11 Essential Things to Do in Riga, Latvia

Riga Old Town

The Baltic States were always somewhere I’d been curious to visit and in August of this year I thankfully had the chance to do so. My first stop was to be Riga, the capital of Latvia and I was pretty excited. My arrival may not have been met with the greatest of weather but I didn’t care once I started exploring. Riga had this feeling of familiarity about it that I just couldn’t shake – I felt instantly at home there. While it had plenty of aspects that reminded me of other places, Riga still very much felt like its own place. Visiting Riga set the scene for a truly fantastic trip through Latvia. Here are 11 essential things to see and do in Riga that you cannot miss.

 

Wandering through Old Town

If you’re looking for somewhere to start with Riga, then its Old Town makes the most sense. Riga’s Old Town is an immensely walkable area, in part because of the way it’s laid out but also just because of how interesting the streets are. You will come across big squares with fascinating churches but the smaller streets have plenty to offer too. Great for lovers of architecture and for photo opportunities too. Don’t miss the Three Brothers houses, the oldest complex of houses in the city. Certainly one of the best things to do in Riga.

Riga Old Town Street

Riga Three Brothers

 

Dome Square

One of the larger squares of Riga is the square below Riga Cathedral. Dome Square is lined with plenty of beautiful buildings that are also quite different to each other. There is also the great big Lutheran Cathedral looming large over the public place. But my favourite thing about the square is that it has my favourite piece of street art that I came across in Riga. The painting looks like something out of a whimsical novel from the 20th century or something.

Dome Square Riga

Riga Cathedral

 

Art Nouveau Architecture

Although through the old town and the city centre you’re bound to see nice buildings, the most beautiful architecture is found on Alberta and Strelnieku streets. It is on these few blocks where you will find a fabulous collection of Art Nouveau buildings that really capture your attention. While there are many Art Nouveau buildings throughout the city centre, the ones here are the most striking with bold colours, figures and masks a plenty. Not to be missed.

Art Nouveau in Riga

Art Nouveau in Riga

 

The Riverfront

As Riga is situated on the Daugava River, you really can’t miss a stroll along its banks. The river is certainly serene and pleasant, but it’s also home to some of the city’s more striking landmarks. From the stately Riga Castle to the unusual building of the National Library, there’s plenty to see by the river. Further up the river is the hard-to-miss spire of the city’s TV Tower.

Riga National Library

Riga TV Tower

 

Bastejkalns Park

One of the main green spaces in the centre of Riga is Bastejkalns Park on the edge of the old town. The peaceful park runs past the Old Bastion Hill and is divided by a moat-like canal. Bastejkalns is a nice little buffer between old town and the urban city centre and provides a great place to unwind, have lunch or go for a gentle row along the canal. Further along the canal is the equally enjoyable Kronvalda Park.

Bastejkalns Park Riga

 

Galleria Riga Rooftop

If you’re after a free view over Riga’s rooftops then the top floor of the Galleria Riga Shopping Mall is your best bet. Located outside the old town in the city centre, this shopping centre has an open air rooftop terrace with restaurants, cafes and a hell of a view. The Galleria is found a few blocks up from the Freedom Monument on Dzirnavu Iela, with an arcade passing through to Blaumana Iela.

Galleria Riga Rooftop View

 

Livu Square

Another vibrant square inside Old Town is Livu Square. The square has some nice gardens surrounded by quite colourful and charming houses. There are plenty of restaurants nearby without outdoor seating and it’s definitely a nice place to stop for a spell. On the corner of the square is the elaborate building of the Great Guild.

Houses in Livu Square, Riga

Gardens of Livu Square, Riga

 

House of the Blackheads

Possibly the most beautiful and ornate building in Riga is the House of the Blackheads. Definitely one of the best things to see in Riga. While the museum portion was unfortunately closed when I visited in August, the building is still quite the sight. It was once home to the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild for unmarried merchants.

House of the Blackheads, Riga

 

Academy of Sciences

The view of the river and city from the Academy of Sciences tower is truly special. You’re able to look out over the various districts of the city, particularly out towards the old town. The interior also has a rather Soviet interior which is interesting on its own. Entry for the viewing deck is 5€ paid in the lobby and is considerably cheaper than the tower on St Peter’s Church.

Riga Academy of Science

Academy View of Riga Old Town

 

Holocaust Museum

A sobering experience but an eye-opening one. A visit to the free Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum gives you an appreciation for the city’s role in the Holocaust of WWII. Here, you’re able to get insights into the history of the city’s Jewish community and those that were brought through Riga to Latvian concentration camps.

Riga Ghetto Museum

 

Jūrmala Beach

If you’re looking to escape the city for a bit, then head to the seaside city of Jūrmala. Spread out along the Baltic coast, Jūrmala is made up of a string of neighbourhoods off one of Latvia’s best beaches. Even if you’re not keen on going for a swim, neighbourhood’s like Majori have a relaxed vibe and enough food and craft to keep you entertained.

Jurmala Beach, near Riga

Majori, near Riga

 


Have you visited Riga before? What were your favourite things to do in Riga? If not, which would you want to do first? Please share your thoughts below.

 

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.


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11 Essential Things to Do in Riga, via @travelsewhere

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20 Comment

  1. I have read about Riga, particularly the Concentration Camps and have always been fascinated by the country. Of course as a Canadian we don’t see much news or information about the country as it is so far from us. The architecture is amazing and a definite must see as far as I am concerned. I love being in Europe with the ability to travel to places that no one back home has heard of except as a news item.

  2. You’re killing me! You’ve been to all the places I’ve been dying to visit but haven’t found the time! And it’s so nice to see a thorough guide of things to do in Riga because the most I have seen have really mostly been within the historic center. #WeekendWanderlust

  3. I have a Latvian friend and I have been wanting to visit Riga for so long so looking at your post was lovely! It has given me a wonderful glimpse into my friend’s hometown and, when she would pop back to visit family she would say she went to the beach – now I have had a chance to see it for myself! Thank you for all the information you have provided on what there is to see and do, I have pinned this for when I go! #feetdotravel

  4. Wonderful places to visit in Riga Latvia. My favorites would be to wonder through old town and then okay visit all the places you mentioned. 🙂 Also Love the street art in the Dome Square. Wonderful pictures that depict a warm city and I can see why you felt comfortable there. I pinned this for later. Thanks for Sharing 🙂

  5. Garth says:

    The Baltic States and lots of other parts of Europe we are hoping to explore in 2018, so have pinned this for later! Riga looks great! and I enjoyed reading about your experience wandering the streets and squares, an amazing mix of architecture by the looks of things, look forward to seeing the street art too. Thanks for sharing David.

  6. paulandcarolelovetotravel says:

    Interesting post, full of useful information for a visit. Didn’t know Riga was near to a beach and the architecture was pleasantly surprising. Great post! #feetdotravel

  7. Lisa (Simple Sojourner) says:

    What a beautiful town and love all that architecture. Your pictures are great and I would love to wander through those streets and parks. This is a place I will definitely have to consider visiting. Thanks for sharing all the tips!

  8. Have not yet visited Latvia but I would love the architecture! I love looking at beautiful buildings and it looks like Riga has plenty! Looks like a really interesting place to visit!

  9. I went to Riga when I was about 6-7 years old so don’t remember much of it. It was also 1991 or 1992 so just after the break up of the Soviet Union – I am sure it’s very different to what it was like then! Looks beautiful and I definitely want to go back an explore it properly! The mix of old and new architecture and the cosy squares are very inviting!

  10. Great post! Thank you for all the information. Such amazing photos and fascinating architecture! 🙂

  11. Never visited Riga before, but it’s on our list (with so many other places, haha). Thanks for sharing such a informative post about this city, and I will bookmark it for later.

  12. I have a Latvian friend too and although he had told be about Riga, I had not realize has beautiful the architecture is! I could look at those buildings all day ! Thank you for sharing a great post 😄

  13. I’ve never been but this post made me want to go! I think I would hit up the Old Town first, it looks so relaxing and historic, love it!

  14. The Baltics are high on my wishlist, I’m dying to visit! Riga looks so charming with its very unusual architecture, we’re seriously considering a road trip next summer. Thanks for the inspiration.

  15. I’ve never been but it looks like a gorgeous Eastern European city. Googling House of the Blackheads right now to find out more history about the cool building!

  16. I have been to Riga many times considering I am from a neighbouring Estonia and in my opinion it is very similar in some ways to Estonia. I went there last year hitchhiking with my partner and we had the best time! We were planning on staying for a day, but ended up staying for three! Did you ever do the free walking tour? I found it to be a great source of information.

  17. wandergirl says:

    I am visiting Riga at the end of December and I am staying there for New Years Eve, I am really excited. I really appreciate your article, because I found some things that I could not read anywhere until today. The photos are gorgeous!!!

  18. Riga is a place I’ve actually heard about! I had no idea it was such an amazing diverse city though! I love the ornate decoration on the art nouveau buildings. It seems like Riga has a little bit of everything! This looks absolutely amazing!

  19. I’ll be in Riga in two weeks and will definately refer to this list!

  20. zhlops says:

    Great read!
    Just one mention. Jūrmala technical is a different city, one of the only nine official cities in Latvia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_and_towns_in_Latvia

    And because of that, Riga has its own beach neighborhood on right bank of Daugava, called Vecāķi (Old Hooks) just ~20km from downtown.
    https://lv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vecāķi
    It’s much more closer to Daugava and one can also walk by beach to Daugavas end (~30-40 minutes walk) and see how ships are coming in and out of gulf.

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