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Riga is the capital of Latvia and the largest city in the Baltic countries, including Estonia and Lithuania. Riga is an increasingly popular city break destination that offers a mix of incredible historic buildings and buzzing cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy fine dining. It has a youthful vibe and a focus on the arts and innovation.
This beautiful city has around 600,000 people, an old city center with a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and many stunning museums, parks, and architectural jewels. Its wealth of Art Nouveau architecture is especially noteworthy.
Riga was under the occupation of the USSR for almost 50 years, but the city flourished after it regained its independence at the beginning of the ’90s.
You can explore Riga’s medieval cathedrals and churches, charming wooden houses, and Art Nouveau buildings, such as the Cat House and the House of the Black Heads. Stroll along the picturesque streets and squares in the Old Town, and embrace a peaceful ambiance at lovely gardens around the city.
You can attend the Latvian National Opera and Ballet events to see top-class artists or explore the amazing Latvian National Museum of Art to see masterpieces by Baltic sculptors and painters.
Take a walking tour of the Riga Central Market to taste and buy delicious Latvian food. And if you reach the 17th floor of the Latvian Academy of Science building, you can experience a breathtaking view from the observation deck.
Riga is also ideal for day trips to the Sigulda, a nature paradise in the Vidzeme region, and Jurmala, the most famous summer resort in the Baltics.
Here are the top 10 things to do in Riga.
1. Discover Hidden Gems in Riga’s Old Town
Old Town or Vecriga is the historical center of Riga, situated on the east side of the Daugava River. It is known for cathedrals and old churches, pedestrian cobblestone streets, and several museums, such as Riga Castle, the Latvian Museum of Architecture, and the Riga Film Museum. Thanks to its historical significance, Old Town in Riga was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can stroll along with the parts of the medieval town and through the Swedish Gate, the only remaining entrance to the Old Riga.
“The Three Brothers” buildings are also located in the Old Town of Riga. Those houses represent different periods and architectural styles, with Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque elements.
Many restaurants, bars, and clubs are located in the Old Town, so it is also perfect for enjoying the city’s nightlife.
2. Explore Riga Square
Many historical events took place at Town Hall Square. That was once an economical and administrative center of the city but was demolished during World War II. In the post-war years, many buildings have been rebuilt.
The House of the Black Heads dominates Town Hall Square. That beautifully decorated building was originally built in the 14th century but was destroyed by Germans in 1941.
It was rebuilt in 1999 and today hosts luxury events, such as classical music concerts, balls, and state ceremonies.
3. Visit the Medieval Sacral Buildings
Riga Cathedral, also known as Dome Cathedral, is one of the most famous landmarks in Latvia’s capital. It was built in the 13th century as the largest medieval church in the Baltic states at that time. During the Soviet occupation in the 20th century, Riga Cathedral was used as a concert hall.
In the southern part of the cathedral, you can find the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation. You can visit the exhibition that shows the development of Riga through the centuries.
Every Riga travel guide also recommends visiting the 123 meter-high St. Peter’s Church, the tallest church in Riga. It has a tower that offers a stunning view of the city. Also, you can attend different art exhibitions and concerts here.
Riga also has the largest Orthodox church in the Baltics. The Nativity of Christ Cathedral was built in the 19th century in the Neo-Byzantine style, and it is definitely worth a visit.
4. Discover the Art Nouveau Museum
Did you know that Riga has 800 Art Nouveau buildings?
In the early 20th century, the industrial revolution brings the expansion of the population in Riga. Many wealthy entrepreneurs built buildings in the new modern artistic style.
Many designers used Art Nouveau in furniture and clothing production, which led to many homes having their complete interiors designed in that style at that time.
The most beautiful Art Nouveau architecture you can find is on Alberta Street, in the city centre. Riga Art Nouveau Center is also located on the same street. In that museum, you can see how the interiors of the Art Nouveau apartments looked in the early 20th century.
5. Explore One of the Largest Open-Air Museums in Europe
Just outside of Riga, on the banks of the Jugla lake, you can find the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia. That museum promotes the culture and lifestyle of all four Latvia provinces: Latgale, Vidzeme, Zemgale, and Kurzeme.
The most interesting thing is that there are 118 historic buildings, such as Usma Lutheran Church, Roman Catholic chapel, Russian Orthodox church, bathhouse, tavern, farmer’s houses, and many other buildings from the 17th century to the middle of the 20th century set up in the beautiful scenery.
If you want to see how ordinary people lived here in the past three centuries, visit the exhibitions of work equipment and household.
Many cultural events are organized here every year. You can attend craft festivals and folk concerts to learn more about Latvian history and cultural heritage or play traditional Latvian games.
6. Visit the Freedom Monument
The Freedom Monument is the symbol of Latvia’s struggle for independence and freedom, located in the city center. It is 42 meters high granite monument decorated with many sculptures that represent Latvian history and culture.
On the top of the monument, there is a 9 meters high obelisk – a Liberty holding three stars above the head, which symbolizes the historical regions of Latvia and national unity.
The monument was financed by public donations and erected in honor of people killed during the Latvian War of Independence in the early 20th century.
The monument has been preserved from demolition during the Soviet Occupation and today is one of the most significant Baltic landmarks of Riga.
7. Learn More About the Periods of Latvian Occupation
Latvia was occupied for 51 years in the 20th century by Nazi Germany (1941-1944) and the USSR (1940-1941, 1944-1991). The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia is an educational institution established in 1993 to honor the life and culture during the occupation, from World War II to their independence.
It contains almost 60,000 artifacts, archive documents, and photographs. There are also 2,000 video testimonials and documentary films.
You can learn more about national resistance group activities and the guerilla fights against the German and Soviet occupations.
The Museum of the Occupation also offers a visit to the Corner House, the former KGB building. It hosts exhibitions about the history of KGB operations during the Soviet occupation. You can get guided tours of the prison cells and listen to stories about how authorities treated rebellious people at that time.
8. Visit the Riga Motor Museum
Riga Motor Museum is the most significant vehicle museum in the Baltics. It was founded in 1989 and operated by the Republic of Latvia Ministry of Transport. The museum’s permanent exhibition shows interesting stories about notable people and the events that marked car development in Eastern Europe.
On the three-floor museum about automotive history, you can learn more about the Soviet car industry and see some of the most attractive car models from the beginning of the 20th century.
There is a large collection of the cars used by Soviet Union political leaders, as well as an impressive collection of racing cars, special vehicles, and military machinery. You can see firetrucks, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, record-breaking cars, and hundreds of other vehicles.
9. Enjoy Sightseeing the Best of Riga’s Parks and Gardens
Riga has many lovely green oases in the city center. Take a walking tour through the beautiful Bastion Hill (Bastejkalns Park) to relax in a green setting with narrow paths and water cascades. You can also get a canal boat cruise here.
At Kronvalda Park, you can explore many tree species and admire a large fountain with a light show. There is also a botanical garden, operated by the University of Latvia, where you can get to know some tropical plants and enjoy watching butterfly colonies.
Some of the other stunning parks in Riga are Esplanades, near Elizabetes street, the Viesturs Garden Park, the oldest in Riga, and Vermanes Garden Park, with many sculptures and open-air stages for concerts.
10. Go On a Day Trip to the Jurmala Resort
Did you know that you can even find golden sandy beaches just 30 minutes from Latvia’s capital?
Jurmala is a coastal city on the Baltic Sea, west of Riga. That popular summer resort is known for its 25 km-long beaches, which feature great spots for swimming and sunbathing. There are also many spa hotels where you can enjoy a wide range of spa services.
After the day spent on a beach, you can stroll along Jomas Street (Jomas iela). There are many restaurants and pubs along the main pedestrian street in Jurmala. The parallel street – Juras street, is also known for its beautiful wooden houses.
If you travel with kids, visit the Dzintaru Mezaparks. You can find many playgrounds there, walking paths and cafes. For music lovers, Dzintari Concert Hall is a must-visit place in Jurmala.
Book This Trip:
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More information from Riga Tourism
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Author Bio: Based in Serbia in Europe, Marija Stojanovic Petkovski worked as a journalist but realized writing about the most beautiful places in the world is something that inspires her. She is sure that a pint of good craft beer perfectly accompanies a tasty homemade lasagne. In her spare time, she enjoys playing with her children and spending time outdoors with her family.