Riga, Latvia: The Top Ten Attractions
Cathedrals and temples dating back to the Middle Ages, quaint wooden homes, and Art Nouveau landmarks like the Cat House and the House of the Black Heads can all be found in Riga. Take a leisurely stroll through the Old Town’s charming alleys and plazas, and relax in one of the city’s many beautiful parks.
The Latvian National Opera and Ballet features world-class performers, and the Latvian National Museum of Art is a must-see for anyone interested in seeing the works of Baltic sculptors and paintings.
Visit the Riga Central Market on foot to sample and purchase authentic Latvian cuisine. On the 17th level of the Latvian Academy of Science building is an observation deck with a stunning panorama.
Day trips from Riga can take you to the renowned Baltics summer resort of Jurmala or the natural paradise of Sigulda in the neighboring Vidzeme region.
Here are the top 10 things to do in Riga
1. DISCOVER HIDDEN GEMS IN RIGA’S OLD TOWN
Riga’s ancient core, known as Old Town or Vecriga, can be found on the eastern bank of the Daugava River. Cathedrals and ancient churches, pedestrian cobblestone streets, and institutions like Riga Castle and the Latvian Museum of Architecture and the Riga Film Museum all contribute to the city’s well-known status. Riga’s Old Town is so rich in history that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can take a walk through the Swedish Gate, the city’s sole surviving medieval entrance, and along the streets of Old Riga.
The “The Three Brothers” structures can also be found in Riga’s historic core. Those homes feature a variety of architectural eras and designs, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque.
The Old Town is convenient for experiencing the city’s nightlife as well, with many restaurants, bars, and clubs situated there.
2. EXPLORE RIGA SQUARE
Town Hall Plaza was the site of many important moments in history. That was the city’s former governmental and commercial hub, but it was destroyed in WWII. After the conflict, many structures were demolished and rebuilt.
Town Hall Plaza is dominated by the House of the Black Heads. The Germans bombed that ornately decorated 14th-century structure to rubble in 1941.
Luxury events such as classical music performances, balls, and state ceremonies have been held there since its 1999 reconstruction.
3. VISIT THE MEDIEVAL SACRAL BUILDINGS
Riga Cathedral, or Dome Cathedral as it is more commonly known, is a major tourist attraction in Riga, Latvia. It was the largest medieval church in the Baltic nations when it was constructed in the 13th century. The Riga Cathedral in the 20th century was converted into a concert venue by the Soviets.
The Museum of Riga and Sailing is located in the cathedral’s southern wing. See how Riga has changed over the years by checking out this historical display.
St. Peter’s Church is the tallest church in Riga at 123 meters, and it is highly recommended by all Riga tour guides. It features a tower with panoramic views of the metropolis below. The venue also hosts a variety of art shows and musical performances.
In addition, Riga is home to the Baltic region’s biggest Orthodox church. The Neo-Byzantine design Nativity of Christ Cathedral was constructed in the 19th century and is well worth a visit.
4. DISCOVER THE ART NOUVEAU MUSEUM
Riga is home to 800 Art Nouveau structures, in case you were wondering.
Riga’s populace booms in the early 20th century as a result of the rise of the manufacturing sector. The new modern artistic approach was adopted by many wealthy business owners.
Art Nouveau was widely used by designers at the time, and as a result, many houses had their entire interiors redone in the style.
Alberta Street, in the heart of the city, is home to some of the most stunning examples of Art Nouveau buildings in the area. On the same block, you’ll find the Riga Art Nouveau Center. The exhibit provides a glimpse into the early 20th-century aesthetic of Art Nouveau apartment interiors.
Use this Art Nouveau city exploration game to learn more about Riga.
5. EXPLORE ONE OF THE LARGEST OPEN-AIR MUSEUMS IN EUROPE
The Anthropological Open-Air Museum of Latvia is located just outside of Riga on the shores of Lake Jugla. The exhibit highlights the customs and history of Latgale, Vidzeme, Zemgale, and Kurzeme, the four regions that make up Latvia.
The 118 historic structures, dating from the 17th century to the middle of the 20th century, are the main attraction. These include the Usma Lutheran Church, a Roman Catholic chapel, a Russian Orthodox church, a bathhouse, a tavern, and the homes of farmers.
Seeing the everyday tools and domestic items that locals used over the past three centuries is a great way to learn about their culture and history.
Each year, a plethora of cultural gatherings are held in this area. Traditional Latvian games can be learned and played at events devoted to handicrafts and folk music.
6. VISIT THE FREEDOM MONUMENT
The Freedom Monument, found in the heart of Riga, is an emblem of Latvia’s fight for independence and freedom. It’s a granite structure 42 meters in height, and it’s adorned with statues depicting scenes from Latvian history and culture.
The memorial is topped by a 9-meter-tall obelisk depicting Liberty with three stars above her head; these stars represent the historical regions of Latvia and the unity of the country as a whole. Public contributions allowed for the construction of this memorial to the victims of the Latvian War of Independence, which took place at the turn of the twentieth century.
The monument was saved from destruction during the Soviet Occupation, and it is now regarded as one of Riga’s most important Baltic monuments.
7. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PERIODS OF LATVIAN OCCUPATION
In the 20th century, Nazi Germany (1941–1944) and the Soviet Union each controlled Latvia for a combined total of 51 years (1940-1941, 1944-1991). The Occupation Museum of Latvia was founded in 1993 as a place of learning about and remembering Latvian culture and history from the time of World War II until the country gained its freedom.
Nearly 60,000 objects, historical records, and photos are housed there. Two thousand video testimonies and documentaries are also available.
Guerrilla warfare against the Nazi and Soviet occupiers is discussed, as are the actions of national resistance groups.
The Corner House, the old KGB headquarters, is open for tours as part of the Museum of the Occupation. Displays there tell the tale of the KGB’s work under Soviet rule. Visitors can take guided walks of the cells and hear accounts of the harsh treatment meted out to dissidents at the time.
8. VISIT THE RIGA MOTOR MUSEUM
The Riga Motor Museum has the largest collection of automobiles of any museum in the Baltics. The Ministry of Transportation of the Republic of Latvia established it in 1989. Stories of influential individuals and pivotal events that shaped the history of automobiles in Eastern Europe are on display in the museum’s permanent exhibition.
The Soviet car industry is explored on the museum’s three floors, and visitors can also view some of the most beautiful early 20th-century automobiles.
In addition to an impressive collection of racing cars, special vehicles, and military machinery, there is a significant collection of the cars used by political leaders of the Soviet Union. There are hundreds of vehicles on display, from fire engines to Harley-Davidsons to Guinness World Record-breaking automobiles.
Have fun with this Riga city tour that you can customize to your liking.
9. ENJOY SIGHTSEEING THE BEST OF RIGA’S PARKS AND GARDENS
The central center of Riga is dotted with beautiful parks. Enjoy the tranquility of the park’s greenery and aquatic features with a stroll through Bastion Hill (Bastejkalns Park). A tour along the canals is also available.
Kronvalda Park is home to a large fountain that puts on a light display and a wide variety of tree types to explore. The University of Latvia also maintains a botanical garden where visitors can learn about exotic plants and observe colonies of butterflies.
Other beautiful parks in Riga include the Esplanades near Elizabetes street, the venerable Viesturs Garden Park, and the sculptural, concert-friendly Vermanes Garden Park.
10. GO ON A DAY TRIP TO THE JURMALA RESORT
Did you realize that you can reach beautiful, golden sand beaches within a half-hour drive of Riga, the Latvian capital?
Jurmala, to the west of Riga, is a port community on the Baltic Sea. The 25 kilometers of beach in that famous summer destination are ideal for water sports and relaxing in the sun. Many hotels also feature spas where you can indulge in a variety of leisure treatments.
Jomas Street is a great place to walk along after a day at the seaside (Jomas iela). Along Jurmala’s major pedestrian street, you’ll find a wide selection of restaurants and bars. Beautiful timber homes can also be found on the adjacent Juras street.
The Dzintaru Mezaparks are a must-see for families traveling to Turkey. There are numerous parks, cafes, and pathways for strolling to be found there. The Dzintari Concert Hall is a must-see for music fans while in Jurmala.