The largest city in the Baltic States and Latvia’s capital, Riga, is a metropolis filled with wonders, with an interesting residual vibe from its past as part of different empires. Founded on the 13th century, its history includes being a member of the Hanseatic League, part of the Kingdom of Sweden, Russia and most recently being the capital of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic for the better part of the 20th century. Because of its history, there’s a very strong and fascinating narrative surrounding freedom. Here is a list of things to do in Riga in this Riga travel guide!
Nowadays, you can see the remains of the different cultures that have passed through Latvia by walking Riga’s streets. The city, which is bisected by the Daugava river, is best known for its different sides: the Old town, on the east side of the river, still holds a hint of medieval times; then there’s a ring of 19th and early 20th century architecture (with a lot of Art Nouveau) and Soviet-era apartment districts. This capital’s historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Riga is perfect for European travel lovers who want to escape for a weekend: the city is easily walkable and very cute and cosy, particularly the old town with cobblestone, picturesque streets and lovely buildings. This Baltic gem is also a very green city that’s surrounded by water, with a lot of great eateries, cafés, cocktail bars and spas – so you’re in for a treat!
Traveling to Riga – How to get here?
Serving the largest city in the Baltic states, Riga’s airport is also the most important in the region, and it hosts flights from most of Europe’s major capitals, as well as key cities like Milan and Barcelona . Because of its location and close cultural and historical ties to Russia and the other Baltic states, there are a lot of flights between cities like Moscow, Vilnius and Tallinn.
The airport is 10 km away from the city center, so it can take between 15 and 40 minutes to get there, depending on which service you’re using; there are several available in the airport, including buses with different speeds, taxis and shuttles for groups.
You can also get in easily from Stockholm via ferry, and to different Russian and Baltic cities via train; however, it’s easier to travel by car to these places, perfect if you’re looking to have a road trip adventure!
Living – Where to stay?
Pullman Riga Old Town
Located at the heart of Old Riga, the Pullman Riga Old Town hosts a beautiful and modern décor, from Scandinavian-inspired details and materials to more hip surroundings, including graffiti walls and contemporary urban art, all inside a lovely colorful building with brick bones that are noticeable from the inside, where the ambiance has been carefully crafted to make you feel relaxed and at ease. The rooms are modern and cosy and the facilities are top-notch, and although the hotel has a few downsides (the service isn’t necessarily the best, and the food from room service wasn’t spectacular), its perfect location and tantalizing design really make it stand out – you can read all about it on my Pullman Riga Old Town post!
Eating & Drinking, where?
The Riga center is full of interesting dining options, mostly when it comes to updated versions of Latvian flavors (which include hearty ingredients like potatoes and pork), and there’s also a pretty interesting wave of sushi places making their way into the city’s heart. We also found Riga is a city of cafés, with a lot of love for pastries!
The focus of Restaurant 3 is to recreate the traditional flavors of Latvian cuisine the way they were intended: chemical-free, using local ingredients, and using as much of each product as possible during cooking. The result: a true treat for the taste buds! This eatery’s design mirrors its sustainable policy, with a fairly rustic ambiance in warm tones. The service is also absolutely superb, with a very professional and accommodating staff trying to make you feel completely at ease. A delicious way to get to know the Latvian capital!
With three head chefs on staff (Mārtinš Sirmais, Artūrs Trinkuns and Ēriks Dreibants), Tris Pavari hosts an open-air kitchen that’s become famous throughout Riga. The atmosphere is very relaxed and pleasant, with hipster undertones in the décor and some really inspired work in presenting the food: I fell in love with each plate the moment I received it on the table! Every dish is delicious, but it also happens to look like a little work of art, in a clear labor of love.
Muusu is such a popular hangout in the city that it hosts not one but three stories. With delicious food and a Scandinavian approach in their design (and food: their chef is also from that side of the world!), this place is great for a quiet lunch or even a romantic date in the evenings. They also have a bar with great drinks, plus a bar by the windows where you can sit on a stool and do some people-watching.
Art Café Sienna
This café located in Riga’s Art Nouveau district is a place to relax with a hot drink and feel transported to a different time. Art Café Sienna is a great spot to try a wide variety of coffees and teas, all while sitting in an old chaise and soaking up the old and romantic design, which will transport you right into a different and simpler time. Even the mugs and teapots help you get into the place’s period movie vibe. Very cosy spot with super personal service!
Parunasim – Café
We fell in love with this place to the point of returning during the same visit – we were actually here 3 times! A cute little café with two floors, Parunasim is all about pastries, sweets and love, so much so that it’s actually marketed as the most romantic café in the Latvian capital.
With delicious and homemade treats to try, a good selection of hot and even alcoholic drinks, this is the perfect place for a date during your stay in Riga. Everything here is carefully crafted to set a romantic mood, from the selection of delicious and pretty-looking desserts to the cute plates and, of course, the gorgeous design, with a lot of blues, reds and earthy tones. Whether you choose to enjoy the inner side of the café, with its brick walls and old furniture, or the little terrace with cute little outside chairs, Parunasim will get you all lovey dovey!
Read more about the above restaurants and cafés in my Riga Restaurant Review.
Best Things To Do In Riga !
In the two decades since democracy returned to Latvia, Riga has gone from being a somewhat generic glum city to the cosmopolitan gem of the Baltic States. It retains buildings and areas from centuries past that make it fascinating, including many focused on the city’s historic place as a key trade port. Riga also achieves a completely contemporary vibe with numerous restaurants, bars and shopping areas. There are a lot of things to do in Riga. I’m sharing some of them below.
The Old Town – No 1 at my things to see in Riga List!
Old Town is a lovely area to walk around in and really soak up the vibe of this beautiful city, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Connected with narrow cobblestone streets, this district is filled with impressive historic buildings that cannot be missed, many of which have small colorful houses right next to them for a uniquely local look, with a very romantic glow in the sunset and evening.
Riga’s Famous Buildings & Churches
Perhaps the most famous of all the Riga landmarks is located in Old Town: the House of Blackheads, a place that once hosted the local branch of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild of merchants, ship owners and foreigners from the Middle Ages that was a great commercial power in Estonia and Latvia back in the day.
There are many iconic buildings around this House that are also must visits during your time in Riga, including The Big Guild and The Little Guild (both related to the Blackheads, and the former now hosts the Latvian Philharmonic), the beautiful Bastejkalns Park, Torna Iela street (where the Swedish Gate is located) and, of course, old European capitals always have gorgeous churches! The big dome at the Riga Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral is an impressive sight, and St. Peter’s Church is an imposing construction built over centuries, mixing three church-building styles: Gothic, Romanesque and early Baroque.
In all, Old Town is an enchanting area, filled with great cafés and restaurants (all 3 eateries above are in this area), plus a lot of cute boutique hotels reconstructed from old buildings.
The Silent Centre – A Must See in Riga!
The Silent Centre is a wholly different animal, although also breathtaking. Newer than the more medieval Old Town, this district vibrates with the colors and architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it’s particularly known for its many examples of Art Nouveau houses. This district boasts a wide array of colors that really bring life to the whole area, which mix with those from the nearby river and park. A lovely place to walk around, and later stop by Art Café Sienna for a delicious hot beverage!
If you’re looking to shop, the best place to do this is in the Centre area, in the vicinity of the Radisson Blu Hotel, where you can find different places to buy unique little trinkets you won’t find anywhere else. This is also where trendy Japanese restaurant COD is located, and although we couldn’t give it a try (we dropped by on a Sunday and it was closed), it looked really great!
Other Popular Things To Do In Riga
There are also a few iconic landmarks in the Centre, and the Freedom Monument in particular is one of the most interesting, as it’s a memorial for the fallen soldiers of the Latvian War of Independence, which took place between 1918 and 1920. Since the monument was unveiled in the 1930s, it has been a symbol of the country’s sovereignty, even while it was later under Soviet rule for decades, a period in which the monument survived as a beacon of hope – the independence movement from the 1980s began in that very place. This is the most popular things to do in Riga.
The Centre also hosts the Esplanade Park, only a block away from the Freedom Monument, a beautiful metropolitan park from the early 20th century that hosts a variety of areas, and is now a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike. You can find statues of iconic Latvians in here, including poet Rainis, and the country’s first commander in chief, Oskars Kalpaks. There are also some fountains, resting areas and even a few places to eat, all of which are particularly lovely on the sunnier days.
If you’re visiting the Latvian capital for a bit longer, you can always make a day visit to neighboring resort city Jurmala. 25 kilometers away from Riga, it’s easy to get here from the capital, with boat services during the summer and trains going there every 30 minutes or so from Riga Central Station. There are also numerous one-day tour available for visitors.
Jurmala claims to have the longest northern European beach, with white and thin sand. While this is a fantastic escape during the hotter months of the year, it’s important to keep in mind this region is very cold during winter, although the views are obviously breathtaking throughout the year. That’s all of the great things to do in Riga from my from my point of view.