This guide covers the best things to do in Riga including the most famous architecture, where to eat, money saving tips and more. The city is ideal for those travelling on a budget, a romantic weekend away or for backpackers like us. From the colourful cobbled streets of old town to one of the biggest markets in Europe, delicious food and a ferry trip we will never forget – if you’re looking for things to do in Riga, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
We squeezed in so much infact, that we walked almost 15 miles in one day trying to fit them all in! We can’t promise your Riga itinerary won’t be as jam-packed but we can promise plenty of inspiration to help plan the ultimate trip to the Latvian capital.
HOW TO GET TO RIGA
Before we get into the many things to do in Riga, we need to discuss our epic journey to get there.
It cost €113 for both of us to get to Riga – this included our cabin and ferry ticket. It took around 17 hours, and was one of the most hilarious nights of our lives (thanks to ALOT of Jaeger) not to mention, we arrived in Riga with slightly fuzzy heads.
If you are not up for a wild night at sea, you can use Flixbus or Skyscanner to find the best travel deals to Riga.
Bus to Riga
We used Flixbus all over Europe as it provided the cheapest bus travel as well as a great app to track your journeys on the go.
Fly to Riga
We use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights in Europe. Once you arrive, the good news is the airport is super small so it’s easy to navigate and the journey to the city takes only 25 minutes so you can get started on the many things to do in Riga right away. The cheapest way to get from the airport into the city is by bus as the fare is only €1.15 (when bought at the airport) or €2 if bought on the bus.
HOW MUCH DOES RIGA SIGHTSEEING COST?
You will be pleased to hear most of the things to do in Riga mentioned on this list are FREE. There is so much to explore and admire on foot that expenses can be kept to a minimum – so much so, we actually came UNDER budget for once!
Although there are many things to do in Riga, these activities are either free or very affordable. We budgeted £90 a day for both of us and spent only £80 including all transport, accommodation, food, drink and activities during our Riga itinerary!
Food, Drinks & Activities
Avg. Cost / Day: £79.55
As mentioned we took the ferry from Stockholm to Riga which cost €113 for both of us (including our private cabin.) Once you arrive, the majority of things to do in in Riga are within walking distance – even if we did walk 15 miles in one day!
You can read more about our hilariously awful accommodation experience below, but because of this we beg you not to go for the cheapest accommodation in Riga as you will get what you pay for. Accommodation is generally super cheap – you can get a dorm bed for as little as €10 and private hotel rooms for €30.
Food, Drink & Activities
Beer at a bar starts around €1 and a cheap (but none the less delicious) main meal is on average €5 – €7. The main Riga attractions are relatively cheap, below is a round up of costs to expect during your citybreak.
- Art Nouveau Museum: €5
- Latvian Academy of Sciences Observation Deck: €5
- St Peter’s Church: Tower viewpoint €9
- Museum of the Occupation of Latvia: Free (Recommended to donate) or 10€ for a guided tour
- Central Market: Free or book a 2 hour tour with food tasting & local guide for £27
WHERE (NOT) TO STAY IN RIGA
Every backpacker in Europe has that one story of the hostel from hell. In Riga, we found ours. It’s only fair to mention here our bargain “hostel” turned out to be the worst accommodation of our entire Europe backpacking trip.
In all fairness, we paid £6 a night for a private room so we shouldn’t have been shocked to find a drunk guy asleep in our hallway and our “free” breakfast to be an apple and a cereal bar left on the doorstep of our room. Definitely deserved to be one of our top travel fails.
There were no sockets in the room, the bedding had questionable stains and the “bed” was a plank of wood with 4 wobbly legs nailed in. We were so hungover from our wild ferry journey that we laughed it off – otherwise we’d cry.
On the plus side, the horrific room was very warm, fantastic location for our Riga sightseeing and we slept like babies (partly the hangover from the ferry to blame). A definite laugh or cry moment that contributed to my gratefulness that we travel as a couple.
So while we don’t want to name and shame the accommodation, we just beg you to research your bargain bed for the night as we learned the hard way, you get what you pay for, and in Riga there is amazing budget accommodation.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN RIGA'S OLD TOWN
1. Walk Around Old Town
One of the first things to do in Riga is wander the enchanting, cobbled streets of The Old Town. Since 1997 Riga’s Old Town has been included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Home to many architectural delights and narrow streets steeped in a fascinating history, it’s easy to understand the UNESCO accreditation.
With instagrammable spots round every corner during the day and bustling bars in the evenings, Riga’s Old Town is undoubtedly the heart of Latvia’s capital. Below are a few highlights and things to do in Riga’s Old Town.
- Rozena Street: The most narrow street in Riga where you can touch both opposite walls at once.
- The Three Brothers on Maza Pils Street: Probably the most famous buildings in Old Town, The Three Brothers were each built in a different century and legend has it they were built by three men from the same family. Today, the buildings are home to the Latvian Museum of Architecture and the State Inspectorate for Heritage Protection.
- Skarnu Street: Pick up some traditional trinkets at the souvenir stalls.
2. Visit Small Guild (Maza Gilde)
This unmissable neo-gothic building is situated on Amatu Street. The building was built in 1864—66 but refurbished in 2000. The exterior is just as impressive as the interiors with the hall, lobby and stairs lined with terrazzo mosaics and the vibrant colourful windows are definitely worth a photo stop. Today, the Small Guild is used for festive events, business conferences, balls and concerts. View the programme here.
3. Free Walking Tour
One of the best things to do in Riga to see the highlights of the Old Town is to go on a FREE walking tour! There are so many free walking tours in Riga led by locals that focus on particular areas. They allow you to ask any questions on the area as well as learn about the history of this beautiful city.
4. Visit House of The Blackheads
Towards the edge of Old Town, nearby the river you cannot miss the two stunning buildings known as House of The Blackheads. Not just renown for their striking exterior, but visiting these buildings are a popular thing to do in Riga because of their fascinating history.
They earned their name from the Blackheads Society which was a gentleman’s club for wealthy merchants. The story goes, that these journeymen earned their fortune through travelling the world in search of exotic goods whilst fending off pirates and robbers. St Maurice was selected as their patron saint to protect them from these dangerous encounters – the black knight’s armour which St. Maurice traditionally wore lead to the Blackhead name.
The buildings were destroyed in The Second World War but were restored in 1999 to the full splendour you can see today, proving an unmissable stop in your Riga itinerary.
5. Visit the Home of the First Christmas Tree
You probably were not expecting your Riga sightseeing to include the birthplace of the Christmas tree. To be honest, neither did we however, we were even more surprised to learn that the Christmas tree was in fact the result of a drunken prank.
After snapping 127933 photos of the beautiful Blackhead buildings, mere meters in front is the plaque commemorating the first ever Christmas tree. The story goes, a group of men who had been partying it up in The House of Blackheads on Christmas Eve 1510, decided to decorate a pine tree they’d hauled into the house in their drunken state.
After covering it in decorations they set it alight. This then started the tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas – we can only assume the fairy lights replaced the setting it on fire part. Never the less, a fun little stop 5 minute stop in your Riga itinerary.
THINGS TO DO IN RIGA FOR THE BEST VIEWS
6. The Tower at St. Peter’s Church
Not only is Old Town beautiful to wander round, it’s even more spectacular to view from above. One of the best things to do in Riga, to enjoy this incredible view is visit the most famous building in the Latvian capital – St. Peter’s Church.
At 123 meters high, St. Peter’s Church is one of the best things to do in Riga for an amazing view of the city. Don’t worry about climbing steps to reach the church’s summit, instead the tower is only accessible by elevator. Which is exactly why Loz wouldn’t go up it – she loathes lifts!
If you do venture up, the tower offers panoramic views 72 meters above Riga! You’ll also notice the clock only has one hand which is a Latvian tradition. Although the tower is noticeable from all over Riga, if you can’t see it, you’ll hear it, as the folk song ‘Riga dimd’ is chimed 5 times a day!
Entry is 9 Euros and the viewing platform is open from 10-6pm from September – April and 10-7pm May until August.
7. Observation Deck at Latvian Academy of Sciences
If looking for things to do in Riga for an incredible view, you cannot miss this gigantic building known unofficially as Stalin’s birthday cake. The reason being, the building was built with the intention of gifting it to Stalin as a birthday present, however he died before it was possible. The building’s actual title is, The Latvian Academy of Science.
Alongside being the most prominent representation of Stalinist architecture outside of Russia it offers one of the most amazing views over the city. This is because there is an observation deck on the 17th floor, offering views 213ft high – not only is it one of the best things to do in Riga for unbeatable views but at only 5 Euros a ticket, it is also one of the cheapest. Your ticket even includes an information booklet on the building’s unique history.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN RIGA FOR FOODIES
8. Breakfast at Martina Bakerija
With so many things to do in Riga, you need to make sure you are well fuelled for the day. This means breakfast is important, best of all we found the best breakfast in Riga if you’re visiting on a budget – Martina Bakerija.
There are 6 Martina Bakerija cafes dotted around the city (you can find their locations here). We cannot recommend a more perfect way to start your day as they offer traditional pastries, cakes, muffins and breads – nearly all under 1 EURO!
Martina Bakerija also serve fresh coffee (and free WiFi) so it is not only one of the best restaurants in Riga to start your day, but to also stock up on picnic essentials and treats to fuel a full day of Riga sightseeing. It is the perfect place to sample the traditional Piragi which are essentially mini sausage rolls stuffed with bacon and onion (instead of sausage.)
Also ideal for afternoon coffee & cake if you’re on a budget – we don’t know what’s more amazing, how they look, how they tasted or how cheap they are!!
9. Try Pierogi at Central Market
Venturing out of old town, heading towards the central railway station and the river you cannot miss Riga’s Central Market. It is one of the largest marketplaces in Eastern Europe. One of the most fascinating things to do in Riga as over 80,000 people shop there everyday. EVERYDAY! This makes it the perfect place to people watch and learn about local produce. Not forgetting another great spot to sample Pierogi.
As one of the largest markets in Europe, it can feel overwhelming stepping into Central Market. To make the most of your time there, you can go on a food tour at Central Market where you’ll spend 2 hours with a local guide enjoying samples and learning endless info about Latvian cuisine. Book Food Tour tickets here.
10. Go for a Romantic Meal at Il Patio
When we arrived in Riga incredibly hungover from our wild ferry antics, we were craving pizza. Thanks to Google’s “near me” mode we came across Il Patio. As a side note, this is one of our top tips for travelling as a couple – use Google & TripAdvisor’s “Near Me” mode to deal with hangry (or hungover) other halves. Saves wandering the streets for hours looking for somewhere to go – you can find the closest restaurants with the best reviews.
Back to Il Patio – after the stairway down we arrived into a cosy cellar setting, with exposed brick décor and requested a table for two. The kind waitress said she had a “special table” for us. She led us to a cave like hidden corner where only one booth was snuggled. We were half delighted at this unexpected romantic spot and half questioning she did it to prevent our hungover state putting other diners off their food.
Regardless, the meal was one of our best memories from our entire Riga itinerary. The beer (Mezpils Alus) was one of the best we’d tried in Europe (and that includes our beer spa in Prague) not to mention the perfect way to cure our fuzzy heads.
The star attraction of this restaurant is the pizza, baked in a traditional wood burning oven paired with other traditional dishes such as bruschetta (which Darren had to start.) If you’re looking for a romantic restaurant in Riga, at a very reasonable price we cannot recommend Il Patio enough. Either request the “special table” or just turn up incredibly hungover so the waitress takes pity on you.
11. Picnic in the Park
If you are looking for things to do in Riga on a budget, you will LOVE the many beautiful parks throughout the city and a picnic in the park is the perfect lunch spot. We recommend heading to Rimi stores as they are the perfect place to grab lunch on the go when you have a jam-packed Riga itinerary.
Some stores have seating inside, offering a place to rest those tired feet and stock up on those delicious deals! We purchased the pizza & coffee deal for only €1.50. Don’t forget to be a responsible traveller and remember your reusable cup.
Then take your wee baked good stash and head to one of the many beautiful Riga parks:
12. Eat Like a Local at The Lido
When defining “best” restaurants in Riga, we’d say restaurants that serve good local food, cheaply and lots of it. If that’s your definition too then the Lido restaurant in Riga is where you need to go.
They are canteen style restaurants dotted all over the city – offering traditional Latvian food at very, very affordable prices. Despite the school canteen style the food is anything but school dinners – instead expect delicious home cooking catering for vegetarian and vegans too. Definitely one of the best restaurants in Riga if you’re on a budget and for an authentic taste of Latvian cuisine.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN RIGA FOR ART LOVERS
13. Admire the Street Art
As you maybe know from our Bucharest and Ljubljana posts we are a little street art mad. We find hunting down murals one of the best ways to get to know a city and one of the best things to do in Riga. Although it may also be to blame for those 15 miles we walked on day one of our Riga itinerary!
Although Riga’s street art is very spread out there are a handful of striking murals worth the walk such as Barona 114. You can read more about Riga’s street art (including a map) here.
14. Staro Riga Light Festival
If you are visiting in November, one of the best things to do in Riga is the Staro Riga Light festival. Although completely unintentional, we are so glad our visit coincided with Latvia’s independence day celebrations. It meant we could join the thousands of local people watch the city’s buildings and landmarks transform into illuminated art displays.
Plays, films and photographs were projected onto the city’s remarkable architecture, alongside live music and acting. The entire event is completely free and such a fun way to explore the city after dark. For more info on Staro Rīga 2020 dates and routes visit here.
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN RIGA TO ADMIRE THE ARCHITECTURE
15. Be Mesmerised by the Nativity of Christ Cathedral
In Europe there is a saying of becoming “Cathedralled Out” in essence, there are so many churches and cathedrals they all begin to blend in to one. However as we stumbled across The Nativity of Christ Cathedral we instantly wanted to look inside as it was unlike any other we’d seen so far on our Europe backpacking trip.
On the outskirts of Old Town, this Russian-esque Orthodox cathedral was built in 1883. To us, it is one of the most interesting things to do in Riga as the inside is just as mesmerising as the outside. There are bold domed ceilings covered in extravagant paintings and the exterior is equally picturesque. Note there is a strict dress code, obviously no shorts/short dresses and while women were expected to cover their heads, men are asked the opposite and told to remove any hats.
16. Get Lost in the National Library of Latvia
Don’t you just love it when you take a wrong turn in a new city and end up discovering something completely unintended. That’s how we found the National Library of Latvia. After crossing the Daugava river on a quest to find to a quirky café Loz had read about (that we still don’t think actually exists) we were met by such an insane building (in size and style) that we had to find out what it was.
The National Library of Latvia is like no other building we’ve seen before and definitely unlike your usual library. Not only is it home to over 4 million units but home to exhibitions, conferences and concerts. The amazing building also offers panoramic views of Old Town, guided tours (for a small fee) a café and free Wi-Fi. It was the perfect place to stop, recharge our batteries (thaw out) and people watch as we planned our final few things to do in Riga.
17. Wander Through The Art Nouveau District
One of the most popular things to do in Riga is drag yourself away from the captivating Old Town to capture the stunning architecture of the Art Nouveau district in Alberta iela.
Most of the buildings have been incredibly well preserved or recently renovated. Highlights include the house at Strēlnieku 4a and the Riga Art Nouveau Museum which is at the end of Alberta iela. We loved this area because there were a handful of other tourists all equally as intrigued by the architecture and pointing out different features to each newcomer that came up to snap a photo.
If you are a history fan or an architecture enthusiast then the Art Nouveau District will prove a highlight of your Riga itinerary. You can even book a dedicated Art Nouveau tour so a local guide can explain the techniques in more detail and show you the hidden gems off the usual tourist path.
FINAL THINGS TO DO IN RIGA
18. Visit the Freedom Monument
As you wander from The Old Town to Art Nouveau district (or vice versa) you will spot the unmissable Freedom Monument, signifying Latvia’s historical quest for freedom and independence. Our Riga itinerary coincided with Latvian Independence day (November 18th) which is also known as the Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia.
The day commemorates Latvia’s independence from German and Russian occupation after the First World War. One of the best things to do in Riga to learn more about the country’s fascinating history, visit the Museum of Occupation nearby the Freedom Monument. Admission to the museum is free and guided tours are available for a small fee.
19. Try Riga Black Balsam
A final unmissable thing to do in Riga is try Black Balsam. It is literally unmissable as every bar and restaurant offer Black Balsam. It is a herbal liquor made with vodka, to us it was reminiscent of cough syrup. It can be enjoyed in a hot drink such as tea or like a mulled wine or as a shot.
With so many things to do in Riga, you may need a holiday from your citybreak! We hope you have enjoyed our Riga sightseeing guide and have noted a few places to visit during your time in the Latvian capital. Let us know in the comments if your favourite places to visit in Riga are missing – we’d love to grow our list.