Riga is Latvia’s old capital and one enchanting city. Acknowledged by the UNESCO as a World Heritage site, there are so many things to do in Riga.
Riga. So many things can be said about Latvia’s capital: It’s young, it is full of culture and friendly people, it offers beautiful architecture, and a cosmopolitan flair, while still remaining cozy. In short, it is a city you should visit. Here are 10 things you absolutely need to do when visiting Riga!
Do you love Riga? Check out my Guide to Oslo! Norway’s capital is just as charming and not that far away!
1. Historical Centre of Riga
The UNESCO declared the historical center of Riga a World Heritage Site and so there is no way to discovering that. Actually, it should be your top reason to visit Riga. The narrow streets are more than enchanting.
2. House of Blackheads in Riga
This is certainly one of the main attractions of the city. Built in around the 13th century and utterly bombed during WWII, the medieval Guildhall once again can be seen in its full glory. (Note: currently closed for visitors as of July 2015)
3. St. Peter’s Church
Riga has a lot of churches. In fact, it sometimes feels like almost the whole inner city consists of nothing else. Your biggest treat will be St. Peter’s Church, though. Why? Because an elevator will bring you to the top where you can enjoy a beautiful view over the city.
4. Freedom Monument
Latvia as a whole has a very long but also very eventful history. The Freedom Monument with Latvia’s Lady Liberty atop celebrates the final victory over foreign oppression. On both sides of the Monument, you will find a park – all the more reason to put it on your list of things to do in Riga
5. Riga Cathedral
Riga’s biggest protestant church dominates the central area of Riga. The insides are rather austere, though. Frequent fires and the upheavals during the Reformation wars destroyed its original opulence. What remains, however, is a magnificent organ. Every day at noon (12:00 am) there is a small organ concert you really should not miss! Such a spiritual experience.
6. The Three Brothers
House number 17 is the oldest secular building in the city and dates back to the 15th century. With the two adjoining buildings, these form the building complex known as the Three Brothers. Quite enchanting – especially at night
7. Central Market
As a tourist in Riga, you really should not miss the Central Market. It is indeed located quite close to the center. The huge halls are only a couple of meters away on foot and offer you the whole variety of Latvian food. Clothes and basic household goods can be found there as well. Definitely, take your time and sample the fruits and foods!
8. Art Nouveau district
Riga is sometimes dubbed the world Art Nouveau center. And to be quite frank there are few cities around the world with more buildings from that time still standing. The streets Elizabetes, Dzirnavu and Antonijas will impress you with their huge variety of different styles from that area.
Although I have to say that Munich has, even more, Art Nouveau architecture. I blogged some amazing images of my hometown here.
9. Latvian National Opera
The Latvian People love their performing arts. And so it is little wonder that they did not cut back on their Opera house. In fact, the building resembles the famous Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. If you got the time you should consider getting tickets for a performance. The theatre is well known for its good acoustics.
A bit quirky but just as famous. Hidden within in the cobblestoned crevices of the old town you will find a yellow house with two cats sitting on its spires. Know then that these two feline fellows are not the only architectural gem hidden in Riga.
11. Riga Castle
As of now Riga Castle only is an honorable mention in my list of things to do in Riga. In 2013 a terrible fire destroyed major parts of the castle. The restoration is far from complete and so Riga castle is still hidden behind construction works. Still, it is the official residence of the President of Latvia and houses a couple of museums.
12. Pilsetas Channels
The old moat around Riga now forms a beautiful canal. Little boats offer rides out through the canal and the Daugava River. It may not be Venice, but it is still quite enchanting and a wonderful thing to do in Riga – especially with kids.
13. Riga Bourse
The Riga Bourse, now an art museum, is located on the central square of Riga and is as beautiful from outside as it is from within. Changing exhibitions invite you to visit again and again.
14. Small Guild of Riga
Definitely, put this on your list of things to do in Riga. The Small Guild of Riga may have burned down during WWII but the restoration efforts have been extensive. For only 2 euros you get a chance to explore the opulent interiors.
15. Soviet Architecture
Have you ever seen the Lomonosov State University in Moscow? One of the hallmarks of Soviet architecture has a little brother in Riga: The Latvian Academy of Sciences. Built between 1951 and 1961 is a stark reminder of the Russian occupation. The 17th-floor balcony is open for visitors.
16. Amber Shopping
Riga is famous for its amber jewelry. What better souvenir could there be for the ladies? From cheap to prohibitively expensive you will find everything among the inner streets of Riga.
17. Chocolate and Pastries
And talking about famous. Equally well known are the chocolates and pastries of Riga. After a long stroll through the city, make sure to reward yourself with some sweet sins.
18. Riga at night & nightlife
Even if you are not an avid fan of bars, clubs, and discos, you should definitely save some time for walking around Riga at night. Most ancient buildings will be illuminated then, offering you a beautiful new perspective. Riga’s nightlife can be anything from luxury restaurants (like Bibliotheka) down to student bars and kantinas. Take your pick!
19. Latvian National Museum
A great way to catch up with Latvian history is the Latvian National Museum of Art. The focus lies on paintings, but the usually quite some lovely special exhibitions going on! Check it out here.
20. Daytrip to Jūrmala
Riga lies quite close to the coastline. So, if you are visiting Riga in summer, then you absolutely should consider taking the train out to Jūrmala. The little coastal town is a local’s favorite when it comes to bathing in the Baltic Sea.
So that’s been it. My 20 wonderful things to do in Riga. As I couldn’t possibly cover it all, I do urge you to do some further readings. There are not too many travel guides out there for Latvia, but I can recommend the Lonely Planet Travel Guide Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania, especially as it also covers the neighboring countries. All of them worth a visit and easy to combine on a small eastern Europe itinerary.
If you are traveling through the Baltics, then check out this post on how to get the bus from Tallinn to Riga. It’s really not far to Lithuania and Estonia, and you will certainly not regret visit them as well!
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Did I miss something on my list of things to do in Riga? Tell me your favorite places in the comment section below!
Looking for other city guides from the old continent? Check out these: