Riga, Latvia Travel Guide: What to Discover, Eat and Buy in the Most Charming City on the Baltic Seashore
Cosmopolitan, serene, and bohemian the Latvian capital enchants tourists with its Art Nouveau buildings, exquisite cuisine and delicate amber jewels. Riga is a spellbound city which compels visitors to discover its secrets even when it rains, the sky is grey, and the strong Baltic winds invade every street.
What to Include on Your Must-See List
- The Old City Centre – just walk around and admire the architecture and colors of the buildings and the Gothic style spires.
- The House of Blackheads - located in the very heart of the Old City Center; the original building was bombed and completely destroyed during and after WWII.
- Saint Peter’s Church – the only building which survived the Great Fire that destroyed Riga in 1350.
- The Daugava Harbor – with bobbing boats, elegant yachts, noisy seagulls and stylish restaurants.
- The Parks – Bastejkalns Park is the most crowded since it is in the center of the city.
- Alberta Iela (Alberta Street) – named after King Albert de Livonia, founder of Riga; you will spend a lot of time here, taking pictures of the Art Nouveau buildings.
- The Freedom Monument, also known as “Milda”, is the symbol of Latvian Independence.
- Three Brothers – a group of old residential buildings which are still inhabited.
- A Museum or an Art Gallery – there are 24+
- Most tourists prefer The Art Museum or The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.
- Other options are The Museum of the History of Riga and The Navigation, The Latvian Museum of Photography, The Motor Museum, The World Hat Museum or The Porcelain Museum.
What to Include on Your Must-Do List
- Find “The Cat House” and “The Bremen Town Musicians” statue.
- Have an early cup of coffee in the City Hall Square or in the Dome Square.
- Drink a glass of high-quality wine at Easy Wine Bar.
- Take a Free City Tour – the meeting point for the Free Yellow Tours is Saint Peter’s Church.
- Follow the street buskers’ performances – most of them play modern music at orchestra instruments.
- Book a romantic boat trip along the Daugava River.
- Have dinner while watching a movie at Café Film Noir.
- Take the train to Jurmala Majori, a nearby seaside resort.
- Dance till early morning in one of the nonconformist and fancy clubs:
- The locals recommend Kalku Varti for its mainstream beats.
- The best cocktails are served at Star Lounge Bar.
- Coyote Fly – stylish clothes are a must.
- Spot Kafe – the menu here has 50 different types of shots.
- Cuba Café is famous for its Caribbean atmosphere.
- Go to the spa and relax in a jacuzzi with the aspect of a barrel.
- Climb the Spire of Saint Peter’s Church or go on top of Albert Hotel for a panoramic view of the city.
What and Where to Eat in Riga
- Latvian traditional food is greasy and quite difficult to digest.
- Pork specialties include: pork chops, pork schnitzel, pig’s ears and an exotic stew made of pig head.
- Smoked fish has a special flavor because Latvians burn maple or birch wood for the smoke.
- Beetroot soup is a treat for your taste buds; you can have it cold in summer or hot in winter.
- Potatoes are the main side, but you can always try buckwheat or cabbage.
- The most delicious local dessert is the rye bread pudding.
- Piragi, a pastry filled with meat, onions, and fruit, is the best option for a quick snack while touring the city.
- Ala Folk Club and Lido serve traditional Latvian dishes – the portions are huge.
- Astor Restaurant has a splendid view towards the City Canal.
- Cup & Cino is a cozy café with fine food and a wide selection of caffeinated drinks.
- Open-Air Leisure Venue Egle – Latvian Food + Local Beer + Latvian Music.
What and Where to Buy in Riga
- Galleria Riga, Olympia, Alfa, and Spice are only some of the numerous shopping centers and malls in Riga.
- The Podium is a high-end clothing store for fashionistas in search of branded clothes and accessories.
- Latvian made clothes are available at Branches – a stylish three floor-store in the city center.
- Art Nouveau Riga sells delicate, Art Nouveau decorative items.
- The Central Market is buzzing place with food, clothes, and flower stalls.
- Best souvenirs to bring home:
- Amber Jewelry
- Black Balsam – a liquor made of herbs mixed with pure vodka
- Laima Chocolate – the extra dark assortment is as strong as a cup of Expresso.
- Handmade Mittens, Scarves, and Hats
- Wooden Children’s Toys
- Stenders Bath & Beauty Products
Travel Tips from the Locals and Not Only
- Local currency = Euro
- National Language = Latvian; staff in hotels, restaurants and even people on streets have a good level of English and/or German.
- Visitors from EU countries can enter Latvia with their national ID card; tourists from non-EU countries must have a valid passport; citizens from certain countries need a visa.
- The boutique hotels, located in the Old City Center, have reasonable prices and a pleasant atmosphere.
- Free Wi-fi is available in hotels, restaurants, clubs, and pubs; the internet connection is very fast.
- The customary tip in restaurants – 10% of your bill.
- There is an entrance fee for almost all churches and cathedrals.
- The Riga Pass is very handy – you can travel and tour for free, and get discounts in numerous restaurants and places of interest.
- Trams are the fastest way to get around.
- Best time to visit:
- spring and summer – take an umbrella with you because it rains a lot.
- winters are cold and the daylight lasts only 5 hours in December.
Top Interesting Facts about Riga
- Latvia and Riga implicitly have an eventful history which included 51 years of Soviet occupation.
- The Latvian capital was founded more than 800 hundred years ago.
- One-third of the country’s population has its residence in Riga.
- In 2014, Riga was the European Capital of Culture.
- The Old Town is on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its 18th and 19th century architecture.
- More than 4,000 historic buildings are made of wood.
- The Central Market is among the most spacious in Europe.
- The Radio and TV Tower has a height of 368 meters/1,207 feet – it is the third tallest structure on the European continent.
- The Beer Spa offers guests the possibility to relax in a bathtub filled with beer.
- The first Christmas Tree was decorated in Riga in 1510 – the German traders were the “culprits”.