Have you booked a trip to beautiful Riga or are you still wondering? Latvia’s capital bubbles with charm, sights, dining experiences and incredible architecture. Here we have collected five tips!
Recently, Riga was voted the 7th most interesting and exciting destination to visit in the world by TripAdvisor. Paradise destinations such as Costa Rica, Hawaii and Kenya win higher places but being in the top 10 is great for a destination that is often forgotten. Maybe it’s too close or too normal? We want to challenge that image and showcase Riga’s great charm.
1. World-class Jugendstil and Art Nouveau
It’s hard not to be fascinated by Riga’s great architectural treasures. With over a third of Central Riga’s Jugendstil and Art Nouveau buildings, it’s no wonder that this characteristic style dominates the cityscape and leaves a lasting impression on its visitors. Your gaze is always drawn upwards to the decorative details that characterise this beloved and popular era in architectural history. Put on some comfortable walking shoes and mosey on down around the world’s most art nouveau city!
Here are the crowning pieces of architecture you mustn’t miss!
The Old Town: Vecrīga (which means ”Old Riga” in Latvian) is perfect as a starting point if you are going to go on a Jugendstil journey of discovery. Although most of the city’s Jugendstil buildings are located in the neighbourhood around the Old Town, some of these houses were also built in Riga’s medieval quarter in the early 20th century. In other words, the medieval quarter offers an interesting mix of architectural styles and eras! From the Old Town you can then continue on to both Alberta iela and Elizabetes iela.
Alberta iela: Alberta iela is one of the most famous streets when it comes to Riga’s architectural treasures, with one masterpiece after another along the length of the entire street.
Where: From the Old Town it takes about 10 minutes on foot to both quarters, with stunningly beautiful buildings.
Riga Art Nouveau Museum: When you are on Alberta iela, be sure to visit the famous Riga Art Nouveau Museum located on the same street. Perfect for lovers of art nouveau and Jugendstil who want to learn more about the famous Latvian architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns,who lived here until 1907. The museum is now in his former apartment and is a real buffet of furniture, clothes and kitchen items from the same era.
Where: Alberta iela 12
Elizabetes iela: Parallel with Alberta iela is the equally famous Elizabetes iela. At number 10b you will find an impressive example of early Jugendstil, designed by Mikhail Eisenstein and built in 1903. With shining, bright-blue parts on the façade, the house really stands out and it is easy to get caught up in the beautiful sculptural details and the masks that adorn the house wall.
Where: Elizabetes iela 10b
Rounded oriels and organically winding plants and ornaments are recurring details on the house façades in Riga.
The bright-blue colour really brightens up the street and is impossible not to stare at.
Although Riga is the world’s most Jugendstil filled city, it is difficult to stop being fascinated by these stately buildings.
This staircase is a beautiful example of the naturalistic ornamentation that is so typical of art nouveau.
2. Go to the spa in central Riga or take a day trip to the well-known Jurmala health resort
Wouldn’t it be just perfect to combine new impressions and excursions with some wonderful massage and relaxation whilst you’re on holiday? In affordable Riga you can get the best of both worlds – and without needing to spend your entire holiday savings either! Latvia and specifically Riga are well-established spa resorts and offer a wide range of treatments and wellness options with very attractive prices for us Scandinavians.
Round off intensive outings on the town with a well-deserved spa treatment and get rid of the day’s tension, stiffness and sore muscles. Perfect after a long day on the go round Riga’s attractions and sights. In addition to the options in the centre, the enchanting spa town of Jurmala is just a little over 20 kilometres outside the city centre. Perfect for those who really want to unwind and walk barefoot on a beautiful sandy white beach.
Where: Jurmala takes about 30 minutes by train from central Riga. Perfect for a day trip!
A half-hour train ride outside Riga is the health resort Jurmala. Perfect if you want a break from the city centre or just want a cool refreshing dip!
3. Affordable shopping
What would be a weekend without shopping? There are shops and malls a little everywhere in Riga, but the best shopping offer is clearly in the Old Town and in the center. Here we list some of Riga’s best places for shopping.
Shopping streets: The streets Tērbatas and K. Barona are popular shopping streets with affordable stores.
Galleries: In Riga there are also a lot of shopping galleries to choose from, which can be ideal with their generous opening hours (especially on Sundays when smaller shops are closed). In the heart of the Old Town you will find Galerija Centrs, which offers 110 stores on a whopping 29,000 square metres. The Finnish-owned Stockmann shop specialises mostly in branded clothing, while Bergs Bazaar has a slightly more luxurious range, with e.g. local designers, make-up and fine dining.
Where: Galerija Centrs is located in the middle of the Old Town, on Audēju iela 16. Stockmann is located on 13 Janvāra iela 8, while Berg’s Bazaar is located on Elizabetes iela 83.
Art Nouveau Riga: Inspired by art nouveau? In the Art Nouveau Riga shop you can shop for jewellery, accessories, interior design ideas, posters, textiles and lamps in this characteristic style.
Where: The shop is located on Strelnieku 9, amidst beautiful Jugendstil buildings.
Riga Central Market: Riga Central Market is Europe’s largest market and definitely a must when visiting the city. About 80,000 visitors come here every day to find bargains amongst second hand items, flowers, food and delicacies, curiosa, electronics, fashion, garden accessories and one or two pirate copies of things. The market is in five old Zeppelin hangars from the First World War and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where: The address is 7, Nēģu iela, just outside the Old Town.
Shop, haggle and find bargains side by side with the letters of the giant Central Market.
4. Tick off the main sights
Although Riga has a huge range of things to choose from, there are a handful of pearls that are listed as absolute must-sees, whether you are visiting Riga for a whole week or just a couple of nights. Here we give you a quick overview of Riga’s unique top attractions. You can either whole-heartedly take on the role of the curious tourist and check off the entire list, or just pick out your own favourites!
Vecrīga, Gamla stan, is an attraction in itself, whether you want to be enchanted by beautiful architecture and charming cobbled streets or have a genuine interest in Riga’s exciting history. With its location on the Baltic Sea and the big Daugava River that runs through the city, Riga was one of the richest trading cities in the Baltic Sea, often visited by both Vikings and merchants in Hansan.
Many of Riga’s biggest attractions are found in these quarters (see below). Sit down in a nice outdoor seating area on one of the plazas and take in the fantastic surroundings with a nice cold Latvian beer in your hand.
Let yourself be charmed by the Old Town’s historic atmosphere, old buildings and cobbled streets.
The Swedish gate, Zviedru vãrti, is today the only part left of the city wall that once protected the city from external attacks. When the Swedes occupied Riga in 1698, the Swedish Gate was built into the city wall.
Where: The Swedish gate can be found at Torna Iela 11.
The Swedish Gate is all that is left of Riga’s city wall.
The House of the Blackheads is perhaps one of the Old Town’s most famous houses, with its characteristic red facade and beautifully decorated door. The house was used for wild events and festivals in the 13th century by the Blackheads, which were a bunch of unmarried foreign merchants who were active in several Baltic middle-class cities. Unfortunately, the original building was destroyed by German bombs during World War II, but was rebuilt for Riga’s 800th anniversary in 2001. Today, the House of the Blackheads is used as a museum and concert hall.
Where: The House of the Blackheads is located at Rātslaukums 7, at the town hall square in the Old Town.
You can find the House of the Blackheads on the town hall square in the Old Town. Just above the facade is a 6.3 metre high statue of patron saint St Roland.
What is a medieval city without its churches? Both St. Peter’s Church and the Riga Cathedral are absolutely worth a visit. Saint Peter’s Church is a Gothic church from the 1200’s that proudly boasts the highest tower in Riga. Don’t miss out on taking the lift up to the church’s tower, where you can see both the old and new cities, the Daugava River and the Gulf of Riga from 72 metres. The Riga Cathedral is also from the 13th century and is today the largest church in the Baltic States. There is a huge organ here that is one of the cathedral’s most famous highlights.
Take the elevator up in St. Peter’s church tower and enjoy a stunningly beautiful view of Latvia’s capital!
The Occupation Museum provides an important reminder of Latvia’s difficult past with the occupations of both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Here are documents, photographs and objects from the period 1940 to 1991, which bear witness to the inhuman living conditions which prevailed during these great powers’ times.
Where: Raiņa bulvāris 7, in central Riga.
The Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum is a large open-air museum located just outside Riga in rural surroundings. Here you quite literally go for a historic walk, with more than 100 wooden houses (churches, windmills, farmhouses, etc.) in the area from Latvia’s four cultural areas.
Where: Brīvības gatve 440. The easiest way to get there is by bus 1 departing from Merkela iela, just 100 metres from the train station.
Stroll in the open-air museum and you’ll get an exciting depiction of Latvia’s heritage.
There are not only houses and buildings, but also a lot of everyday tools and utensils.
Visit their website to see when they organise craft days.
5. Luxury meals for reasonable prices
Riga offers extremely affordable, good food from a whole swathe of restaurants. Don’t forget to tip – round the bill up or add 5-10%. Here is a brief overview of some of Riga’s best restaurants.
Riviera not only flirts with the Mediterranean – the restaurant goes all-in with the best traditions of Italian, French, Spanish and Greek cuisine. Here you can order an exquisite fish dish for around 20 euros. Riviera is very popular, so remember to reserve your table well in advance if you do not want to miss this Mediterranean gem.
Where: Dzirnavu iela 31 (entrance from Antonia’s iela). Riviera is not far away from the Jugendstil-filled street, Alberta iela.
Lido is a large and popular restaurant chain in Riga, which, besides food, also offers a lot of other activities, such as an ice-skating rink, carousel, go-karts and much more. Perfect for friends or the whole family!
Where: Lido leisure centre is located at Krasta iela 76.
Vincents is today one of Riga’s premier gourmet restaurants with a reputation that has attracted several celebrities over the years. Do as Elton John, Prince Charles and the Emperor of Japan did and enjoy fine dining at its best! The main courses cost between about 27-35 euros.
Where: Elizabetes iela 19, about 15 minutes’ walk from the Old Town.
The 12/21 restaurant is not only popular because of its kitchen; it also has one of Riga’s most charming facades! With paintings of cows and twisting and weaving flowers against a shining, beautiful turquoise house wall, it is exceedingly easy to suddenly find yourself seated in the cosy outdoor seating area. Choose among meat, fish or classical Latvian dishes. A juicy cut of meat is around just over 20 euros for 200g, but do not forget to order your choice of side orders and something good to drink to go with it.
Where: 12/21 can be found at Jauniela 16, in the Old Town.
At the Muusu restaurant, the focus is on food, interior design (inspired by the Nordic region) and ceramics. The presentation of the dishes is like a beautiful work of art and it feels almost tragic to ruin it by digging in with your knife and fork. Choose if you want to sit in their nice outdoor seating area or indoors. The restaurant has three floors with a laid-back lounge at the top. A main course costs about 20 euros.
Where: Muusu is located at Skarnu iela 6, not far from St. Peter’s church.
Do not miss restaurant 12/21 when visiting the Old Town of Riga.
Cosy restaurants lane the cobblestone streets. Do not forget to pause the excursion with a Latvian beer or two!
In Riga there are many outdoor dining options to choose from.
Are you planning to visit Latvia’s neighbor, Lithuania as well? Read more about our hotel in Vilnius here.