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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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