Blog, Latvia, Riga

Riga travel guide (best things to do and see in Latvian capital)

Last updated: 20/MAY/2018

As a local, with no doubt, I can say that Riga is the most beautiful and cosmopolitan capital of the Baltics. And there are several reasons: its beautiful medieval Old Town, early 20th century Art Nouveau architecture, more than 100 museums galleries, National Opera with world-level artists and a vibrant nightlife. In this travel guide, I will list some of the best things to do and see during your visit to in Latvian capital city Riga, as well as some practical information that will help to make your stay comfortable.

Practical information / Facts

  • Riga is the capital of Latvia. Latvia is one of the three Baltic states (other countries are: Lithuania to the south and Estonia to the north). The city has a population of nearly 700,000 residents, which makes it the largest city in Baltics, and 2nd largest city after Stockholm if comparing all capitals of northern Europe. 
  • Arriving in Riga: Riga airport is the largest airport in the Baltic states. Several airlines, including national airline airBaltic, and low-cost airlines like Ryanair and Wizz Air, operate from different locations in Europe. 
  • Transportation: Public transport is affordable and reliable. A bus ride from Riga airport to the city centre will cost 1,15 EUR (if bought in airport kiosk or in the vending machine at the bus stop), or 2 EUR if bought at the driver. Also, taxi service is relatively cheap in Riga. You can read more information about how to get from Riga airport to the city centre in my article here.
  • Currency: EUR
  • Price level: Medium. Comparing to other Baltic countries, Latvia prices are slightly more expensive than Lithuania but cheaper than Estonia. Typical prices: cup of coffee in a coffee shop 2-3 EUR, a pint of beer 3-4 EUR, medium sized pizza 5-8 EUR, main dish in a restaurant from 12 EUR, entry ticket to any museum 5-10 EUR. Hotels and apartments are very cheap with prices starting from 15 EUR for an overnight stay in an apartment in the centre of Riga (if booked with Airbnb)
  • Languages: Latvian (official), Russian and English are widely spoken. German is also understood among older people. 

Best places to visit in Riga 

The Old Town

Old Riga

The Old Town (“Vecrīga” in Latvian) is the historical centre and oldest section of Riga and the city’s most popular touristic area. Since 1997, the historical centre of Riga has been included to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The Old Town has over 500 buildings constructed during different periods of history and they represent various architectural styles: Romanticism, Gothic, Mannerism, Baroque, Eclectic, Modernism, etc. In summer, the Old Town is the place where locals meet friends, drink some good draught beer (Latvia has a very strong beer tradition). 

The Art Nouveau District

Art Nouveau Riga

Riga is famous for it’s beautiful Art Nouveau buildings. The city has more than 800 buildings in the Art Nouveau style and the centre of the Art Nouveau district is Alberta Street. Alberta Street is also the location of the Art Nouveau Museum. The museum is a former apartment of the renowned Latvian architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns, who lived and worked here till 1907. If you don’t have much time, skip museums, but definitely visit the Art Nouveau district.

Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

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The Ethnographic Open-Air Museum is one of the oldest (established in 1924) and largest open-air museums in Europe. There are 118 folk architecture objects exhibited in the territory of 87ha. The museum is located on the banks of Lake Jugla, just a 30-minute drive from downtown Riga. 
Transportation: from Riga centre take bus nr “1” until stop “Brīvdabas muzejs”. Travel time is around 30-40 minutes. Museum homepage: brivdabasmuzejs.lv

Mezaparks (Forest park)

Mezaparks

Mežaparks (also known as Kaiserwald in German) is one of the most prestigious neighbourhoods in Riga due to a large number of Art Nouveau and Eclectic villas for upper-class inhabitants of Riga.  This is a popular recreation area and many people come to Mežaparks for biking, roller skating or just for a long walk.
In the winter period, there is also a winter sports park open, where you can enjoy skiing, skating and snow tubing (the attractions is more for amateurs, since there are no mountains in Latvia, and the attraction is built on a small hill). Link to winter snow park homepage: sniegaparks.lv
Transportation: from Riga centre take tram nr “11” until stop “Mežaparks ”. Travel time is around 30 minutes.

Riga Zoo

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Riga Zoo is located in Mežaparks neighbourhood of Riga. Zoo was opened in 1912 and it has more than 400 species of wild animals including tigers, polar bears and crocodiles.
Transportation: from Riga centre take tram nr “11” until stop “Mežaparks ”. Travel time is around 30 minutes.
Link to Zoo park homepage: rigazoo.lv

Riga Central Market

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Riga Central Market, which opened in 1930, at that time was the largest and most modern marketplace in the world. The five market pavilions are housed in old German Zeppelin hangars making it very easy to notice. Each pavilion specialises in selling a particular range of products – fruit and vegetables,  meat, dairy products, bakery, fish. If you visit Riga in summer, you will have the opportunity to buy freshly picked berries like strawberries, cherries, raspberries. In winter, there is a big selection of pickled vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage. 

Latvian National Museum of Art

Latvian National Museum of Art is the most comprehensive depository in the nation for works of art in both the 19th and 20th centuries, with emphasis on the various stylistic periods and the artists who were instrumental. Museum homepage: lnmm.lv

Nativity Cathedral 

Nativity Cathedral was built under the Russian empire and is the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Baltic states. Having served as a planetarium and a restaurant during the Soviet Era, the building has been completely restored holds regular Orthodox church services.

This is my top list of best things to do and see in Riga. Would you like to add some nice place to this travel guide? Leave a comment and I will add your attraction to the list! 

Quick tips to books cheap trip to Riga:

  1. Compare all airline fares to Riga with flight fare comparison site Skyscanner.
  2. To book a hotel at best price, visit Booking.com. Booking.com has the widest choice of hotels in Riga, most of the booking can be amended free of charge. 
  3. If you wish to rent an apartment in Riga, check Airbnb. By clicking the link you will get 25$ off your booking (reservation total must be over 75$).
  4. For free taxi ride in Riga, download app Taxify, go to Promotions section and enter the promo coupon code GRIGORIJSKDY . This code will give you up to 7 EUR off the first ride, which makes your trip from the Riga airport to the city centre almost for free (normal price is 7-12 EUR depending on traffic). If you are several people travelling together, don’t forget that each of you can use the code. 

Images: Sara H., Jean-Pierre D.Karlong C., Dainis M., Manuel T., Leon B., Jorbasa, Pablo A.R.