The Latvian capital of Riga, also the largest city in the Baltics, is a destination that in recent years has grown to be a fantastic option for all types of tourists.
It doesn’t matter if you crave relaxation or feel most alive when going out for sunrise and coming back after sunset, there’s a wide variety of things to do in Riga for everyone.
When learning about Riga, you’ve probably heard about the UNESCO Site of the Medieval Old Town, also known as Vecriga, but there’s also a whole world out of it, in the modern city.
In this guide I’ll showcase some of my favorite attractions and activities to do in Riga in any season, hoping they inspire you to book your stay in this beautiful city
Table of Contents
Things to do and see in Riga
Stroll the Old Town
Let’s start with the most famous thing to do in Riga. The Old Town, also known as Vecriga, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with an unprecedented density and variety of attractions.
The stunning architecture of every single building will leave you speechless. No matter if it’s a museum, a Church, a library, or even a grocery store, they all fit together to make Riga’s Old Town the magical place it is.
With it being almost vehicle-free, walking around the main streets and squares of Riga’s Old Town is always peaceful. Although it gets many tourists throughout the year, its versatility allows everyone to spend a wonderful day without having to pile up at the same sights.
Take your time, go with the flow, and explore every corner of Vecriga to truly capture the Latvian capital’s essence.
Admire the Iconic House of the Blackheads
Opening hours: 10.00 to 17:00, every day
The highest expression of the magnificent architecture in the Old Town, the House of the Blackheads is a staple and a must-see in Riga.
Today, the building still serves similar functions as it did when it first was built in the 14th century – hosting meetings, concerts, and events for several organizations in Riga.
The exterior boasts a sublime combination of architectural styles, with rich and elegant decorative features throughout. However, the interiors are also worth a visit.
The House of the Blackheads is open every day and hosts a small but rewarding museum telling the story of the building, and in part of the capital Riga as well.
Inside the exhibition, you can visit the historical cabinets, the celebration hall, and the medieval cellars among others. The cellars are the only spot of the building that survived throughout the centuries in its original form.
The prices vary depending on a few factors, but in general, the price for adults is 7 euros for a self-guided visit, or 30 euros for an entrance with an English or Russian speaking guide included. You can check the prices and buy the tickets on the official website.
Pro tip: every last Sunday of the month, a free English tour of the House of the Blackheads is organized. Sign up for it on the official website mentioned above.
Take in the best view of the Old Town from St. Peter’s Church
Mon-Fri: 10:00 to 18:00
Weekend: 10:00 to 22:00.
Adults: 9 euros
Children (up to 7 years old): free
A visit to Riga wouldn’t be complete without seeing the city from above. A fresh perspective always helps to appreciate a place more, and the viewing platform of St. Peter’s Church is the best place to do that, being the highest point of the Old Town.
Even from the outside, the Church is one of the most impressive buildings in Riga. You’re likely going to see it pop out of corners from every angle of the Old Town, dominating the view.
The viewing platform, situated 72 meters above the city, is easily reachable via an internal elevator, and it offers a perfect 360-degree view of the Old Town and all the other places to see in Riga.
Up there, you’ll find it easy to slow down for a while. Enjoy finding unseen details among the dense houses of Vecriga, admiring the relentless flow of the Daugava river, with the famous Riga bridges and the TV tower along it, or even looking further towards the Art Nouveau district, scouting the next attractions to discover, which I’ll mention later.
On weekends, you can enjoy a peaceful sunset from the tower, as it closes later. However, there really isn’t a bad time to go up.
Make sure you wear a jacket – it gets windy up there.
Hop Around Cafes in the Old Town
Throughout the years, Riga has developed an especially nice and varied scene of cafes that are now spread all around the Old Town.
There are cafes that specialize in quality coffee and pastries, those that roast their own coffee beans, others with a focus on Japanese drinks such as Matcha, and some that offer the best slices of cake in Riga.
I could go on, but I’d rather you find out for yourself all that the cafes in Riga have to offer.
Here are what I consider some of the best cafes in Riga.
Parunāsim kafe’teeka: This cafe is known for the delicious cakes you can get alongside their coffee. The central location is perfect for being on your way to other attractions in Riga when you’re done enjoying your stop.
Moltto Coffee: Apart from being one of the few cafes in Riga that open before 10 am, this spot has good coffee and a variety of sweets to satisfy everyone. If you’re curious to explore the Latvian tradition and innovation at the same time, you might want to try the kombuchas they offer.
Join a Free Walking Tour
In recent years, tourism in Riga has grown greatly, enabling a rapid evolution in many services and experiences.
Among these, free walking tours have become a perfect opportunity to explore the city both for people who only have a day in Riga, and for those who have more time and want to spend it learning more about the history of the many attractions.
With all the things to see and do in Riga, wandering the Old Town without knowing much about it can be an overwhelming task. Most historical landmarks gain new light after learning about how they came about and other fascinating tidbits of history.
The many free walking tours in Riga can lead you through not only the most interesting parts of Vecriga but also outside, into modern Riga and the Art Nouveau district, or again to discover Soviet Riga, for recent history passionates.
This company has been running free walking tours in Riga since 2008, and since then they have tailored their services to satisfy every visitor and leave them with newfound knowledge that will stay with them.
You can simply book a spot for one of the tours from their website, some of which they run daily.
Relax at the several parks in Riga
We all need some nature in our lives, and as we often hear, every day can get better just by spending some time in it.
All of Latvia has incredible and unique nature, but being a big city, Riga can often be thought to have little space for it, forcing people to get away from it to enjoy untouched Latvia.
Luckily, that’s not true. Riga has numerous in-city or close-by parks in which you can get immersed and relax for a few hours, easily taking a break from the city life.
Some of the best parks in the center of Riga are Bastejkalna Park, just outside of the Old Town to the east, and Kronvalda Park a bit further north.
Going towards outer Riga, the biggest park in the city is Mezaparks, which is one of the only remaining naturally forested areas in Riga. Aside from being a pleasant relaxing spot, it also serves as a cultural and recreational park, hosting several events and featuring the possibility of enjoying sports such as rollerblading, biking, minigolf, and more.
If it’s summer, you might also want to get a sample of one of the many Latvian lakes and sunbathe at Mezaparks Beach.
Test Your Love at the Swedish Gate
Taking its name after the Kingdom that was ruling the city when the gate was built in 1698, the Swedish Gate is an integral part of the Medieval walls of Riga.
Once one of eight city gates serving as an entrance into Riga, the Swedish Gate is the only one standing today. Moreover, it’s the only structure in Riga’s Old Town that has maintained its original look, despite some structural renovations in the 1980s.
While there are many theories and even myths about how the Swedish Gate came about, the most interesting one is a myth that can either evoke romantic or eerie feelings, depending on where you’re from.
The myth tells that when the city was under the reign of Sweden, a local girl and a Swedish soldier fell in love, a forbidden love at the time.
To keep their feelings alive, they would meet at the Swedish Gate at sunrise and sundown when the gate would open and close, but one day, the soldier didn’t show up.
The girl kept waiting, trying to open the gate, until she was caught eventually.
She was used as a symbol for what would have happened if anyone else had tried, as they built her into the walls of the Swedish Gate.
Nowadays, some of the more superstitious people in Riga don’t like to hang around the gate, while for others the myth serves as inspiration for a romantic story, or test.
It’s said that when a couple goes through the Swedish Gate they should hear the whispers of the girl from the myth, wailing for her lover. Test it for yourself to discover if your love is real.
Taste Local Craft Beer at Kakis Maisa
Walking all day can be tiring, and sometimes, some things are best appreciated by slowing down and taking time to admire them.
This is exactly what you can do by visiting Kakis Maisa, a craft beer bar situated right outside the Swedish Gate and alongside the Old Town walls.
Founded by the craft brewery TEIKA, the bar serves as a meeting point for anyone willing to discover the craftsmanship of Latvian beer. They offer beers from several small and independent breweries scattered throughout the nation, an impressive feat that also guarantees something for everyone.
Whether you want to experience Latvian beer or just take a break before you keep going with all the places to visit in Riga, a stop at Kakis Maisa is a great choice.
Discover Riga’s Most Ancient Buildings at the Three Brothers
Latvian myths come once again into play when learning about the Three Brothers, a group of three adjacent houses considered the oldest Medieval dwelling houses in Riga.
The story here is that these three houses were all built by different members of the same family throughout the centuries, from which comes the name.
The first of the houses was built at the end of the the 15th century, while the other two were both built in the 17th century, only a few decades apart.
What’s unique about the Three Brothers is that they all display different architectural styles and influences, reflecting the period in which they were built.
In fact, the Three Brothers today host the Latvian Museum of Architecture. Unfortunately, the name suggests a much more grand exhibition than it is, but the exteriors are still definitely worth a visit.
Get a Fresh Perspective with a Boat Ride
It might not be comparable to Venice, but even Riga has a canal.
Not far from the openness of the Baltic Sea, the river Daugava in Riga is a magical place to have a boat ride. The relaxed atmosphere while still being in the city helps to experience it differently, to see the top attractions in Riga from a point of view that many skip.
The river Daugava offers perfect views of the skyline of the Old Town and the famous bridges connecting Riga. Some sights, such as Riga’s Pils are best seen from this perspective.
The boat ride then continues in the only canal of Riga, which circumnavigates the Old Town passing through some of the best parks in the city.
I think it would be perfect to go on one of these boat rides in Riga during the winter, as everything is still under blankets of snow.
Learn Military History at the Latvian War Museum
Opening Hours: 10:00 to 18:00
Admission Fee: free
Riga has plenty of interesting museums, from the classic to the most extravagant ones. The Latvian War Museum is among the best in the city.
Located in the Powder Tower, a 14th-century tower along the city walls, the museum is free to enter, and it’s a perfect way to spend one hour learning about the history of Latvia as a whole.
The museum contains information about the Latvian military during several conflicts in history, from the 13th century to the present day, even including a section about the war in Ukraine.
My favorite exhibition was about war medicine, which had plenty of objects on display showing how far it has come and what those heroic people had to work with.
Every room has mostly Latvian signs, but there are little books at the entrance of them in different languages.
Go on a Day Trip
Latvia has plenty to offer outside of Riga, and the good train and bus network of the country makes most main towns and attractions in west and north Latvia reachable in a couple of hours.
However, I recommend renting a car and going on a road trip through Latvia. Many unique places are outside of the reach of public transportation, and having a car enables you to dedicate as much time as you want to every stop.
There is lots of variety for day trips from Riga.
if you’re looking forward to spending a beach day, Jurmala has some of the best beaches in the country and is easily reachable by direct train in just over half an hour.
If it’s not the season for sunbathing anymore or you just aren’t interested, it’s time to discover the rest of Latvia’s nature by going to Kemeri National Park and going on a bog walk.
Similar to marshes, bogs are wetland areas that have a soft and spongy texture throughout, mostly not capable of sustaining a heavy body.
This is exactly why wooden boardwalks were built not only in Kemeri but also in the other related National Parks with bogs, making it possible for tourists to go through these special areas safely.
The special landscape of Kemeri will leave a mark on you, as it’s one of the most unique things to do in Latvia.
But who says that day trips can only be about nature? Latvia is rich in history, and therefore the options outside of Riga to learn more about the heritage of the country are numerous.
Turaida Castle is one of the symbols of Latvia, which served throughout the Middle Ages as an economic and military center for the Archbishop of Riga. Despite it not being in its original state anymore, it’s still an impressive site with many historical exhibitions in the Castle which are worth visiting.
Find Out About Independence at the Freedom Monument
The 42.7 meters tall monument, revealed in 1935, is the central symbol of Latvian independence, obtained in 1920.
It proudly stands at the conjunction between Riga’s Old Town and modern Riga, with its intricate and meaningful design representing both the history and strength of Latvia.
The three historical regions of Latvia, Kurzeme, Vidzeme, and Latgale, are represented by the three stars held by the woman on top of the monument.
These represent a focal point of national heritage and identity, which is taken very seriously.
The Freedom Monument is surrounded by Bastejkalna Park, a relaxing environment that offers some of its best views and a good spot for taking it easy for a couple of hours.
Visit the Art Nouveau District and Albert Street
In the second half of the 19th century, the Old Town became too limiting for the growth Riga was experiencing. Needing more space for the increasing population, hundreds of buildings began to be built outside of the walls every year, and taking stylistic inspiration from nearby countries such as Germany and Finland, the Art Nouveau architecture was the one chosen for most of the expansions.
The population of Riga almost doubled in a span of 20 years entering the 20th century, making it the 5th largest city in the Russian Empire, at the time. Most citizens populated the new apartments outside of the Old Town, built with a clear urban plan and decorated with different styles of Art Nouveau architecture.
Nowadays, Art Nouveau makes up more than 30% of the buildings in Riga, giving the Latvian capital not only the world’s highest concentration of the style but also an eternally elegant and unique look.
Once outside of the old town, to the east, you’ll be immersed in Art Nouveau architecture. Enjoy strolling around looking for details on your favorite buildings, there’s plenty of choice and variety even on the same street.
The main attraction to soak in all that Art Nouveau has to offer is definitely Albert Street. Alberta Iela, as it’s known in Latvian, showcases a vast array of variations within the same Art Nouveau style, with each building having its own character. It never feels repetitive and overdone.
Pinnacle of Orthodox Architecture at the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ
The Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Riga is a magnificent Orthodox cathedral that is one of the most iconic landmarks in the city. It is the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Baltic states and is located in the Esplanade Park, just a few minutes outside of the Old Town.
The cathedral was built between 1876 and 1883, designed by the Russian architect Robert Pflug, and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Neo-Byzantine architecture in the Baltic region.
The cathedral’s exterior is dominated by its five golden domes, which can be seen from all over the area. The interior of the cathedral is just as impressive, with its soaring ceilings and stained-glass windows. The cathedral is also home to a number of important religious relics, including the icon of the Holy Virgin of Riga.
The Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ is an active church and is open to visitors for services and tours. It is a popular tourist destination, and for good reason. The cathedral is a stunning example of Russian Orthodox architecture and is a must-see in Riga.
Have lunch at the Central Market
Located in what were originally airship hangars a few hundred meters from the Old Town, Riga’s Central Market is one of the core elements of the city for both locals and tourists.
The Central Market is the largest market in Europe, with a variety of produce that will keep any foodie busy for days. Tens of thousands of locals shop here every day thanks to the affordable prices and the boundless availability on display, ranging from fresh vegetables and pickles, to smoked fish and all sorts of cheeses.
Each of the 5 pavilions of the Central Market has its own focal point – meat, fish, vegetables, dairy products, and homemade delicacies. Discovering them one by one catapults you into Latvian food culture as no other place can.
You can also find a handful of restaurants per pavilion, selling mostly Latvian street food, a nice addition that makes for a different experience of dining in Riga.
Double Down on Markets at Kalnciema Street Market
The Kalnciema Street Market is a vibrant and colorful market that is held every Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM in the Kalnciema Quarter, a historic neighborhood known for its wooden houses and cobblestone streets.
The market features a wide variety of vendors selling everything from fresh produce and artisanal foods to handmade crafts and souvenirs. You can find everything from fresh berries and vegetables to smoked meats and cheeses, as well as a variety of baked goods, jams, and honey.
My favorite thing to discover is that Latvia has a very active kombucha community, among other fermented foods and drinks.
There are also a number of vendors selling handmade crafts, such as jewelry and clothing.
The food in the Kalnciema comes ready to eat as well, as some kiosks prepare warm plates of traditional Latvian staples all day long.
The Kalnciema Street Market is a popular spot for both locals and tourists alike. It is a great place to experience Latvian culture and cuisine outside of the main places to see in Riga.
Where to eat in Riga – Here are some of the best restaurants in the city
Truff Le Pig
Located in the Art Nouveau district, this is a wine bar that offers a wide range of wine and champagne, with a heavy emphasis on natural wine, and the less common orange wine.
The food you can order alongside your degustation is just as special as the wine. Several different options of small plates with high-quality ingredients, a perfect pairing for the wine.
A Japanese restaurant wasn’t at the top of my list when I was planning to visit Riga, but after trying it I feel the urge to recommend it as a must to anyone I know.
The main dish of this Japanese restaurant is ramen, of which they have several varieties that make you drool one more than the other, but they also have rice bowls and other options.
The modern interior with great attention to detail is a pristine reflection of the cuisine, so elaborate but simple that the outcome can only be elegance.
I had one of the best ramen of my life at Shoyu.
Late Night Munchies
We all happen to be hungry late at night, possibly after being out partying or on a night tour of the city, and Late Night Munchies has us covered.
They serve mainly burgers and kebabs with sides of fries, which I can confidently say have little to no rivals in Riga. They have perfected their formula and they have found a proper balance between each part of the dishes.
It was a pleasure to see them work with their small open kitchen, or grill might be more accurate, serving all the night owls around.
It gets packed late in the evening, so time your visit carefully.
The Old Town of Riga has several great dining options, and Old Traditions was one of my favorites.
They propose traditional Russian cuisine done in a modern but authentic way. The menu is large, with extensive options for each category that all look delicious.
They also offer some more uncommon dishes that even people who are more familiar with Eastern European ingredients aren’t accustomed to, such as duck dumplings, herring salad, deer sausage, and more.
Rokot Seafood restaurant
A fun and colorful restaurant serving some of the best fish in Riga, Rokot restaurant is a great option to taste the catches coming from the Baltic Sea cooked in any way you can think.
Paired with its affordable prices, Rokot should be on every list for everyone who enjoys fish.
Where to stay in Riga
Blue Bird Hostel is a hostel in the center of the Old Town, perfect to stay right next to all the things to see and do in Riga. It’s one of the only hostels in Vecriga, and its affordable price makes it a great option for everyone.
Revelton Suites is a desirable option for anyone who wants more comfort and privacy but still wants to stay in the center of Riga’s Old Town.
The modern suites are fully equipped and even include a kitchen.
The best option in this range while staying near the Old Town is Radisson Blu Elizabete Hotel, which with its spacious and modern rooms complemented by a variety of services, such as a sauna, assures that every guest has the best experience while visiting the city.