What to do in Riga: The alternative guide to Latvia’s capital and surroundings
Riga is known for its beautiful historical town center with art nouveau houses, narrow alleyways and the famous House of the Blackheads. But Latvia’s capital has so much more to offer and in the surrounding neighborhoods, away from the historical center, you find the real Riga: quaint eateries with unusual yet very affordable cuisine, nice shops with Latvian design and hidden markets with concerts.
The great thing about Riga is that you can basically go everywhere on foot and the city is very progressive when it comes to wifi. You find free wifi at pretty much every corner, even in taxis and buses. So you can always quickly look up things or look for the next cafe to head to.
Only an hour away from Riga in Sigulda an adventure awaits you with a decent rush of adrenaline as well as nature and old majestic castles. A great day trip if you want to see a little more of Latvia! All this makes Riga a pretty cool city which is worth visiting any time of the year!
Are you still wondering what to do in Riga? Here is our full guide.
What to do in Riga: the historical center and other things you definitely should have seen
The best and easiest way to fly to Riga is with the Latvian airline Air Baltic which flies to Riga daily out of Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich. There are flights starting at 39 € one way with carry on. Lufthansa and Ryanair also offer direct flights from Germany.
The Riga airport is very small so you are out of there pretty quickly once the plane has landed. The cheapest way to get into the city is bus 22 or minibus 222. The fare is 1,15€ if you buy the ticket at the airport ticket counter, if you buy it on the bus it will cost you 2€. The bus ride downtown is about 25 minutes.
Sights worth seeing in the historical center
Simply wander around the historical center, you will automatically come across the town hall square, the cathedral, gunpowder tower, the castle or the opera. Stroll through the narrow alleys and marvel at the wonderful architecture and the rich ornamentation on some of the houses.
Riga’s old town is a little touristy though, especially the restaurants, cafes and shops. To eat well and most of all authentically you should head to other neighborhoods.
House of the Blackheads
The House of the Blackheads probably is the most photographed building in Riga and I have to admit it really is impressive. Built in the 14th century it was the wealthiest and most prestigious place in all of Riga at the time as it was home to the unmarried merchants of the city. It was completely destroyed in the Second World War and only rebuilt in 1999, the new building being an exact replica of the original.
Towering from the Esplanade park you find the huge Orthodox church, the architecture of which is truly remarkable. A few domes are covered in shining gold and even if you are not religious you should have a look inside. If you are lucky and there is a mass being held then you will be greeted by the soft sounds of the choir.
The Freedom Monument has a special significance for the Latvian people as it is the symbol of their independence and freedom from the Soviet occupation. You will often find flower reefs at the foot of the monument, put down for those who fought for the independence.
View over Riga
The nicest place to see Riga from above is from St. Petri cathedral. Compared to the generally low prices in Riga admissions however are costly. It is 9 € to get in but then you can comfortably ride the elevator to the top where you can go outside, breath fresh Latvian air and look down onto the Daugava river and into the alleyways of the historical center. Another free option would be the Skyline Bar at the Radisson Blue Hotel which you access with a glass elevator on the facade of the building. Best to go in the late afternoon and wait until the dusk makes the city light up – really beautiful!
The Centrs and Pardaugava neighborhoods
Riga’s newer neighborhood or rather the Centrs neighborhood is the heart of art nouveau. Here you will find the real Riga and its people because the cutest cafes, coolest restaurants and shops with typical Latvian design are all in this part of town! Things are even more authentic in Pardaugava on the other side of the river. Prices are lower, the houses are made of wood as is the tradition and the markets are visited almost exclusively by locals.
Opened around 130 years ago for the high society Riga’s first shopping arcade Bergs Bazaar houses some 140 small shops and restaurants. This arcade contributed greatly to Riga actually becoming a city as more and more people started moving there. A historical place!
Art nouveau buildings
About one third of Riga’s city center was built in art nouveau style, visible in some 800 art nouveau facades. Lion heads, floral patterns or elegant female bodies, only when you look closely do you realize how much work and attention to detail is behind all this. You find especially pompous examples along Elizabetes and Alberta street.
This green oasis lies right in the center and is the second oldest park in Riga. If the weather plays along then you can sit down here with a takeaway coffee, watch the people and recover a bit from roaming the city. And from time to time there are concerts at the open air stage.
This market is one of my favourite places in Riga! Not only because you find lots of fresh products there, meat and fish only are a few hours old, but also because there are almost only locals here that meet up for a chat or go about getting their grocery shopping done. The central market is one of the oldest markets in Europe and consists of 5 pavilions in former zeppelin hangars which are relics of World War One.
Note: Bargaining is not common here, since the prices are low enough anyway they are fixed.
Free city tour
Every day at 12 those interested in learning more about Riga meet in front of St. Petri church to be guided through the city. And not through the ‘boring’ historical center mind you, but to places that really define Riga and where locals go. This way you get to know Riga from a whole other side. The tour is around 2,5 hours and I highly recommend it regardless what the weather is like because the guides keep spirits high no matter what! Although the tour is called ‘free’ the guides can only go on with offering tours if you give them an adequate tip, something around 5 € is good.
The Kalnciems neighborhood lies in the Pardaugava part of Riga. If you have a little more time and are wondering what to do in Riga, head over there and look at the beautiful old wooden houses. There is a market here on Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm but there are also markets on other days in the courtyards as well as exhibitions and concerts. Not many other travellers end up here so way to go!
Nice big boutique store that sells several products by Latvian designers. Everything from the typical black clay pots to hand-knitted wool clothes to furniture and jewellery to all sorts of typical birch water. The selection is large but still hand-picked.
Address: Terbatas iela 6/8, Centrs
You can get pretty much everything in one place here so hang out for an hour or two. istaba is an art gallery, store, cafe and restaurant all at once. So while on the bottom floor you can shop for special little items made by Latvian designers, the first floor has a cafe and restaurant on a gallery from where you have a great view of the shop and the street. Apart from coffee and drinks there are soups, salads and snacks on the menu. A really cool concept!
Address: K. Barona iela 31a, 12-23 Uhr, Centrs
If you are interested in what young Latvian fashion designers are creating then you are in the right place! Paviljons has hand-sown pieces, some of them pretty flippy, some even unique items. The prices are high but fair considering this is real design work. The shop was originally opened as a pop-up store for a hand full of Latvian fashion design students but has established itself more and more since then.
Address: Terbatas iela 55, Centrs
Food and drinks in Riga
Latvian cuisine is hearty, similar to German plain fare. Sausages, meat, potatos, sauerkraut etc. are eaten a lot in Latvia. But it doesn’t always have to be heavy food, there are lots of great restaurants in Riga which use regional and seasonal ingredients for their genious creations.
So there are lots of berries used in summer and in the fall it’s mushrooms fresh from the woods. Apart from meat fish is ubiquitous here, especially salmon served as sashimi or smoked, herring and trout. Popular spices in Latvia are dill and caraway.
The Latvians’ favourite drink is beer. If you prefer a non-alcoholic local drink then from April on there is birch water at all the markets which is very healthy. Balzams is also great for your body, this herb liquor is considered the national drink and is especially good in the purple variety with berries, this one is not as bitter.
Riga is also famous for its chocolate (Laima), its logo is on the clock tower which you pass just before entering the historical center and often is a meeting point for people.
Cozy cafes with great coffee
Rocket Bean Roastery
Going from the historical center to this cafe is already sweet in the most literal sense of the word. On the right hand side you automatically pass the factory of the largest Baltic sweets manufacturer Laima. I for instance had no idea it was there until I had the fine scent of chocolate in my nose and was standing directly in front of it.
If you can resist the temptation then go on and your tastebuds will be rewarded by probably the best coffee in Riga. I admit, it is a bit from the city center but it is worth it! The design of Rocket Bean Roastery is stylish with a hint of industrial. In the back there is a roastery and between both the kitchen where an extraordinary chef creates excellent but very affordable dishes. A three course lunch with soup, fish and mango cake for instance only costs 9,50 €.
The coffee comes from different countries and is prepared in various ways; among others in a Syphon which looks like a lab instrument. Have the nice barista advise you and then enjoy your favourite coffee!
Address: Miera iela 29
You will find similarly good coffee at Vest Café which is even more industrial and a bit closer to the downtown area. Tattooed bearded men, creative cool locals and great coffee – you already guessed it this is a hipster place, but a likeable one!
Address: Stabu iela 1, Centrs
Coffee at Miit is great too, especially together with nice cake and sweet little pastries. And as in almost all cafes free wifi is included. A good place to retreat to a corner and work. For lunch there is a delicious vegetarian combo consisting of soup and a main course and Saturday mornings there are pancakes galore!
Address: Lāčplēša iela 10, Centrs
Restaurants with traditional or creative Latvian cuisine
Austra was opened a few months ago and still is a secret recommendation! In an industrial setting spanning two floors they serve excellent dishes that are the modern versions of traditional recipes. On the upper level you can watch the chef in the open kitchen. I ate the chicken breast with quince, bulgur and cabbage puree. At 8,50 € the price was great and the meal delicious! The staff is young, laid-back and very obliging.
Address: Krišjāņa Barona iela 41/43, Centrs
This restaurant is something for a special evening. Koya is a little hidden away from the bustle East of the historical center. While on the outside a black mysterious container, you are greeted on the inside by a stylish yet comfortable interior. The pricing is a little higher but you are served truly extraordinary creations of excellent ingredients. In summer you can sit on the terrace right by the river and enjoy one of the best views of Riga, in winter you have the warmth of a fireplace. Main courses are between 13 and 25 €.
Address: Andrejostas iela 4, Rand Centrs
A visit to the Palgams is worthwhile at any time of the day, be it breakfast starting 9 am, on weekends brunch from 11 on, a three course lunch menu for 7 € or à la carte dinner with a small but refined selection. It is especially nice in summer when you can sit outside with a view of the river and a good drink or a coffee in your hand. But the place is pretty cool on the inside too with surfboards on the ceiling and lots of dark wood.
Address: Kronvalda bulvāris 2B, Centrs
You like seafood and fish? Then this is your place! The dishes are simple but really good. The fish and chips are super tasty and the other items on the menu all hold this standard.
Address: Dzirnavu iela 72, Centrs
This restaurant, more of a snack bar really, specializes on the typical Russian dumplings with various meat and vegetable fillings. You can load your plate yourself with whichever kind and however many of the Pelmeni you want, add different sauces and you have yourself a delicious and really cheap meal. The portion in the picture for example only costed 1,15 €! This is ideal especially if you are walking hungrily through the historical center.
Address: Kalku 7, Altstadt
You will invariably come across a Lido in Riga because there are several subsidiaries and pretty much everyone will recommend going there at least once. Things are rustic and simple at Lido. Locals and other travellers come here to have typical savory Latvian meals with lots of meat at fair prices. But better not go to the restaurant in the historical center, it is always pretty busy and locals seldom come here!
Address: Elizabetes iela 65, Centrs or Dzirnavu iela 74/76, Centrs
Although you can probably come here at any time of the day the selection of wines is what defines this place. The bar is located in Bergs Bazaar and has more than 20 different wines on the menu which is a lot in beer-loving Latvia. A glass of wine is best paired with some good tapas offered here among other things. The interiors are modern with an industrial touch. If the temperatures are good then you can sit outside under a large chestnut tree. The wine tastes even better there!
Address: Elizabetes iela 83, Centrs
Comfy and bright bar with sofas and brick walls that wins you over with great cocktails and the laid-back atmosphere. The interior is based on Apple’s first logo and the bar is all high-tech equipment. Every table has a set of Apple chargers and power sockets. So this place is ideal for working too! On weekends local DJs play here.
Address: Blaumaņu iela 12a, Centrs
Rest and sleep well
The Tallink Hotel is the perfect home base to explore Riga from. You can easily get there from the airport on a bus, the bus station, central market and historical center are in walking distance and at the same time the newer part of town with cool cafes and restaurants is right around the corner. The rooms are modern with a very nicely designed bathroom. Breakfast covers anything you could wish for so you can gather strength for the day. If you feel like sauna in the morning then you can use it for free. A double room costs 100 €.
Bearsleys Downtown Apartments
Here you can take care of food yourself or book a complimentary breakfast. The apartments are only a kilometer away from the historical center. They have everything you need and modern interiors. An apartment for two costs around 90 €.
New apartment in the city center
This apartment was newly renovated and is very tasteful. It is super quiet yet centrally located. You need 10 minutes to get to the historical center. There easily is room for two and another two can sleep on the extended couch. Book here.
Day trip to Sigulda, where adventure and nature await you!
You can reach Sigulda in around 1:15 hours from Riga’s central bus station. The fare is 2,50 €. Once in Sigulda you can grab a map from the super friendly tourist information staff to orient yourself, they will also give you tipps on what to do in the area.
If the weather is good then Gauja National Park is ideal for hour-long walks where you can really enjoy nature. Sigulda is also known for the castles, forts, estates and an awesome bob track.
Riding the bobsled is not for the faint of heart or anyone with back problems – trust me I have been there! The bob races down 1420 meters with 16 turns at 105 km/h. The forces working on your body abruptly pull you from one side to another in a turn. Try not to sit in the back, that is where they are the strongest and at times you will not know where up or down is anymore. The ride is around 50 € in a normal bobsleigh and 10 € in a soft bob because it is a bit slower and can fit more people. There are rides in summer as well. I really was shaking when I got out brimming with adrenaline! Don’t miss out on this adventure!
Impressive castles and fortresses
After this rush of adrenaline you can turn your attention to Sigulda’s historical buildings that all tell of a long history. Sigulda castle for example was already built in 1207. Opposite from it you have the Sigulda fortress. Climb the tower and enjoy the stunning view and the medieval atmosphere.
Next ride the cable car across the Gauja valley and explore the deserted Krimulda area: the plaster is peeling off of the houses, there is merely a skeleton left of the greenhouse and mailboxes have probably not been filled for a long time. Almost a little ghostly but also intriguing!
Turaida castle is another relic of medieval times and is the most visited sight in Latvia. On the way back to the city you can also take a short detour to visit the Gutmans cave with inscriptions from the 17th century and some vows of love engraved in the walls.
Sigulda really is paradise if you want to get active in winter: there is a 1,25 km cross country skiing track and there are slopes for downhill skiing and snowboarding, not to forget the bobsledding. In summer the cross country skiing track is used for rollerskating, jogging and other activities. As you can see the Latvians like adventures in nature!
Eating and staying overnight in Sigulda
In Sigulda you can refuel at Café Doma which is a little hidden away in the center. Two young girls inherited the house and opened a really comfy cafe on the ground floor. There are various kinds of smoothies, coffee, burgers, salads, soups and other delicious things like waffles.
In summer you can sit in the idyllic garden. You also get great coffee and a large selection of sweet pastries and cakes at Mr. Biskvits diagonally across from the bus stop.
If you want to spend a night or more in Sigulda then stay at Aparjods. This hotel is situated a little outside the center but is super comfortable with wood interiors and it has a spa and sauna. The restaurant serves excellent Latvian specialties next to the fireplace.
Go exploring and experience the authentic Riga and surroundings!
Riga has a lot more to offer than just the historical center and nice art nouveau buildings! The newer parts of the city and surrounding districts offer lots of cool creative restaurants, cafes and shops that are worth being discovered. And it sure is worth heading out to the countryside for a day or two and really getting to know Latvia. The calmness of nature awaits you here as well as adventurous rides on the bobsleigh and historical castles and buildings marked by the last decades and the Soviet occupation. Riga and surroundings really have a lot to offer and are always worth a visit!
What is your favourite place in Riga? Tell us in the comments!
Eine Unmenge an Flat White (australische Kaffeespezialität) wurde konsumiert, um diesen Beitrag zu schreiben und diesen Blog zu betreiben. Fülle unser Koffeinleben wieder auf, damit wir hier weiter machen können!
Eine Unmenge an Flat WHite (australische Kaffeespezialität) wurde konsumiert, um diesen Beitrag zu schreiben und diesen Blog zu betreiben. Fülle unser Koffeinleben wieder auf, damit wir hier weiter machen können!