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A city that offers visitors both rich culture and history as well as modern chic vibes, I believe that Riga is one of the hottest tourist destinations for a city break at the moment.
Riga was one of those locations that we chose to visit on a whim simply because there were cheap flights available and Latvia was somewhere that neither of us had experience with or knew anything about.
We arrived completely in the dark, not knowing at all what to expect.
Sometimes those types of trips are the best, where there’s no pressure and you can just take your own time to explore.
We arrived at the airport in Riga, checked our phones for the best way to get into the city and off we went.
We actually landed in Riga on the weekend of a national celebration so it turned out that all public transport was free, which was a huge bonus and saved us the fare into the city.
Once in the centre, it was just a short walk to the Park inn that we would call home for the weekend, so we checked in dropped our bags and set off to explore.
The first thing that we noticed about Riga was the buildings.
Every single building was completely different to the next.
You’d have old wooden buildings that looked like they could have used a new coat of paint twenty years ago right next to ultra-modern glass-fronted buildings housing upmarket restaurants and furniture stores.
There was no flow to the city and I think that’s what made it so appealing to us.
Riga is a huge mix of different cultures all melted together into what can only be described as one of the most unique cities I’ve ever been to.
Best time to visit Riga
We spent three fantastic days here just wandering around and I would highly recommend visiting if you’re looking for a perfect winter city break or even a summer city break for that matter.
Whether you’re interested in looking around museums, or doing a spot of shopping or even just taking in the sights it’s a great short break location to visit in Europe.
Since the majority of tourist attractions are pretty close together, this makes exploring a breeze.
Riga is a relatively small capital city.
Although smaller than most, this doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of things to see and do in Riga and if you get the chance to, then you should hunt down somewhere that will let you try some traditional Riga black balsam.
Here’s some of the top tourist attractions to visit in Riga.
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House of the Blackheads
Situated in the old town part of Riga right on Riga Town Hall Square, this building was built in 1334 and was used for meetings and banquets held by Riga’s various public organizations.
The building was actually destroyed by bombs dropped during World War II and only recently fully rebuilt in 1999.
Unfortunately when we visited it was actually being renovated, so the front was covered in scaffolding and tarpaulin, however, we did manage to see the beautiful Town Hall which is positioned just across the square from the House of the Blackheads.
- Rātslaukums 7, Rīga, LV-1050
St Peters Church
If you’re looking to get that iconic view over the top of the city then this is the place to come.
Right in the centre of the old town is St Peters church and inside you’ll find this really dated lift that takes you up to the top floor where on a clear day you can see for miles all around.
The views are incredible and this trip costs very little to do.
We would probably consider it one of the must-do attractions for anyone visiting Riga.
Unless you’re afraid of heights, then probably just have a look around the church instead.
- Skārņu iela 19, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia
As you walk down the main street in the Centrs part of the city you’ll spot this large monument right in the middle.
Completed in 1935, this monument was built as a memorial of the soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence and is considered an important symbol of the freedom, independence, and sovereignty of Latvia.
If you’re spending any time in the city centre, which most people would be, you will probably end up walking past this monument on a daily basis.
Just remember to stop and take notice of it.
- Central District, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia
The Three Brothers
If you were thinking these were the tale of the three brothers from Harry Potter then you were wrong.
You’ll walk past these houses probably two or three times when looking for them before you actually realise they are there.
Or at least that’s what happened to us.
Hidden away down a side street are these three buildings side by side that make up the oldest complex of houses in Riga, with each of them demonstrating the different styles of houses created during different periods in the history of the city.
Number 17 is the oldest and dates back to the 15th century.
19 dates back to 1646 and the newest building, number 21, is from the late 17th century.
You can’t enter these buildings, so probably won’t be at this place for long, but it isn’t out of the way and is worth going past to check out.
- Mazā Pils iela 17, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia
In my opinion, one of the most impressive buildings in the city.
You’ll spot this just further up from the Freedom Monument on the edge of the Esplanade park and gardens.
Peeking through the trees, are these incredible white and gold ornate cupolas.
During the Soviet era, this was actually converted into a restaurant and planetarium but has since been restored to its former use as an orthodox church.
Be aware that if you do visit here, there are strict dress codes. No shorts and women are required to cover their heads.
- Brīvības bulvāris 23, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia
Art Nouveau District
One of the most unique things about the architecture in Riga is the sheer number of them built during the art nouveau period.
In fact, over 1/3 of buildings in the city are examples of art nouveau architecture making it the highest concentration in the world.
With gargoyles and maidens lining all the rooftops and bright pastel colours.
No two art nouveau buildings are the same and leave you wandering each street to see what the next building is going to be like.
Head on over to Albert Street to find most of them and if you’ve also got the time, you can head into the Art Nouveau Museum which you’ll find on this street too.
- Alberta iela 13, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1010, Latvia
Riga Old Town
Wandering the streets of Riga’s old town you’ll feel instantly transported back to medieval times just by taking a look around you at the buildings and the narrow cobbled roads that make this area so appealing to tourists.
Included in UNESCO’s World Heritage site list since 1997, this is one of the most beautiful areas of the city and houses many of the buildings mentioned above.
Lose yourself for a few hours by putting your phone away and just wandering. You won’t regret it.
Having spent a few hours wandering the streets there’s no better place in Riga to rest your feet than in Bastejkalna Parks.
Situated right beside the Freedom Monument, this park spans both sides of the canal and offers plenty of greenery to have a picnic and just watch the world go by.
Come during winter and see the trees lit up with decorations and beautiful lighting.
Go during summer and expect lots of children and families playing around the boating canal.
Swedish Gate is one of the remaining entrances to the city from when Riga used to be surrounded by fortified walls which were used for both protection and important trade purposes.
Unfortunately, as the years have gone by many of the original features of the wall have been lost through many restoration attempts in the 80s and 90s, but the Swedish Gate is the only part that retains its original looks and that’s what makes it such a draw to many tourists visiting Riga.
Riga Central Market
If you want to get a proper idea of what life is like for a local then head along to the Riga Central Market. One of the largest and busiest markets in eastern Europe.
With plenty of products on offer spread across multiple buildings as well as outside stalls, there are plenty of unique things to feast on or be amazed at.
Not only are there plenty of products on offer, but the buildings themselves are quite impressive having been built in the 1920s.
These are just a short walk from the city centre and worth heading along to if you get the time.
Gauja National Park
Just a short distance out of Riga is the Gauja National Park which for some people who enjoy the great outdoors, may be worth checking out.
The Gauja National Park is the largest and oldest of the national parks in Latvia and offers visitors a wide range of hikes, views and glimpses of the diverse nature on offer in Latvia.
Since the park covers 90,000 hectares it would probably take more than a day trip to properly explore much of it.
The Corner House
The Corner House is an unassuming building in the middle of Riga city centre.
You would just presume it’s another building that looks similar to the rest of the art deco architecture around it, but behind the doors lay something much more sinister.
A former Latvian headquarters of the KGB secret police which is now opened as a museum to give visitors a glimpse into the things that these brutal enforcers would do and where they would keep political prisoners captive when the city was under soviet control back in the 1940s.
A much more grim tourist attraction but one that gives you an insight into the history behind Riga.
Are you considering visiting Riga on your next European city break or has this convinced you to add it to your list?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Need somewhere to stay in Riga?
We highly recommend the Park Inn by Radisson Residence as somewhere to lay your head at night. We stayed here and wrote all about our experience, which was fantastic btw.
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