There are many incredible things to do in Riga. The capital of Latvia is a fantastic mixture of history, tradition and modernity, to which you should add a buzzing cultural scene, fantastic dining opportunities and great nightlife.
This is the country’s biggest city: about a third of the total population of Latvia lives in Riga. In fact, it’s the most populated city of the three Baltic States. It has kept its identity while welcoming tourists as well as new residents who decided to move there.
Exploring Riga, you will be able to uncover the many layers of its history. Latvia has seen Swedish, Russian, Nazi and Soviet occupation and you’ll find hints of the occupation history across the city center. You will notice that next to medieval buildings there are some art nouveau ones that that back to the time when Riga started expanding beyond what is now known as Vecrīga, the Old Town.
Scattered around town there are many beautifully kept parks where locals and tourists alike enjoy spending time when the weather is nice. And the river that flows through the city is a perfect place to go for a walk or a bike ride.
In this post, I highlight some of the things to do in Riga, Latvia – keep in mind that this is only a selection based on my experience, and that more will be added once I visit the city again. At the end of the post you will find some tips on how to plan a trip there.
Make sure to read this budget tours of Riga guide.
25 Fabulous Things To Do In Riga, Latvia
Go for a walk in the Old Town
Riga Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Much of the Old Town was destroyed during World War II, but after Latvia’s independence it was almost completely restored.
Vecrīga, as the locals call it, is a maze of narrow, cobbled alleys packed with colorful buildings, beautiful squares, and churches. There, you will be able to find some of the best museums in town as well as lovely small shops, restaurants, cafés and bars.
It’s a lovely part of town to wander around and get lost for a day, exploring aimlessly and just taking in the atmosphere, discovering the main sights as well as the most hidden corners – that’s why I recommend starting your exploration from there.
Once you got a good feel for the Old Town, you should explore it more in depth and visit the most famous attractions, which I am highlighting below.
If you’d rather go on a guided tour of Riga Old Town, this is a good selection from which you can pick:
Climb to St. Peter’s Church viewing platform
One of the best things to do in Riga is seeing it from above. Now, this is easier said than done in a country where the highest peak is 311 meters and in a city that is virtually flat. However, rumor has it that the best views of Riga are from the viewing platform of St. Peter’s Church. This church, located in the heart of the Old Town, is one of the most iconic buildings in the city.
The church is open Monday to Saturdays from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, and 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm on Sundays (or 7:00 pm in the summer months). The entry fee is €9 and this gives access to the church, the exhibit and the platform from where you can take in the incredible views of the city.
TIP: If you are keen on getting inside and on the viewing platform make sure to check that St. Peter’s church is open on the day of your visit. Keep in mind that it is closed on national holidays – I wasn’t actually able to get on the viewing platform as I happened to be there on 23 June, which is a public holiday for the celebration of the summer solstice.
Visit the Cathedral of Riga
Riga is packed with churches – I think I lost count of how many I walked by when I was visiting. The Cathedral is in the Old Town, so there is no excuse to miss it – visiting is one of the things to do in Riga.
Built in the 13th century, the church is famous for the beautiful wooden organ that was installed in the 1880s. It is the seat of the Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. It underwent several modifications throughout the centuries.
Find the Three Brothers
The iconic Three Brothers are located in Mazā Pils Street. These are three buildings that are thought to be among the oldest complex of houses in town – they were built between the 15th and the 17th century.
The houses are honestly impossible to photograph because they are located in a very narrow street – you will need a very good wide angle lens if you want to take a good photo. But they are a nice sight nonetheless. Inside you will find a museum of architecture.
Admire the House of the Blackheads
This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Riga, built around 1330 century by an association of unmarried merchants which used it as a meeting place and for social gatherings.
The buildings underwent various modifications in the 16th and 19th century and it was almost completely destroyed during a raid by the German forces in 1941. It was only rebuilt after the end of the Soviet occupation, and finished in 1999.
Hang out in Town Hall Square
The Town Hall Square is where the beautiful House of the Blackheads is located. The square has been completely rebuilt as it was destroyed during WWII. This is the place where Riga used to light its Christmas tree for centuries – now, a stone remains to show where the tree used to be located, but unless you know it is there you won’t really notice it. It’ also where the Town Hall is located.
Located in the Town Square you will find the famous House of the Blackheads which I have mentioned above, and the Museum of the Occupation, which I will talk about more in depth below. You’ll also see the statue of a knight which intends to represent the Medieval privileges which Riga used to have. Make sure to go – it’s among the unmissable things to do in Riga.
Pass through the Swedish Gate
The Swedish Gate, which is located in the Old Town. This takes its name from the time during which Latvia was under the control of Sweden. Back in Medieval times the city was protected by a wall and protective towers were built around it. There were various gates to enter the city, and the only remaining one is the Swedish Gate, which was actually built in 1698.
As the city expanded, the old walls and towers were of no use so they were destroyed – but right by the Swedish Gate there used to be the apartment of the city executioner, who according to legend would place a red rose on his window any time there was an execution.
Try Black Balsam
Trying Black Balsam at Black Magic is definitely one of the things to do in Riga.
Black Balsam is one of the national drinks of Latvia. It’s a very strong liquor made with a mixture of various herbs, which in the past was used for medicinal purposes (hence the name balsam). The taste reminded me a bit of that of Jägermeister, and brought back memories of the glorious days in which I could hold my drink (just one, really!).
The best place to try Black Balsam is Black Magic, which used to be a pharmacy and now is a lovely chocolaterie and patisserie where you can enjoy a good tea or hot chocolate, a couple of pralines and – obviously – the country’s favorite liquor. You can even try a Black Balsam cocktail. It’s open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm every day.
Walk by the Powder Tower
One of the most intriguing sights in Riga is the Powder Tower. This tower got its name in the 17th century when it was used to store gunpowder. It’s more than 25 meters tall and it has a diameter of more than 14 meters.
The tower was also used as a prison and torture chamber, and to store weapons until 1883. If you observe carefully you can also see the cannon balls that were walled in the tower to remember the Second Northern War.
Annexed to the Powder Tower there is a wing that hosts the Latvian War Museum, which is a military history museum. This is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (or 6:00 pm in the summer months) and it admission is free.
Shop at the Central Market
I always say that visiting a city’s market is a fantastic way to get to know it and the Latvian capital is no different. There is no doubt that one of the coolest things to do in Riga is visiting the Central Market. Located south of the Old Town, the building that now hosts the Central Market dates back to the 1920s.
Mind you, it is huge – factor in at least one hour to explore it. This is where you should go to buy food, to admire the colorful stalls and to try some local specialties.
The market is open Mondays to Saturdays from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm and on Sundays from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Beware of national holidays, when the market is either completely closed or not nearly as busy as you’d hope for.
Pass by the Freedom Monument
East of Riga Old Town and by a gorgeous park you’ll find the Freedom Monument, which was erected in honor of the soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence between 1918 and 1920. The monument dates back to 1935 and the area is where commemoration ceremonies take place.
Visit the Church of the Nativity of Christ
I did say before that visiting local churches is one of the things to do in Riga.
Not far from the Freedom Monument there’s the Church of the Nativity of Christ, which is very different from all other churches in town. First of all, it is an Orthodox church – so it is mostly used by the residents of Riga who are of Russian origins. The construction of the church started in 1876. You will be able to see its golden domes from a distance.
The church is currently under renovation but you can still visit it.
TIP: If you with to walk inside the church, make sure to dress modestly.
Take in the views from the Skyline Bar
There’s no doubt that among the things to do in Riga is seeing it from above.
Other than the viewing platform of St. Peter’s Church, another excellent place for views of Riga is the Skyline Bar. This is located on the 26th floor of Radisson Blu Hotel on Elizabetes, minutes walk from the Church of the Nativity of Christ. You will have to ride the panoramic elevator and then you can walk around the bar to take in the breathtaking views.
It is free to enter, but I honestly recommend sitting at one of the tables and grabbing a drink – it’s not one of the cheapest bars in town (at least not by Latvian standards!) but totally worth it.
TIP: Walk to the toilets for floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking the city.
Visit the Museum of Occupation
Visiting the Museum of Occupation is one of the things to do in Riga.
I am a strong believer that traveling doesn’t have to be just merry and fun, but that it should also imply learning about the history and culture of a place, no matter how strikingly different from ours that may be; and no matter how violent or disturbing it may be.
That’s why I encourage people to visit places such as Chernobyl, in Ukraine (though now it appears like it’s becoming the backdrop of pictures of insensitive so-called influencers – which I find extremely upsetting).
Discover more about Chernobyl in my post Everything You Need To Know To Visit Chernobyl.
If you visit Latvia, you really should make it a point to learn about its difficult past. There are a few places in town where you can do that, and you should visit at least a couple. The Museum of Occupation, which is located in the Town Hall Square, is where you can learn more about the history of the Latvia between 1940 and 1991, when it was first under Soviet occupation, then under Nazi rule and once again under Soviet occupation.
At the Museum of Occupation you will be able to browse through documents and other artifacts that testify of the difficult times during which political opponents where subject to torture, imprisoned, deported to Siberia and brutally executed.
The museum is open daily from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. There is no entry fee but you have to pay a small fee for a guided tour.
Take a tour of The Corner House
If you have time to visit just one museum when you are in Riga, then it has to be The Corner House. This is one of the things to do in Riga if you want to learn about the time of the occupation.
The Corner House is the former KGB building, and takes its name from the entry location – right on the corner of a street in the center of Riga. It’s a building that was first used by the Nazi and then by the Soviet regime to interrogate, torture, imprison and kill anybody who was suspected to be a political opponent.
Relatives of people who had disappeared would go to The Corner House to enquire about their loved ones, but it was a well known fact that the majority people who entered that building would never exit it – not alive at least.
The Corner House is open every day from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. You can enter the permanent exhibition on the ground floor for free; but for a more in depth visit you need to join a guided tour which lasts little over one hour. I recommend booking it in advance.
Keep in mind that much like other museums in town, The Corner House is closed on national holidays.
For more places to visit in Latvia, check out my post A Guide To The Things To Do In Latvia.
Admire the Art Nouveau scattered around town
Walking around Riga you’ll often notice people staring up, looking at buildings. If you look in the same direction, you’ll quickly realize that they are staring at one of the 800 Art Nouveau buildings scattered around town. In other words, Riga is an Art Nouveau extravaganza and if you like this style, you’ll be in for a treat. There is little doubt that one of the top things to do in Riga is admiring the many examples of art nouveau.
Most Art Nouveau buildings in Riga date back to the time when the city started expanding beyond the Old Town, thanks to an incredible financial growth. The new upper middle class was looking for buildings to show off their wealth and they invested in gorgeous homes with curved doorways and windows, floral reliefs and statues of women and all the typical traits of this artistic trend.
Most Art Nouveau of Riga can be found north and east of the Old Town. Some of the best examples are on Elizabetes street.
If you are into Art Nouveau, I recommend joining a guided tour to make the most of what Riga has to offer. These are some excellent tours:
Especially in Albert Street
If admiring Art Nouveau is one of the things to do in Riga, head to Albert Street. It’s a small street, really – you can walk it in a matter of a couple of minutes. Unless you end up marveling at the many examples of Art Nouveau that all seem to be located there.
The street dates back to 1901 and most of the buildings were designed by Mikhail Eisenstein. Among the palaces you should observe there are those located on civic numbers 1 (built in 1901), 2a (built in 1906), 4 (built in 1904), 8 (built in 1903) and 12.
Visit Žanis Lipke Memorial
Visiting the Žanis Lipke Memorial is one of the things to do in Riga to learn about an interesting part of its past.
This small museum is located on the small Ķīpsala island in Riga. It was opened in 2012 to commemorate the life and doings of Žanis Lipke, who saved a number of Jews from deportation by hiding them in a shelter (first a woodshed then an actual bunker) right next to his house.
TIP: Make sure to check whether the museum is open on the day you intend to visit. Žanis Lipke Memorial is honestly a bit hard to find and out of the center of Riga, and you may discover upon getting there that it’s actually closed. To get there, follow the signs on the wooden planks scattered around Ķīpsala island.
Marvel at the National Library building
Walking along the Daugava River you can spot a building in the shape of a sail. I kept wondering what it was until I actually went to check it out, and discovered it’s the building of the National Library. If the building is cool to look at, the views of Riga from it are just as great.
You will need to get a temporary pass to get in, but then can wander around the various floors and rooms that have stunning views of the city.
Stare at the Radio and TV Tower in the distance
Another building you will notice as you walk along the River is a tall antenna-looking building. This is Riga Radio and TV Tower, which is located at Zaķusala and was built between 1979 and 1989 – though it first started broadcasting in 1986 (however, documents revealed that its existence was thought necessary since 1967).
With its 368 meters, Riga Radio and TV Tower is the highest one in the European Union, and a sight you will notice pretty much no matter where you are in town.
Walk along Kengaraga Promenade
One of the things you will definitely appreciate in Riga is how much nature there is within the city, which is packed with beautifully kept parks that regularly attract local families, young couples and tourists alike.
If city parks are nice places to hang out, one of the things to do in Riga is going on a walk along Kengaraga Promenade. It’s a nice, long walk that goes along the river and goes to one of Riga’s prettiest neighborhoods (Kengaraga). You can get there from the Old Town if you follow the foot and bike path along the river, going south.
You will see lots of small river hangouts – places where the locals enjoy a bit of sun and fresh air and feel a million miles away from the city. Chances are you will be the only tourist around – if anything, because there is no information about it in English online!
Though public transportation in Riga works well, the best way to move around is by bike. Bike lanes are pretty much everywhere and drivers seem to be quite aware of the presence of bikes. Biking is a fast, easy, budget and environmentally friendly way to go from one place to the other and visit all the main tourist attractions in town.
There are several places where you can rent bikes in Riga, and there even is an app called Nextbike that you can use to locate the nearest bike to rent. I don’t recommend the app though, as it is still in its developing stages and quite glitchy.
Cross the gorgeous bridges
The Daugava River flows through Riga, and with it come several gorgeous looking bridges from where you can catch a beautiful view of the city and which are an impressive sight in and of themselves. My favorite ones are the Iron Railway Bridge, which was first inaugurated in 1914 and shelled during WWI and WWII and rebuilt each time – it’s 600 meters long; and Vanšu Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge which is 595 meters long and connects downtown Riga with Ķīpsala island.
Have a fabulous meal
There are plenty of good restaurants in Riga and if you feel hungry you are bound to find something for you. The Central Market is the perfect place to entertain your taste buds trying some local bites, but if you are looking for something a bit more filling you should sit down at one of the many beautiful restaurants in town.
Here are some places I have tried, tested and approved:
Eating local food is one of the things to do in Riga. Paviljons Ziedoņdārzs, in Aleksandra Čaka iela 100 is located at the center of a beautiful park. You will find many local staples cooked with a modern twist. Service is quick and the staff incredibly friendly.
Fazenda, in Baznīcas iela 14, is a nice, quirky looking restaurant with extremely friendly staff. You will find a great selection of local staples and international cuisine. The atmosphere is very easygoing – I loved the background music!
Kas dārzā, in Radio iela 1, has an extensive menu of Latvian and international cuisine, with ample choice to satisfy any kind of palate. You will also find an incredible selection of cocktails and a good wine list. It’s located at the side of a beautiful park, so in the summer time you can grab a table outside.
Fat Pumpkin, in Grēcinieku iela 11 in the heart of Riga Old Town, is a 100% vegan restaurant where you will find a selection of burgers and other ethnic food, as well as good desserts. It’s a bit more expensive than the local average, and service is a bit slow – but it’s worth waiting.
Street Burgers is a local chain and you will find several locations scattered around town. You can pick among the many burgers – they even have vegetarian and vegan options – or build your own. It’s budget friendly, quick, and extremely tasty.
Get out of town to explore Gauja National Park
Among the nicest things to do in Riga, there’s getting out of town. Don’t get me wrong – Riga didn’t give me the impression of a particularly stressful city, but it’s nevertheless nice to get out of the city for a day (or more) to enjoy everything else that Latvia has to offer.
One of the best places you can go for an easy day trip from Riga is Gauja National Park, which is the largest national park in the country, with several access points and can be reached in around one hour from Riga. Gauja National Park is a great place to hike, bike and just spend time in the pristine nature and enjoy clean air.
Make sure to also read my posts A Complete Guide To Cesis, Latvia and 15 Fantastic Day Trips From Riga.
Where to stay in Riga
Riga has some very good accommodation options and you won’t have a hard time finding something to suit your needs and budget. I have tried a few places in town and they were all good – though I have my preferences.
Here are a few places I recommend:
- Tallink Hotel is located a bit outside Riga Old Town. It’s a large business style hotel with comfortable modern rooms and an excellent breakfast buffet. For an additional price, you can have brunch on Sundays.
- Art Garden Rooms is a lovely small bed and breakfast located at about 15 minutes walk from Riga Old Town. Rooms are all different, very large and comfortable and the overall place is spotless. Breakfast is scrumptious – much better than hotel breakfast. It would be my first choice if I travel to Riga again.
- Tree House is a nice, well kept hostel in Riga Old Town. There is a twin and even a family room and a selection of dorms, all of them very clean. It’s perfect for travelers on a smaller budget.
Best time to visit Riga
I visited Riga in June and enjoyed the long, sunny days and pleasant temperatures. Since enjoying the outdoors is one of the things to do in Riga, that is a perfect time to visit Latvia and spend some time in Riga.
The atmosphere is supposed to be truly magic in the winter, when it snows, and I am curious to experience that as well. All in all I think any time is a good time to visit Riga!
How to get to Riga
Riga International Airport is at about 13 km and 20 minutes drive from the center or Riga. The airport is well connected to the rest of the Europe and the world via regular and budget flights, with direct flights to most European capitals as well as Russia, Turkey and Israel.
There are regular ferry connections between Stockholm and Riga.
By train or bus
Riga is connected via a web of bus routes to other cities in the Baltic as well as to Russia and Belarus by trail.
How to get to Riga City Center from the airport
You can easily reach Riga City Center from the airport. Below are all the options you have.
Once you exit the main terminal, you will find taxis waiting for passengers to be taken to the city. The ride lasts about 20 minutes. Make sure to check the fares which are usually written outside the vehicle.
By private transfer
Another way of getting to Riga from the airport is by private transfer. Prices vary depending on the size of the group. You can check the fares here.
Several buses connect Riga airport to the town center. You can use bus n. 22 and minibuses n. 322 and 241. You can buy the ticket in advance (it costs €1.15) or directly on the bus (where it costs €2). There is a bus every 15 minutes with more frequent buses during peak hours.
How to move around Riga
The best way to explore Riga is on foot, and the city if very pedestrian friendly with very large pavements. Alternatively, you can rent a bike and make use of the excellent web of bike lanes.
Other useful information
As always, make sure to get a good travel insurance for all your trips. Get yours here.
Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.
For more readings about Riga and Latvia in general, head over to the website of the Tourism Board of Latvia.
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Tourism Board of Latvia when I visited Riga and I wish to thank them for showing me all the classic sights and the most undiscovered and unique places. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post are my own.