Riga is the capital city of Latvia and one of the largest cities in the Baltic region. With a rich history dating back to the 12th century, Riga is a vibrant and culturally rich destination, renowned for its stunning architecture, rich cultural heritage, and lively atmosphere. Riga has been shaped by its location at the crossroads of trade routes, as well as its history of foreign domination, including periods of rule by the Germans, Swedes, and Russians. This history is evident in the city’s architecture, which ranges from medieval churches and fortified towers, to Art Nouveau buildings, to Soviet-era apartment blocks. Today, Riga is a thriving and cosmopolitan city, with a vibrant arts and culture scene, world-class museums and galleries, and a thriving food and drink scene. Read below to check out the 10 best things to do in Riga so you can make the most of the city on your next trip!
Thinking of heading to Riga? Be sure to check out my Latvia Travel Guide to help you plan your trip!
Last updated: 2/21/23
Riga’s Old Town is a historic and cultural gem located in the heart of the Latvian capital. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its well-preserved medieval architecture and its rich history. With its narrow cobblestone streets, elegant townhouses, and stunning churches, the Old Town is a fascinating and picturesque destination for tourists and locals alike. Visitors can explore the many museums and galleries that showcase the city’s history and culture, or simply take a stroll through the charming streets and enjoy the sights and sounds of this beautiful area.
If you’re interested in old Latvian history, check out my article on The History Of The Baltics Pre-USSR: Estonia, Latvia And Lithuania!
Take in the breathtaking views of Riga from the top of the tallest tower in the Old Town. St. Peter’s Church Tower is a remarkable and historic landmark located in the heart of Riga, Latvia. The tower is part of St. Peter’s Church, which dates back to the 13th century and is one of the oldest and most recognizable buildings in the city. The tower offers visitors breathtaking views of Riga and its surroundings, with panoramic vistas stretching for miles in every direction. If you want to ride the elevator to the top for the best views in the city, tickets cost €9. It isn’t the cheapest, but the views prove extremely worth the fee.
The Latvian National Museum of Art is a vibrant and exciting destination for art lovers and culture seekers. This museum, located in the dynamic city of Riga, showcases a dynamic collection of Latvian art, ranging from the medieval period to contemporary works. Whether you’re a fan of classic paintings, cutting-edge contemporary art, or anything in between, you’re sure to find something that captivates you here. The museum’s exhibitions are masterfully curated, providing visitors with a comprehensive and entertaining look at Latvia’s rich artistic heritage. With its stunning architecture, beautifully designed galleries, and diverse collection, the Latvian National Museum of Art is a must-visit experience that promises to be both fun and educational. So, if you’re in Riga and looking to delve into the city’s art and culture, the Latvian National Museum of Art is the place to be!
You can find the museum’s hours of operation and exhibitions here.
The Occupation Museum of Riga is a must-visit destination for tourists interested in learning about the city’s history and cultural heritage. This museum provides an in-depth look at the city’s difficult past, including its experiences under Nazi and Soviet occupation during the 20th century. Through its exhibits, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the impact of these events on the city and its people, and can explore the stories of everyday Latvians who lived through this difficult period in the country’s history. With its engaging and well-curated exhibits, the Occupation Museum of Riga offers a unique opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation for the city’s rich history and cultural heritage.
Esplanade Park is a beautiful and historic public park situated in the center of the city, adjacent to some of Riga’s most iconic landmarks, such as the Latvian National Museum of Art, the Riga City Art Nouveau Centre, and the historic Old Town. Established in the late 19th century, the park covers an area of approximately 11 hectares and features lush greenery, picturesque water features, and stunning statues and sculptures.
The park’s history is closely intertwined with the development of Riga as a modern European city. It was created in the late 19th century as part of an urban development plan that aimed to turn Riga into a cultural center of the Baltic region. The park was designed by renowned German architect Georg Kuphaldt and has been a popular gathering place for the city’s residents ever since.
The park is also home to several impressive sculptures, including the striking Freedom Monument, which stands at the park’s southern entrance. I was lucky enough to visit Riga on Latvia’s Independence Day, November 18th, and see the ceremony that took place at the monument. People gathered and lined up in the snow to lay roses down at the Freedom Monument’s base to honor the soldiers who died in the Latvian War for Independence (1918-1920). After the Soviet annexation of Latvia in 1940, the monument continued to stand as a symbol of Latvia’s national identity and its continued struggle for independence.
Visitors can explore the former KGB Latvia headquarters, which have been preserved in their original state, and learn about the role that the KGB played in the city’s history. The Powder House, which is located on the museum grounds, is another highlight of the museum and is one of the oldest surviving structures in Riga. Through its exhibits, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the impact of Soviet rule on the city and its people, and can explore the stories of everyday Latvians who lived through this difficult period in the country’s history.
The KGB Corner House Museum was one of the most impactful KGB museums I visited in the Baltics. Since you can only enter the museum as part of a tour, you are guided through the former KGB headquarters and no detail goes unmissed. Including the “interrogation” methods used, descriptions of what it was like to be a prisoner there at every step and the execution room with the bullet holes still visible.
The National Library of Latvia is a renowned cultural institution located in the heart of Riga. This iconic building is home to one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of books, manuscripts, and other cultural artifacts in Latvia. The library’s holdings span a wide range of subjects, including Latvian history, literature, and art, and provide a rich resource for researchers, scholars, and the general public. The library’s exhibitions are expertly curated and designed, offering visitors a comprehensive and insightful look at Latvia’s cultural heritage. With its elegant architecture, spacious reading rooms, and extensive collections, the National Library of Latvia is an indispensable resource for those interested in exploring the cultural and intellectual history of Latvia.
See the unique and ornate Art Nouveau architecture that can be found throughout Riga’s city center, but especially on Albert street. The district is one of the largest collections of Art Nouveau buildings in the world, with over 800 stunning examples of this distinctive architectural style. The buildings on Albert Street are particularly notable, with their elegant curves, intricate details, and vibrant colors, making them a true feast for the eyes. Visitors can take a stroll down Albert Street and admire the beauty of these buildings, or visit one of the many museums and galleries in the area to learn more about the history and cultural significance of Art Nouveau in Riga.
The Riga Central Market is a significant and historic landmark in the heart of Riga, Latvia. This expansive market is located in the former hangars of the Riga International Airport and boasts over 80,000 square meters of indoor and outdoor space. The market offers a vast array of goods, including fresh produce, meat, dairy products, and baked goods, as well as clothing, souvenirs, and household items. The Riga Central Market is a unique and vibrant hub of economic activity and an important source of food and goods for the local community. The market is also a popular destination for tourists, offering a fascinating glimpse into the daily life and commerce of Riga.
Jūrmala is a picturesque resort town located on the Gulf of Riga in Latvia, known for its pristine sandy beaches, mineral springs, and charming wooden architecture. With a population of approximately 50,000, Jūrmala is a popular destination for tourists from all over the world seeking a tranquil escape from the bustle of city life. The town’s history dates back to the 19th century, when it began to attract wealthy residents who built grand summer homes along the coast. Many of these historic wooden villas still stand today and have been carefully preserved, offering visitors a glimpse into Jūrmala’s rich architectural heritage.
In addition to its beautiful beaches and stunning architecture, Jūrmala is also known for its health and wellness offerings, including numerous mineral springs and spa facilities. Visitors can enjoy a range of activities in Jūrmala, from hiking and cycling in the surrounding forests, to shopping at local markets, and dining at world-class restaurants. Jūrmala is easily accessible by both car and public transportation, and is located just 25 kilometers from Riga.
Riga, Latvia is a destination with much to offer visitors looking for a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. If you’re short on time, I highly recommend wandering around Old Town by foot, as you’re sure to bump into stunning buildings and several of the activities on this list. However, I stayed in Riga for two weeks and I still felt like I could have done more! Regardless of whether you’re rushing through or taking your time, Riga is a great spot to hit in the Balticis. From its stunning Old Town, to its many museums and galleries, to its beautiful parks and beaches, Riga is a city that will captivate and delight travelers of all ages and interests.
Head over to the Language & Travel Shop to check out my favorite goodies I use for learning Russian and traveling! I've compiled all my favorite products I use when #onthebloc so that you can benefit from them when you travel abroad. Help yourself prepare and support this blog at the same time :) Счастливого пути!