Why You Really Shouldn’t Skip Riga, Latvia

Last updated on:
Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission. Read the full disclosure policy here.

Despite how many times I've been to Europe, there are still countries and regions that I have yet to visit.

And, up until a couple of months ago, one of my biggest oversights was definitely the Baltic region – namely Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. I had heard such great things about all these countries: great architecture, great food, super-fast wifi, lots of history. And yet my travels had just never taken me to this northeastern corner of Europe.

But then I found myself with a week of downtime in between a few weeks in the UK and a river cruise in Russia. And which region just happens to lie “on the way” to Russia from the UK? The Baltics, of course!

Riga Old Town architecture

And so it was that I found myself arriving in Riga, Latvia, for the very first time in early October. It was overcast and quite chilly, but the yellow-leafed trees and crisp air made me immediately want to get out and explore.

And explore I did.

Swedish Gate in Riga's Old Town
Swedish Gate in Riga

I spent three days in Latvia's capital city, spending time both in the UNESCO-recognized Old Town and in the newer (and sometimes Soviet-influenced) parts of the city.

What I found in Riga was a lively, beautiful, and very safe-feeling city that has a unique character all its own. Yes, you can still find Soviet-era buildings here and they now use the Euro, but Latvia has held on to a lot of its own traditions and history, too, from colorful knitted mittens to the old architecture and cobbled streets.

While early October likely isn't the most ideal time to visit this part of the world (little did I know, but it would mark the start of nearly three weeks without any sunshine), I still found myself absolutely charmed by Riga.

House of the Blackheads at night
House of the Blackheads

No matter what time of year you visit, you can experience Riga's history, architecture, food, and just downright cool vibe.

And here are all the things I definitely don't think you should miss in Riga.


Top things to do in Riga, Latvia

1. Take a walking tour of the Old Town

Livu Square in Riga, Latvia
Livu Square

It's cliche, perhaps, but Riga's Old Town was definitely my favorite part of the city. This part of Riga at the mouth of the Daugava River dates all the way back to 1201 – which means there's plenty of history here!

I did a free 1.5-hour walking tour of the pedestrian-friendly city center (I went with Tours in Riga and had a great guide), where I learned about the city's formation and saw some of the most popular buildings and squares.

Cat House in Riga, Latvia
Cat House

You definitely can walk around the center on your own, but doing a guided tour almost always gives you a better insight into what you're actually seeing.

2. Get a birds-eye view

Riga Old Town from above

Whenever I'm in a new city, one of my favorite things to do is to find the best overhead view. Not only do I enjoy seeing cities from this unique perspective, but it often helps me understand the lay of the land better, too.

In Riga, my top pick for a birds-eye view would be at the top of the bell tower of St. Peter's Church in the center of the Old Town. It costs less than 10 Euro to go inside the church (which now houses different art exhibits) and up the tower. And from the top you get fantastic views over the Old Town and the river.

Riga Old Town from St. Peter's Church
Riga Old Town

Another good spot for a high-up view is the Panorama Observation Deck, located atop the Latvian Academy of Sciences in the old Soviet part of Riga.

The building itself – a symbol of the Soviet era – is worth seeing, and the views from the deck are also good.

View of Riga from Panorama Observation Deck
View of Riga from Panorama Observation Deck

The Panorama deck is open every day April-November and costs 5 Euro to go to the top.

3. Visit the Central Market

Riga Central Market

In a couple of the above photos, you might notice the rounded structures lined up near the river. These buildings were constructed using the framework of old German zeppelin hangers left over from World War I, and this is where you can find Riga's Central Market today.

Riga Central Market
Riga Central Market

This is a great place to wander or grab some affordable eats. I especially enjoyed the produce building because of all the colorful pickled things on display.

4. See the city's art nouveau section

Art nouveau architecture in Riga, Latvia

While Riga's Old Town is full of impressive and photogenic medieval buildings, the city is also famous for its art nouveau architecture. In fact, over one third of the buildings in central Riga are of this ornate style, built during an economic boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Art nouveau architecture in Riga

The greatest concentration of art nouveau buildings can be found in what is often known as Riga's “quiet center.” Look for these intriguing buildings on streets like Elizabetes, Alberta, Strēlnieku, Vīlandes, and Rūpniecības streets.

5. Learn about Riga's Soviet past

Old Soviet district of Riga, Latvia

Latvia was under the Soviet “iron curtain” from the mid-1940s all the way up until 1991. If you're interested in this part of Riga's history, Urban Adventures offers a really interesting tour called “Soviet Secrets of Riga.” This tour will walk you through daily life in Soviet Riga, have you visit the Russian corner of the city to see some markets and old Soviet-era buildings, and you'll even grab a drink at an old Soviet-style cafe.

The Soviet Union had a huge impact on Latvia and its people (and is largely why you'll find many people speaking Russian there today), and learning about this chapter of Riga's past is a must for any history nerd.

6. Enjoy time in a park

Bastion Hill park in Riga, Latvia
Bastion Hill Park

One thing that I didn't necessarily expect to find in Riga were so many parks. But Riga is actually a very green city, with a number of parks and gardens.

My favorite park was Bastejkalna Park (Bastion Hill) near the Freedom Monument. Not only is it a relaxing green space, but there's also a canal running through it. If you have time, you can take a cruise along the canal in a little flat-bottomed boat.

Canal in Riga, Latvia

Other popular parks include Kronvalda Park and Vermanes Park, with the latter being home to the very cool (and cozy) Apsara Tea House.

See it all in one day

Architecture in Riga, Latvia

Want to see the best of Riga in one half-day? Check out the “Classic and Cool Riga” tour offered by Urban Adventures. This tour includes the Old Town, the Art Nouveau district, and a stop at the Central Market. If I only had one day to dedicate to exploring Riga, this is the tour I would book!

Urban Adventures



How to get to Riga: I found a flight from London to Riga on Wizz Air for an awesome price using Skyscanner, which directed me straight to the airline's site to make my booking (I always use Skyscanner for flight searches in Europe!).

Where to stay in Riga: I also used Skyscanner to search for a hotel in Riga, and ended up booking a room at Hotel Justus, which is conveniently located just around the corner from the House of the Blackheads. The great news about accommodation in Riga is that it's all super affordable – I paid about $200 for 3 nights in Riga. (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book a room here)

Some other hotels to check out in Riga include:

Or you can compare other Riga hotel prices here.

What to pack: Looking for packing suggestions for Latvia? Head over to my Amazon shop to see all my favorite travel gear! You can also pick up a Baltics travel guide before you go.

Don't forget: Finally, don't leave home without a good travel insurance plan – because you never know what might happen! I recommend World Nomads for affordable basic travel insurance.

Have you ever been to Riga? If not, is it a place you'd like to visit?


Pin it for later:

Things to do and see in Riga, Latvia


*Note: My trip to Riga was partially sponsored by Skyscanner, and I also joined a free tour with Urban Adventures while I was there. But, as always, all opinions and recommendations are 100% my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

Join the ADB Community!
Sign up here to get exclusive travel tips, deals, and other inspiring goodies delivered to your inbox.

38 Comments on “Why You Really Shouldn’t Skip Riga, Latvia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Riga looks to be very historically interesting, My grandfather had school in Riga in the 19th century bearing his name,
    Leopold Nathanson. A friend once told me that it still existed in the l950’s and although it was a Jewish Gymnasium
    that she had attended the school even though she was Catholic because it had the best education. My grandparents
    left Riga in the 1890’s via Bremen, Germany to the USA. The family had a history of a stained glass artist who traveled
    all over Riga to create stained windows in churches all over the country. It could be that they still exist today. It would
    be nice to know where and what his name was. My grandfather spoke several languages and we have my grandmother’s
    old hebrew and German bible. Of course the Nazis and or Russians could have destroyed said building.

    We spent only 3 August days in Riga and fell absolutely in love with everything about it. I can’t wait to go back for a much longer stay. Having traveled extensively in Europe, I’ve never experienced a city that is, on the one hand, so incredibly affordable while, on the other hand, of such superior quality in all aspects. We stayed in a restored hotel built in the 1880’s for the price of budget motel in the States, and our room was a suite with marble bath and a balcony overlooking the Central Park and church steeples. A lavish full breakfast was included in a beautiful dining room attended by gloved, uniformed servers, which kept us satisfied until dinner time. We could easily walk to all the sights through the delightful Central Park which leads to the exquisite beaux arts gilded opera house. With no advance booking we were able to obtain for peanuts the best seats to the ballet, one of the best I’ve seen anywhere, and the next night to the opera La Traviata. The people are freindly, cultured and attractive, most speak good English, the food is heavenly and the city is clean and safe. What’s not to love about this glittering jewel box of a city?

    In two weeks it will be my third visit to Riga since last October fell in love with it. So many activities available to much to mention.or just relax with fine beers and food with welcoming locals that mostly speak good English.

    I was browsing about things I should know about Riga, Latvia and I found your blog.
    Very appreciate what you wrote here. Interesting, informative, and makes me confirmed about going there with my boyfriend instead of going to France. When he said our vacation will be spent in Latvia, I was surprised cause I know nothing about Baltic region. But one thing for sure, I’d love to spend our time together at the Bastion Hill instead of Eiffel Tower.

      Riga is a very cool city, with some beautiful architecture in the Old Town. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

    Awesome post! I just come back from weekend getaway in Riga and now I’m planning to go back for a week or two.
    Your tips are really great! I’ll add some to my Riga to do list!

    I was lucky to stay in amazing Airbnb right in the heart of Old Town and it was so beautiful! I could just walk to all most important tourist atractions. Restaurants in Old Town are simply outstanding and prices are amazing!
    Next time when you go back to Riga check out this Airbnb. Host super helpful and friendly! Iget so many insider tips and helpful info how to safe some money and see as much as possible!
    I love Tallinn but Riga is now my favorite – romantic fairytale 🙂

    Here is my Riga favorites:



    Keep up the good work and write more about beautiful Baltic countries 🙂

      I’d love to go back to Riga, too – thanks for the Airbnb and restaurant recommendations!

As Seen On

As Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen On