Looking for things to do in Riga, Latvia? This post provides local tips on why the Latvian capital offers much for international travellers who enjoy cultured city breaks.
Enjoy history, architecture and local cuisine while you travel? The Old Town is one of the city’s principal attractions. Participants on many a Riga stag do have spent time in the bars in that popular and historic district. Beyond the nightlife, there are many more reasons to visit Latvia’s capital.
For an insider’s perspective on what to see in Riga, I turned to tour guide Arturs Adamsons. Based in the Latvian capital, his company, Eat Riga, operates private tours throughout Latvia and the Baltic region.
In this interview, Arturs suggests Riga restaurants worth visiting to taste authentic Latvian cuisine. He also outlines where to go to visit bars well away from the well-worn tourist trail and places to see in Riga for travellers who appreciate heritage.
What are the top things to do in Riga?
Why would anyone want to go back to Barcelona or see London for the millionth time? They should go somewhere they have never been. I think that Riga really exceeds most people’s expectations.
That’s how we get everyone to like us, because people come to our capital city without any expectations.
When you realise that what we have is world-class architecture, world-class restaurants as well, and it’s just different.
Riga experienced incredible development in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. About half a million of Riga’s inhabitants came in the last twentysomething years before the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917. In something like a 20-year period, we built the city. Today you’d find similar examples only in places such as the Middle East, where the oil money allows rapid growth. For us, it was manufacturing and the port.
Riga stands out with Art Nouveau facades. We have the biggest collection in the world — some 800 facades all together. That kind of collection you cannot find anywhere else in the world. Plus wooden Art Nouveau, which is extremely rare across the world.
Spilve Airport, Riga’s old aerodrome, is one site that most people skip. It’s one of the city’s hidden gems. The architecture from inside, the Soviet-era murals, is something different. You have to see it to believe it. The main mural shows Latvia people in traditional costumes along with Soviet flags.
Which restaurants would you suggest as the best places to eat in Riga?
I would take guests to a place called Gauja (Stabu iela 32; tel. +371 66 908 200), named after a national park and river. It serves honest Latvian food.
You can see how Latvian people cook at home rather than over-traditional food that no one really cooks at home that you sometimes get in folksy restaurants. It’s honest, homestyle cooking and it’s not expensive. The portions are large. What’s not to like?
A typical dish in Latvia often features potatoes of some sort, pork chop or schnitzel, and some salad on the side. It’s good food that will sort you out for the rest of the day.
People looking for vegan restaurants in Riga will not be disappointed. We have quite a lot of options for vegan food in Riga. One of the best, for large portions and honest food, is the Terapia Vegan Café (Bruņinieku iela 69; tel. +371 20 045 234).
Where would you head to visit the best bars in Riga?
More and more, I take people across the River Daugava to Pārdaugava, a district packed with wooden architecture, or Āgenskalns. Āgenskalns is a district with a lot of nice, cute bars but pretty much no tourists. You can walk or cycle across the bridge very easily.
One of my favourite places is the Two Wheels Hotel (12 Baloza iela; tel. +371 2 5605 616) It’s really more of a tiny villa with a terrace and garden rooms. You can stay there at a hotel but they also have a kitchen and bar. On the terrace, surrounded by trees, you can forget that you’re in the middle of a city. Hop in a taxi and 10 minutes later you’re back in Riga’s Old Town.
Do you have a favourite place that you’d recommend people visit?
I like markets and Riga’s Central Market was built using repurposed German Zeppelin hangars from the First World War. You cannot find an equivalent anywhere else in the world.
Out of poverty and the fact that we didn’t have the money for the materials, we recycled buildings that were there before. It’s also a message for today’s world — re-cycle rather than make new.
Central Market has local Latvian products. It has stands selling hand-crafted souvenirs rather than mass-produced stuff. You can find products such as mittens and wooden items, including spoons.
Where do you recommend among the best day trips from Riga?
If people have some extra time, I’d suggest Sigulda if they’re active. It’s possible to do activities such as summer bobsleigh or winter bobsleigh. Hiking, riding a cable car and even bungee jumping are possibilities. There’s also a wind tunnel. It’s a great place for active travellers.
For people who are less active and like the beach, if the weather allows it I’d suggest heading to Jūrmala. It’s a train ride, half an hour away from Rega. There are gingerbread houses — 19th-century wooden villas that were built for the wealthy of Riga who were trying to get closer to the seaside.
Jūrmala would make a great half-day or full-day trip to the seaside, surrounded by pine trees. Jūrmala Beach is wide and it’s never really packed with people.
See the Riga Live and Latvia Travel websites to find out more about the top things to do in Riga.
Air Baltic, Wizz Air and Ryan Air count among the airlines operating services to Riga International Airport.
Looking for information on how to get from Riga Airport into the Old Town? Bus number 22 runs between the airport and Riga city centre. Taxis also run to the city. Another local tip is to download the Bolt app to order rides while in Riga.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning travel writer.
Thanks for reading these local tips on things to do in Riga. If you’re planning a trip to Latvia, you may also find it useful to read my Things to do in Riga, Latvia post, outlining more things to do and see in the county’s capital city.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
If you enjoyed this post why not sign up for the free Go Eat Do newsletter? It’s a hassle-free way of getting links to posts on a monthly basis.
‘Like’ the Go Eat Do Facebook page to see more photos and content.
Geoff MooreAugust 24, 2020 at 15:10
Plenty of information there Stuart certainly does look to be a city well worth visiting.
Go Eat DoAugust 27, 2020 at 11:43
Thanks, Geoff. Yes, it’s a rewarding destination for someone such as myself that appreciates architecture, history and regional flavours.