With its Medieval Old Town, concert halls and quiet museums, Riga is a cultural destination sitting on the shore of the Baltic Sea. At the same time, a third of the entire population of Latvia lives in Riga – meaning that the city has a serious buzz about it as well.
Whether you like to admire architectural or prefer to seek out hidden craft beer bars, here are the best things to do in Riga, Latvia:
Explore Old Town: The beautiful medieval and art nouveau style of buildings in Riga’s Old Town earned the pretty city a place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The intricate buildings almost look more like gingerbread houses than modern business centres. Much of the Old Town was destroyed in World War II, but it was rebuilt in the same ornate style of the original buildings that once stood in the same spot. One of the must-see examples is the House of Blackheads, a former merchant guild that is now also home to a tourism information office. There are more than 800 art nouveau buildings in all, and Alberta iela is one of the best streets to see some of the most gorgeous examples while on your holiday to Riga.
Admire the Dome Cathedral: Construction on the distinctive Riga Cathedral (also known as Dome, from the German word for cathedral) began in 1211. The church is officially over 800 years old, but the structure is not entirely medieval. The cathedral was changed over the centuries, and now has elements of Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture. The church is also a museum with more than 500,000 items related to the city’s history. The distinctive spire of the cathedral can be seen from all over Old Town – even from your Riga hotel – and the rooster sculpture at the very top acts as a weathercock to show the direction of the wind.
Shop in Riga’s central market: Sample Latvian foods and find seasonal produce with a trip to Riga’s sprawling central market (Centrāltirgus iela). The market, which opened in 1930, covers five zeppelin hangars, though some sellers also spill out into the outdoor areas that surround the pavilions. For a more modern shopping break, plan to visit on a Saturday when you can check out the weekly market in the Kalnciems District. The market features artisan handicrafts and street food, plus offers free concerts inside the historic wooden buildings that the neighborhood is known for.
Cheers to the nightlife: Riga is pretty by day but really comes alive once the sun goes down. The Latvian capital’s best bars can be found inside old warehouses or Baroque buildings. Try the modern cocktails at Bar XIII (Strēlnieku iela 1A) or stop into hot spot Vest Riga (Stabu iela 1), which doubles as a specialty coffee house by day. For a relaxed vibe and a chance to rub elbows with Riga’s cool kids, grab a drink at Chomsky’s (Lāčplēša iela). The cozy bar is in a residential area, and you enter the nightspot via the front yard, which doubles as a terrace in summer. The bar also has a good selection of some of Latvia’s local craft beers, though you can also visit breweries like Labietis craft brewery Valmiermuiža brewery (both at Valdemāra Pasāža).
Climb St. Peter’s Steeple: St. Peter’s Church stands out in the Riga skyline thanks to its 130 meter high steeple. While you cannot go all the way to the top, there is a viewing platform 72 metres up – offering an impressive view of the red rooftops of Old Town. After taking in the city vistas, explore the church which regularly hosts art exhibits and has an interesting collection of relics. This is also where the original statue of Knight Roland from the Town Hall Square can be found. If you happen upon the church at the right time you will also be treated to the chimes playing the Latvian folk song “Riga dimd,” which takes place five times a day.
Get a taste of the countryside: Experience rural life in Latvia without ever leaving Riga with a trip to the Latvian Open-Air Ethnographic Museum. The city does have art and science museums, but this outdoor museum is one of the more unique exhibits in the country. Spread out over more than 80 acres, the open-air museum has more than 118 buildings that recreate what life would have been like in the Latvian countryside in the 17th and 18th centuries. There is also an annual craft fair here that focuses on local handicrafts.
Cruise the canal: Though it can be hard to tear yourself away from the cobblestoned streets, the city also has a picturesque canal. Take an hour-long boat trip down the Daugava river and through the Riga Canal to get a sense of the capital from the water. Tours start at Bastion hill and the journey takes place aboard a 100-year-old wooden boat.
Have you been to Riga? What would you add to the list?