1. The House of the Blackheads
Everything in Riga is within walking distance and there is plenty to experience and visit for a weekend to enjoy your stay. One of the absolute top attractions of Riga is the House of the Blackheads. This beautiful building is located in the old town and was founded in the fourteenth century for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild for unmarried German merchants in Riga. Ironically, it was bombarded by the Germans during World War II, but in 1999 the building was restored.
2. The Freedom Monument
The Freedom Monument of Riga is without a doubt one of the city’s most important monuments. This is a statue of a woman who holds three stars in the sky and it symbolizes Latvian independence. In 1920, Riga was detached from the Soviet Union. Surprisingly, almost forty percent of the population is still Russian. This still gives the city an Eastern European atmosphere, making Riga a very interesting and perhaps even strange destination.
3. Riga Cathedral
The Riga Cathedral has an important historical value. This Gothic cathedral is the largest medieval church in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which together form the Baltic States. Besides Gothic, art Nouveau is also very much present in local architecture. Of these, there are about 800 buildings, the largest part of which lies in Albert Iela (Albert Street). It is definitely one of the top things to do in Riga!
4. Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
My personal favorite building in Riga. This giant Russian Orthodox cathedral is very impressive from the outside. Inside, the building is actually pretty sober.
The giant golden dome really pops out once the city is shrouded in darkness and the spotlights are on. Then the roof is lit and then only you’ll get to see how beautiful the Nativity of Christ Cathedral really is. This is one of the most expensive buildings ever build and it is Riga’s largest Orthodox church.
5. Radison Blu Skyline Bar
Just next to this imposing Cathedral, you’ll find the Radison Blu Skyline Bar. If you don’t stay here for the night (from €110 or $130 a night), you can still have a cocktail or another kind of drink. For Riga, prices are expensive, but according to West-European / American / Australian standards, they are quite normal. A cocktail costs between €8 ($10) and €10 ($12,5) and a soda costs €2.50 ($3).
From the top floor you get a beautiful view of the Nativity of Christ Orhtodox Cathedral, but also over many other monuments and sights of Riga.
6. The view from Riga’s Petri church
For €9 or $10 (a lot of money in Riga) you can climb on top of the beautiful Sankt Petri church or the St. Peter’s church. Well, there’s an elevator that brings you to the top, so the climbing isn’t very heavy. On the viewing platform you get a 360° view of the Latvian capital. Just try to go up before sunset. Then you can see Riga during the day, during sunset and at night. Three great views for the price of one! Please note: during the winter, an icy cold wind blows!
7. The old city
If all of these buildings say little to you, you can just walk around in the colorful old town, which is completely protected by UNESCO. The city itself was already built in 1201, on the banks of the Daugava River. This rich history is still noticeable. At times you might even think you’re walking in an open-air museum.
8. Central Market
If you’re hungry or just want to observe the locals, you can go to the Central Market every day. This is one of Europe’s largest marketplaces and you’ll find a lot of delicacies here. Don’t forget to taste the ‘black balm’. This local specialty is a herbal mix of pure vodka and you should definitely try it during your city trip to Riga (you can also drink a cocktail made out of it in the Radison Blu Skyline Bar).
9. Kronvalda Park
If you want to escape from all of these historic buildings, it’s perhaps a good idea to head into the green Kronvalda Park. There is even a bridge where loved ones leave locks (which in fact is a common practice in the parks in Riga), a nice alternative to the Pont des Arts in Paris and one of Riga’s finest things to see.
10. Great bars and restaurants
Besides all these attractions, Riga is also a very laid back city to visit. On almost every street corner you’ll find a cool coffee place or a nice bar where you can have a drink during the day, but can go dancing and partying in the evening. Due to its numerous and inexpensive bars and nightclubs, Riga is one of the most popular places to go to for backpackers. So don’t be surprised if you see a lot of drunk and noisy tourists in the evenings, whether on pub crawl or not. If you prefer a quieter experience, visit the Latvian capital during the week.
Also for foodies there is a lot to experience and taste. The restaurants are clean and often serve delicious food! Read my article about the best bars and restaurants in Riga to get an impression of what you can expect.
11. Natural beauty
If you want to do a day trip from Riga, you should definitely explore the nearby area to catch a glimpse of real Latvia. Nature lovers can be pleased in two national parks in the vicinity of Riga. First of all, there is the Kemeri National Park, a forest and marshy area where there are also some lakes. Here you can find natural sources and mud that is said to have medicinal strengths.
If you prefer something hilly, Gauja National Park is the place to be. This is the country’s largest and oldest national park and lies in the beautiful Gauja Valley. Speleologists can also enjoy themselves in the many caves present in the park. Both national parks are less than an hour’s drive from Riga and are easily reached by public transport.
Riga is located on the Baltic Sea and, of course, it’s also possible to swim in good weather. Jurmala is easily reached by train. It’s a place where both locals and tourists find relaxation and can cool down during the hot summers, afterwards treating themselves in one of the many bars and restaurants.
For those traveling by road, Riga is also very suitable for departing from other cities. Either visit one of the other Baltic states and take the bus to Vilnius or Tallinn. Either you continue to Saint Petersburg or Budapest. Whether you’re on a short break or a longer road trip, a visit to Riga is a great choice. You can of course also explore the rest of the country, because Latvia has surprisingly much to offer!
Tours in Riga
Want to discover more in Riga? Or you don’t want to arrange everything yourself? Look at these tour operators and their tours and excursions:
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.