Things to do in Riga Latvia guide

Things to do in Riga

My Riga visit was the first girl trip with my mom we’ve taken since I can remember. Girls trip, mom and daughter trip, call it what you want, but I know for sure Riga is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. It was great to take a break from solo and couple travels for a weekend in Riga with my mom. There are plenty of things to do in Riga and here is a guide to Riga and how to fill a few days with activities.

Even though we just had a Riga weekend trip I would definitely want to come back to Riga and Latvia again. I went to Riga with little to no expectations and was taken by how accessible everything is. Latvia and Riga have an interesting history and beautiful architecture.

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Riga skyline view over the old town bewt viewpoint of Riga Things to do Riga

Where is Riga and some basic info about Riga

Riga, the capital of Latvia is located in the Baltics, northern Europe and said to be the metropolitan of the Baltic countries. The city is located in the river mouth of the river Daugava that also runs through the city and cuts it in two. The cities placement directly in the river mouth is strategical as it was a great trading route all the way back to the Viking ages.

Riga has a population of more than 640 000 people, that’s about one-third of Latvia’s inhabitants. It’s also the most populated city of the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Still, the part of Riga most visited by tourists is its beautiful old town,
Vecrīga in Latvian. Not hard to get as the sights in Riga old town is incredible!

Rigas Old town

The Old town is one of the main things to see in Riga. The entire old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been so since 1997. It is the original Riga from the middle ages before it expanded. It’s full of medieval architecture, churches, and cathedrals. The old town Riga has been closed off to traffic since the 1980s. Because the Old town is pedestrians only, it is a relaxing experience strolling the cobblestoned streets.

Riga Tourist Information Centre in the Old Town

If you don’t have cell service in Latvia, or just like the old fashioned maps, you can get a free map of Riga Old town at the tourist information. The tourist map over Riga highlights the must-sees and makes it easy for you to navigate and plan your walks.

There are two toruist information Centeres easily accessible in the old town.

  • Riga Tourism Information Centre Ratslaukums, located at the Town Hall Square, Rātslaukums 6.
  • Riga Tourist Information Centre on Livu Square, 16 Kalku Street.

Opening hours for Riga Tourist Information Centre is 10-18.00 every day as of april 2019.

Downloadable map of Riga

Here are a few links to downloadable maps of Riga, perfect to start planning your weekend in Riga.

Map over Rigas Old town, points of interests and public transportation information.

A collection of various downloadable Riga tourist maps, also available in different languages.

Here is a map of Rigas Old Town and the above area of Centrs

Art Nouveau in Riga

Riga is also known for its beautiful Art Nouveau architecture, highly concentrated in the city center district, Centrs right outside Rigas Old town. The art form was at its peak in Riga from about 1890 to 1910. Art Nouveau, also referred to as Jugendstil is an architecture type highly focused on decorative arts. The art form was inspired by natural forms and structures, curved lines from nature, as those of plants and flowers.

Here you see a map of Riga’s Centrs, right above Rigas Old Town

Art Nouveau style actually makes up one-third of the buildings in the center of Riga.
Most of the Jugendstil buildings in Riga was built between 1904 and 1914 when the city experienced high economic growth. It’s the city in the world with the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture. To check out the Art Nouveau architecture in Riga, go to Alberta and Elizabetes street!

How to get from Riga airport to city center

Riga International Airport is the biggest airport in the Baltics. The airport is located in the neighborhood of Mārupe, just west for the center of Riga. It’s just about 10 km from Riga airport to Riga city center and it takes you less than 30 to get there.

To get to Riga from the airport, there are quite a few options. Which one to choose basically depends on what kind of budget, time and preferences you have.

Public bus from Riga Airport to the city

The public bus company “rigas satiksme” have mini busses and normal bus line going from the center of Riga to the airport.

Riga airport bus 22 is what I would call the main Riga airport bus option. Bus number 22 from the airport takes you to the city center of Riga in around 30 minutes.

Depending on where you stay in Riga you should get off eighter at “Autoosta”, close to the train station, or “11.novembra krastmala”, closer to the river, and to the center of the old town. The bus runs frequently from 5.45 to about 00.10 during the weekdays, bus also has quite a frequent schedule during the weekends.

The minibus 322 only runs during daytime and can be a great option for those with less luggage, it also has a longer route, so it’s great if you live closer to or in Centrs. Fist bus leaves at 7.06 and the last one is at 22.08.

Bus prices; Airport bus to Riga

One bus ticket is 1.15 euros and can be bought in advance in the “welcome to Riga” stands in the airport, at the Narvesen kiosks or at the ticket machine at the bus stop. You can also buy your bus ticket on the bus for 2 euros. Check out the exact schedule times for route number 22 and express bus 322.

To get more information about transportation from the Airport to Riga you can check out the airports’ transportation pages here.

Tips! Google maps public transportation works very well in Riga, use it to check what’s the easiest way to get around in Riga for you!

Taxi from Riga airport

A taxi from the airport to Riga should take about 20 minutes and cost between 12-15 euros. Make sure to check that the meter of the taxi looks normal to avoid starting your stay in Riga with a high taxi bill.

Use Bolt to get around in Riga!

So, Latvia has a taxi app. like uber, called Taxify. You can simply download the app on your phone and that way you don’t have to worry about taxi rates. Since I visited Taxify changed name to Bolt, but it should work exactly the same way.

Things to do in Riga Latvia

Here are a few things you should try to do if you spend a weekend in Riga. With that said, Riga is such a big city and definitely has plenty of things worth going back to see. These are some of the best things to do in Riga as a first time visitor.

My mom and I spent 3 days in Riga and we both want to go back to see more! In other words, there is no need to worry about what to do in Riga.

Free walking tour

I love to check out the selections of free walking tours when I arrive at a new place. I always try to do it as one of the first things when I go somewhere. There are plenty of free walking tours in Riga to choose from. Most of the free walking tours are centered in the old town. Still, there are also a few walking tours that take you to the Art Nouveau district of Centrs.

We did the free walking tour of Riga old town with Riga free tour. They have tours leaving from outside St Peters church every day at 10 am and 12 am.

Church of Jesus, a 27 m high wooden church from 1635

The Alternative Riga Free Walking Tour was the other tour we did, and would definitely recommend. You’ll get to go out of the old town and see the market hall, the original and oldest houses of Riga as well as a big wooden church. The same company also launches a new free walking tour, especially for Art Nouveau. It’s launching from the 1st of May 2019!

I would recommend doing a free walking tour in the Old town of Riga in the morning. Do the other walking tour in the afternoon on the same day. This is a great way to start orientating yourself in Riga. It’s also my best strategy to know what I’m interested in doing in Riga for my next days.

The drawback of doing almost any free walking tour is that they tend to be a little crowded. The ones we took in Riga was no exception, but we still enjoyed and learned a lot.

Alternative Riga Walking Tours

If you want a more one on one tour, you can look into having a more private tour of Rigas Old Town. Some of these tours include entrance to various attractions that the free walking tour of Riga doesn’t enter.

Let’s face it, the tip based free walking tours expect 10-15 euros per person in tips. So with a few extra bucks, you can consider having a more intimate experience!

Also, check out this longer tour of a bigger part of Riga. This include, Centrs and its Art Nouveau architecture and the central market, as well as hotel pick up.

Have lunch at a Lido Restaurant

The first Lido was founded back in 1987 and is still owned by its founder,
Gunārs Ķirsons. We had lunch at the Lido in the old town, Lido Alus sēta. The staff wears national costumes, and the food offered is mainly Latvian traditional cuisine.

All the Lido restaurants are cantine-style where you find a table and pick whatever you want along the counter. They also have a separate bar where you can buy local wine and beer. Lido restaurants are definitely not just for tourists. Due to affordable prices and big selections, it’s a popular lunch spot for locals. Keep an eye out for lunch peek times around 12-13 as we saw long lines. It might be difficult to get a table at these hours. With this said, Lido is definitely the place to go for Latvian traditional food on a budget.

See an Opera or ballet in Riga Opera House

The Latvian National Opera is also the national Opera house of Riga. It lies right on the outer edge of the old town, where it borders to Centrs. The Opera house is easily accessible with tram, bus, and taxi, and is also close to the central train and bus station.

The Opera house in Riga is an attraction in itself. It was first finished it 1863, but has since been modified and expanded a number of times.

Even though Opera, theater, and ballet might not be one of the obligatory activities for Riga sightseeing, it is definitely worth considering! I’ve never been to any operas, and the ballet performance in Riga was my second ever, after seeing a beautiful performance of the Nutcracker in Budapest some years back. Even though I have been far from a frequent balletgoer, I enjoyed it a lot.

You can find more about the Opera house on their pages, as well as check out performances, schedules and buy tickets.

Check out Riga Central Market Hall

When Rigas Market Hall was opened back in 1930, it was among the most advanced and modern markets in Europe. It still holds the status as the biggest market in Europe and in 1998 UNESCO included it on its list of World Heritage Site together with Old Town Riga.

RIga from above with the Central Market

What is so special about the Central marker of Riga you may ask?

To start with, the buildings are easily recognizable from distance as well as from various viewpoints around Riga. The market is based in and around five huge halls made by reusing five old German Zeppelin hangars. The market measures a total of 72,300 square meters, with over 3000 sale stands. Safe to say it’s easy to get lost here. Still, the areas in the market are pretty organized and divided into different sales areas for different products.

What to do in Riga visit Riga Central Market Hall
One of the hangars we passed though in the central market of Riga

If you decide to do the alternative free walking tour or this guided walking tour of Riga, you’ll pass through the market. Still, Rigas market hall is a very interesting place, and if you’re like me, another look at the market and the area around, on your own time in a teat. The market is a great activity to get another look at the customs of the Latvian people. A great idea is to grab lunch at Rigas central market as many of the stalls have small eateries where local food is prepared from fresh ingredients. The market of Riga is still where a lot of Latvians come to shop their groceries!

Visit Rigas St Peter’s Church and Tower

Obligatory for any visit to a new place, is to see it from above. I love seeing places from another perspective and it also helps on orientating and understanding how, by example, a city is connected. If you visit Riga, make sure to go to the St. Peters Church tower to get a great view of the Old town, Daugava river and the rest of Riga.

View over Riga from St Peters Church

St Peters Church is the tallest church in Riga at 137 meters and was originally built in
 1209. Since then it has been rebuilt numerous times through the years due to unfortunate events like lightning and the world wars.

The Church tower in St Peters church is now 123.25 meters high, and build with viewpoint purposes in mind. It has an elevator that takes visitors up 72 meters and offers a great view. In 1997 Rigas St Peter’s Church was included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.

Addmition fee to enter St Peter’s church and the tower is 9 euros.

Riga Dome Cathedral

Another sight hard to miss when you’re walking around in the old town of Riga is the Riga Dome Cathedral. It’s a beautiful building with a mix of Romanesque, Early Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture. The Dome Cathedral of Riga is also the headquarter of the Latvian archbishop of the Lutheran church and the biggest cathedral in the Baltics.

The cathedral houses one of the biggest organs in the world, made in 1884 with a total of 6,768 pipes. There are concerts every day at 19.00 and most days at midday. You can buy tickets in the cathedral. The prices range from 10-20 euros depending on the duration of the concert.

To enter outside of concert hours to have a look at the cathedral, its 5 euros.

Riga Dome Cathedral Guide to Riga What to see

Visit the House of the Blackheads in Rigas Old Town

A beautiful house in the middle of the old town, this house, as the name might suggest, originally belonged to the Brotherhood of Blackheads. The house, first built in the 14th century was a guild for unmarried merchants, shipowners, and foreigners located in Riga. The house of the Blackheads that you can visit today, was rebuilt after the Second World War, as the original house was totally destroyed during the war, but is definitely an impressive sight!

In addition to the house of the Blackheads being very beautiful with its baroque styled facade, a visit inside lets you in on the brotherhoods interesting history.

Entrance fee to the house of the Blackheads is 6 euros for adults and 3 euros for students and children. They also offer guided tours starting from 15 euros.

The Freedom Monument

Rigas freedom monument is located right on the border between the old town and Centrs and is a memorial honoring all the soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence fought between 1918 and 1920.

The Freedom Monument in RIga sight to see in Riga

The monument was finished in 1935 and measures 42 meters. On top of the monument, there is a lady holding up 3 stars above her head. The stars are said to symbolize the districts of Latvia, Vidzeme, Latgale, and Courland. At the bottom of the monument, there are 56 sculptures all symbolizing areas of Latvian history and culture, with the phrase “For Fatherland and Freedom” inscribed at the bottom.

Rigas Cat House and the story

The Cath house of Riga is located in the old town at one of the corners of
Livu Square. Still, it can be easy to walk past if you don’t look for it. Apart from the famous cats on top of the roof, the building is a beautiful architectural mix of medieval with some Art Nouveau elements. In souvenir shops and photos, you’ll see lots of replicas of the cats, that now has become an unofficial symbol of Riga.

The black cat house is located right next to the Great Guild of Riga and story is that the owner of the house was denied membership to the Great Guild. In protest, the merchant supposedly got the two cats, with their arched backs, placed on top of the houses’ two turrets. He then turned their behinds towards the guild. The cats were pointed like this until the guild finally accepted the merchant as a member. If it’s true is another question, but true or not, it’s a beautiful building, not to miss when walking the streets of Riga.

Try some Black Balsam

Black Balsam is a traditional Latvian liqueur and what they call a herbal liqueur. The Riga Black Balsam recipe is made from 24 natural ingredients and includes herbs like linden flower, pepper, wormwood, valerian, ginger, this herbal liquor blend is then mixed with honey, caramel or natural juices.

The taste and texture of Rigas Black Balsam is very much like a thick cough syrupy taste. This is not strange because Black balsam used to be used as traditional medicine. Especially against colds, as a cough syrup. This is supposedly also how the Hungarian unicum was invented, and many other European countries have traditional liqueur that started as medicine back in the days.

In addition to the original black balsam flavor, there is a variety of other tastes on the market, the most common ones are blackcurrant and cherry.

You can buy Latvian Black Balsam in any supermarket in Riga. If you want to learn more about it though, there are Black Balsam tastings and bars specialized in drinks and cocktails with the black medicine-like alcohol.

Try Latvias Black Balsam

See Riga from above at night time

The cheapest place to see Riga at night is the SAS Radisson Blue hotel in Centrs, most nights you can take the elevator to their bar and enjoy the view with a drink or two. The night we decided to go to the par they were hosting an event and charged an entrance fee. Since we were mainly there for the view and not to party, we ended up taking the elevator back down again, but not without taking in the view, as the elevator has glass walls.

Riga attractions, seeing Riga from above

Take an afternoon of spa treatment

A visit to Riga might arguably not be complete without a little spa time. Included in our hotel stay we had a couple of hours of spa time. Spa entrances like this usually include entrance to the steam rooms, saunas, and pool(s), but you always have the option of upgrading to get treatment or spa access at other hours of the day.

Riga Canal Cruice

As I wrote Riga is divided by the river Daugava, but the old town of Riga is also surrounded by the city canal, Pilsētas kanāls.

There are canal cruises leaving from Bastion Hill all day and for one hour you’ll be able to see Riga from another perspective and also learn more about Rigas history. The Canal Cruise in Riga cost 18 euros for adults with discounts for kids.

There are also other, more affordable cruises available, like this canal boat cruise that takes about 50 minutes.

From Bastion Hill it’s also possible to rent pedal and rowing boats!

Riga things to do view over Riga from st peters church

There are also Riverboat Cruises along Daugava that starts from 11.novembra krastmala, on the riverbank in the old town of Riga. The Riverboat cruises are usually around 10 – 15 euros and take 1 hour.

Both cruises are available from April to November, but usually, close down during winter months because of the climate.

Museums to visit in Riga

If you have 3 days in Riga or preferably a bit more, you’ll most likely have time for a museums visit or two. There are plenty of museums accessible in and close to the Old town of Riga. A museum visit is also a perfect way to make use of a rainy day!

Riga Art Nouveau Museum in Alberta iela 12, Centra rajons, stands in true style to the art form it presents, in a beautiful Art Nouveau building from 1903. Entrance is only 5 euros, and tours start at 14.50 euros. Suiting, the museum is located in the heart of Rigas Art Nouveau area so while already there, make sure to stroll down Alberta and Elizabetes street to see beautiful examples of Art Nouveau buildings.

Other museums to visit in Riga:

Latvian Museum of Architecture located in the old town in a medieval building in Old Riga. The building is one of the famous Rigas three brothers. Three houses said to be the oldest residential houses in Riga. Each of the three houses is made in a different style. Visit on the address Mazā Pils iela 19.

Rigas Museums of occupation also located in the old town, Raiņa bulvāris 7, Centra rajons.

Rigas KGB museum is a part of Rigas Museum of occupation and you can visit it on Brīvības iela 61, Centra rajons.

Where to stay in Riga?

As a first time visitor in Riga, I would highly recommend staying in or close to the Old town. We stayed at Opera Hotel & SPA just 5 minutes away from the Old Towns cobblestoned streets. Their breakfast was decent, we got access to the spa included in our stay. Our access was for a couple of hours in the morning and in the afternoon, and the location was perfect.

Check out other activities in Riga here:

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What to pack for Riga

Riga, as most (northern) European cities has 4 pretty distinct seasons. Because of the changing climate, your packing list will look a bit different depending on what season your visiting in.

If you visit Riga during the summer I would make sure to bring light clothing, but also prepare for some rain and cold wind.

My Helly Hansen wind and waterproof jacket are always with me on vacation, even to tropical destinations. I love that its super lightweight and folds into one of its pockets.

Comfortable shoes and/or sandals are an absolute must wherever I go on vacation. Getting to know a city usually involves a lot of walking. I find that good footwear makes it possible for me to walk those extra 10 000 steps a day, if not more. I swear by some comfortable Nike shoes. For sandals, love my Birkenstocks, but I’ve also heard great things about the Teva sandals too!

Check out more of my essential items for a trip to get more inspiration regarding what to pack for your upcoming trip!

Is Riga worth visiting?

I had such a great time in Riga, it is definitely worth visiting. Riga has a great location if you want explore the other Baltics, both by bus and plane. It’s also just a couple of hours flight to almost anywhere in Europe, so if you’re planning a couple of weeks of travel, make sure to not miss out of Riga!

Are you planning your next Europe Adventure? Check out my guide to Italy’s Cinque Terre or the beautiful South coast of Portugal, Algarve.

Midsummer celebration in Riga Latvia, Things to do Riga

Bonus tips: Wondering when is the best time to visit Riga? If you have the chance to be in Riga from the 23-24 of June you will get the chance to experience the Latvian midsummer celebration, also called Līgo & Jāņi.

With this list, you’ll hopefully be able to plan what to see in Riga in 2 days or a weekend. If you’re staying longer, you’ll definitely find more to do, like a day trip from Riga to the beach and spa town of Jurmala, just a few hours from Riga.

10 thoughts on “Things to do in Riga”

  1. Great post. I’ve never really considered Riga as a destination. But can see this being perfect for my next mother daughter trip with my mum (well next year, this year it will be Budapest)

  2. Looks like a gorgeous place to visit. I have a friend who adopted two daughters from Latvia and I always enjoyed seeing their pictures when they went over there. Would love to visit someday!

    1. It really surprised me, but it’s such a beautiful city. Can’t wait to go back and get to know more or Latvia:) Love how your friend takes her kids back to their roots like that<3

  3. I completely agree, free walking tours are the best way to get a sense of a new place. Plus you instantly meet some like-minded people. I’d love to check out Riga’s Old Town one day.

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