Things to do in Latvia – Getting There and Getting AroundRiga International Airport is nice and close to the Riga Old City – a maximum of 15 minutes in a cab. It is also only 20 minutes from the Jurmala region so it is very easy to start your trip in the Old Town area and then head from Jurmala to the airport. hiring a car.
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1. Visit the Restaurants you would go to if you lived in Riga on Dzirnavu StreetOne of my favourite things to do in Latvia Riga was to figure out where I would eat if I lived there. If you want to eat like a local whilst you visit Riga then it is time to leave the lovely Old Town. Not far away in the Central Area/Art Nouveau district is Dzirnavu Street. Not only does this street feature some Art Nouveau architecture (one of the great things to do in Riga) it is also filled with some great restaurants! I started my visit to Latvia with a late lunch at Zivju Lete or the Fish Counter. The first Zivju Lete opened in 2015. It was so successful that it relocated to its new premises on Dzirnavu Street. The focus at Zivju Lete is on a mix of classic seafood options, what’s fresh and Baltic classics like herring, lamprey and sprats. Zivju Lete has a Mediterranean style with a focus on grilling and allowing the seafood’s natural flavours to shine through. The restaurant has a very attractive Fish Counter at the front where you can check out what is fresh and on offer. There is also an open kitchen to watch meal preparation and cooking. The menu at Zivju Lete ranges from fish and chips to lobster pasta with caviar and oysters and is very affordable considering the amount and quality of the seafood. The atmosphere is relaxed and cheerful. My meal started with fresh white bread served in a brown paper bag accompanied by a very tasty tuna spread. I had then chosen the octopus. It was perfectly crisp on the outside and very soft and pliant inside. All served with grilled Mediterranean vegetables. Delicious! Next up on Dzirnavu Street was The Catch. The Catch was opened by Alexander Slobine. He opened the first Japanese restaurant in Riga nearly twenty years ago. The Catch is known for the high quality of its sashimi. The sashimi is served in the classic style on ice or with a sauce accompanying each dish. There are also sushi rolls and meat/fish/vegetables grilled robatayaki style. The Catch is also well known for its bluefin tuna and tuna belly – it is said to be the only restaurant in the Baltics which offers these dishes. Riits Garsvieta is the place to go for modern Latvian cuisine. Riits means “morning” in Latvian and this is the spirit of the restaurant. It sources organic local produce that is in season. Riits Garsvieta has s a short seasonal menu as a result. Most meals are prepared on their live charcoal grill. The menu changes regularly due to the sourcing policy and it also offers several vegetarian dishes. Chef’s Corner is a restaurant and bar that offers European cuisine with a twist. Whilst there are vegetarian and fish options, its expertise is top quality steaks and meat dishes. Chef’s Corner signature meat dish is the steak from the Swiss breed of Simmental beef. Chef’s Corner also offers a range of tartare options. If you’re visiting the area during the day pop in and grab a coffee at Rocket Bean – they know their coffee! On nearby Elizabetes Street is Entresol. This 3-year-old Riga restaurant was the first “knapas” restaurant in Latvia. Knapas is a combination of Latvian knapi – which means hardly or barely – and Spanish Tapas. The result is a menu of small starters prepared using seasonal ingredients. I’m not normally a fan of a steakhouse chain. However, one of the locals I spoke with during my stay who knew his food raved about Steiku Hoass. The chain has three locations in Riga. Steiku Hoass source the best quality meat from around the world and all steaks are aged. My contact said the key was having your steak served Flambe style eg with rum. Do email me if you go and let me know what you think! For more restaurant options check out the White Guide Nordic – the leading restaurant guide for the Nordic and Baltic countries.
⇒ Don’t miss my post on 23 Instagrammable Things do Do in Riga
2. Eat Rye Garlic Bread with drinksWhen I write garlic bread do you think of a small loaf of white bread in foil that has been pre-sliced with garlic and butter? A childhood classic? A frozen food mainstay? Latvians have made a vast improvement on this 1970s classic! They take their amazing rye bread, cut it up into different types of shapes, add fresh raw garlic and then do a quick deep fry. These are then served as snacks rather than chips. And they are amazing!!!! Crispy yet chewy yet slightly soft – and oh the garlic! Eating garlic bread is one of the more unusual things to do in Riga but trust me – you’ll love it! I really would hate to imagine a dorm room of young men in Latvia the day after a big night out and the smell but gosh these little delights are so delicious and extremely addictive! Don’t leave Latvia without trying these. They are most easily available in bars and pubs.
3. Make Rye Bread at Laci bakeryThe Laci Bakery opened nearly 30 years ago and is most famous for its rye bread. Once you know about Laci you will start seeing its products with the distinctive red logo everywhere! The bakery itself is about a 30-minute drive from Riga and is located just off the main road. They have a cafeteria/restaurant and the most fantastic shop! Heading here for a baking lesson is one of the most fun things to do in Latvia. The shop contains not only all of Laci’s wonderful products but the best of local ingredients from the area. This is the place to do your food shopping whilst in Latvia. Laci Bakery Latvia also has barrels full of things like all their forms of the amazing dark rye garlic bread. These can be purchased in tubs at this Latvian bakery. And don’t leave Laci without getting the chocolates made with rye breadcrumbs – trust me they are amazing. I am getting distracted. OK, so it is possible to do a cooking class at Laci – a really fun thing when it comes to what to do in Latvia! The tour starts with a video about the bakery. The man who started Laci is still the owner today and is very hands-on. The famous Laci Rye bread is based on his grandmother’s recipe. After watching the video it was time to get kitted up and head down to the factory floor. On the way, we were able to taste some biscuits fresh off the line – delicious! Then to the Laci bread ovens. This Latvian rye bread is mostly baked by tall men due to the height needed as well as big hands with which to shape the dense dough. I watched them forming the loaves and then placing them in the oven with a giant spatula. Then it was my turn! Of course, they had done the hard part which was creating the actual dough. All I had to do was to pat the dough into shape and then one of the tall gentlemen helped me with the rather heavy spatula. The Latvian rye bread is cooked at an extremely high temperature for just 30 minutes. This delivers its distinctive dark and tasty exterior and soft interior. The rye bread keeps at room temperature for 7 days and can be frozen. The loaf I “made” was the sourdough variety. If I do say so it was absolutely delicious! I have been having this sourdough rye bread for breakfast daily since my return and I may have to return to Latvia once I run out as I have fallen in love with it! I had mentioned my new obsession with rye garlic bread during the tour. The lovely lady at the Laci Bakery then took me to several giant bins all filled with different cuts of bread that had been smothered with fresh garlic. My gosh, they were delicious! And available in the store!. I was also able to take home some more delicious biscuits from Laci and some of their chewy yet soft meringues. I highly recommend a visit to Laci Bakery! There can be no better Latvia souvenir for a foodie than a loaf of its amazing sourdough rye bread!
4. Visit the Riga Central Market during the dayRiga Central Market is Europe’s largest market and bazaar. It was made a UNESCO site along with the Riga Old Town in 1998. Riga Central Market is visited by over 80,000 people every day and is one of the most popular things to see in Latvia no matter what the Latvia weather. Operating since 1930, the Central Market has always been the place to go for top-quality ingredients. It has three large Zeppelin style hangars. The first is all about fish. The merchandising at Riga Central Market Latvia makes the Harrods Food Hall look like Kmart! I have never seen such gleaming fish – indeed some of them were still alive! I wanted to order the salmon and eat it raw immediately! Next up at Riga Central Market was beautifully merchandised fruit and vegetables. I was most impressed by the pickled options available. Packets of herbs were displayed that when drunk as tea treats different ailments. I bought some of the maple sap water. This is frozen at source and contains – well maple sap – and is meant to be very nutritious. Riga Central Market has an impressive area devoted to all things meat and of course a large area for cheese and dairy. Heading to the outdoors I loved the colourful flower market. As you will read more about below, there were also offerings from Uzbekistan – freshly baked bread and giant pots of plov and more. I loved Riga Central Market – so much going on, so many foodie options and so beautifully displayed. I went with a guide which I wouldn’t normally do. I am very glad that I did as I found out about things like the maple sap water and local herbs used medicinally that greatly added to my experience. I highly recommend putting Riga Central market on your what to see in Latvia list!
5. Visit the Riga Gastro Market in the eveningAs a well-travelled foodie you’ll be aware that many markets these days have a ready to eat area – often with an alcohol license that runs into the evening. The Riga Central Market version of this opened in February 2019 with over 20 suppliers and 2 bars. Food types cover everything from gastro hot dogs to traditional Latvian to a whole new japanese-mex! Now, when it comes to things to do in Riga at night you can add going to the market to the list! Keen to maximise my experience at Centralais, I decided to try three different stalls. I started with Raw Burger. I had read good things about their traditional burgers and their more innovative offers like vegetarian burgers based around jackfruit. I went with their lobster option which came in two brioche buns and was quite delicious. Del Man is home to dumplings plus some other tasty pastry-esque options. The core of the Del Man menu is a range of dumplings from rabbits to sturgeon to duck confit and chestnuts. I went with black seafood dumplings which were fantastic. They looked more like large tortellini but they tasted great! I also had the hot mushroom sauce. Finally, the highlight for me at the Centralais Gastro Market was my nori tuna taco at Tarpaccio. The seaweed component is lightly fried in a taco style shape. It is then loaded up with avocado, tuna pieces, sesame seeds and more. Tarpaccio and its sushi taco was my favourite finding at the market – a great mix of flavours and textural contrast. The Centralais Gastro Market Riga area is open 12-10pm every day and until 2 am on Friday and Saturday evenings (where there is also a DJ).
6. Explore the Riga beer district and its snacksLatvia has always had a reputation for good beer. Apparently, this is partly due to the high quality of Latvian water. Craft brewing began in Latvia in the middle ages when farmers brewed their own beer. The industrial revolution brought breweries to Latvia but Soviet Rule limited outputs. Craft beers are now as popular as more mainstream options in Latvia. The Riga Beer District is a Riga tourism concept that brings to life this passion for brewing – and great bar snacks – and is a great way to explore Latvia! The Riga Beer District area is about 1.5km from the old town and includes 10 bars – most of whom are also brewers. It is possible to use the Riga Beer District map and organise your own beer crawl. Alternatively, take a beer tour as I did and have a local show you how it is done! My Riga Beer Tour covered 4 of the 10 bar options. Each of them were interesting, quirky, unique bars with interesting stories. The innovative Latvian Brewing scene celebrates local ingredients and is constantly changing and trying new ideas. I tried lagers, ales, stout, shandies, beer with no hops and all types of different options. Ingredients ranged from virtually every piece of the beehive to blueberries to elderflower to pumpkin! Don’t miss Valmiermuizas Beer Embassy. Not only is it known for having the best beer in Latvia it also has amazing food. This easy-going bar/restaurant has been voted the best restaurant in Latvia for the last 14 years! And its bar snacks are awesome!!!
7. Eat SushiAs I mentioned earlier, the first Japanese restaurant opened in Riga almost twenty years ago and the cuisine has been embraced by Latvians. At the top end of the market is The Catch which I mentioned earlier and Cod Robata Grill Bar. Cod has a completely separate lounge area which is known for its award-winning bartenders and their Japanese influenced cocktails. Their Grill Bar is ranked among the best 30 Baltic Restaurants by White Guide Nordic. The focus is on sushi and robata-grilled dishes. For a good mid-range Japanese offer check out Yakuza Sushi which has a great reputation. Tokyo City is a small chain of sushi restaurants that are perfect for a quick lunch or snack. And as I mentioned earlier the Gastro area of the Central Market has Tarpaccio, Yaki and Nama.
8. Eat Uzbek CuisineThere is a rather thriving Uzbekistan Cuisine movement happening in Latvia! Who would have guessed? I went to a fantastic restaurant called Maja which is in the Pardaugava area (combine lunch with checking out its wooden houses). This lovely restaurant is in what was a nineteenth-century private home. The little square it is in also has a market on Saturday’s. Anyway, Maja is not an entirely Uzbek restaurant but the owners are from Uzbekistan. When I go to restaurants like this I do like to ask the waiter what dishes they are best known for and then order those. I started my meal at Maja with a delicious Uzbek style soup. The soup was a tomato-based broth filled with vegetables, noodles and some beef and was rather spectacular. But it was not as good as the quite frankly amazing bread that came with it! Oh the bread!!! I could have had three of these and made them my complete meal. There was no need for oil nor butter nor anything. Slightly chewy but still soft to the palate, a slightly crispy outside for additional flavour and contrast – this bread was drop-dead amazing!!! My main meal at Maja was the beautifully presented spring lamb. The lamb was delicious but what I enjoyed the most was the variety of berry forms with which it was served. There was a berry jus, blackberries, cranberries – and all complimented the lamb wonderfully. I would now like to see more berries in my savoury meals! Maja is also well known for its pilaf – they even serve a variety called Wedding Pilaf which is supposed to be amazing. Do email me if you try it. I came across two interesting places for Uzbek cuisine at the Riga Central Market. The first was a bakery! I think Maja had its own oven for bread rather than sourcing from this bakery but I was very impressed with its clay oven – and with the fact that the bread stuck to the walls of the oven! It was then extracted from the walls after cooking! Apparently, Plov is the ultimate Uzbek dish. The ingredients are generally roasted at the beginning. The carrots and onions are first up and then meat, rice etc are all added in. The photo you can see here is a gentleman at the market with a rather large pan in the early stages of cooking Plov.
⇒ Looking for some other interesting foodie places to visit in Europe? Check out my posts on fantastic Puglia in Italy, the beautiful and delicious Tarn et Garonne region in France, the best restaurants of the beautiful and rugged Greek Island of Paxos, edgy Hamburg and its rightly famous Sunday fish market, the Beef bar just outside Graz in Austria was one of my meal highlights of last year and the best food tours in London!