What to Do in Riga: A Complete Travel Guide
The capital of Latvia Riga, was a city that just had to grow on me. I visited during a double city trip, in combination with Tallinn.
Because I’d had such a good time in dreamy Tallinn, Riga had big shoes to fill. But I am happy to report that I enjoyed the city and am here to share all my tips on what to do in Riga!
Take a quick look at my Riga travel guide. You”ll find the coolest sights, the best things to do and my tips for restaurants & hotels!
Riga Travel Guide: Tips for Visiting
How to Get to Riga
Riga is the capital of Latvia and has more than 640,000 inhabitants, about 1 / 3rd of the total population of the country. The easiest way to reach Riga is via the airport: Riga International Airport.
From Amsterdam there is a flight twice a day with Air Baltic. I have flown Air Baltic and I like it well enough. The flight takes 2 hours and 15 minutes. Tickets are usually much more expensive from Amsterdam than from Eindhoven.
From Eindhoven you can fly with Wizz Air for cheap. There is one flight per day. The flight takes 2 hours and 10 minutes.
You can then get an airport transfer to your hotel from the airport.
What to Expect in Riga
My very first impression of Riga was that I found it a bit disappointing compared to Tallinn. The capital of Estonia is simply much more beautiful, let’s be real . But I just needed to get used to Riga, and on Day 2, I enjoyed the city much more.
Riga is beautiful in its own way and has a very nice city center. The vibe is relaxed, you have nice bars to go out to. Not to mention all the beautiful Art Nouveau architecture!
In the end, I found Riga a really chill out place to relax. There is much more to see and do than in Tallinn, and yet it is less touristy. It just felt more relaxed. And it was cheaper! ;-).
Female Safety for Riga
When I asked around in my area, it turned out that Riga was primarily known as a party destination for English men at stag and hen parties. Well … I can’t completely disprove that, haha. I encountered quite a few groups of drunk men.
But I did not feel unsafe at all. Everyone behaved nicely. Now I also have to say that I didn’t go out until the middle of the night. Just like in other destinations, I would advise you not to go out on the street alone at night.
I have read that there are some pickpockets, but they seem to have catered mainly for drunk men, so just pay attention to your stuff and don’t do stupid things.
Free Walking Tour in Riga
In almost every European city that I visit, I follow a free walking tour. The one I followed from the company “Riga Free Tours” left St. Peter’s Church. They also have three different tours: Old Riga (which I followed), Alternative Riga, and the Art Nouveau tour.
I found it very interesting. Edvard, our tour guide, was very funny, gave us good information and we saw the entire center in an hour or two. Through the tour I got a much better understanding of Riga and only then did I really see the charm of the city. Big tip so! (And don’t forget to leave a tip).
If you’d prefer something smaller, try these tours:
What to Do in Riga: Places to Visit
1. The Churches of Riga
I thought it would be easy to treat all the major churches in Riga in one go.
St. Peters Church
The most famous church in Riga is the St. Peters Church (Petrikerk). It is located in the heart of the center and is also the meeting point of many free walking tours.
The church dates from the 15th century, but has experienced considerable adversity throughout the centuries: from a major fire to bombing during the Second World War. The church was renovated in 1967, and the tower also dates from that period.
You can climb the tower for a view of the city (€9).
Riga Cathedral is a large Gothic church. It is the largest Medieval church in the Baltic States. The construction of the church began in 1211 when Bishop Albert laid the foundation stone. This is the man who founded the city of Riga with his crusaders ten years earlier.
Personally, I think the Nativity Cathedral is the most beautiful church in Riga. This is built in Neo-Byzantine style, with many orthodox influences. It will not surprise you that the Orthodox Church was built between 1876 and 1883, when Latvia was part of the Russian Empire. Look especially inside at the rich decorations!
2. The Corner House
It is not very cheerful, but it is one of the most impressive places I visited: The Corner House. This house on the corner was between 1940-1941 and from 1944 to 1991 the headquarters of the KGB in Riga. If you do not know exactly what the KGB is, that was the state security service of the former Soviet Union.
Here political prisoners were tortured and questioned about their crimes. They were often imprisoned here for months in overcrowded cells awaiting their “punishment,” which they would serve in Russia.
In the first year that the KGB was active here, more than 180 men were executed.
What could you be locked up for? Anti-Soviet conversations, but also strange things like “signaling to planes.”
I would recommend you visit the museum with a tour. Otherwise you can only visit the (rather boring) exhibition. It will only be really impressive if you also enter the cells, and get an explanation of what has happened. This costs €10 and you can find the times of the tours on the website .
3. Old Town
The old town of Riga is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, so it is definitely worth a visit. You will find a good mix of architecture in the old town. Some of the buildings did not survive the Second World War, and another part was restored in “old style” after independence.
Stroll through the cobblestone streets, admire the buildings, and settle down in one of the many cafés and restaurants.
4. The House of Blackheads
The most famous building in the city is The House of Blackheads. Riga was a Hanseatic city in the Middle Ages. Because of its port, it was a rich trading city. The House of Blackheads was built in 1334, and luckily has nothing to do with pimples.
The building was built as the headquarters for the guild of traders and salesmen. You were only allowed to join this guild if you were a young, unmarried trader of German descent. The name comes from the patron saint of the organization: St. Maurice. He is traditionally depicted as a black knight.
Although the building may look old, it is not. The building was destroyed during the bombing in World War II, and was only rebuilt in 1999 (in the old style).
5. The Three Brothers
I already said that Riga is full of varied architecture, but nowhere can you see that better than with the Three Brothers. These are three historic houses that are next to each other, and hence nicknamed the three brothers.
These houses are the three oldest residential houses in Riga, and they were inhabited by artisans. The oldest house of the three, the rightmost, dates back to 1490. It has Gothic influences, and it only had one large room. The upper floors were purely for storage.
The middle house looks very Dutch, for good reason! During the period that this house was built (1646), Riga had close ties with Dutch traders. People lived here on two floors, while the upper space was again for storage.
The house on the left is the most recent of the three: it comes from the second half of the 17th century. In this house lived on every floor, and there were apartments on every floor. Nowadays you will find the Latvian Museum of Architecture in the houses.
6. Riga Castle
If you expect a beautiful fairytale castle, you might be disappointed. No, the Riga Castle has always been primarily functional. You will find it on the banks of the river Western Dvina.
The castle dates from 1330, and was expanded and strengthened over the centuries. Currently, the castle not only houses a few museums, but is also the official residence of the President of Latvia.
7. Dome Square
The Dome Square is the largest square in Riga. Once this square was full of buildings, but one of the leaders (I thought the guide said it was Stalin, but I can’t find it now!) flattened the houses to make room for a square where grand speeches could be made.
No fewer than seven streets lead to this square, so it really is the central square of the city. Nowadays, regular events are held here. You will also find many cafés here.
8. Freedom Monument
One of the most important moments in Latvia’s history was of course the independence from Russia. But did you know that independence in 1991 was already the second time that Latvia became independent?
The country already had sovereignty between 1918 and 1940, until the USSR invaded the country and held it in its grip for fifty years.
The Freedom Monument therefore dates from this first period and commemorates the soldiers who died in the war of independence of 1918-1920. The 42 meter high monument was unveiled in 1935.
During the second occupation by the USSR there was talk about the destruction of the monument, but ultimately nothing came of it because the government knew that this would cause a lot of unrest and protest among the Latvians.
9. Bastejkalna Park
Next to the monument you will find the finest city park in Riga: the Bastejkalna Park. This park owes its name to Bastion Hill (Bastejkalns) that is located inside the park.
I found this such a wonderful place to just relax. Relaxing in the grass with a book, strolling along the water, or drinking a drink on a terrace: you forget that you are in the middle of a capital.
10. Swedish Gate
This is the last attraction in the old center of the city, promised: the Swedish Gate. The medieval city center of Riga was surrounded by city walls, and the Swedish gate was one of the few entrances to the old city.
Why is it called the Swedish Gate? It was built during the period that the Swedish kingdom ruled over the city. Since then, much of the original city wall has disappeared because the city needed more space to expand (and locals could use the bricks well as building material).
But in the vicinity of the Swedish Gate you can still find a piece of city wall. Don’t think it is original: it was built during the 1980s to honor the past.
11. Central Market
I have never had that much with covered markets, but the Central Market of Riga is really worth a visit, especially at lunchtime! The market hall dates from 1920 and was originally a hangar for zeppelins. Since 1930 it has been active as a market, where locals come to do shopping.
That in itself is all interesting of course, but what I really liked is that there is also the “Central Gastro Market” in the corner. There are all stalls with delicious food, and it is really a hip place to have lunch. You can do a food tasting tour here.
12. Art Nouveau District
My favorite part of Riga was not the old center, but the Art Nouveau District. Did you know that Riga has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the world? Me neither!
You will find most Art Nouveau buildings around Albert Street and Elizabeth Street. Almost all of the buildings date from the beginning of the twentieth century, and are largely built by the same architect: Mikhail Eizenstein.
You can also find the Art Nouveau Museum in this area. Personally, I would definitely recommend that you have a drink at “Rasols”, a beautiful café decorated in Art Nouveau style.
13. P. Stradins Museum for History of Medicine
Okay, hear me out. I would not go to a museum about the history of medicine that easily. But my sister is a doctor, so I thought I’d do something nice for her. And then it turned out that I found it a really interesting museum!
This P. Stradins Museum of History for Medicine is located in the Art Nouveau district and only costs €2.50. It is a very interactive museum with 3D installations of old pharmacies, operating rooms, and even a dog with two heads (don’t even ask…).
I was afraid it would be a bit nasty (I can’t stand needles, etc.), but it really wasn’t. I found it super interesting to learn that even in the Bronze Age, they were already doing skull surgery! Certainly a tip if you have a few hours left.
Where to Eat in Riga
Where to Get Drinks
Riga is best known for its nightlife. Alcohol is cheap and flows abundantly. The first day we arrived at Cuba Café, on Dom Square, where they have a huge cocktail menu. Cocktails were €8, I believe, and it was a nice place to chill.
The second evening, after a tip, we settled down at Cartel. Here it is “Happy Hour” all night and we drank four large cocktails for €12, haha. What was also nice: the waitress knew the menu by heart and gave me advice about something I would like. And she was right :-).
Where to Eat in Riga
Street Fries Kitchen
We landed here for brunch. I had a delicious avocado toast with salmon. The menu looks great!
This super cute cafe has a beautiful inner garden, and sits opposite The Three Brothers. They also have delicious cake here.
Sale e Pepe
Here you can eat delicious Italian food. I especially liked the pizza.
My favorite cafe in Riga because of the complete over the top Art Nouveau style. Original, creative and playful: fun!
This case reminded me a lot of Bali. An urban café which is half filled with motorcyclists, and the other half with hipsters.
Where to Stay in Riga
This hotel is located about 20 minutes from the old center. You will find many nice restaurants in the area, and you are not far from the Art Nouveau area. The best option for budget travelers.
This beautiful hotel is full in the center, just a 100-meter walk from Riga Castle. The building dates from 1877 and also features a restaurant and a spa. This is the best option if you want to stay centrally.
This romantic hotel is located in a 400 year old building in a quiet side street of the center. The rooms are tastefully decorated and have beds with Egyptian cotton sheets. This is the best choice for luxury travelers.
And there you have it all my best tips on visiting in this Riga travel guide.
What are your tips on what to do in Riga?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe and Tiqets for specific attraction deals.