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Riga, Latvia is a city of cobblestoned lanes, modern skyscrapers, inner-city green spaces and a history that dates to the 2nd century. We were fascinated by how the city incorporates a mix of architecture, honors its past and welcomes visitors with an array of sights. We stayed for one week in the city and filled our days with classic Riga sightseeing along with a few lesser-known things to do in Riga, Latvia. We’ve compiled a list of 8 Riga activities for fellow travelers and first-time visitors who want to experience the city.
Most Riga attractions are located in the Old Town city center, which is easily walkable. Public transportation – a fleet of trolleys, trams and buses – can be used to access a few of our recommended Riga points of interest that are beyond the center.
#1 SEE the city from above
Getting a bird’s eye view of a city is always high on our list – and it’s one of the top things to do in Riga! There are multiple vantage points in the city where elevated views are possible.
- St. Peter’s Church – Located in the heart of the city, is the unmissable St. Peter’s Church. The red brick church has a steeple that soars 400 feet. Visitors can take an elevator to a viewing platform (at 236 feet) for stunning views down to the red-tiled rooftops of the Old Town. The ticket (9 euros) is also good for entry into the church, which dates to the year 1209 and is worth a look around.
- Latvian Academy of Sciences – The stark Latvian Academy of Sciences building was built in the 1950s when Latvia was under Russian communist rule. The imposing structure, nicknamed Stalin’s Birthday Cake, stands at 354 feet and was once the tallest building in Riga. The 17th floor, open-air observation deck is open to visitors (for a 5 euro fee).
- Radisson Blue Skyline Bar – Northeast of the historic center, just past the Nativity of Christ Cathedral, is the high-rise Radisson Blu Hotel…and, on the 26th floor of the hotel is the Skyline Bar. The floor-to-ceiling windows provide views across the city, making it a great place to stop for a cocktail at sunset after a long day of sightseeing. Entry is free before 9pm.
- National Library of Latvia – The National Library of Latvia sits on the left bank of the Daugava River, just across the Akmens Bridge. The modern building – both inside and out – has 13 floors and a height of 223 feet. Guests can visit the upper floors of the library (coats and bags must be stored in lockers and free temporary pass needed for entry) which has several reading rooms with views.
#2 MARVEL at the architecture
While sightseeing Riga, it would be impossible not to notice the assortment of architectural styles sprinkled throughout the city. From medieval to Art Nouveau to Soviet Classicism to ultra-modern, the architecture is something to take note of. Within the Old Town, simply wandering around will give a good taste of the different styles. Be sure to find the House of Blackheads, the Latvian National Opera, the Art Museum Riga Bourse and the Three Brothers (all of which are clearly labeled on the handy Riga Sightseeing Map from the Riga Tourist Information Center).
Beyond the Old Town are other Riga must-see treasures – we’ve already mentioned two: The Latvian Academy of Sciences and National Library buildings. However, there is much more to see, like the fine examples of Art Nouveau and the classic Latvian Wooden Homes.
Explore along Elizabetes and Alberta streets, where Art Nouveau reigns as the style of choice. If you prefer, let a guide lead you on Tour of the Old Town and Art Nouveau neighborhoods.
Latvia’s traditional Wooden Homes, a style that dates to the 17th century with some 4,000 structures remaining throughout the city, can be found in the Grizinkalns, Sarkandaugava, Kipsala and Moscow neighborhoods. Wooden homes found throughout the city are in varying states of use (often not being used at all), but in the Kalnciema Quarter, wooden homes have been renovated to pristine conditions.
#3 SHOP at a local market
Nearly every city in Europe has a marketplace, but the Riga Central Market is unique. Since 1930, the market has been housed in five repurposed German Zeppelin hangers. The enormous structures, located along the river just south of the Old Town, are one of the top things to see in Riga – and the best place to go for fresh local food.
In addition to the massive square-footage of the indoor market (which is often claimed to be the biggest in all of Europe), market booths selling produce, clothing, home goods and fresh flowers spill into the area surrounding the iconic buildings.
Top Tip: For a taste of local fare with a throw-back atmosphere, head to Cepelins Restaurant (the door is between two flower stalls). The inexpensive and hearty meals are ordered at the counter (most likely with a gruff woman who doesn’t speak English), which is similar to the Milk Bars of Warsaw.
Since it seemed appropriate, we ordered a Cepelin – a potato dumpling shaped like a zeppelin and stuffed with minced meat then doused in sauce. Eating at Cepelins is certainly one of the local Riga, Latvia things to do!
For an upscale farmer’s market, head across the Daugava River to the Kalnciema Quarter for their Saturday market. Filled with more locals than tourists, the Kalnciema market is packed with vendors selling gourmet prepared cuisine and high-end handmade goods. Sampling the fare and eating lunch at the market is one of the fun things to do in Riga, Latvia.
#4 EXPLORE the Old Town and Riga top sights
Riga’s Old Town is a feast for the senses. The pleasant lanes and pastel-painted buildings are steeped in history; wandering without purpose is one of the popular Riga things to do. If you want information on what to see in Riga Old Town, be sure to pick up a useful Riga tourist map from the Information Center.
Joining a Riga walking tour, however, will reveal hidden gems and fascinating stories about the city. You can book guided tours in Riga in advance here. There is also a Riga Sightseeing Bus for those who would rather see Riga sights from the comfort of a coach. You can buy tickets for the Riga Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus here.
Tip: If a Riga sightseeing tour isn’t your style, check out this self-guided city tour of Riga that highlights One Day in Riga.
#5 DRINK local beer
Riga has a reputation as a beer-drinking town; there are countless pubs in the heart of the city, many of which cater to the Riga nightlife Stag parties that roll into town each weekend. The history of Latvian beer is a long one – and is cataloged and displayed at the Aldaris Beer Museum and Brewery.
However, we were more interested in the present than the past and brewers are presently in full swing in Riga creating small-batch brews and craft beer around the city. Our two best recommendations for craft beer bars in Riga, Latvia: Labietis and Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs (read more about these and other craft beer bars in our Craft Beer Bars in Riga post). For a fun evening of Riga, Latvia nightlife join a Riga Pub Crawl.
Top Tip: While checking out Riga bars, make sure to get a taste of Riga Black Balsam, an herbal liquor made in Riga since the 18th century.
#6 LEARN the history and culture of Latvia
The history of Latvia is complicated, but there are several Riga museums that provide a comprehensive timeline of the country with fascinating and poignant displays. Two of the best museums in Riga for a history lesson are the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia (Latvijas Okupacijas Muzeis) and the Latvian War Museum (Kara Muzeis), which has been housed in the city center Powder Tower since 1919. Both of the museums are free to visit – and something we consider a must do in Riga.
The Latvian National Museum of Art is also one of the Riga top attractions. The recently renovated museum has a permanent display of Latvian art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
#7 VISIT city monuments
While sightseeing Riga, you will surely see several monuments throughout the city center, but perhaps none are quite as moving as the Freedom Monument. The 138-foot-tall column was erected to honor the fallen soldiers who fought in the Latvian War of Independence in the early 1900s. The monument was a point of convergence in 1987 when Latvia was under Soviet occupation and a renewed independence movement was gaining momentum.
The Brethren Cemetery is one of the most impactful places to visit in Riga. Located outside of the city center, the cemetery, where thousands of Latvian soldiers have been laid to rest is both powerful and beautiful.
#8 WALK in the city’s green spaces
We were surprised to find so many open green spaces in the city and we quickly learned that spending time in the parks in one of the things to do in Riga for both locals and tourists. Just to the east of the Old Town is a greenbelt of city parks with paths, benches, cafes and sculptures.
One of the best things to do in Riga to incorporate nature, history and art is a visit to the Forest Cemetery. It sounds offbeat and eerie, but it is truly a charming place to visit. Paths wind through the forest to burial plots that are nestled between trees and decorated with ornate headstones. The previously mentioned Brethren Cemetery is part of Forest Cemetery.
Our Top Tips for your trip to Riga, Latvia
Day trips from Riga
Riga activities are not limited to the city; there are several options for Riga day trips. The two top Riga excursions – Jurmala and Sigulda – are just a train ride away. Jurmala is a popular Riga beach holiday spot, as it has a long stretch of beach on the Bay of Riga (part of the Baltic Sea). To immerse yourself in nature, head to the forest covered hills of Sigulda, where castles sit upon the hilltops.
There are organized Riga day tours to both cities. Full-day, private tours to Jurmala include the beach, fisherman villages and nature trails. To visit the castles in Sigulda, take a half-day Sigulda Tour.
Want more castles? Take a full-day tour from Riga to visit five Latvian Castles and Palaces.
Where To Stay in Riga
During our visit to Riga, we stayed in this awesome Airbnb Apartment. (Not already a member of Airbnb? Use this link to create an account and save money on your first stay!) We have found that staying in apartments is often less expensive than hotel rooms – with the added benefit of a kitchen and, usually, more space. Riga holiday apartments can also be searched on FlipKey (which is part of TripAdvisor) or on VRBO – Vacation Rentals By Owner.
However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many Riga hotels (search Booking.com) to choose from in – or close to – the city center (which is the best place to stay in Riga!). Check out these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip: Relais Le Chevalier, Neiburgs Hotel and Grand Palace Hotel. Or, find a deal on a hotel room by bidding on Priceline.
Budget travelers can search for Riga Hostels – like Tree House and Green Cat Hostel. For a true bargain – and a unique experience – search for hosts on Couchsurfing, where travelers stay with locals for free.
Getting To/From Riga
Depending on your location, Riga can be reached by plane, train, bus, boat or car.
- Riga Airport information can be found here. Our preferred method of getting anywhere is by flying (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!) and when we do need to purchase plane tickets, we start our search for the best deals on airline tickets on Skyscanner or Flight Hub. Tip: You can book your transfer from the Riga Airport to the city in advance.
- There are five regional train lines, but only a few international train connections (Estonia, Russia and Belarus).
- Several bus routes connect Riga internationally. We used Eurolines to get from Riga to Tallinn.
- To get from Riga to Stockholm, there is a ferry. For a glimpse of Stockholm from Riga, you can book a Riga-Stockholm-Riga Cruise (2-nights).
- We aren’t keen on driving abroad, but renting a car can often save time and money (especially when traveling with more than two people) – and it allows for greater discovery.
Before You Go
- Riga is a walkable city…but only if you have the right shoes! Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for your trip. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- Make sure to have a good guidebook before arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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