The largest city in the Baltic States and Latvia’s capital, Riga, is a metropolis filled with wonders. It has a fascinating residual vibe from its past as part of different empires. Founded in the 13th century, its history includes being a member of the Hanseatic League, part of the Kingdom of Sweden, Russia. In the 20th century, it was the capital of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. Because of its history, there’s a very strong and fascinating narrative surrounding freedom. Find 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 bank, 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 and a must in any Riga travel guide!
A Riga Travel Guide for European Travellers!
This Riga travel guide is perfect for European travel lovers who want to escape for a weekend. The city is easily walkable and very cute and cosy. The old town is a beaut in cobblestone, picturesque streets and lovely buildings. This Baltic gem is also a very green city that’s surrounded by water. Here, you’ll find lots of great eateries, cafés, cocktail bars and spas – so you’re in for a treat.
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Traveling to Riga – How to get here?
Serving the largest city in the Baltic states, every Riga travel guide will tell you the airport is also the most important in the region. It hosts flights from most of Europe’s major capitals and key cities like Milan and Barcelona. There are also 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. Every Riga travel guide will tell you are several available in the airport, including buses, taxis and group shuttles.
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 and it’s a Riga travel guide gem. It mixes Scandinavian-inspired details and materials to more hip surroundings, including graffiti walls and contemporary urban art. All this is inside a lovely colorful building with brick bones, where the ambiance has been carefully crafted to make you feel relaxed. The rooms are modern and cosy and the facilities are top-notch.
Although the hotel has a few downsides like the service and room food, 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. If you’ve grown tired of the hearty potatoes and pork Latvian diet, there’s a lot more. You’ll find an 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. The food here is chemical-free, using local ingredients, and using as much of each product as possible. 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. 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 on my Riga travel guide below.
1. 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 these have small colorful houses right next to them for a uniquely local look. A Riga travel guide tip: there’s a very romantic glow in the sunset and evening!
2. Riga’s Famous Buildings & Churches
Perhaps the most famous spot on any Riga travel guide is located in Old Town: the House of Blackheads. This place once hosted the local branch of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild of merchants, ship owners and foreigners. Back in the Middle Ages, this venue 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 on any Riga travel guide. Among them are The Big Guild and The Little Guild (both related to the Blackheads, and the former now hosts the Latvian Philharmonic). Also, the beautiful Bastejkalns Park, Torna Iela street (where the Swedish Gate is located) and, of course, the gorgeous churches! The big dome at the Riga Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral is an impressive sight. St. Peter’s Church is an imposing construction 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). There are also a lot of cute boutique hotels reconstructed from old buildings on this Riga travel guide and beyond.
3. The Silent Centre – A Must See in Riga!
The Silent Centre is a wholly different animal, and any Riga travel guide will tell you of its beauty. 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 is in the Centre area, in the vicinity of the Radisson Blu Hotel. Here, you can find different places to buy unique little trinkets you won’t find anywhere else. This is also where the trendy Japanese restaurant COD is located. Although we couldn’t give it a try (we dropped by on a Sunday and it was closed), it looked really great!
4. The Freedom Monument – A Must in Any Riga Travel Guide
There are also a few iconic Riga travel guide landmarks in the Centre. The Freedom Monument, in particular, is one of the most interesting. It’s a memorial for the fallen soldiers of the Latvian War of Independence, which took place between 1918 and 1920. Visiting it is among the most popular things to do in Riga.
5. Get Some Artsy Vibe at the National Museum of Art
For art lovers this is a must among things to do in Riga. It is not only the inside that is impressive. So is the outside and I loved the huge stairs! A photo here is a must in any Riga Travel Guide.
6. Explore the Esplanade Park & the Grand Nativity Cathedral!
The Centre also hosts the Esplanade Park, only a block away from the Freedom Monument. This is a beautiful metropolitan park from the early 20th century that hosts a variety of areas. Nowadays, it is a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike and a gem of any Riga travel guide. 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.
GET YOUR GUIDE offers truly incredible options of things to do in Riga. Get to know the royal life through the ages through the Latvian Palaces and Medieval Castles Private Tour. If you’re into more modern structures, why not go for this 3-Hour Soviet Walking Tour?
Exploring the area beyond things to do in Riga
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! You’ll find boat services during the summer and trains going there every 30 minutes or so from Riga Central Station. There are also many available one-day tours you’ll find on any local Riga travel guide.
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. However, the views are obviously breathtaking throughout the year. That’s all of the great things to do in Riga from me from my point of view – I hope you enjoyed my Riga travel guide!
More from Travel with a Silver Lining
- Head to the Latvia section of the blog to read more about this proud old nation!
- Riga is just one of many fascinating capitals on what was once the other side of the Iron Curtain. For more beauties on the region, check out my post about the Best Eastern European Cities to Visit!
- For more tips of amazing places, do not miss my top three posts! These are the Top 18 Instagram Spots in Lisbon, My Amalfi Coast Photography Guide and the Top 10 Hipster Restaurants in Moscow!
Booking & Tours
- Flight. MOMONDO offers the best rates to fly into Latvia. DOWNLOAD THEIR APP HERE!
- Transfer. Reach your Riga hotel in a moment by BOOKING AN AIRPORT TRANSFER!
- Hotels. Make your stay in Riga a perfect time by staying at the hotel of your dreams. Find it with BOOKING, right here!
- Tours. GET YOUR GUIDE offers incredible and unique experiences for you to enjoy in Latvia’s thriving capital. Why not go for this Riga Sightseeing Tour by Canal Boat?
- Check out the incredible Riga city guide from GET YOUR GUIDE, BELOW!
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