When you mention Riga, most people still think of a grey, former Soviet bloc city with equally grey inhabitants. This could not be further from the truth. Yes, there is still evidence of the Communist era but this is wound intricately into a long and fascinating history that is obvious throughout different areas of the city. There are so many things to do in Riga and modern day Latvians are keen to show you around and tell you about their country. So read on to prepare yourself for a fantastic trip to the Baltics.
What do you learn in this article?
BIG5 Things to do in Riga
You don’t want to miss the sights? Find all tips, maps and your checklist for your city trip to Riga here:
BIG5 Riga – Speed Date
The different types of architecture found across the city including slanted medieval buildings, art nouveau designs, traditional, wooden houses and soviet towers
It can get a little busy with tourists during peak season in the compact old town
Browse the beautiful amber ornaments and jewellery
Hail a taxi. They can spot a tourist a mile off and you may end up paying a lot more than you should. Most places are walkable but public transport is good or use Bolt for convenience
Don’t tell your mother:
Like most cities, pickpockets can be a problem during busy seasons. Be sensible
BIG5 Riga – Rapid Fire Q&A
- Is it worth a short trip to Riga? – Yes absolutely. You can walk around most of Riga and take in many of the sites on foot
- How many days should you plan for Riga? – Two full days and 3 nights would be perfect. It is quite a compact city
- Can Riga be combined with other travel destinations? – Yes, there is a bus you can catch to Tallinn, Estonia. It takes under 4 hours and has a TV and AC on every seat. Or head south to Vilnius, Lithuania, in a similar fashion
- Is it safe to be a tourist in Riga? – Yes, except for the usual pickpockets during busy seasons. The city is considered very safe but take a little more care in the Moscow District
- Is public transport easy to use? – Yes, there is a network of buses and trams that will cost €1.15 per ticket when bought before boarding. However, the old town and surrounding area can easily be explored on foot
BIG5 Riga – Orga
Best travel time
The summer weather in June, July and August is great but perhaps a little busy with tourists. April / May and September / October are quieter if you don’t mind the cooler weather.
Arrival & Departure
Visa: Check here if you need a visa for Latvia with your passport
- Flight: Many airlines fly to Riga (IATA: RIX) every day
- Bus: From / to Tallinn / Estonia (3x daily, ~ 4 hours, ~ 10-20 Euro)
- Bus: From / to Vilnius / Lithuania ((once daily, ~ 4 hours, ~ 10-20 Euro)
- Ferry: With the major Baltic Sea ferry lines from Scandinavia and the Baltic States such as Viking Line, Stena Line and Tallink / Silja Line
Recommended location: Directly in the Old town of Riga to have all the sights in walkable distance
- Budget: Tree House (Kaļķu iela 11a (4th floor), Riga, LV-1050; 10€ dorm), excellent location in the heart of Riga’s old town, breakfast included!
- Budget: Wicked Weasel Hostel (Vaļņu iela 41, Riga, LV-1050; 22€ dorm), new interior, great location in the old town and close to bus terminal
- Budget: Allure Rooms & Coffee (11 Miesnieku iela, Riga, LV-1050; 30€ DZ), great 3* pension in Riga’s old town
- Medium: Relais Le Chevalier (Kaļķu iela 20, Riga, LV-1050; 60€ DZ), very well equipped and stylishly furnished hotel in the center
- Nobel: Sherlock Art Hotel (Maza Monētu iela 3, Riga, LV-1050; 105€ DZ), rooms are very stylishly decorated with sherlock holmes motifs, great experience
In Latvia you pay with Euro (EUR)
Withdraw money: Easily possible at the airport and at ATMs in the city
Beer indicator: A pint of beer in a restaurant or bar ranges from 2€ – 4€
Costs for public transport: A single ticket costs 1.15€ when bought in a kiosk/shop before boarding. If you buy from the driver (old trams only) it will cost €2
Restaurants, Bars & Cafés
- Rasols (Strēlnieku street 9, Riga, Latvia-1010) – Art Nouveau interior serving soviet style cuisine
- Double coffee (Vaļņu iela 11, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050) – great for Breakfast, coffee and deserts
- Crumble Cake (Jāņa iela 14, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050) – Coffee, Latvian crumble cake and eclectic living room décor
- Skyline Bar (Elizabetes iela 55, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1010) – Amazing view over the city and plenty of fun cocktails
- Visums (Alberta iela 13, Riga, Latvia-1010) excellent, regional food with reasonable pricing
BIG5 Riga – Activities
- Old Town – wander down the winding, cobbled streets and stop for a coffee and cake
- Central Market – peruse the vast markets set up in old airship hangars
- Art Nouveau District – marvel at the detail on the stunning facades throughout this area
- Stroll along the City canal and trough Bastejkalns Park
- Explore Moscow District – the old Russian quarter of Riga. Famous for its wooden buildings and old-world charm
BIG5 Riga – Photo spots
- St. Peter’s Church take the lift to the viewing platform up the tower to be able to capture the skyline of the old town and the river
- Skyline Bar for fantastic panoramas over the city, great at sunset and night
- Moscow District full of old, creaking wooden houses, like a trip back in time; Academy of Sciences view deck
- Art Nouveau District intricate and ornate buildings on every corner
- Old Town full of cute narrow alleys. Make sure to find the 3 Brothers and the House of the Blackheads for a snap
BIG5 Riga – Things to do off the beaten track
- Visit the impressive building of National Library of Latvia, the “Castle of Light”
- Huskies – take half a day to meet the furries. They will take you through the Latvian country side with or without snow
- Climb to the 17th Floor of the Academy of Sciences to take snaps of the city from the Balcony
- Explore Riga from another perspective with a river and canal cruise
- Enjoy the vibe of Kalnciema Quarter with nice food
BIG5 Riga – Culinary Journey
- Rasol – potato salad with layers of meat or fish (usually herring), hard-boiled eggs and vegetables mixed in with mayonnaise and sour cream
- Black Balsam – a vodka-based liqueur made with herbs including pepper, ginger and linden flower. Not for the faint hearted!
- Rye bread pudding – a dessert of sweetened rye bread, apples, cinnamon, raisins, plums, cranberries, and whipped cream
- Karbonade – pretty much a delicious Latvian schnitzel, the pork is pounded flat and then fried in breadcrumbs
- Pickles and Sauerkraut – plenty of choice at the Central Market so pick up a selection and try a few
BIG5 Riga – Communication
- thank you – Paldies / Liels paldies
- yes – Jā
- no – Nē
- hello – Sveiki
- goodbye – Uz redzēšanos
BIG5 Riga – Helpful Websites / Links
- Official Tourist Website of Riga
- Official Website of Latvian tourism
- Enjoy the Huskies: Tour trough Latvian woodland
BIG5 Riga – Overview Map for your planning
ONE perfect DAY in RIGA 🇱🇻 – here is your overview:
Best suited for a screenshot 📷📝
Your morning in Riga
- Visit the Old town
- Town Hall Square
- Marvel the House of the Blackheads
- St Peter’s Church & Riga Cathedral
- The Three Brothers (oldest dwellings in Riga)
- Cat House & narrow alleys of Old Town
- Have a coffee and cake at one of the many cafes
- Enjoy the Art Nouveau District
- Relax in Bastejkalns Park
Your afternoon in Riga
- Walk from the Old town to Riga Central Market
- Alternative 1: Moscow District
- Riga Central Market
- The Academy of Sciences (viewpoint on the 17th floor)
- The remains of the Great Choral Synagogue
- Alternative 2: Enjoy the Huskies
- Take a ride with the huskies through Latvian woodland
- Climb the viewing tower looking over the forest
Your evening in Riga
- Bars and restaurants of the Old town
- Try some Riga Black Balsam if you’re feeling brave
Click on the icon in the top left corner to use the full range of map options!
A Whistle-Stop tour of things to do in Wonderful Riga
This article is published for you in cooperation with Katy from The Balkans and Beyond.
Arrival in Latvia’s beautiful capital
We arrive at Riga bus station after a 4-hour journey from Kaunas, Lithuania. The international bus station is right next to the Central Market and relatively close to the old town so is very convenient. Short on time, we jump in an Uber/Bolt and head to the Art Nouveau District, where we’re staying.
It’s nearly dinner time and getting dark already so we head out in search of food. Even in the dark the art nouveau architecture is striking in its intricacy and detail.
After a short stroll through the quiet, cobbled neighbourhood, we come across a small restaurant called Rasoul. This place serves soviet food with a twist set in an amazing art nouveau interior. Definitely worth a visit but make sure you bring cash as card is not accepted.
An early night is required so we head back to our cosy apartment, which is set in a traditional, Latvian wooden house. Tomorrow we visit the huskies!
Things to do in Riga in the morning
Explore the rich history of Riga Old Town
We wake up early to give us plenty of time to enjoy a big breakfast at our local Double Coffee. After eating far too much, we are fully prepped for the busy day we have planned and we begin walking to our first destination – Riga’s Old town.
Within walking distance from our apartment in the Art Nouveau area we wander to the castle which lies on the banks of the River Daugava. Despite dating from the 14th century it has been heavily renovated. It is worth a quick look but doesn’t merit much of our limited time, so we move on.
The centre of the Old town is worth every minute. Whilst exploring, we stop by Town Hall Square to admire the oddly named House of the Blackheads. Much more attractive than it sounds, this 14th century building was beautifully restored after being destroyed during the war. Ambling along the narrow, cobbled streets there is something around every corner. Around this particular corner is a café called Crumble Cake. Taking a seat in the kitsch, little room we order the traditional, fruit filled crumble and a coffee and relax for a while.
Continuing our wander through the enticing streets of the Old town we stroll through narrow alleys dating back centuries. We pass the impressive St Peter’s Church which has been here, in some form, since 1209. You can climb to the top for a great view over the Old town which is a great opportunity to take some snaps. Another corner takes us to the “Three Brothers”, three of the oldest dwellings in Riga dating back to the late 15th century.
It’s now midday and we have an important appointment in the afternoon. So it’s time to find some lunch in one of the many restaurants in the Old town.
Things to do in Riga in the afternoon
Leave Riga to visit the Huskies
The afternoon’s activity is something that has been on the bucket list for a long time. As dog lovers, the thought of racing through the countryside with a pack of excited huskies fills us with delight. The time has finally come!
Our guide, Kristina, picks us up in her old Toyota at 13:30 sharp. As we drive towards the woodland, she tells us some interesting facts about the city she grew up in.
During Soviet times, they could only build an apartment block up to 5 stories high without installing a lift for the residents, which would be too costly, so most of the early housing had only 5 floors. A few years later that was increased to 9 stories and then later 12. That is how you can tell how old each block is. The further out of the city we go, the higher the buildings become.
As we get nearer to our destination Kristina tells us a little about the Huskies / Malamutes. They are all rescue dogs. These dogs need to walk around 20km a day to stay relaxed and are not suited to apartment living. So many of them end up in kennels. The dogs we are visiting have been trained to pull a sled in the snow or a wheeled cart over a clear woodland track.
Full speed through Latvian woodland
As we pull up, the sound of excited dogs can be heard before the car has even stopped. Climbing out of the car, about 12 – 15 dogs are ready to greet us. They vary in size, age and colour but all are equally excited! After some time playing and cuddling with them, we help to prepare the wheeled cart. It is October and there has not been a snowfall yet. But the Latvian forest is a beautiful mix of deciduous green and falling, amber leaves.
The dogs are ready and almost cannot contain their eagerness. With one word from the boss, we’re off! Grateful for the protective goggles, dirt flies off the track as the cart moves through the forest at the speed of 6 enthusiastic huskies. The dogs are now silent and focused on listening for commands which come through clear and calm. The smell of the soft pine needles on the track is somehow relaxing and the connection to nature is powerful.
After running in a 3km loop we arrive back at the start. The dogs are now content and quietly resume their place by the trees. Having been bred for this purpose it is evident how much they enjoy their work.
Kristina drives us back to the city. We chat a little on the way and discover that Latvians and Scots have a similar passion for all things alcoholic. She gives us some recommendations for things to do in Riga in the evening and places to visit on our next stop, Tallinn.
Things to do in Riga: Have a relaxed evening
An evening at the Skyline Bar had been recommended so we make our way there in time to watch the sun set, which is quite early in October.
The bar is buzzing and seats at the windows are scarce. We recommend that you book in advance for the best seats. We decided to wait around for an available table with a view and it was so worth it!
Things to do in Riga: Moscow District & Central Market
For our final day in the Latvian capital we decide to check out the Moscow District.
Our first stop is Riga’s Central Market. The converted airship hangars, which house the stalls, can be seen from the river so we head in that direction.
On entering the first hangar we find the stalls jam-packed with everything you can imagine. The high ceilings make for great acoustics and the market is bustling and full of life. The stalls are roughly split into categories with different hangars selling different wares. We spent a lot of time in the fresh food area where you can buy fruit, vegetables, pickles, baked goods, and anything else you might desire.
After another 5-minute walk and out the other side of the market we enter the Moscow district. Perhaps preceded by is reputation, known to be a little rough around the edges, there are no other tourists to be seen. Strolling through the quiet streets, passed old, warped, wooden houses it feels like another point in history.
The central focus of the area seems to be the soviet style building housing the Academy of Sciences – also nicknamed ‘Stalin’s birthday cake’. You can climb to the balcony of the 17th floor for a good view over the city.
The remains of the Great Choral Synagogue are also contained within this district. During the Nazi occupation of Latvia, the Synagogue was destroyed and a Ghetto was swiftly set up to hold the Jews of Riga before deportation.
Leaving the past behind we head for the International bus terminal where we wait for our journey to Tallinn to begin.
You are interested in Tallinn? Go on reading here on the Best things to do in TALLINN – Itinerary for one day or on Krista the Explorer.
About the author:
This article on “A whistle-stop tour of wonderful Riga” was written by reader Katy Kuhlwilm from The Balkans and Beyond. On her blog, Katy shares exciting stories and practical travel tips for people thinking of travelling to and around the Balkans.
Follow Katy on Instagram (@thebalkansandbeyond) and her blog!
So you haven’t considered visiting Riga / Latvia before? Let’s go, you see what you’ve missed outso far 🇱🇻
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