I first visited Riga and the surrounding areas 10 years ago. I enjoyed my time there but I wouldn’t have raved about it.
However, I was blown away on my recent visit. Great food, lots of interesting things to do and so photogenic. Here are my 23 best things to do in Riga and in areas around Riga that can be visited on a day trip.
- Things to do in Riga – Getting There and Getting Around
- Do you need a Visa for Latvia?
- What to do in Riga Old Town
- 1. House of the Blackheads
- 2. The Viewing Area at St Peter’s Church
- 3. Narrowest Street in Riga
- 4. Three Wall Street
- 5. Three Brothers
- 6. The Most Romantic Thing to do in Riga
- 7. Capture The Old Town Zoo
- Riga Latvia Things to do outside the Old Town
- 8. The Freedom Monument
- 9. The Nativity Cathedral
- 10. Take a Canal Tour
- 11. Love Lock Bridge
- 12. Things to do Riga Latvia Art Nouveau District
- 13. The Riga Art Nouveau Museum
- 14. The Wooden Houses of Pardaugava
- 15. Riga Tower Counter Sculpture
- 16. Kipsala
- 17. Riga Central market
- Day Trips from Riga
- 18. The beaches of Jurmala
- 19. Visit Kemeri Bog
- 20. Go to an Art Gallery in a Train Station
- 21. Capture some Beach Town Wooden Houses
- 22. The tall fuzzy grass of Kanieris Lake
- Boutique Riga Hotels
- Who paid for what in this post
Things to do in Riga – Getting There and Getting Around
Riga International Airport is nice and close to the Old Town – 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.
The Old Town is very much walkable. Several key streets are pedestrianised which makes walking compulsory. It is easy to walk to the Art Noveau and Beer District areas but trams are also available.
Heading across the bridges to Pardaugava and Kipsala isn’t so walkable. Jump on a bus or taxis are quite inexpensive and easy to hail.
Travelling to Jurmala and the surrounding towns in this post really require a car. Jurmala has train and bus stations and frequent connections from Riga.
However, to get to some of the places I mention in this post you really need a car or to be on a tour.
I picked up my hire car at the Radisson hotel near the Freedom Monument. This was a great spot for a pick up as I literally only had to make one turn and I was on the road to Jurmala so very difficult to get lost.
I am very much a left-hand drive kind of person and Latvia is right-hand drive. However, I found it very easy to drive there. Lots of signs and clearly marked lanes.
Driving around Jurmala was very easy as well so I would highly recommend hiring a car.
Do you need a Visa for Latvia?
It can be a real pain trying to figure out if you need a visa for a country and then all the hassle of figuring out how to apply, how long you can go without your passport, when the embassy is open etc.
iVisa has completely revolutionised this process and put it all online and make it super simple and paper and hassle free.
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What to do in Riga Old Town
One of the key things to do in Riga is to explore the old town. Like many old towns in Europe, Riga’s old town is extremely photogenic and there are loads of places to go in Riga old town.
There are some key Riga tourism attractions that you must visit to have the whole Riga experience.
1. House of the Blackheads
This House of the Blackheads was originally built in the 14th century for the Brotherhood of Blackheads. This was a guild for unmarried merchants, shipowners and foreigners in Riga.
The House of the Blackheads was bombed in WW2 and then fully destroyed during the Soviet regime. It was rebuilt between 1995 and 1999.
Today it is the home to the tourism office and a Riga must-see photo spot.
2. The Viewing Area at St Peter’s Church
St Peter’s Church can be traced back to the 12th century and its spire is a symbol of Riga. Seeing the old town from its tower is one of the top 10 things to do in Riga.
Head into St Peter’s church (a paid ticket is required) and walk up 3 flights of stairs to the elevator. This will whisk you up to the viewing platform and some rather stunning 360-degree views of Riga.
3. Narrowest Street in Riga
In Rozenna street it is possible to stand in the middle of the street and touch both sides of the street. It is also the shortest street in Riga. And pretty cute.
4. Three Wall Street
This small courtyard is tucked away off one of the main streets of Riga. The three houses are lovely and it has a gorgeous glass ceiling.
5. Three Brothers
The Three Brothers are three buildings that are the oldest building complex in Riga. They are located on Maza Pils street. The oldest of the three houses date from the late 15th century.
6. The Most Romantic Thing to do in Riga
Well, it must be as that is what the blackboards say! A mix of a very atmospheric and photogenic café and some good marketing.
Parunasim café has blackboards near its location stating that it is the most romantic café in Riga – but also pointing out that it is difficult to find. Can you find it? A rather clever challenge bound to find people – like me.
Parunasim is down a backstreet and features cute lights and quirky décor.
7. Capture The Old Town Zoo
There are quite a few sculptures of different animals in and around Riga. First up is this colourful bear guy who lives outside the House of Blackheads.
The Bremen Town Musicians were a gift from Riga’s sister town Bremen in 1990. They live outside St Peter’s church.
The Cat House was built in 1909. Apparently, the building of angry cat sculptures was meant as an act of retribution by the owner against some members of the city.
There are a few versions of events around this but the important thing is to photograph those cats.
The Blue Cow restaurant features its own cow sculpture protruding from the building.
The final animal requires leaving the Riga old town and heading to the Kipsala region. Tucked away in the wooden houses is a kangaroo sculpture.
The story goes that the house was purchased by an Australian. The Australian had some renovation plans that clashed with views of the local council and ended up selling the house.
The new owner apparently erected the kangaroo as some type of mock tribute to the previous owner. There is more detail about this in the section on Kipsala later in this post.
Riga Latvia Things to do outside the Old Town
Many of the best instagrammable things to do in Riga are outside the Old Town.
⇒ Looking for some more off the beaten track European destinations? Check out my posts on the 7 Best Places to Visit in Puglia. Italy, edgy Hamburg in Germany, storybook beautiful St Antonin Noble Val in France and glorious artsy Graz in Austria.
8. The Freedom Monument
The Freedom Monument was unveiled in 1935 as a tribute to those who lost their lives in the Latvian War of Independence. This is a very important monument for the Latvian people as it is very much seen as their key symbol of independence and one of the top 10 Riga attractions.
Luckily the monument somehow survived the Soviet Era and it is now one of the key things to see in Riga.
9. The Nativity Cathedral
This elaborate Russian Orthodox Church has domes made of real gold which glisten in the light. It is just as ornate inside but alas cameras cannot be used.
The Nativity Cathedral is located next to the lovely Vermanes Garden.
10. Take a Canal Tour
A canal tour is a lovely relaxed way to see Riga. The boats leave regularly from Bastion Hill which is by the canal near the Freedom Monument.
The boat takes you through the city canal and Daugava River. It is a particularly nice way to see the Old Town and the beautiful wooden houses of Kipsala.
11. Love Lock Bridge
And when you take the Canal Tour you will be literally next to the Love Lock Bridge. Bridges with locks are a very popular tourist site these days due to their insta-friendly nature.
It is a wedding tradition for young couples to place the locks on the bridge.
It is possible to get a nice shot of the Freedom Monument with the lock bridge in the foreground.
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12. Things to do Riga Latvia Art Nouveau District
This was one of my favourite things to do in Riga. There are more than 800 art nouveau buildings in Riga – nearly as many as St Petersburg.
Whilst there are examples of art nouveau architecture throughout the city the largest concentration is in what is now known as the Art Nouveau district which is northeast of the old town.
The key streets to visit in the area are Alberta Street and Elizabetes Street.
13. The Riga Art Nouveau Museum
At the corner of Alberta Iela and Streiniekli Iela is the Art Nouveau Museum. I had rather low expectations of this star of Riga museums. How good could an art nouveau museum be?
But it kept showing up in things I read about Riga so I thought ok I will go. I am so glad that I did. It is a fantastically quirky and interesting museum and was one of my top 10 things to see in Riga Latvia.
⇒ Austria has everything from mountains to lakes to fantastic food to the Sound of Music and so much more – find out where to go in my Austria Itinerary, Innsbruck Highlights and the best things to do in Graz.
Let’s start with the fact that the Riga Art Nouveau Museum is of course in a gorgeous yellow art nouveau building. The museum is on the ground and basement floors of this building.
When you come in don’t miss looking up. There is a stunning spiral staircase and ceiling in the building which is begging to be photographed.
The museum tour starts in the basement and this is a great way to learn about what life was like in Riga through the 20th century. The Riga Art Nouveau Museum is quite an interactive museum and they use multimedia very well with characters coming in and out of the rooms.
My favourite room at this Riga museum was the one containing loads of old photographs – and dress-up gear. There are quite a few rather stunning old hats plus a table and chairs set up that scream dress up and photograph me.
Indeed, guests are encouraged to wear their hats for the balance of the tour.
Head upstairs and be guided through the more traditional rooms of what would have been home in the 18th century. The light fittings and lampshades were my favourites.
14. The Wooden Houses of Pardaugava
Across the bridge from the Old Town is the neighbourhood of Pardaugava. Latvia is known for its wooden houses and Pardaugava is considered to the centre of wooden house architecture in Riga.
Pardaugava is a quieter neighbourhood but lovely to explore and one of the more unusual things to do in Riga.
ne of the best places to eat in Riga is in this neighbourhood – a restaurant called Maja. Maja restaurant is in a beautiful nineteenth-century house in a small square that hosts markets regularly. It has a modern European menu. However, the owners of Maja are from Uzbekistan so it is known for its Uzbek dishes – particularly its extraordinarily good bread. I highly recommend having lunch here whilst you are exploring.
The lamb almost deserves a mention of its own in this post it was so beautiful.
15. Riga Tower Counter Sculpture
Immediately after crossing the Vansu Tilts bridge the tall gleaming Swedbank building will be on your left. Head down to the building and back towards the bridge for some nice views of the old town.
In this area you will also find the rather funky bronze sculpture of the Riga Tower Counter.
Kipsala is the most exclusive neighbourhood in Riga. This is due to its island feel and close proximity to the old town. It really does feel like a small holiday town.
Kipsala Riga also has many stunning wooden houses that have been restored. Walk along Balasta Dambis street – the road closest to the water – to see some of the best examples.
At the end of Balasta Dambis take a left along Enkuru Iela, then left on Zvejinieku Iela and another left onto Maza Kaiju iela and loop back to Balasta Dambis. This walking tour circuit will cover all the Wooden Houses.
And this is where you will find the Kangaroo I mentioned earlier in the post. The Australian’s house as its known is on Oglu Iela. There is also an area here to swim in the river as well as Riga’s public beach.
17. Riga Central market
Riga Central Market is my kind of heaven. It is impossible to miss the giant Zepplin hangars that house the market.
This is the largest market and bazaar in Europe. Riga Central Market opened in 1930 and became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998. Riga Central Market should be high on your what to do in Riga Latvia list.
I started with the seafood area at Riga Central Market. Honestly, this place looks as good as the Harrods food hall.
Riga Central Market is immaculate in terms of cleanliness and the seafood appears to actually gleam. The salmon and the scales look amazing.
Next up was the pickled section of Riga Central Market – extremely colourful and photo-friendly. The highlight for me was the area with flowers.
Apparently, this is even better in the summer when this area and the one next to it are filled with fresh local foods.
Riga Central Market is open every day until around 6pm. In February a new Gastro area was opened in the market, taking up one half of a hangar.
This is the first time the market has served ready to eat meals and it is now attracting an evening crowd for interesting food and drinks – and weekend DJs.
Day Trips from Riga
18. The beaches of Jurmala
The beaches of Jurmala are absolutely stunning. They are pure pure white white sand.
The water at Jurmala is the most amazing shades of blue – particularly the water areas closest to the sand which tend to shimmer and feature some birdlife.
Jurmala is only 30 minutes by car from Riga and easily accessed by train or bus. There are several tour companies who offer day trips to Jurmala as well as taxis who offer transfers.
Jurmala has 33kms of white sand beaches. The busiest areas tend to be Majori, Dzintari and Lielupe.
Personally, I preferred the beaches further west, particularly around Dubulti. They were pure white and so peaceful.
My favourite photo effect on Jurmala beach was using the local foliage – the natural “brush” or really long grass or I’m not sure what to call it was in shades of red and yellow when I visited and were just stunning.
It is possible in spots to capture the water, beach, red “long grass” and the green tree background for a mix of stunning colours.
19. Visit Kemeri Bog
The word bog is not the most attractive. But it does appear that the Latvians are very fond of their bogs and I was keen to see why. After visiting the Kemeri Blog I completely see why.
The swamp is more than 8000 years old and covers 5000 hectares. Kemeri Bog is a mix of small lakes and bog pools that make for some lovely photos in the right light as they mirror the trees.
A boardwalk or footbridge has been built over Kemeri bog to protect it and make it easy to visit. There are 2 walks around Kemeri Bog and they are configured like a figure 8.
The first half of the 8 is a 1.4km walk and the full figure 8 is about 2.7km. The full loop includes the watchtower. This would have been great for photos but darn I didn’t get the time to get there. If you do email me.
The easiest way to visit Kemeri bog is by car. The bog is located just off the main road – the A10. Drive in and keep going past the cemetery. It will feel like you’re in the wrong place but you’re not.
After a couple of kilometers, you will hit a big car park. Click here for the tourism board’s information on the bog which I found very useful.
It is possible to get a taxi to Kemeri Bog from Riga but you would need to ask the driver to stay as there weren’t exactly loads of taxis hanging around at the entrance to the footbridge area.
Or book a Sunrise Tour to Kemeri Bog Footbridge from Riga to capture the bog in the best light and have someone else take care of all the logistics for you.
20. Go to an Art Gallery in a Train Station
This was a first for me – what a great idea. Dubulti is now an Art Station. It is a modern art space and exhibition hall that is actually part of Dubulti station.
A local artist was in residence when I visited and in the middle of preparing a piece. She was working with yarns in shades of blue, yellow and a bit of green.
The artist told me that these were to reflect the colours of Jurmala.
21. Capture some Beach Town Wooden Houses
It is not possible to have too many Latvian wooden houses. Drive past Kemari national park and you will hit small villages near the sea.
Drive down the back lanes and you will find some stunning reconstructions of wooden houses. The town to visit is called Apsuciems.
The towns are right by the beach so you can also get some stunning white beach photos here as it is quite far from the main area of Jurmala.
22. The tall fuzzy grass of Kanieris Lake
This was one of the highlights of my trip to Latvia. If you are driving Kanieris Lake is in the west of Kemari Park.
It is quite a rough road but keep going. Your destination is the wooden watchtower which looks over this extraordinary area.
The views from the top of the watchtower on Kanieris Lake are quite jaw-dropping. Fuzzy grass and water and birdlife as far as the eye can see. The area is brilliant for photography but also for bird watchers.
Once you have had your fill of the top of the tower head down and walk about 150 meters back the way you came in.
On your left will be a wooden boardwalk. This boardwalk takes you through the middle of the fuzzy grass – which was taller than me.
It was a wonderful sensation to be in the middle of the grass. Walk all the way through as there are several areas where there is water on both sides of the boardwalk and these are particularly photogenic.
⇒ A highlight of Europe is the wonderful Italy. Check out my posts on things to do in Rimini, best places to visit in Puglia, boutique hotels in Bologna, wineries in Montepulciano, things to do in Sicily, where to stay in Sicily and my Sicily Itinerary 7 days.
Boutique Riga Hotels
All the character and charm of Riga meets modern design in the gorgeous boutique hotel Relais Le Chevalier. This mid-eighteenth century building was a private home.
Relais le Chevalier was renovated by an interior decorator and art designer Elisabetta de Strobel.
The inner courtyard at Relais Le Chevalier was maintained and is one of the most stunning features of the hotel. A combination of windows and mirrors and open space creates a quite magical feeling and sense of space.
This is added to by the glass elevator and stunning design.
The 23 rooms at Relais Le Chevalier have been decorated in a French style using luxury brands. There are several different styles of rooms. I stayed in a stunning room which heavily featured shades of red and orange.
The staff at Relais Le Chevalier were extremely friendly and could not have been more helpful. There is also a very nice boutique on the ground floor of the visit which is well worth a visit to take advantage of the discount offered to hotel guests.
There is also a bar next to the boutique – very handy for a late glass of wine as I found.
However, my favourite part of the hotel is my last instagram recommendation for this post.
23. Take a photo on the 6th Floor of Boutique Hotel Relais Le Chevalier
I just love this view! The rounded windows, the candles – it is such a charming capture of old town Riga. And even better it was accompanied by a fantastic breakfast.
There is a lovely buffet on offer at Hotel Relais Le Chevalier with some fantastic salmon, boiled eggs, lots of lovely cheeses etc.
There is also a choice of hot meals – pancakes or crepes which were delicious and beautifully plated – as well as scrambled eggs and omelettes. A breakfast not to be missed in a lovely setting.
Who paid for what in this post
My visit to Riga and around was hosted by the lovely Latvian tourism board. They covered my flights, accommodation, meals, car hire and most of my activities. I paid for a few meals, the canal trip and some chocolates from Laci to take home.
There are quite a few links in this post. If you click on them and make a booking I will receive a small commission. Just wanted to make sure that you knew. These links are related to The Boutique Adventurer and have no association with Magnetic Latvia.
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