Riga: the Latvian capital in 3 days



Riga, Latvia view from St Peters Church
Riga is the cosmopolitan capital of Latvia, a tiny Baltic state with less than 2 million residents.
What Latvia may lack in size it makes up in beautiful architecture, incredible landscapes and a compact capital city which feels like it was made for budget friendly long weekend city breaks.

We travelled to Latvia in December for the added bonus of Christmas markets and mulled black balsam to help keep out the chill!

In order to cram as much into a limited time span as possible, we recommend this three day itinerary.

Day One

When you arrive in Riga the chances are you will jump on one of the shuttle buses from the airport and trundle into Riga. If you get off of the shuttle in the Old Town then you have the perfect start to your weekend.

St Peters Church

St Peters Church Riga Latvia
For 9 Euros per adult you can access the Church itself which holds exhibitions (a fabulous photography exhibition was on while we visited) and to the 72m tall tower. The viewing platform around the tower provides a spectacular view of Riga- the new centre, the red roofs of the Old Town and the Daugava River.

Once you have finished enjoying the view then you take your life in your hands in the doddery old lift back into the Church to carry on your day.

Explore the Old Town

As St Peter's Church is in the Old Town, now is a perfect opportunity to explore the Old Town itself.

Riga Old Town Latvia
Initial established as a settlement in 1201 Riga has many incredible examples of Medieval architecture. Since 1997 Riga's Old Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is easy to spend many happy hours wandering the cobbled streets and admiring the buildings and tiny alley ways.

I suspect it would be much easier to enjoy those things in warm weather, but in December we found that after 2 hours we were ready for something to thaw us out.

Black Balsam

Stopping at a Christmas Market we had our first experience of Black Balsam whilst searching for a hot drink to bring feeling back into our fingers. It is often said that you have not visited Riga until you have tried Black Balsam, the local alcoholic drink. Filled with trepidation we tried a mulled Balsam each (the original tasting of liquorice and the Black Balsam flavoured with blackcurrant). We moved quickly from being filled with trepidation to being filled with mulled Black Balsam and giggles.

Freedom Monument

As you walk your way between the Old Town and the new centre of Riga you will come across the Freedom Monument. Built to honour Latvian soldiers killed during the 1918-1920 War of Independence, the Freedom Monument has 13 groups of reliefs around it which depict Latvian history and culture.

Freedom Monument Riga Latvia
Keep walking up Freedom Boulevard and you will reach a perfect destination for sun downer cocktails.

Skyline Bar at the Radisson Blu Latvia Hotel

For the most incredible view of Riga as the sun sets you can access the Skyline Bar for free. Whilst the drinks are certainly more expensive than in many other venues in Riga, the view and the atmosphere mean they are worth every penny.

Skyline Bar Radisson Blu Latvia Hotel view Riga sun set night time
Drinks cocktails skyline bar radisson blu latvia hotel riga

If by this point you feel like you have not had enough to drink, then a recommendation for dinner would be Easy Wine. Based in the Old Town (and handily at the end of the same road we were staying on) Easy Wine is a self service wine bar. On arrival you are given a plastic "credit card" that you use to pour yourself glasses of wine from the fridges. The card is limited to a 50 Euro spend so you can not get carried away with too much enthusiasm! We embraced the opportunity to try plenty of new wines and enjoy the table service tapas before staggering into the night.

Day Two

Cat House

Early on day two we went off in search of one of the stranger things we had heard about- Cat House. Legend has it that the owner of this magnificent building had a falling out with members of the Great Guild on the opposite side of the road. To show his displeasure he commissioned statues of cats to place on his roof and faced their bottoms towards the Guild building (because nothing says "feud" likes a cats bum in your face!). The cats have since been moved to a slightly less offensive position, facing the Guild House instead.

Cat House Riga Latvia
Having briefly viewed the least effective act of revenge in history, you can walk for 2 minutes and arrive at the Latvian War Museum.

Latvian War Museum

The super interesting Latvian War Museum is based inside the old Powder Tower. Exhibits over a number of floors range from the very earliest known settlers in Latvia to the present day. It is an incredibly powerful museum (spoiler alert: Latvia has had to fight every step of the way to win independence) and thoroughly absorbing. We realised that our flying visit had turned into 2.5 hours of reading every exhibit card! An added bonus for any budget travellers is the free admission.

Explore Art Nouveau district

The next stop is a fifteen minute walk away to admire the Art Nouveau district of Riga. Largely found around Alberta Street, these beautiful buildings are absolutely worth a visit if you are "doing it for the gram". When we visited there was extensive restoration works being undertaken, but the area was still very pretty.

The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia 

A ten minute walk back towards the Old Town will bring you to the Museum of Occupation. Another free entry attraction (voluntary donations welcomed), this small museum offers exhibits outlining the absolute horrors faced by Latvia and it's people during the Soviet and German National Socialist Regimes between 1940-1990.

An incredibly moving museum filled with exhibits that show the true extent of the suffering of the Latvian people (including recorded interviews with survivors of deportations) will leave you with a feeling of absolute relief that Latvia managed to obtained its Independence on 4 May 1990.

Riga Castle

A further ten minute walk back towards the river will bring you to Riga Castle. Now the residence of the President of Latvia, it is worth a quick peek at the stunning architecture on the outside as you make your way back towards the river.

At this point you may want to use one of the bridges to cross the Daugava river and admire the Old Town from a different point of view!

Having walked for miles and worked up an appetite, dinner can be found at Rozengrals.
Rozengrals is a medieval themed restaurant that might sound a bit tacky but is actually really cool! We particularly liked that it offered unpasteurised honey beers, something we had never seen before, and drank with absolute relish.

Rozengrals medieval themed restaurant Riga Latvia

Day three

To start our last day in Riga we decided to move further afield into the countryside and went dog sledding!

Dog Sledding

Picked up from our hotel by the incredibly helpful Rihards of Discover Latvia, we made an hour journey to meet our dog team and instructors. The dogs were amazing, so friendly and loving, and we were thrilled to learn that 8 of the 15 dogs were rescue animals.

Dog Sledding Discover Latvia Tours Riga Latvia
The look of love!

Having driven the dog sled for 3km we were taken on a walk into the surrounding countryside and given interesting facts about Riga and Latvia. We learnt that because humans have encroached onto the countryside wild boar are now more common in Riga itself. This means they have to be "arrested" by the police and removed back into the countryside! It was a startling reminder of the affect that humans can have on any wild habitat, even somewhere as green and pristine as Latvia.

Riga Latvia Countryside

Central Market

After 3 hours of touring around the countryside we made our way back to Riga and to the Central Market. 3 airship hangars have been recommissioned to a huge indoor market that sells fresh food and all sorts of goodies including the popular traditional Latvian knitted items. We took this opportunity to stock up on chunky knitted socks and to cram ourselves with cakes.

The House of the Black Heads

Synonymous with Riga is the recognisable House of the Black Heads. Originally built in 1334 but destroyed during World War 2, the House of the Black Heads was rebuilt in 1999. It now serves as a temporary residence for the President of Latvia but tours can be booked to admire the inside of the building and to examine the exhibits in the medieval cellar museum. Unfortunately we ran out of time to enjoy a tour, but would love to hear feedback from anyone that has undertaken it- it is certainly on our list for our next visit!

House of the Black Heads Riga Latvia


Folkklub

A real hit with the locals, Folkklub is a bar serving excellent beer and even better potato cakes. A stone's throw from the House of the Black Heads, from the street this gem of a bar looks like a plain doorway. Follow the stairs down and the venue opens up into a magnificent vaulted cellar pub! For a quick and satisfying lunch break of potato cakes and beer we stopped here while massaging some feeling back into our freezing hands in front of the open wood fire.

Riga Cathedral

Riga Domas Riga Cathedral Riga Latvia

For 3 Euros you can gain entry to the imposing Riga Cathedral. Whilst the architecture of the building is impressive (mixing together Romanesque, Early Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau designs) the real gem is the cloisters!

Lido for dinner

We could not go all the way to Riga and not eat at a Lido. Lido's serve traditional Latvian food in a self service style. Popular with Latvians and with travellers the food is good, hot, plentiful and cheap!

Those are the suggestions we have for how to spend three days in Riga, but this hugely underrated city has so much more to offer. If you have any suggestions on where we should visit next time we visit I would love for you to drop me a comment!



Comments

  1. I visited Riga in October and completely fell in love but had no idea about dog sleigh!! What an amazing experience! The cat house too is such an interesting item to include that you'd never know about unless someone told you....I'll definitely need to return now with my new knowledge ;)

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  2. You guys saw so much in the 3 days! When you have a good amount of time to explore a smaller city you really get to hit all the big sights and less explored areas. I'm loving the architecture and the sound of that Black Balsam drink!

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  3. I am glad you enjoyed my hometown! The picture with St.Peter's church literally misses my house by some 10 m, as I am right up there in the center! You would definitely enjoy Riga in spring, as the sights you have seen would be filled with colorful tulips and then marigolds in summer. I hope you decide to come back :)

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  4. Riga looks so cool. Kind of reminds me of Tallinn but the dog-sled seems like an amazing extra experience. Would love to visit some day soon.
    Thank you for the share

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  5. I am off to Riga in May so this guide is going to be really useful for me to put together my trip. I’m really excited about going after seeing what you got up to. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. cobbled streets are always my favourite and the night time picture is just amazing!

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