Latvia probably isn’t among the top places people aspire to visit when in Europe, but it’s worth one. This is a republic in the Baltic region, bordered by Russia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Its capital, Riga, is also the largest city in all the Baltic States. In fact, it is so large that it houses about a third of Latvia’s nearly 2 million population!
Because Riga is so large, this means there is a lot to see. Here are some of the best things you can do, to make your visit to the Latvian capital a blast!
The House of the Blackheads.
This is a building in the Old Town, which was originally erected in the 14th century. The current construction was started in 1995, when the building was razed to ruins in World War II. The amazing architecture has been preserved, especially the grand faćade.
The Art Nouveau Buildings.
Speaking of architecture, a good part of the capital is made up of buildings done in the Art Nouveau architecture. This makes Riga the city with the most such buildings in one place! This is especially visible in the apartment buildings around the city.
This is a series of three houses, forming the oldest such structures in the city. They are located on Maza Pils Street, and date from the 15th to 17th centuries. They have different designs owing to the different periods in which they were made.
Located in the Old Town’s Meistaru Iela, the house was built in 1909 and yet styled as a medieval structure. This is famous for the statues of two cats with arched backs and raised tails, both located on the roof.
Legend has it that the person who commissioned the building held a grudge against the Tradesmen Guild of the city, whose building was just across the street. The cats were built with their tails raised and pointing at the Guild’s building. Another version has it that the grudge was against the Riga City Council, and that the cat’s tails were pointed at the Riga Town Hall (which, before WWII, was located in the same direction as the Guild building).
St. Peter’s Church.
This is a Lutheran Church whose first constructions date back to 1209. It was destroyed in WWII, but was reconstructed from the 60s to the 80s. The modern version has an elevator that goes up the 72-meter church tower, which offers an awesome panoramic view of the city. Recently in 2012, the church also regained possession of a beautiful bronze candelarium dating back to 1596. It was stolen in WWII, and was for a time displayed in a basilica in Central Poland.
Outside the church is a curious sculpture, that of a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster all standing atop each other. This is based on the Brothers Grimm story “The Town Musicians of Bremen”. There is a custom among tourists of rubbing the statue to get good luck, or at least good vibes on their journey!
Parks and Natural Attractions.
There are a number of parks and natural attractions in the city, from the Pilsetas Kanals, to the Vermanes Park, to the Riga Zoo. The clean, cool air of the surroundings make trips to these places a pleasure! Chilling amidst the greenery is a good thing to do in the afternoons.
Canal Boat Cruise.
There is an unguided, panoramic tour in the canal, taking you around the Old Town on one of the two historical canal boats “Aurora” and “Amber Riga”. The tour takes around an hour, and the silent journey is another great way to spend idle hours.
Aside from the different wares on sale, the central market is in itself a notable structure, even included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site! The whole market is more than 72,000 square meters large, with an Art Deco and Neoclassical architecture. There are more than 3,000 stands, selling national produce.
. With a permanent exhibition on Raina Bulvaris 7 and another exhibit on Brivibas Iela 61, the KGB Museum (also referred to as the Corner House) is the former KGB Headquarters in the city. The Museum has guided tours around the basement prison cells, which take you to the horrifying chapters of the War and the activities of the Cheka, the Soviet Secret Police. It was a depressing time when the Bolshevik regime reigned supreme. It’s a scheduled tour, too, so make sure to check out the times beforehand. The tour takes around 2-3 hours.
Of course, Riga has free tours! These ones — especially the Old Town tour — gives you more information on the culture, legends, stories, and more. The guides are locals, so they know the city inside out! A great site includes the Freedom Monument, which commemorates the fallen soldiers during the country’s War of Independence from 1918 to 1920.
The black balsam is a traditional Latvian drink, made of natural herbal ingredients and mixed in vodka! You can drink it in a number of ways, but I had mine from Skyline Bar on a martini. There was great view, too!
Of course I won’t forget to explore Riga’s nightlife! Here’s a list of some of the cool bars I went to.
Radisson Blue Skyline Bar.
Expensive, but has an awesome view! Cover charge applies only late at night, when it turns into a bar.
It has a great diner-like ambience, with live music!
The name alone says it all. A definite must-see is the Latvian branch of this world-famous chain.
This is beer heaven! It’s a local brewery with a vast menu — so vast you probably won’t see the end of it! The helpful bar staff will, of course, lead you through a tasting of 6-8 different beers to get your preference. Don’t miss this! This alone will give you enough buzz to enjoy the night, even without ordering anything yet. The craft beers they have also include a variety of American and English beers, enhanced (of course) with Latvian herbs and smatterings of fruit. We also had rye chips and smoked cheese, which were perfect combinations. Come with your friends for the beer, snacks, and games!
- Other interesting places include the Aussie Backpackers Pub, Café Leningrad, and Cuba Café.
We went to a bunch of other places as well, such as the Laima Chocolate Museum (small but delectable!), Rocket Room Café, and a bunch of other cool cafés. We had some quality dining experience at Egle, complete with live music and outdoor patio-style seating! This was right in the center of the Old Town.
Latvia may not be at the top of your European vacation list, but pay it a visit anyway. You will be glad you did!
35 thoughts on “12+ Cool Things To Do in Riga”
The beer heaven place sounds so good right now! Thanks for sharing, good post!
The Art Nouveau architecture in Riga is definitely interesting. I tend to do a lot of street photography so I think I would especially love how that would look in my photos. To be honest, Riga was never on my mind until a friend of mine moved there recently to work but looks like there’s a lot to see and do in what is such an under-the-radar destination.
Riga looks amazing! We’re hoping to get to Latvia soon as we’ve heard great things about it. Really great post 🙂
Riga is on my to-visit list but I didn’t actually know that much about it, so this was an interesting read. I love the quaint buildings especially, and now I’m determined to try that local drink when I go. Thanks for the tip about the sky bar – love my cocktails served with a view.
The Aussie Backpackers Pub?? In Riga?? That’s GOT to be worth a visit, haha!! But I’d have to try the Black Balsam like you did – way up high with a great view of the city. I’ve never really thought of Riga as a tourist destination, but there’s a lot of varied and interesting things to do – but I wonder how long the good luck I’d get from rubbing the Bremen Musician statue would last?
I’m an architecture lover and your pictures drove my urge to visit there. I would surely plan a visit there soon. By the way, loved your pictures, they are truly incredible.
As Riga is my second home, I would recommend a Black Balsam with a coffee at Breakfast. That will wake anyone up 😀
I tried different forms of Black Balsalm. Each equally interesting.
Latvia looks stunning. I haven’t made it to much of Europe. I will definitely be using this as a guide when/if I visit Riga.
Would love to visit Latvia! The house of the blackheads kind of reminds me of Brugges in Belgium! The buildings are so cute!
I’m really surprised by Riga’s architecture! Even though, some of been reconstructed, it’s fantastic they’ve tried to preserve the original style. I’d love to explore on a walking tour and take a canal tour. I love Radisson Blu hotels, too, so ending the day overlooking the city sounds perfect!
wow, I have to say, even as a long-term solo traveler (6 years so far) Latvia hasn’t actually been on my radar…Until now! reading the post, I have to go and explore this country 😀 – What was the cot like? friendly for budget travelers? The black balsam looks like a drink I need to try 😀
Hi Riga is fairly affordable except if you go to places like the Skybar, of course, the view comes with a price tag. Drinks would cost from 9 euros and up. But in the center, you’ll find a lot of decently priced meals. We ate a whole platter of meat for just 9 euros, good enough to feed 2 people.
I have never thought of visiting Latvia but Riga looks lovely. The architecture is exceptional and the bars look enticing. Great lost!
It looks a lot like Stockholm actually. I wasn’t expecting that! I would like to go there for winter, waiting for the big snow flaws
Awesome pics Karla! You’ve reminded me of an old trip to Riga back in 2007, we watched Eurovision in a little bar that was packed with locals. It’s a great choice for a weekend trip from London!
A weekend trip to Riga is high on my list! I am really impressed by the beautiful architecture!
Looking at the photos and descriptions of the places to visit at Riga, I can feel that it is the place for all who loves architecture. Be it Cat house or three sisters all are amazing. I am feeling to visit it soon 🙂
I hope to be heading to Riga next year and will be pinning this for later. Great detailed guide on what to do. I love a good beer place and those chips look like they’d be a perfect snack to go along!
what stunning architecture. I’d love to try the Black Balsam for myself.
I loved Riga! It was such a cool and underrated town. I would love to go back- your photos made me miss it!
I haven’t been to Riga since 1990 — wow, has it changed! It looks like there is so much going on there. I really wish I had more time to spend in the old town, too (it seems so much more colorful to me now than it did then). Now I want to go back. 🙂 Pinned!
Love Riga’s Art Nouveau architecture! What a great city to wander and photograph
Indeed, there is a truly a lot to see and do in Latvia. You covered a whole lot. The architecture is amazing. Great shots and can’t wait to visit soon!!
There are so many gorgeous spots here! I’d love to get to Latvia. I’m hoping to get there some time next year! I’ll definitely use this as a reference! Thanks!
We recently considered coming to Riga so we did wonder what there was to do there. It looks like there is a lot to see here and we cannot wait until we can go
I had no idea there was so much Art Nouveau architecture in Riga! What a wonderful surprise. That KGB Museum also sounds like a great, though disturbing, place to visit.
I think I would be perfectly happy walking around Riga for days admiring the buildings and architecture – how incredible the city is! The examples of Art Nouveau Buildings is stunning, and the House of the Blackheads looks really fascinating. Sad that the original building was destroyed in World War II, but they’ve done an incredible job of reconstruction.
Riga looks incredibly charming and very European, though without the mass tourism – thanks for highlighting these things to do 🙂
The three Brothers are look like the buildings in the Prague old town. They reminded me the city. I haven’t heard of Riga before, but it seems a fun city for a short break
Yes, Riga may not be often on the top list, but you certainly listed interesting things to do in the place, Karla! And you even have a list of bars that showed fun doesn’t end on day tours. You surely made Riga included on the list of travelers now!
Love the architecture and colorful buildings! Looks like such a cute city with lots of fun things to do. I would love to check out the chocolate museum and the walking tours and canal rides sound fun too. Definitely looks like a great city to spend time just wandering!
I’m such a fan of this city! I was there for the first time over a decade ago, when a friend from there invited me for her wedding. I couldn’t help but falling for the city and the Latvian countryside. Never been back ever since. 🙁
Riga looks like such a charming city and we’ve wanted to check off Latvia from our list for a while now. I didn’t realize they have canals and the green spaces look just lovely! I’d definitely head to the market hall because I love exploring markets and local food.
This post brought me back many good memories. I was in Riga last Summer and I went on the free walking tour and I remember many of the sites you listed here.
That’s so cool that the Three Brothers represents different eras of old houses, and there’s a statue like that one with the animals in Bremen, Germany, too. I would probably spend all my time taking photos of all the amazing architecture!