Riga, Latvia is an exciting Baltic capital city with a beautiful old town. It’s considered a cultural centre with the ‘House of the Blackheads’ being the key recognisable landmark of the city. As well as the Old Town of Riga, it’s a city that is great for shopping and has a thriving night life. Aim to spend at least 3-5 days there if you can as there are plenty to see and do!
Things to Do in Riga – Old Town
House of the Blackheads
The most famous building in Old Town Riga, the house of the Blackheads was built in 1334 as a venue for meetings and banquets. The building was destroyed by bombs in WW2 but was fully rebuilt in 1999. Inside you can see the 19th Century furniture, weaponary and treasury collections.
The Three Brothers
You will best notice the diversity of the Riga old town architecture from the ‘three brothers‘ – the three different style main buildings in the heart of the old town. Legend has it that the three differently styled Medieval houses were built by three brothers from the same family! The oldest brother was built around 1490 – the time when Riga established close links with Dutch merchants and reflected influences of Dutch Renaissance architecture. Notice the Amsterdam style! The middle brother is a traditional 17th Century dwelling, built in 1646. The third brother was built in the second half of the 17th century with small apartments on each floor. A mask protects it from the evil spirits.
If you are interested in finding out about the past prosperity of the city of Riga and the architecture that resulted from this, head to the historical exhibition at Dannenstern house.
The Swedish gate is the only surviving city gate of Riga. It was built into the city wall under Swedish rule in 1698. You will stumble upon this whilst you explore the cobbled streets of the old town (avoid heels, ladies! ;-))
Church Architecture in Riga
Riga is home to more than 500 buildings built in various architectural styles – including Romanticism, Gothic, Baroque, Eclectic and Modernist. Gothic spires dominate the skyline of the city of Riga and one of the most famous of these is the spire of St Peter’s Church which is a 17th Century spire which was originally built to be over 130m tall. It has collapsed and been reconstructed several times. You can walk up the spire for a view from a height of 72m.
If you are interested in Church architecture in Riga, you might also want to visit St Jacob’s Church – the seat of the Roman Catholic Church’s cardinal in Latvia and the Riga Dome Cathedral – the seat of the Latvian Lutheran Church’s archbishop. Five Christian denominations were able to live peacefully and harmoniously in such a small city for a number of years.
Of course, walking around the Old Town of Riga is completely free, but if you would like a guide to help you to get to know the history behind the stunning buildings, you can book a walking tour or canal boat tour with GetYourGuide.
Situated on the banks of River Daugava in Riga, the castle was founded in 1330. However, it was rebuilt thoroughly between 1497 and 1515 following war between the Livonian Order and the city of Riga. Riga Castle one of the largest medieval castles in Latvia. It is the residence of the President of Latvia and home to several museums including the Latvian Holocaust Museum. Admission is €5 and €3 for children. You can also see more during a limited time period by going for a Latvian castles tour if an extra dose of history is your thing.
Things to Do in Riga – Parks
Bastejkalna Park in the centre of Riga is the perfect place to relax. It’s a beautifully landscaped park with flowerbeds and fountains. You can also have fun on the pedlo boats!
Shopping in Riga
For souvenir shopping, head to Riga central market (Centraltirgus) – the largest market in Europe. It’s Latvia’s most prominent 20th Century building and is an important part of the heritage of the city. There are also some fabulous fruit and veg, cheese and fish stalls.
Nightlife in Riga
I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent unexpected party vibe in Riga. On a ‘party like a pirate!’ night me and my sister ended up drinking a ‘chi-chi’ cocktail on a rooftop bar – now our new Spanish friend was quite amused by this, as ‘chi-chi- means a rather rude female part in Spanish! 😉
There is an abundance of clubs dotted around the city centre that open until the early hours and welcome locals and foreigners alike. Kaļķu Vārti is one of the locals’ favorites – a classic club atmosphere in a historical cellar! You might also want to check out Piens and Spot Cafe. For a more bohemian atmosphere, you might want to explore Kaņepes Kultūras Centrs. My favourite is Autentika, due to it’s good local beer and indie tunes.
For more info, read this article on the best night life in Riga by Culture Trip.
Where to eat out in Riga
It’s so reasonably priced to eat out in Riga, some might argue that staying in is not an option! For traditional Latvian food near the Old Town square, I recommend the popular Kolande.
Although some of the best food is found in the Old Town, but if you are an intrepid traveller, you might want to explore further afield. Annas Dārzs (Anna’s Garden) serves a fabulous weekend brunch on the other side of the River Daugava for around €14.
Riga has a growing coffee scene, and although the standard may not always be as high as in your Paris or Budapest coffee shops, there are some good ones to be found. Try out MiiT coffee, Rocket Bean Roastery, Innocent or Rienzi.
Where to stay in Riga
The best value hotels close to the city centre are the Radisson Blue Elizabete Hotel (0.5 miles from the city centre), the Radisson Blu Latvija Conference & Spa Hotel, Riga (0.6 mile from the city centre) and the Grand Poet Hotel by Semarah.
For a spot of luxury, go for the Grand Poet Hotel by Semarah (0.4 miles from city centre), Grand Hotel Kempinski Riga (0.2 miles from the city centre) and Dome Hotel – Relais & Châteaux (0.2 miles from the city centre).
If you are staying in Riga, you might also considering travelling around the region for other Baltic tours including Tallinn and Kaunus.