Visiting Riga wasn’t just like travelling to another European city for me. As the birthplace of both my parents, who left over thirty-five years ago thinking they’d never return, it’s remarkable that Riga has now firmly established itself as a popular tourist city. Travellers here come from all walks of life ranging from cruise ships visitors exploring the Old Town during their one day in Riga to European city breakers enjoying a weekend in Riga to a growing number of digital nomads settling in the Latvian capital for an extended period of time.
I first travelled to Riga in 2003 as a fourteen-year-old boy, however, my parents and I spent the majority of that trip reconnecting with family and friends who they hadn’t seen since they emigrated to Australia. Since that initial visit, I have returned multiple times to the city, exploring Riga from a tourist’s perspective and as a traveller using the city as a short-term base.
It’s clear to me why Riga has become so popular for a wide range of different travellers. It offers something different for everybody. Whether you’re a history and architecture buff, a foodie or simply looking for fun and affordable nightlife – you will easily be able to incorporate those things into your Riga itinerary.
If you’re a first time visitor, then I recommend spending 3 days in Riga to make the most of everything that the Latvian capital has to offer and to allow yourself to have an opportunity to explore beyond the main tourist attractions.
How to get around Riga
Riga’s Old Town and central areas are reasonably compact meaning that if you’re only spending 3 days in Riga you’ll only need to use public transport on a rare occasion. Riga has an extensive bus, tram and trolleybus network within the city limits. The best way to buy tickets is to pick up a transport card from a vending machine or a convenience shop. Tickets for one trip cost €1.15 if using the card or €2 if you buy it directly on board. There are discounts for buying multiple trips.
If you’re after the comfort of a taxi then the best way to order one is using the Taxify app. This works in the same way as Uber (which doesn’t operate in Riga) however you have the option of paying in cash directly to the driver as well as by entering your credit card information in the app. Fares on Taxify are quite reasonable with a 10km trip costing approximately €8-10.
Best Things to Do in Riga
Riga has a number of fantastic attractions to keep travellers busy during their stay in the Latvian capital. While you can undoubtedly see the main tourist attractions in 1 or 2 days in Riga, I recommending spending at least 3 days in Riga to give yourself an opportunity to explore beyond the central areas of the city.
Riga Itinerary: Day 1
Walk around Old Town
If you only have one day in Riga then like most visitors to the city, you will undoubtedly want to explore the Old Town. While this part of Riga has undoubtedly attracted more and more tourists over the years there is a very a good reason for this – its cobblestone streets and charming medieval style architecture is simply a delight to walk around and there are many interesting sites to explore.
The House of Blackheads is one of the most iconic sites in Riga, originally built in the 14th century for German merchants it was completely rebuilt in the late 90s after being destroyed during WWII.
One of the most famous churches that’s worth seeing is St Peter’s Church located in the Old Town. Built originally in 1209, it is over 120m and offers visitors a chance to climb the tower to the top and get a wonderful view of the Old Town. Tickets cost €9 for adults.
The Dom Cathedral is another famous church located in the Old Town which was built in 1207. It is famous for its organ which contains 6,718 pipes!
Other points of interest in the Old Town include The Three Brothers which are the oldest residential houses in Riga, the Swedish Gate which is the last remaining part of the Old City Walls and the Powder Tower which used to be an important defensive post for Riga.
If you would like to learn more about the history of the Old Town during your first 24 hours in Riga then it’s worth taking a free walking tour with Riga Free Tours. Their Old Riga Tour starts at 10 am which does mean an early start but gives you the advantage of getting there before many other tour groups arrive!
Take a break near the canal
After a few hours walking around the Old Town, you will undoubtedly be due for a break! Luckily, you’re not too far from some lovely green spaces and a canal to relax by!
Bastejkalna Park which is located just on the outskirts of the Old Town is the perfect escape if you want to get away from the Old Town as it becomes more crowded throughout the day. There is a lovely canal that runs through the park and a number of inviting benches to rest your sore legs.
If you want to get another vantage point of the Old Town then you can take a short one-hour boat ride along the canal. River Cruises has departures every thirty minutes costing €12 per person and leave regardless if they are filled or not. The cruise will take you along the canal and then onto Daugava River.
See the Freedom Monument & Laima Clock
Located right next to the canal, is the Freedom Monument is considered an important symbol of Latvian independence and commemorates Latvian lives who were lost during the Latvian War of Independence. Whilst nowhere near as elaborate as what you might see at Buckingham Palace in London, there is a changing of the guard that occurs on the hour during the day.
Opposite the Freedom Monument is the Laima Clock, advertising Latvia’s famous chocolate company and is considered the main meeting point for locals in the city.
Visit Central Riga
Whilst the Old Town of Riga might be what draws in many tourists, it’s worth crossing the bridge over the canal and exploring the streets of Central Riga. This area is filled with beautiful buildings and one could easily spend hours marvelling at the Art Nouveau architecture.
Whilst this area might lack the large number of tourist sites found in the Old Town, you will definitely be less likely to bump into tour groups and can see a side of Riga that many locals call home today. This is also the best area to stay in during your visit to Riga as it’s more affordable than the Old Town and there are many fantastic cafes and restaurants here which are catered to locals.
One monument that is worth detouring to during your walk around central Riga is the Nativity of Christ Cathedral. Located in the Esplanade Park, it is the largest orthodox church in the Baltics and has a fascinating history. It was originally built in the 19th century but was closed during the Soviet era and used as a planetarium. It was restored to its original purpose following Lativa’s independence.
Riga Itinerary: Day 2
Explore Riga Central Market
There’s arguably no better way to understand a culture than by its food so if you want to see where many locals shop, head straight to Riga Central Market. The market was originally opened in 1930, is open daily and considered one of the largest markets in Europe. Walk down the aisles and explore the many vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, fish, meat and much more! There also a number of vendors selling freshly baked pastries, making this a great place to pick up some breakfast or lunch!
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia is one of the best museums in Riga to explore that covers the history of German and Soviet occupation of Latvia from WWII until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Its permanent site is close to the House of the Blackheads but as its currently being renovated the museum has been temporarily relocated to close to the canal. Entrance to the museum is by donation.
Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia
This museum provides a glimpse into Latvia of days past as well as a welcome escape from the relatively busy central area of Riga. Located a short tram ride from the city, the open-air museum allows you to explore and learn more about life in rural Latvia. There are a collection of traditional houses and workstations for different types of occupations. You are given a map on arrival that allows you to explore at your own leisure as well as enjoy the surrounding nature.
Take buses 1, 19, 28 or 29 to get here by public transport or a taxi on Taxify will cost around €8 from central Riga.
Enjoy Riga’s famous nightlife
Riga’s nightlife has become increasingly famous over the years and has become especially popular for stag-do parties. Most of the nightlife is concentrated in the Old Town, however, there are a lot of tourist traps in the historical centre so it’s worth venturing out for cheaper drink prices and more local venues.
One place I can recommend if you’re after a more relaxed night is Vina Studija which is a hip wine bar with two locations in Central Riga. They offering an extensive wine list all available by the glass with detailed descriptions on the menu costing between €3-5. There is also a restaurant if you’re after a full meal.
Riga Itinerary: Day 3
Day trip to Jurmala
One of the best things to do in Riga is to take a day trip to nearby Jūrmala which has kilometres of beautiful sandy Baltic beach. During the summer months, many tourists arrive from nearby countries so accommodation can be difficult to find which makes a day trip from Riga the perfect option to enjoy Jūrmala!
The water might be a bit chilly for people used to warmer climates however it’s definitely still swimmable during the summer months if you can handle a little bit of chill. There are also a number of nature trails in the area for walking or biking if you feel like being more active.
If you’re not visiting Riga on a budget and feel like you need some pampering after your first 2 days in Riga then Hotel Jurmala Spa offers a number of affordable spa treatments including a variety of massages.
Jūrmala can be easily be reached by taking a 30-minute train ride from Riga Central station. Please note that there is no train station named Jurmala and there are a number of possible stations you can exit when visiting Jurmala. Majori is the most popular area for visitors while Dubulti is a good option if you want a slightly less busy beach but still have access to facilities such as a beach bar and changing areas.
Places to Eat in Riga
There are a number of fantastic places to eat in Riga ranging from traditional Latvian fare to trendy and hip cuisine drawing on both local and international influences. Here are some of the best restaurants to try during your 3 days in Riga.
Lido restaurants are extremely popular with locals and offer a changing menu of traditional Latvian cuisine including meat dishes, potatoes, salads, desserts and much more. Upon entering, grab a tray from the end of the aisle and simply walk down the aisles of food, putting what you want on your tray before paying at the end. There are several locations across Riga including one in Jurmala and even at Riga airport if you fancy once last meal before departing. You can eat well here for around €6-10 per person depending on your selections.
Big Bad Bagels
Located in central Riga, Big Bad Bagels is a hip cafe serving freshly baked bagels with several different fillings along with a range of coffee and juices. This cafe is a great option for breakfast or lunch and they also do takeaway if you are eager to start exploring. A bagel and coffee will cost about €5-6 per person.
Riits is a hip restaurant serving a seasonal menu that focuses on highlighting local Latvian produce while implementing modern culinary influences. The restaurant is extremely popular with locals so make sure to book a table in advance if you want to eat here, particularly on the weekends. Main dishes cost about €10-15 each.
Located next to the Laima Clock, Kolonade is a great option for lunch if you’re near the Old Town as they have affordable set menus. For €11 you can choose from one soup and main dish from their daily menu.
Moltto Wine & Grill
Moltto is a trendy restaurant and wine bar located on a quiet street in central Riga. With a vibrant atmosphere and friendly staff, this is a great option for dinner as they have an extensive menu of dishes. Main dishes cost between €10-20 depending on your choice and make sure to save room for their delicious pavlova for dessert!
Where to Stay in Riga
Cinnamon Sally Backpacker’s Hostel – located in the heart of Riga close to the Central Market, this small hostel is one of the best places to stay in Riga if you’re on a budget. They offer both dorms and private rooms and also organise social events, making it’s a great option if you’re travelling solo and want to meet some people to explore Riga with! Click here to see the latest prices on Hostelworld or Booking.com
Airbnb – Airbnb is a great option if you are travelling on a budget but want some more privacy. There are numerous apartments and private rooms available throughout the city such as this fantastic modern apartment in central Riga! Click here to get up to $40 off your first stay with Airbnb!
Redstone Boutique Hotel – if you’re travelling as a couple and have a slightly higher budget, then this boutique hotel is a great option. It is centrally located and within walking distance of all of the main sites. They have a large range of rooms on offer and breakfast is included in the room rate. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse the best deals for hotels in Riga!
Riga is a fantastic city to visit and offers something to do for a wide range of travellers. While 3 days in Riga will give visitors a great introduction to the city there is also more than enough reason to stay longer and enjoy the thriving atmosphere of the Latvian capital.
Even if you’re only going on a short city break to Riga, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Have you travelled to Riga before or are you planning a trip soon? What would you add to this Riga itinerary? Let us know in the comments below!