One of the most overlooked regions of Europe is the Northern European Baltic states. There you’ll find Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They’re three unique nations that share a similar and at times somber history. They’re all proud EU nation states with a modern outlook that is hopeful of the future with a culture and identity to be celebrated. One of those nations, Latvia, is a wonderful travel destination and one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. The beautiful capital, Riga, is the natural homebase for any visit to Latvia. If you’re planning a trip to Latvia, you may be wondering what to do in Riga, but don’t worry – there’s plenty to keep you busy. Your Riga itinerary will be full of history, architecture, food and nightlife. The people of Riga are friendly and proud and there are so many Riga attractions to see. There’s no need to ask what to do in Riga, because here are 25 of the top Riga attractions to plan your trip.
This post will detail a recommended Riga sightseeing checklist. It’s the best way to explore this quaint but exciting city! There’s are so many things to do in Riga – so let’s get started.
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What to do in Riga: Four Different Tour Options
Like any city, one of the best ways to get familiar and figure out your bearings is to take a tour of Riga. There are many to choose from and different modes of viewing the beautiful city. There are tours with themes and activities, so lets break down some of the most popular ones and give you tools to book and plan the perfect introduction tour of Riga for you.
Explore Riga on foot with a walking tour
Like most medieval cities, Riga gas a compact and historic Old Town. This gorgeous old section of the city boasts the majority of Riga attractions. It’s so packed with sightseeing that Riga’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so you know it’s worth exploring closely. There are even a few options to see Riga through a walking tour. Check out some options through GetYourGuide below. Clicking on the links shown will allow you to reserve a spot and guarantee you a tour. They give you immediate confirmation. Best of all, you can cancel the tour up to 24 hours in advance without incurring any charge.
Take a boat tour through Riga's canals
As an important Baltic trading post, Riga is wrapped in a ribbon of canals – the lifeblood of commerce and shipping. Locals and visitors alike enjoy a pleasant stroll along the main canal which stretches 3.2 kilometers and is traversed by 16 bridges around the city. An even better way to enjoy the scenic canal is to take a Riga sightseeing canal boat tour. They include an audio guide in multiple languages and you can book a 50-minute canal boat tour below for about 16 euro.
Cycle around Riga on a sightseeing bike tour
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One of the best ways to see most of Riga in a few hour period is with a bike tour around the city. It begins in Riga’s Old Town and explores different areas of the city with a knowledgable local guide. You can take in the parks and green spaces, the quiet sections of Riga’s residential neighborhoods and the famous Art Nouveau homes. The biking tour is about 2.5 hours and is perfect for riders of all abilities. The tour includes bike, helmet and tour guide for about 20 euro and leaves at noon each day if you reserve a spot with the link or photo box below.
Do a classic food tour of Riga
One of the best ways to get to know a city is through its food. That’s of course the story with Riga as well. Setting out on a walking tour that includes visits to three of Riga’s most famous areas and ends with a food tasting is the perfect guided tour. Get to know the culture of Riga through their food. You’ll tour the famous art nouveau district, Riga’s Old Town and end in the Riga Central Market. The tour departs each day at 10:00 and is about 4 hours long.
What to do in Riga: Explore Riga Attractions on Your Own
You’ll want to start your trip with a tour, but after getting familiar with Riga you’ll want to explore more on your own. Here are some great Riga attractions to visit once you’ve gotten the lay of the land.
Chow down at the Riga Central Market
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Most people wondering what to do in Riga have no idea that the city is home to Europe’s largest market and bazaar. It was built from 1924 through 1930 and is a Riga must-see attraction. It’s bustling almost every open minute and the place to go for local produce, Latvian foods, and international cuisine alike. Visiting the Riga Central Market is a fantastic way to experience Latvian culture and traditions or satisfy your foodie fascinations. The Riga Central Market has been included in UNESCO World Heritage Site list along with Riga’s Old Town.
Explore Riga's Art Nouveau District on Albert Street
Riga’s most famous street is probably Albert Street. It’s a 255 meter stretch of Art Nouveau buildings that bears the name of Bishop Albert, the city’s founder. It was built in 1901 and it one of the most visited thoroughfares in Riga. Every walking tour strolls down Albert Street and you can’t miss this street if you’re a fan of architecture or just want to admire the old warm charms of Riga’s Art Nouveau sector. This is the perfect place to retrace after your get your fill from a tour guide and return with your camera to capture everything you heard about while touring Riga.
Enter the House of the Blackheads
If you’re wondering what to do in Riga, checking out one of the most iconic buildings, The House of the Black Heads, should be high on your list. It’s the image on the front of almost every postcard and the inside is just as spectacular. It’s the architectural heart of Old Town Riga and was originally built in the early 14th century. The dwelling was designed for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild for unmarried merchants, shipowners, and foreigners living in Riga. The interior as well as the art and sculpture displayed within reflect the opulence of its former residents. While it was destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries, its medieval cellar is one of the oldest in Riga and grants you access to the authentic underground of Old Riga. It’s also a museum detailing the history of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, merchant life in Riga and trading in the Baltic region. Entry is about 6 euro and it’s highly recommended to book your visit online. You can visit the House of the Blackheads daily from 10:00-18:00.
Visit the Three Brothers
If you love architecture and are wondering what to do in Riga – head to the Three Brothers. Even if you’re not into architecture, your Instagram feed requires you to visit Riga’s Three Brothers. That’s the name for the complex of homes in Riga that are the oldest complex of dwellings. The stone residential buildings also present three distinct and different stages in Latvian architectural development. These photogenic homes are a must-see, especially if you have visited Tallinn and seen that city’s Three Sisters buildings. The Three Brothers can best be viewed through a walking tour of Riga and are located conveniently in the Old Town near all the main attractions.
Walk through the Swedish Gate
If you want to catch a glimpse into old Riga, head to the Swedish Gate. The Swedish Gate is a portion of the original Riga Old Town wall. During medieval times it served as a fortification and one of the few entrances to the town. It earned its name because it was built in 1698, during a period of almost 100 years where Sweden took over the city of Riga. It provided access to barracks that were placed outside of the city walls and also earned use as a pathway for commerce in and out of Riga. The Swedish gate is a popular photo spot because it’s so well preserved and true to its original look. While much of the wall has been restored, you’ll notice that the Swedish Gate is uniform in color and design. That’s because the structure is largely in its original form, unlike most of the city walls which were restored over the last 50 years.
Experience Latvian national pride at The Freedom Monument
One of the most important symbols of freedom and independence in Latvia is located in the center of Riga near the Old Town. It’s the Freedom Monument and it was erected to commemorate fallen soldiers in Latvia’s War of Independence (1918-1920). The war established Latvian sovereignty after an invasion from the neighboring state of Russia.
Even during Soviet occupation, during the period after World War II, this monument withstood pressure for its demolition. The occupying forces feared that destruction of the monument would stir anger and tension with the locals, so it was kept. Today it’s a symbol of national pride and a popular meeting place in Riga. There is a park to the surrounding the plaza which is a great place to relax or walk while visiting The Freedom Monument. It’s also close to the Latvian National Opera House and its flower gardens and fountains, a popular photo spot in Riga.
Get up close to Riga Castle
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Riga Castle lies on the banks of the River Daugava and is a great attraction in the Latvian capital. The castle was constructed in 1330 but was largely rebuilt in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. During the reign of the Swedish kingdom over Riga, the castle was expanded and annexes were constructed in the current Swedish style. It was frequently renovated and additions were built throughout the centuries.
In 1938 it was converted to a government building and today it is the residence of the Latvian president as well as several museums. It’s a popular destination to tour and walk through and can be viewed in as little as 30 minutes or you can book a tour or audio guide for extra detail.
Admire the beautiful Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral
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You should pay a visit to Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral, if for no other reason than to admire the architecture. It was built in the Neo-Byzantine style and completed in 1883. It’s the largest Orthodox church in Riga and survived the Soviet era by being converted to a planetarium and restaurant.
There are five gilded cupolas, but once inside, photography is forbidden. For those interested, you can enter and admire the beautiful icons and light a prayer candle or even attend a service. For most, a quick photo of the exterior is all that’s necessary and you can stop by en route to the SkyLine Bar atop the Radisson Blu Hotel.
Climb Saint Peter's Church for a great view of Riga
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Saint Peter’s Church is a fantastic sight from street level, but it offers even better views to visitors. First built in 1209, this Brick Gothic church was originally a Catholic place of worship before it was converted to a Lutheran church in 1523. From the viewing platform, you can take in the gorgeous views of Riga’s Old Town and its red roofs, the adjacent modern city and the Daugava River. The church is 123 meters tall and is open to the public 10:00-19:00 Tuesday through Saturday and 12:00-19:00 on Sundays.
Enjoy a drink with a view at SkyLine Bar
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SkyLine is a hip rooftop bar offering sweeping views of Riga. It’s located on the 26th floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel and has become a must-do for anyone wondering what to do in Riga. As mentioned, it’s near Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral and the views of the city are breathtakingly gorgeous. Drinks are quite expensive, even for Riga standards, but the cocktail lounge is the perfect place for a sunset or to enjoy the city lights in the evening. Even if you don’t drink, it’s worth climbing to the rooftop to catch a glimpse of the Old Town in its entirety, because SkyLine gives you the best view of Riga from the Central District neighborhood.
Take a shot of Latvia - try Riga Black Balsam
While in Riga, it’s a mandatory right of passage to try Riga Black Balsam. It’s the national liqueur and it will most likely be offered to you at any restaurant or pub once your server or bartender realizes that you’re from out of town. Like grappa in Italy or ouzo in Greece, you just can’t leave Latvia without trying Black Balsam. It’s made by infusing a mixture of botanicals and herbs with vodka before aging them in oak. It’s typically served on its own as a digestif, but can be mixed with sodas and even served on top of ice cream. Its taste is bitter, but has a sweet aftertaste that can only be described as not as bad as I expected.
Have a Latvian Sauna experience
Northern European and Scandinavian culture is famous for the sauna culture. It’s an ancient method of reviving and rejuvenating the body and your spirits and a perfect complement to any trip to Riga. There are many traditional Latvian saunas to choose from and some hotels even offer spa and sauna services.
Each sauna will typically include a steam room, at least one sauna – but usually many of varying temperatures, a cold pool and cold shower. Many offer skin rubs and treatments while incorporating herbs like sage and juniper in the sauna process. While visiting the saunas, be sure to get a full explanation of the rules – both written and unwritten. There are many customs to observe and the staff will gladly give you a few pointers on sauna etiquette as you enter.
Learn about Latvian history at the Museum of Occupation
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While the history of Riga is somber and sometimes outright sad, it’s an important part of any visit to Riga. The Museum of Occupation is a way to explore the history and be educated on the trying times of Nazis and Soviet occupation of Latvia. That period stretched from 1940-1991 and is marred by crimes and atrocities against the Latvian people by two totalitarian regimes. It is open daily from 11:00-18:00.
Pay Respect at the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum
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The Riga Ghetto was a small neighbourhood that was wiped out in World War II. This area is now reconstructed and serves as an outdoor museum to commemorate the lives of the former residents, mostly Latvian Jews who were victims of the Holocaust. Inside the museum grounds, you can learn about the history of the Jewish people in Latvia. You’re able to explore a wooden house that is a reconstruction of the homes that Jews were forced to move to when the Nazis occupation forced them from their homes. The entrance is free, but it’s highly suggested to leave a donation. These exhibits are open daily from 10:00-18:00 and closed on Saturdays.
Explore Latvia's Military History at the Latvian War Museum
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If you’ve got an interest in military history, you HAVE to visit the Latvian War Museum. It’s the biggest museum of its kind in Latvia and was established in 1916. At that time it curated artifacts and paid homage to the Latvian Riflemen Battalion of World War I. It’s located in the Powder Tower in Riga’s Old Town, which is a fascinating structure of its own and was part of the original defensive system of Riga. The museum was closed and relocated several times during Riga’s history and throughout the second World War and Latvia’s numerous occupations. Today, the museum exhibits history from each era of history from 10:00-18:00.
Discover the Soviet History at The Corner House (KGB Museum)
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Another great museum of history is Riga’s Corner House, former headquarters of Latvia’s KGB. It’s actually an exhibition of the Museum of Occupation of Latvia and covers the history of the KGB and their activities from the location of their Riga Headquarters. There’s no doubt that this building housed horrible events and thousands of Latvian men and women met their deaths in the notorious Corner House. Outside you’ll pass a memorial to these victims and inside you can receive a tour of the cell block within. It’s free to visit daily from 10:30-17:30 and guided tours are conducted in English for 10 euro at 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 15:00 and 16:00. It’s highly advised to buy them online in advance of your visit HERE.
Chill in Dome Square
Dome Square is the largest and often the busiest square in Riga’s Old Town. To locals, it’s the heart of the old city and it’s the site of many festivals and city-wide activities. Even if there are none while you’re visiting, there’s sure to be a crowd at this origin of 7 streets lined with medieval buildings. You’ll love sitting at the cafes and outdoor dining spots in the warm months and Riga’s largest Christmas Market in the winter.
Relax on Bastion Hill (Bastejkalns Park)
In the 19th century, when Riga’s ramparts were torn down, a gorgeous municipal park was built in the remnants. Bastion Hill is a quiet park located in the center of Riga and is often described as the most romantic place in Riga. It’s located adjacent to Riga’s Freedom Monument, so it’s easy to visit both attractions on the eastern edge of Riga’s Old Town.
Go wild in Livu Square
One of the liveliest parts of Riga’s Old Town is Livu Square. Pay it a visit to enjoy the robust selections of restaurants and nightlife destinations. By day, it’s also one of the most picturesque squares in the city and is located on the northern side of Old Town.
Stroll around Town Hall Square
Riga’s Town Hall Square has been the heart of the city since the 1200s. The main attractions like the House of Blackheads and Riga’s City Council are found in the square. This is also the home of Riga;s Museum of Occupation, so it’s easy to fit in a visit to the square. After sightseeing in the area, enjoy one of the coffee shops or restaurants in the area. You can get a bite to eat and sit outside admiring the statue of Saint Roland, a medieval french abbot who is considered a patron of Riga.
It’s worth noting that the square was massively bombed in World War II. Despite near-complete destruction, it was rebuilt in almost the exact original look.
Enjoy the fringe parts of Riga and visit Kengaraga Promenade
A hidden gem in Riga is the Kengaraga Promenade which is located in the Kengarags neighbourhood. It begins at a cycle path on Kengarags Street and stretches along the coast of the Daugava River at Viberta Island. It was created on the floodplain of the river in 1901. At that time it was formed with boulders, wooden piles and sand to prevent flooding.
Over the years, the earth-dam was reinforced and modernized with concrete to protect a now-populous residential neighborhood. You won’t find much mention of this beautiful stretch of real estate in guide books, but if you rent a bicycle or just want a nice walk along the river, check out the nature and fresh air at Kengaranga Promenade.