Latvia did not stay on our bucket list for very long. As soon as we did some research about the Baltic countries we immediately started to plan a trip to Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
Riga is a hidden gem in Eastern Europe that everyone should visit for an immersive sightseeing experience. When we heard that Riga was a hidden gem were sold, as we try to avoid crowds as much as possible and to visit more under the radar destinations. In Riga you will see tourists but not as much as other European destinations as Rome, Madrid or Paris.
Where is Riga?
Riga is the large capital city of Latvia, accounting for nearly 1/3 of the entire country’s population. Riga is located on the eastern edge of Baltic Sea in the Gulf of Riga.
Here are three reasons why you should visit Riga
Latvia has the second highest amount of Art Nouveau architecture after Russia. it is super cheap compared to other popular European countries and has delicious sushi for cheap. Riga is considered to be a very budget friendly city where you can see all the major sights on foot.
There are many things to do in Riga, but the best things to do is appreciate the architecture and learn the rich history. Latvia has a long history of occupation. For the past 500 years it has been under occupation of other countries including Sweden and Russia.
We really wanted to visit the Museum of The Occupation but it was under construction during our visit. This museum gives you a background on what the country had to go through. The coolest thing about this museum is that it is free to visit.
Riga has a medieval vibe in its old town while you can see how rapidly the surrounding neighborhoods are growing with new modern buildings. The old town takes you back in time and you feel like strolling through a fairy tale with its cobblestone streets, towers, churches and beautiful houses.
What to see in Riga Walking Map
What to do in Riga in 2 days:
The majority of the things to see in Riga are in the UNESCO protected Old Town. The Old town is a pretty walkable area with many cafes and restaurants to enjoy and of course unique and stunning buildings. Read on for the best two day guide to Riga sightseeing.
1. Visit the Three Brothers
This three houses are the oldest complex of dwelling houses in Riga. The white house is from the 15th century, the yellow house is from the 16th and the green house is from the 17th century. It is hard to get a good photo due to the narrow street in front of the buildings. But if you have a wide angle lens, here is the place to use it.
2. Enjoy the Old Town Riga
The best thing to do in Riga is to get lost in its old town and admire the beautiful architecture. You can find examples of wooden buildings, art nouveau, modern and Gothic.
It is the perfect place to have your camera handy and be ready to snap a shot. Our favorite thing is to find the statues of cats, as we are cat lovers.
3. Visit the House of the Blackheads
The House of the Blackheads is the main landmark in Riga. It was built in 1334 for the the single upper class merchants and in the middle ages it was also used as a venue for meetings.
4. Take a stroll along the Bastejkalna park
and visit the Freedom Monument
My favorite feature in Bastejkalna park is that it has a canal running though and a bridge with love locks, which are not something we like to promote as the weight of the locks can be detrimental, but is it does make for a beautiful photo.
The Freedom Monument is right in the middle of the park close to the Opera House. The monument is dedicated to the Latvian heroes who fought for the country’s freedom from 1918-1920.
5. Visit the Museum of Occupation
As we mentioned before Latvia as a long history of Occupation and this museum is the perfect place to learn more about their mind blowing history. Freedom is an important value that Latvians instill as the country flourishes.
6. Walk to Albert and Elizabeth Street to see the Art Nouveau District
Albert Street and Elizabeth Street are the heart of Art Nouveau architecture in Riga. With over 800 Art Nouveau buildings across the city, most of them the area around Albert Street.
This area is worth walking around to enjoy the ornate architecture with hand crafted moldings inspirited by mythology and nature. If you are looking to improve your city photography with many unique photo opportunities.
7. Visit the Churches in Riga
There is one church in Riga that took our breath away; the Nativity of Chist Cathedral. It is the biggest Orthodox Church in Riga. You can visit the inside of the church but you cannot take photos of the interior and you must dress properly.
You cannot go inside wearing shorts and females must cover their head.
While walk through the Old Town you will see the Riga Cathedral, the St Jacob’s Catholic Church and the St. Peter’s Church. A curious fact about the churches in Riga is that they do not have crosses atop their spires but roosters instead. This is because, according to tradition, the roosters scare the devil away.
8. Touch the sculpture of four animals
Outside St. Peter’s church you can find the Bremen Town Musicians sculpture with four animals; a donkey, a dog, a cat and a roster. This sculpture is based on a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm.
9. The Swedish Gate
The Swedish Gate is one of the only parts of Riga’s old city walls that stands to this day. Built in 1698 when Sweden took over Riga, its exterior has remained relatively untouched to this day.
10. Visit Lipke Memorial
When in the Kipsala neighborhood visit the memorial to brave a man Žanis Lipke. During World War II, he saved from death more than 50 Jews by hiding them in a bunker designed exactly for this purpose under his shed. While the museum is free of charge, leaving a donation to support the facility is at your decision.
What are the Best viewpoints in Riga?
Walking through the Old Town Riga you can enjoy the colorful and historic architecture up close. This beautiful city also looks amazing from above with several panoramic viewpoints in Riga.
1. St Peters Church
Make your way up the 72 meters to the Tower of St Peter’s Church viewing platform. The church and tower have been destroyed and rebuilt several times in its history, most recently after WWII.
2. Skyline Bar
On the top floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija is the Skyline Bar where you can sip a delectable cocktail while overlooking the city.
3. Latvian Academy of Sciences
The Latvian Academy of Sciences was built during the Soviet control of the area and offers a view of the Riga cityscape from the 17th-floor balcony.
How much does it cost to visit Riga?
Food: You can spend as much as you want on food in Riga but it will still be less than other western Europe or the Scandinavian counties. In our experience we found a budget meal for less than 8 euros, a midrange for less than 15 euros and a high end one for 15 to 30 euros.
Sushi is super cheap and delicious in Riga. We tried to eat as much sushi as possible as is unbelievable prices and quality. For example a one 8 pieces roll can cost 4 euros. If you want to eat sushi we recommend eating at Tokyo City.
To try more traditional Latvian Food Lido is the place to go. The Lido is a chain with a huge buffet for just 16 euros. While you are in Riga you must try Riga Black Balsam; it is an herbal elixir made from pure vodka.
Hotel: You can find hostels for 10 to 30 euros a night, mid-range hotels for 25 euros and high end hotels from 100 and up. We stayed at the Royal Square Hotel in the heart of the old Town. It is a 5-star hotel and only cost us $100 a night. The location is amazing and the price includes breakfast and WiFi. Unfortunately the beds were not so comfy, but manageable for a few nights.
Transportation: We recommend to embark on your Riga sightseeing by foot as the downtown is pretty small and its beautiful to walk along the cobblestone streets of Riga.
Take the train tour bus around the Old Town to learn about the history of the city. Tickets are 7 euros per person for a 45 minute tour. The hop on and off bus is not that expensive but in my opinion it is not that worth it.