12 Best Things to Do in Riga – a Comprehensive Guide to Latvia’s Capital

    12 Best Things to Do in Riga – a Comprehensive Guide to Latvia’s Capital
    Last updated: September, 2019

    There is a good reason why Riga is becoming an increasingly popular destination lately: so much to see, so many things to do. Since 1991, when Latvia regained its independence, Riga has flourished like no other city in the Baltic region.

    The vibrant and cosmopolitan city that that you see today has little to no resemblance to Latvia’s old capital during the Soviet occupation. If you have ever visited Riga before the 90s, you will most likely not recognize it today: great museums, fashionable restaurants and a very rich cultural life.

    Riga monument
    Freedom Monument

    There is so much to see and do in Riga to keep you entertained! The city’s medieval Old Town is filled with winding alleyways and charming squares. Wherever you turn, you are greeted by the fantastic architecture, fancy restaurants and elegant shops.

    Top Things to do in Riga

    1. Explore Riga’s Central District

    Almost all tourist attractions, historic buildings and hotels are contained within the borders of Centra rajons (the Central District), which includes the Old Town as well.

    Street in Old Town Riga
    Street in Old Town Riga

    The area is relatively small and easy to walk. Old Town is the historical and geographical center of Riga and is by far the most attractive part of the city. Walking through its narrow alleys cobbled streets is like traveling back in time. Young girls dressed in traditional Latvian costumes playing different instruments, or dancing will make you feel like you are in the Medieval Era.

    Things to do in Riga

    The best place to start your visit is the Town Hall Square (Ratslaukums), flanked by the ornate House of the Blackheads and the Town Hall. Riga’s amazing architecture is a testament to its tumultuous history.

    House of the Blackheads
    House of the Blackheads

    Some of city’s oldest buildings and cathedrals –like the famous Three Brothers, or the Dome Cathedral– are in the Old Town.  Also in the Old Town there are some of the best cafes and restaurants in the city, with plenty of outdoor seating in the summer.

    Things to do in Riga
    Old Town Riga

    2. Visit the Museum of the History and Navigation

    Located in the Old Town in the Dome complex –a 13th–20th century architectural monument– the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation is the oldest public museum in Latvia and in the Baltic. The museum has an impressive collection of artifacts that follow up the development of Riga from the earliest times through the Art Nouveau period.

    3. Sip Some of Riga’s Famous Black Balsam

    Riga Black Balsam is the famous national brand name of the dark and astringent liqueur made of 24 herbs. The recipe remains unchanged after 250 years since it was invented and is still a carefully guarded secret. The Black Balsam was originally created as a medicine.

    Black Balsam
    Black Balsam

    The ledgend says that it helped cure the Empress Catherine the Great of a sickness that she developed while visiting Riga. With its 45% alcohol content, no wonder this bitter concoction helps people feel better!  The Black Balsam is by far one of the strangest alcoholic spirits that you will ever come across, but it’s worth trying. However, beware that it’s not to everyone’s taste!

    4. Indulge Your Taste Buds at Riga’s Central Market

    While in Riga you should pay a visit to the Baltics’s largest market housed in five converted Zeppelin hangars. These strange looking semi-cylindrical buildings became Riga’s Central Market in 1930.

    Visiting Riga's Central Market
    Riga Central Market

    Each pavilion has a different specialty, from meat and fish, to fresh produce and diary products. The market is an absolute delight for all your senses. The area around the buildings is also crammed with stalls selling fruits, flowers and other goods.

    5. Relax in the Bastejkalns Park

    Just on the outside of the Old Town you have one of Riga’s most beautiful parks where you can take a canal cruise or just sit and watching life go by. Bastejkalns Park was formed in the 19th century after tearing down Riga’s old ramparts. The park is small but full of pretty statues and charming bridges.

    Bastejkalns Park
    Bastejkalns Park

    One of these is Riga’s Bridge of Love which is covered in ‘love locks’. Attaching locks to bridges is one of the most popular traditions among newly wedded couples in Latvia, symbolizing  the stability of their marriage. The Bridge of Love has probably the most extensive collection of locks in Riga.

    6. Take a Guided Tour of the Latvian National Opera

    Close to the Central District and bordering the Bastejkalns Park (Bastion Hill Park)is the beautifully restored Riga Opera House, a unique architectural masterpiece of the 19th century with guided tours and fantastic performances. Riga’s Opera House was one of the first buildings to get a full make-over after the Soviets left  in 1991.

    Riga Opera House
    Latvian National Opera House
    Opera House

    Check out the building and go to an actual show. Either way, the Opera House is one of Riga’s biggest attractions.

    7. Stroll Through the Art Nouveau District

    From the Bastejkalns Park there are several picturesque bridges that allow you to cross over to the Central District. Elizabetes Ilea is one of the main streets of Riga’s art nouveau district that displays elaborate facades, mostly freshly restored. In the area you’ll also find many restaurants and cafes where you could enjoy some of the best Latvian dishes, usually at a lesser price than in the Old Town.

    Things to do in Riga
    Art Nouveau District in Riga

    8. Visit the Nativity of Christ Cathedral 

    Built at the end of the 19th century in Neo-Byzantine style, the Nativity of Christ Cathedral is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the Baltics. During the Soviet time the cathedral was turned into a planetarium, but after 1991 it returned to its original function.

    The Nativity of Christ Cathedral in Riga
    The Nativity of Christ Cathedral

    9. Enjoy Beautiful Artworks at the Latvian National Museum of Art

    Just North of the Old Town is one of Riga’s most impressive museums: the National Museum of Art. The building recently underwent an extensive restoration. The old classical structure had been converted into a modern and accessible structure, with a beautiful interior design.

    Latvian Museum of Art
    Latvian National Museum of Art

    The museum displays a permanent exhibition of Latvian art from the 19th and 20th century, as well as some art from of the period of the Russian occupation. This is an absolute must see for art lovers.

    10. Visit the Former Headquarters of the KGB

    One of the most memorable and at the same time disturbing experiences in Riga is visiting the Corner House. The imposing structure on the corner of Brivibas and Stabu streets seems just like any other building in the neighborhood. But once you step inside you discover a world of horror! 

    Thousands of Latvians have been imprisoned, interrogated and tortured here. They were morally humiliated and even executed within the depths of this building until 1991.

    Things to do in Riga
    The Corner House – former KGB Headquarters in Riga

    It’s astonishing to realize that all these things were happening while we were living a safe life in other parts of the world.

    11. Take a Boat Tour of the River Daugava

    Cruising along the Daugava is a lovely way to see a different side of Riga. The boat tour takes an hour and costs around 15 Euros. Sit back and relax while the boat passes by the Riga Castle, the Old Town and the Central Market. The boat glides gently under three bridges after which it turnis around at the TV Tower.

    Things to do in Riga
    Things to do in Riga

    12. Hop Aboard the Beer Bike

    Beer biking seems to be catching up with the tourism industry and is now very popular all over the world. However, I’ll have to admit it may not be for everyone. The Beer Bike is powered by people peddling and it has a barrel filled with beer. So you basically ride a bike, drink beer, have fun.

    Beer Biking in Riga

    Beer biking is especially entertaining if you are in a big group of friends, or with your family. Rather than having a beer in a restaurant, you can drink, drive and admire Riga all at the same time.

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    Things to do in Riga