You are currently viewing 14 things to do in Riga (Latvia)

Latvia is a very underrated European destination and I very much enjoyed my week in the city. Its unique culture has been influenced by the Nordic countries, the Soviets, and Eastern Europe. Its capital, Riga, is fast becoming one of Europe’s best — but still overlooked — travel destinations. Many consider it the best city in the Baltics.

Here’s a list of things to do in Riga, Latvia.


Overview of visiting Riga

Riga is still not overcrowded (yet), even though it’s considered the crown jewel of Latvia and the entire Baltics. So I encourage you to go visit before it inevitably becomes invaded by tourists. Traveling in Latvia is less expensive than most other European destinations!

Out of the 3 Baltic countries, Latvia is the one in the middle. Riga is located almost perfectly in the middle of the country, so it’s pretty much at the center of the Baltics.

Location of Riga (image credit: Google Maps)


It’s also the largest metropolitan area in the whole region, with just under 1 million inhabitants — a bit bigger than Winnipeg. 

For a long time, Latvia, like its Baltic neighbors, was pretty much closed off to the world. How things have changed! 

Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Latvia has become a modern and thriving country. It has even surpassed Portugal and Croatia in the Human Development Index (the least imperfect measure of how developed countries are).

Riga, Latvia (photo credit: Unsplash+)


Much of Latvian culture was suppressed during the occupation, so now it’s flourishing with renewed interest in its unique blend of cultures and traditions. Riga has become an attractive cultural hub, making it unlike any other European city. A very authentic and traditional experience.

There’s so much to see, do, and explore, from art and culture to local food, history, and remarkable beaches, without the crowds. Whatever time of year you visit, you probably won’t find long queues. However, the warmer summer months are naturally busier, with the city being located near the coast.

Around Christmas time, Riga also attracts more visitors as the snow is just enough to make the buildings look magical and not sufficient to be unpleasant. As an Eastern European country, Latvia has some amazing Christmas traditions with great markets, food, and drink, so if you don’t want to visit in summer, you won’t miss out!

Here are 14 great things to do in Riga, Latvia.


1. Vecrīga (old city)

Vecrīga, Riga’s historic town center dates back to the early medieval times and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site

Vecrīga, Latvia (photo credit: Christine Kozak)


It was the highlight of my trip, it’s so pretty. The winding cobbled streets, leaning buildings, wonky roofs, and quaint boutiques make it a joy to explore on foot. 

Colorful buildings with pretty awnings sit beside highly decorated and ornate churches and trade halls. The center has maintained its busy, commercial side so there is plenty to see, do, shop, and eat while you’re there.

We even experienced a medieval-themed meal at Rozengrals, a restaurant that existed all the way back in 1293!

A must-see part of the town center is the Swedish Gate. It’s the only remaining gate of the old town wall and used to be home to the town executioner.

Swedish Gate, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Rozena Iela Street is an amazing example of how close buildings used to be, while Kārņu Street has the best crafts and souvenirs. 

Vecrīga is a tangled mix of history with a touch of modernity in the form of nightclubs, art galleries, fancy restaurants, and shops. There is something for everyone.

Dome Square, Latvia (photo credit: Daniels Joffe)


2. Riga architecture

Many beautiful buildings are in Vecrīga, but it’s worth its own section because they’re not all there.

The House of the Blackheads is impressive and is perhaps the most beautiful building in Riga.

House of the Blackheads, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Built in the 1330s, it was a place for merchants and traders to stay and forge connections. Exclusively for unmarried men, it had a reputation for parties and events.

The building was changed and added to over the years before being destroyed by the Germans. Lovingly restored in the 1990s, it’s now a cultural hub. From Tuesday to Sunday, you can visit to learn about the Blackheads and about trade and craft in Latvia. Make sure you visit the basements, which are original from the 14th century. 

Town Hall Square in front of the House of the Blackheads is equally beautiful, with its statues and incredible replica architecture (the other buildings were also destroyed and rebuilt, but you wouldn’t know it!).

Town Hall Square, Latvia (photo credit: Mony Misheal)


You can also keep your eyes peeled for the marker for the first-ever decorated Christmas Tree in the world. Yes, that was in Riga!

Also, outside of the old city, Riga has the world’s highest concentration of buildings in the Art Nouveau architecture style! You can admire this just by walking around and you can visit the Riga Art Nouveau Center Museum.

Albert Street, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Alberta Iela (Albert Street) is the epicenter of Art Nouveau.

Finally, there’s also more typical Soviet architecture, like the striking Latvian Academy of Sciences building.

Latvian Academy of Sciences, Latvia (photo credit: Krists Luhaers)


3. Museum of the Occupation of Latvia

Although it isn’t the happiest place to visit, a trip to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia is a must-do.

Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Occupied by both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany for over 50 years, the Latvian people witnessed their fair share of horrors and trials. 

The museum, which opened just 2 years after Latvia left the USSR, contains photos, video exhibits, and memorabilia from the occupation years. With details about life in Siberian Gulag prisons to the Holocaust, it’s a fascinating look at some of the country’s most difficult years. 

You’ll want to allow over an hour to look around properly. Tickets cost just $7, and it’s worth every penny, even if it can be a fairly emotionally difficult place to visit.


4. Corner House (KGB Building)

The Corner House (KGB Building) is another fascinating look into the country’s past. This unassuming building was once the headquarters of the KGB operations in Latvia.

Corner House (KGB Building), Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


The house itself dates back to 1910 and has beautiful architecture inside and out, meaning it’s worth visiting just to admire the building. 

However, the inside has been turned into a museum and exhibition in collaboration with the Museum of the Occupation. You can wander around old offices with information about how the KGB operated, what happened, and who was involved.

Corner House (KGB Building), Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Down some imposing stairs, you can step inside actual cells used to hold prisoners, including some that were used for interrogation. It’s a dark and highly realistic way to experience what Latvia used to be like. 

While you can wander around on your own, the tours cost $15 and are incredible with some heart-wrenching details. 

Another highly-rated museum that might be of interest to fans of vintage automobiles is the Riga Motor Museum.


5. Riga Central Market (Centraltirgus)

The Riga Central Market is one of the largest and most popular markets in the whole of Eastern Europe.

Riga Central Market, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


It’s actually part of Riga’s UNESCO World Heritage Site since the building is a great example of 1920s architecture and the repurposing of old German Zeppelin hangers. 

Aside from the remarkable building, the market itself is noisy, busy, and very fun. 

Each huge hall is divided into sections so you can buy fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables, enjoy ready-made food for lunch, and buy souvenirs to support local artisans all in one place. If you’re feeling brave, try some local eels!

Riga Central Market, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


6. Jūrmala Beach

Jūrmala is one the biggest and best sand beaches in the region.

Jūrmala Beach, Latvia (photo credit: shark ovski)


Very few people associate Latvia with going to the beach, but if you want to get out of the hustle and bustle of Riga, then a short journey on a $2 train (30 minutes) is worth your time.

With golden sand, gentle waves, and crystal blue water, Jūrmala Beach stretches for 25km just on the outskirts of Riga. Unlike some other European beaches, which are major tourist traps, Jūrmala is unusually quiet and clean. 

With lots of shops, bars, and restaurants, as well as walking areas, volleyball nets, and shady forests for walking, you could easily spend the whole day here. There are lots of great activities and amusement facilities to keep you entertained.

Jūrmala Beach, Latvia (photo credit: Christine Kozak)


7. Canal boat tour

I very much enjoyed the Riga Canal Boat Tour.

Riga, Latvia (photo credit: Laura)


With tickets at just $13, it’s definitely worth doing! It’s a short 1-hour cruise, but you get to see many of the city’s landmarks from your vantage point in the city canal and the Daugava River.

You’ll see the Freedom Monument, the Latvian National Theatre, the Latvian National Opera, the Riga Castle, pretty parks, and beautiful bridges up close.

Freedom Monument, Latvia (photo credit: Priyank P)


8. St. Peter’s Church 

The view from St. Peter’s Church is epic.

View of the city from St. Peter’s Church, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


You can get a full 360-degree view of Riga. Nothing is more synonymous with Europe than old historic churches, but in all cases, at least go take a look at the city from up there.


9. Ķemeri National Park 

Ķemeri National Park doesn’t have mountains or anything like that, but it’s a great place to admire the Latvian forest — 45% of the country’s territory is covered by forests.

Ķemeri National Park, Latvia (photo credit: Marina Šurniene)


The coastal park has lakes and lagoons, but it’s mostly known for the wetlands and marshes, including The Great Ķemeri Bog. During WWII, many tanks were swallowed by these bogs, as they are very deep.

There are trails and boardwalks. An observation platform gives you a great view of the sunrise and sunset.

The park is just a $4 bus ride away (50 minutes) or a $4 train ride (1 hour) from Riga, near Jūrmala Beach, so those 2 activities could easily be combined.

If you want to stay in town while still getting a nature break, Bastejkalns Park along the canal in the city center is quite nice too!


10. Latvian National Museum of Art 

The Latvian National Museum of Art is the first official purpose-built museum in the Baltic countries.

Latvian National Museum of Art, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Completed in 1905, it was recently refurbished after a decade-long closure. With art from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, as well as works from Latvian artists mixed with other European influences, it’s an interesting and refreshing change from other art galleries. 

However, one of the highlights is the rooftop terrace which offers unparalleled views over the city.


A ticket costs just $9. Apart from having over 52,000 pieces of art to enjoy, there is also an outdoor section with stalls and seating. Live music or entertainment is often offered, so most people end up staying for a few hours and soaking in the atmosphere.


11. Riga’s 3 cathedrals

Yes, the city has 3 cathedrals: Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ, Riga Cathedral, and St. James’s Cathedral.

Firstly, the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ is a Russian Orthodox cathedral, and if you’ve visited any of that type, you know the outside and inside are both beautiful.

Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ, Latvia (photo credit: Luna Zhang)


It’s the youngest of the 3 and is known for its icons — the name for religious works of art like paintings.

Secondly, the Riga Cathedral, built in 1211, is one of the city’s more iconic buildings. Its famous 86 kg cockerel weathervane is well-known as a symbol of Riga. Religious services were banned for 50 years during Soviet occupation, and the church was used as a concert hall.

Riga Cathedral, Latvia (photo credit: Martti Salmi)


The most famous part of the building is perhaps the organ. Until a tragic fire in the 1500s, Riga had the largest Dome Pipe Organ in the world. Nowadays, the instrument dates back to the 1800s and has 6718 pipes.

As well as being extremely beautiful and traditional, the cathedral sometimes has displays of Latvian items and art that tell the story of the Latvian people. There is a small square just outside the cathedral doors with even more exhibitions and great coffee shops. 

Lastly, St. James’s Cathedral is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also built in the 13th century.

St. James Cathedral, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


12. Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia

Visiting the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia is another great way to spend some time on the outskirts of Riga.

Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


There are over 110 traditional Latvian buildings, outhouses, barns, and more surrounded by craft items, mills, meeting halls, and more. It’s like stepping back in time to an old Latvian village. 

It’s one of the oldest and most interesting outdoor museums in Europe. The huge park has been transformed into an interactive history lesson. 

You can enjoy a tour from someone in a traditional costume, and sometimes there are dances, crafts, and artisan events and festivals. It’s one of the most unique and exciting ways to learn about the country.


13. Relaxation

If you want to relax and chill after busy days of exploring the city, you can do it at a nice free hotel.

AC Lounge – Summer Terrace (photo credit: Marriott)


The AC Hotel Riga is a beautiful and recent hotel within walking distance of the old city and all the attractions.

It costs 9,200 Marriott points per night (46,000 for 5 nights). That’s just 4,600 points per person per night with a companion! It’s not as cheap as Marriott hotels in Southeast Asia of course, but that’s not bad at all for Europe. 

The current welcome bonus on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card gives you 53,000 points (or 106,000 points if your companion takes advantage of it too).

AC Hotel Riga price (image credit: Marriott)


The cash price is $785 ($157/night for 5 nights) so using points can give you great value — those particular dates give you almost twice our conservative Flytrippers Valuation! You can read how Marriott Bonvoy points work.

Fittingly, the hotel is built in the Art Nouveau architecture style. Many of the modern chic rooms also have great views of the city, as does the hotel gym!


14. Day trips 

If you want to explore the rest of Latvia, many other highlights aren’t that far from Riga given the country’s small size. 

Rental cars are $35 in Riga, but public transportation is very good, like in most of Europe, and that makes it easier not to have to backtrack or pay the often-high extra charges for one-way rentals.

You can visit the magnificent Rundāle Palace with a $4 bus ride (1h45 minutes).

Rundāle Palace, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


If you like castles, the Cēsis Castle is a $1 bus ride or a $4 train ride away (1h40 minutes). The small city of Cēsis itself is very pretty, and it’s surrounded by the Gauja National Park. There’s even a trail from the small town of Sigulda that has you hiking along many castle ruins in nature!

Cēsis Castle, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


A bit further away, you have even more options. 

The Livonian Order Castle is a $10 bus ride away (3 hours). On the way there, you can stop at the Venta Waterfalls, Europe’s widest (but they are just very wide, and not very high). You can get a nice view of it from the Kuldīga Castle.

Venta Waterfalls, Latvia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


If you want an uncommon experience, you can visit the Karosta Prison or even stay the night. It’s a former Soviet prison that ceased operating pretty recently (in 1997). It was built over 100 years ago as a short-term disciplinary prison.

It’s the only military prison in Europe that is open to visitors. It hasn’t changed at all and you’ll visit not only a cell but also the punishment room. The hotel operates only from mid-May to mid-September and the prison itself is only open on weekends outside that period. 

Tickets are just $12 and a room is $44 (single cell) or $59 (double cell). It’s located on the Southwestern Coast in Liepāja, the country’s 3rd-largest city, a $9 train ride (3 hours) away from Riga.

Finally, the country’s 2nd-largest city, Daugavpils, is located in the southeastern part of Latvia. It is a $9 train ride (3h45 minutes) from the capital. There you can visit the Daugavpils Shot Factory, the impressive Daugavpils Fortress, and the Mark Rothko Art Centre — the famous American painter was born in that city.

It’s also relatively simple to visit the 2 other Baltic countries from Riga, Estonia in the north or Lithuania in the south!



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Riga is an underrated city that you should visit to explore a different side of Europe and get a first taste of the Baltic countries. The city is not overcrowded (yet) and has plenty of things to do to keep you busy for a few days.


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Featured image: Riga, Latvia (photo credit: Gilly)

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Kevin Gagnon

Kevin is the co-founder of Flytrippers. A former structural engineer, he is now following his true passion, traveling! With the website, he also wants to share this passion with you and allow you to travel more than you would have thought possible. His goal is to visit all the countries in the world. Current count: 90/193!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Barry

    Are all your prices in Canadian? Hope so because I hate having to change over and you are Canadian.

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