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Famed for its Art Nouveau architecture, Europe’s wildest waterfall, beautiful nature, and various castles and palaces, Latvia is a gem worth discovering. With our help, discover the best things to do in Riga.
Although there are plenty of exciting activities to try and see in the whole country, beginning your trip in Riga, the capital of Latvia, will be a wonderful start.
Here are our top things to do in this gorgeous city.
Explore Old Riga
- Town Hall Square
- Swedish Gate
- Riga Cathedral
Old Riga 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 Site List. Therefore, it truly is an area worth exploring.
If you are interested in architecture, you will admire the fact that most of the buildings in Old Riga 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 Old Riga, 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 on 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.
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.
After an extensive reconstruction, it was reopened in May 2016. Now, it is 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.
Explore the biggest library in the country
Opposite the Old Town, you will spot the National Library of Latvia, 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.
Visit Tallinas ielas quarter
Whenever looking for a party, make sure to stop by Tallinas street quarter – 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 14 residents in the area, most of which are 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 glass of a yummy drink – you won’t be disappointed.
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.
Latvian National Opera
One of the most exciting things to do in Riga is visit the Latvian National Opera. 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.
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! It is surely one of the best things to do in Riga.
Food and Drink in Riga
Things to do in Latvia – 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.
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.
Visit Riga 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 runs 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. Lux Express 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
Lithuania: Vilnius to Riga
Estonia: Tallinn to Riga
Russia: Moscow to Riga
Russia: St Petersburg to Riga
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.
I stayed at the Riga Old Town Hostel and Backpackers Pub. The location is perfect, the dorms clean and safe with lockers, and the downstairs bar is in a VW camper van!
The Baltic States are located in northern Europe on the Baltic Sea. The area is famous for its long, cold and harsh winters. Summers are pleasantly warm and sunny, with sporadic downpours.
When is the best time to visit Riga?
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 (Baltics have a reputation for freezing temperatures), so if you are afraid of the cold, head to your adventure in summer.
Although Riga is a very safe place, it always pays to have a good travel insurance policy in place should the unexpected happen. Our partners at World Nomads specialize in insurance for adventurous travellers. You can get a free, no-obligation quote here.
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. So, what are you waiting for?
About the author: Steve Rohan, originally from England, has lived in China for over six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, the ancient capital of Luoyang and now resides in the tropical paradise of Sanya on Hainan Island.
He has travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, mostly by train, and has written about his travels for this blog as well as self-publishing his first book, Siberian Odyssey.