walking up and down the various staircases, stop by the library’s cafe or restaurant to have a quick yet delicious meal where you will have the most beautiful view of the Old Town.
7. Visit Tallinas Ielas Quarter
Whenever looking for a party, make sure to stop by Tallinas Street Quarter [location] – an industrial island for creative minds and hipsters alike. The former industrial block overwent some works in 2017, and after that – opened for curious visitors.
Now, you will find many bars and cafes that get swarmed with people during the weekends and hot summer evenings. So, if you are looking for a place to dance your worries away, mingle with some locals or simply have a few drinks – you won’t be disappointed.
8. See the Wagner Concert Hall
The composer Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) lived in Riga and the street where he lived now bears his name (Vagnera Iela). Check local guides for concerts being held here.
Did you know Wagner also lived in Lucerne, Switzerland? Check out his residence in this list of 17 Amazing things to do in Lucerne!
9. See a Performance at the Latvian National Opera
One of the most exciting things to do in Riga is visit the Latvian National Opera [location]. Housed in the old German Theatre that was built in 1863, the LNOB (Latvian National Opera and Ballet) has over 200 events from September to June every year.
Tickets are priced between €5 and €65 depending on the event. See the official LNOB website for the current program and to buy tickets.
10. Have Fun on the Water
Riga has a wide range of active recreation opportunities for those who prefer to have fun in the water. In the warmer months of the year, this is an excellent way to spend time in the very centre of the country and enjoy the fresh air and nature all around.
In Riga, you can go boating in Daugava and the Riga Canal. If you wish to do some paddle-boarding – that is possible too.
At Lucavsala, you can enjoy such water pleasures as swimming and using a turbine board. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be Batman, this is your chance to find out. Be prepared to fly high in the air!
11. Take a Canal Boat Sightseeing Tour
One of the best ways to see the city is from the comfort of a canal boat! This one-hour cruise along the Daugava River and city canal is hugely popular with tourists to the city.
The tour takes in some of the most popular attractions in the city including the Freedom Monument and Latvian National Opera House.
12. Have fun at the Latvia Song and Dance Festival
Latvia’s annual Song and Dance Festival is held every July. However, there is a much bigger, week-long festival held every five years (the next one to be held is in July 2023). The festival has been recognised by UNESCO in its Oral History Cultural Heritage List.
13. Take a Day Trip to the Beaches at Jurmala
Jurmala is the largest resort town in the Baltic and includes miles of sandy beaches, perfect for cooling off in summer. The beaches are backed by rolling sand dunes and pine forest making it one of Latvia’s areas of outstanding natural beauty.
The town is famed for its wooden houses and there is plenty to see and do from sampling food at one of the local restaurants, to buying pieces of the famous Balti Amber that come from this area.
One of the most fun ways to reach Jurmala is by boat direct from Ston Bridge in Riga (Akmens Tilts) which is right next to the tourist information centre (House of the Blackbeards). The 2.5 journey costs €20. The boat service runs from May to September.
If you are in more of a hurry there are many trains each day between Riga and Jurmala, departing every 30 minutes. The 30-minute journey costs just €2.00!
Food and Drink in Riga
15. Have Latvian food at Lido
Are you looking to taste the local cuisine? Then there is no better place to visit than Lido. Dotted all around the city, it is one of the most loved food chains in the whole country. Have a glass of the yummy beer and try the most popular Latvian dishes – your inner gourmand will be pleased.
What makes the bistro even better is its prices – just for a few euros, you will have a taste of some truly fantastic food. Garlic bread, fried potatoes and peas with bacon are just some of the things worth trying.
If you wish to have the ultimate experience, head to the biggest Lido, which includes a recreation centre. Just a 10-minute ride from the centre of Riga, you will stumble upon one of Europe’s largest log cabins and a true paradise for foodies.
16. Taste the Black Balsam
When visiting Riga, not tasting Black Balsam is a true crime. The recipe for the herbal elixir made from pure vodka was crafted more than 260 years ago. Although the ingredients of the dark drink aren’t secret, there are just a few people in the world who know the whole process from “A” to “Z”.
Riga Black Balsam is made from 24 all-natural ingredients, for example, Valerian, Black Pepper, Ginger, Wormwood, Gentian and Peruvian Balsamic Oil.
If the classic version of the balsam seems too strong for you, you may choose between other flavours such as cherry, espresso, chocolate and mint, and our personal favourite – black currant balsam.
Top tip: during wintertime, it is a delicious drink to enjoy warmed up.
17. Visit the Central Market
One of Europe’s biggest food markets is definitely a place that should be on your itinerary. Riga central market has always been a symbol of prosperity and wellbeing.
Here you will find the widest and freshest choice of fish in Riga, as well as colourful vegetables, fruits, spices, honey, nuts, and so much more. If you are looking for gifts to bring with you home, you will easily get your hands on one of a kind, handcrafted items that are made with love.
Be sure to taste the juices! Aromatic and rich bouquet of saturated apple juice, invigorating and refreshing blueberry juice, soothing chokeberry or energetic sea buckthorn juice – the choice is endless.
Have a taste of those prepared without using preservatives and therefore maintain a higher nutritional value.
Other delicacies you shouldn’t miss: butter made from hemp, pourable “kvass” (a famous Latvian beverage), smoked fish and meat, organic rye bread, lightly salted cucumbers and fresh cheese.
Getting to Riga
Riga International Airport is only 13km from the centre of the city. Bus 22 and Expressbus 22 run between the airport (in front of Terminal 1) to the Central Station from 05:45 to 23:30 every day.
Riga is connected to the rest of the Baltic states by road and rail. By far the easiest and cheapest way is to go by bus. Flixbus is the top carrier in the region and their modern, comfortable coaches will get you to your destination with little fuss.
The train services are fewer and more expensive, and you will need to transfer, whereas the buses are direct (unless going farther afield).
Lithuania: Vilnius to Riga – 04h15m Tickets from €11
Estonia: Tallinn to Riga – 04h25m Tickets from €14
Poland: Warsaw to Riga – 16h55m (one transfer at Vilnius Coach Station) Tickets from €28
Russia: St Petersburg to Riga – 12h55m (one transfer at Tallinn Coach Station) Tickets from €33
Riga has weekly sailings to and from Helsinki in Finland and Stockholm in Sweden.
From Finland: Helsinki to Riga – 18h45m Tickets from € / Four sailings per week
From Sweden: Stockholm to Riga – 18h30m Tickets from € / one sailing per week
See the Direct Ferries website for a quote.
Getting Around Riga
Central Riga and the old town are easily navigable on foot. Riga does not have a metro system, but there is a large network of buses, trams and trolleybuses that will take you anywhere in the city.
You will find plenty of bicycles to hire around the city through the SIXT Latvia cycle scheme. Registration is free and you will need a mobile to download the app. The price starts at €0.90 for 30 minutes.
The Riga Card offers discounts on public transport and parking. See the website for more information and how to download the app. The Riga card also offers discounts on some museums.
I stayed at the Riga Old Town Hostel and Backpackers Pub. The location is perfect, the dorms are clean and safe with lockers, and the downstairs bar is in a VW camper van!
Best time to visit Riga
The Baltic States region is famous for its long, cold and harsh winters. Summers are pleasantly warm and sunny, with sporadic downpours.
If you would like to travel to Latvia, it is best to plan your visit between April and September when the weather is pleasant, and it is still possible to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.
Winters, however, can get a bit rough (the Baltics have a reputation for freezing temperatures), so if you are afraid of the cold, head to your adventure in summer.
Now you know what to do in Riga, the only question is, where will you start? Riga is a great place to visit thanks to its charming old town, mouth-watering food, and great connections to the rest of the Baltic states.
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