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I visited Riga in Latvia in December just as the Christmas Markets were opening. Riga had been high on my to-visit list for some time and I’m really glad I went as its such an interesting and historic City with plenty to do, as well as being really reasonable in price. I spent 2 days and 3 nights in Riga and found this to be the perfect amount of time to spend there.
Here is what I got up to in Riga including the places I visited, the beautiful sights I saw and the awesome places I ate at which I would recommend for your visit to Riga!
Viewpoints in Riga
It’s alway’s good to visit a city and see it from above isn’t it? Well Riga has 4 Awesome Panoramic Viewpoints: St Peters Church, Latvian Academy of Sciences Panorama Observation Deck, Riga Skyline Bar and National Library of Latvia.
Not only do these viewpoints give awesome views of Riga but they are also really interesting buildings and take you to some great parts of the city. For example the building of the Latvian Academy of Sciences is also known as Stalin’s Birthday Cake building and you can see why when you see it!
I have written a full blog post dedicated to these viewpoints which includes where they are, prices, and photos from them all – 4 Viewpoints to see Panoramic Views over Riga. Check it out to get all of the details!
Riga Old Town
I love a European City with a beautiful Old Town and seeing photos of Riga’s Old Town definitely inspired me to want to visit.
It isn’t that big but its big enough and perfect to wander around taking any pretty street that you fancy! In fact I found it quite hard to find my bearing’s in Riga’s Old Town as the streets are quite windy but this just meant that we kept seeing new areas.
There are some seriously impressive buildings around too so keep looking up and keep an eye out for them! The 2 sets of iconic buildings that you need to visit in Riga are:
Three Brothers – These 3 buildings which all sit next to each other are the oldest Medieval dwelling houses in Riga and legend has it they were built by 3 men of the same family at different times, which is pretty cool! Today they are a tourist attraction and who can blame us?? One of them is also the Latvian Museum of Architecture which was closed when I went but I would have loved to have visited and seen inside so try and go for me!
House of the Blackheads – Closer to the River but still in the Old Town are these 2 impressive buildings. They were built in 1334 as a venue for meetings and banquets. The buildings were destroyed in the Second World War and restored in 1999 to full glory as they stand now and they truly are magnificent!
If you visit Riga in Winter like I did and you’re not sure what to pack, this is what I packed for my trip and I was very cosy and warm! – What I Pack for a European Winter City Break with Hand Luggage Only!
Art Nouveau District
Riga is home to quite a large Art Nouveau District which sits just on the Edge of the Old Town. The buildings here as you can imagine are really impressive and definitely worth seeing.
We used the Art Nouveau Museum as our point to walk too which took us out of the Old Town and right in the middle of the area. Unfortunately the museum was closed for some of December which was when we were there so we couldn’t go in, however I would really recommend visiting, or at least using it as a place to walk to so you can see the area as I really didn’t expect Riga to be like this outside of the Old Town.
Best Museums in Riga
I was pleasantly surprised with how many museums there were in Riga. Here are a few that I would suggest visiting to help understand Riga and Latvia:
Museum of Occupation – Latvia and the Baltics in general has had a very turbulent history, and a very recent turbulent history at that. Therefore I found this museum really interesting to see how Latvia has been occupied in the last 100 years. Did you know that on 23rd August 1989 around 2 million people all held hands to create a chain across Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as a peaceful Political Protest??
I would really recommend seeing this museum if you want to get to know the Country a bit more. The museums main location is by the Houses of the Blackheads however when we visited it was in a temporary building near the Freedom monument so check out the website first!
Art Noveau Museum – As I said, I didn’t get here but from what I have read I would really recommend going. It’s also home to a Art Nouveau Staircase which is among the most impressive in Europe! It looks like it would make a good instagram!
Latvian Museum of Architecture – As mentioned above, I didn’t get to visit here either due to it being closed but I would really love to see inside the Yellow building of the Three Brothers so I would suggest going in here too!
If you’re thinking of visiting all 3 of the popular Baltic Capitals – Riga, Vilnius AND Estonia in one trip, be sure to check out Happy Frog Travels post to the Beautiful Baltic Capitals!
Other Area’s & Buildings to see
Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral – This is just outside of the Old Town but it is such an incredible Church both inside and out and it feels like you could well be in Russia!
Freedom Monument – We visited the Museum of Occupation first and then came across the Freedom Monument and I felt it had so much more significance after seeing what Latvia has been through to gain freedom and independence. It’s also in a nice area on the edge of the Old Town and Art Nouveau District with a park either side of it and the river runs under the bridge nearby.
Riga also offers a huge amount of tours within and around the city so check out out of these to make your time in Riga even better and more in depth as this city holds a lot of history:
Central Market – You’ll pass by the Central Markets on your way to the Latvian Academy of Sciences. It’s a huge indoor market and a great way to see local Riga life. There will be a few other tourists there I’m sure but generally its locals buying and selling their fresh produce. The market is also in a totally different area than the Old Town, its a bit run down and poorer but seeing different sides of a city and the real life of a city is what travelling is all about I think.
Latvian Academy of Sciences – This is one of the viewpoints I have recommended above, but even if you don’t go up the viewpoint for any reason you should still walk to the base of the building (via the Central market) to see Stalin’s birthday cake for yourself as its super impressive and daunting and spine chilling, all at the same time!
Riga River Cruise
We didn’t have time to do a River Cruise due to the evenings getting dark so early but if you are in Riga during Spring or Summer I bet this trip would be so nice and a great way to see the city from another angle. Riga has a big river separating its 2 sides but it also has a smaller River running around the edge of the Old Town.
Spa’s in Riga
There are actually a lot of Spa Hotels in Riga, or at least hotels with spa’s in them which isn’t always common in cities. I stayed in Hotel Mercure Riga Centre which had a nice spa in it but as we were walking around the city we saw a few buildings that were home to spa’s so make sure you set some time aside to just relax!
Places to Visit Near Riga
Husky Dog Sledding – If you visit Riga in the Winter you NEED to look into going dog sledding in the Countryside of Latvia! I contacted Red Fox Tours in advance of my trip who were really helpful, they provisionally booked me and my friend in to go out with them but it depended on the weather. Unfortunatley, as you can see by my photos, there wasn’t any snow whilst I was in Riga so they contacted me the day before I arrived to confirm we wouldn’t be able to go which was a shame. Like I said though, I would definitely recommend going if you can and as I had such a pleasant booking experience with Red Fox Tours I would suggest contacting them!
Explore more of Latvia – Latvia looks like a beautiful Country with so much to offer so if you are in Riga for more than 2 days I would suggest trying to see some of the Countryside and some other towns and cities.
Ferreting Out The Fun has written about her Top 10 Day Trips from Riga here which I would suggest looking at!
The Best Places to Eat and Drink in Riga
Folkklubs – If there is one place you need to visit in Riga for food and drinks, it has to be Folkklubs! In fact I bet you’ll go more than once. It’s a huge basement venue which goes on and on and on, (you’ll see what I mean when you get there), it is very touristy but it’s also very traditional Latvian which is what draw’s people in. There’s a great vibe, its really really reasonable in price, the staff were friendly and generally, its great place to visit that can’t be missed in Riga!
Province – Another popular place that I saw recommended on a lot of blogs is Province! It’s a small and cosy restaurant, just a few meters from St Marks Church. It feels very local especially with its decor, and they offer a large range of Latvian food (although not a large range of Vegetarian options, but thats Eastern Europe all over for you) so I would definitely suggest going here for a good, hearty lunch or dinner. And again, for a great price, as starters were €3.00-5.00 and mains were €5.00-9.00!
Aurora – We found this cafe/bar whilst walking around the Art Nouveau area of the city. It’s a very local place where more locals probably visit than tourists, although because of this, they dont offer ‘traditional Latvian food’ its more international and a bit lighter, but there was an English menu and the lady working there was really helpful. We enjoyed a beer and lunch were and overall it was very calm and lovely.
Where to Stay in Riga
Hotel Mercure Riga Centre – This is where I stayed and I would recommend it. It’s in a great location, just outside of the Old Town and offers a spa as I mentioned. You can read my full write up about the hotel and my stay here if you wish.
Naughty Squirrel Backpackers – If you’re looking for a hostel in Riga, I was recommended the Naughty Squirrel Backpackers by a friend, its very central and it looks like a lot of fun!
And there you have it, My Complete Guide of Things to do in Riga!