Set on the Baltic Sea at the mouth of the River Daugava, Riga boasts stunning architectural landmarks, world heritage sites, and lush green spaces among its attractions.
Today, the Latvian capital’s energy is driven by its youthful population who ensure the city is at the cutting edge of technology, culture and entertainment. But the sense of history here arguably remains Riga’s most palpable characteristic, not least in the Old Town, the city’s medieval core which has UNESCO World Heritage status – and it’s easy to see why. if that’s whetted your appetite, let us whet it some more with our pick of 12 of the most unique things to see and do in Riga.
Stroll around the Old Town
Anyone who’s walked through Riga’s Old Town will know that the sights just get prettier and prettier every which way you turn. But among fearsome competition, perhaps the district’s standout attraction is the House of the Blackheads (or “Melngalvju Nams). Located in the Town Hall Square, the original building was first built in 1334 before being destroyed by World War Two bombs, Later it was reconstructed to remain as loyal as possible to its beginnings and the result is a true architectural marvel that grabs the attention of all who see it.
Look around one of Europe’s largest markets
There are few better ways to get to know a city than by immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of a public market. Housed within an eye-catching 20th-century structure, the UNESCO-listed Riga Central Market is one of Europe’s biggest markets and is packed full of fresh produce and ready-to-eat goods. Indeed, so vast is the market that you may want to consider visiting it as part of a guided tour. Throughout the tour, you’ll be led through the market by your expert guide who’ll introduce you to Latvian food and the origins of local culinary traditions. You’ll also stop to try a variety of local specialities including bread, cheese and smoked meats, ensuring you depart fully satisfied.
Nēģu iela 7, Latgales priekšpilsēta / Mon-Sun 7am-6pm
Check out a top-class museum
Housing more than 52,000 works of art, the Latvian National Museum of Art offers a fascinating overview of Latvian art history spanning some two centuries. The museum, widely considered the most important of its kind anywhere in the country, hosts both temporary and permanent exhibitions featuring works by acclaimed Baltic and Russian painters and sculptors. As well as the remarkable art on display, the museum building is also an attraction in its own right, representing one of the most impressive historicist buildings in the city centre’s Riga Boulevard Circle.
Automobile fans visiting Riga are in for a treat thanks to the presence of the Riga Motor Museum. Reopened in 2016 after reconstruction, the museum is the largest and most modern museum of vintage vehicles in Latvia and the Baltic States, and has gained widespread acclaim for its assortment of more than 100 unique vintage cars and motorcycles. Highlights include a replica of the world’s oldest patented car, the Benz Patent Motorwagen; an impressive collection of specialised, freight and military machinery; and several notable car racing models. As well as the array of vehicles on display, there are also interactive areas, plus exhibits and artefacts chronicling the people and events that have helped shape the evolution of cars down the years. Guided tours and audio guides are also available.
Sergeja Eizenšteina iela 8, Vidzemes priekšpilsēta / Tues-Sun 10am-6pm Closed Mon
Visit a medieval church
Riga’s tallest church, St Peter’s Church is one of the city’s most instantly recognisable landmarks, not only due to its impressive height but also for its famous red roof tiles. Originally built all the way back in the 1200s, the Medieval Lutheran church has undergone a number of major changes down the ages and today bears the Gothic-style hallmarks of its 1600s renovations. Those who venture inside the church will be further treated with the discovery of art exhibitions, locally-found archaeological treasures, and a small museum.
Reformācijas Laukums 1, Centra rajons / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
Admire some beautiful Art Nouveau architecture
Many of Riga’s city centre thoroughfares s are characterised by distinctive Art Nouveau architecture – and none more so than Albert Street. Indeed, as many as a third of all the buildings that line the street are in the striking decorative style that became popularised during the late 20th century. Visitors can stroll from one end to the other, providing ample opportunity to take in an array of splendidly ornate houses. And for a potted history of the much-loved architectural style, there’s even a museum dedicated to it along the way, too.
Embark on a canal boat tour
The canal in Rīga is one of the city’s most tranquil places to be and one of the best ways to explore it is by joining a boat tour. Available as a private experience for up to five people, the one-hour tour takes place aboard a classic Tender vessel, transporting you along the charming canal and out onto the Daugava river that flows through Latvia into the Gulf of Riga in the Baltic Sea. Along the way, you’ll pass such notable landmarks as the Latvian National Opera, Kronvalda Park, and the magnificent towers of Old Riga. The tour ends at your starting point by the Yacht Club Andrejosta.
Commemorate Riga’s dark past at its former KGB headquarters
Behind its beautiful façade, Riga has had an often dark and tumultuous history. The occupation of Latvia by the Russians from 1940 onwards was one such period and it’s a time that’s remembered and commemorated at a museum located within the previous KGB headquarters. Known as the Corner House (or “Stura Maja”), the museum features a wide range of artefacts that recount the horrors of the political torture and killings that took place here at the hands of the Soviets.
Brīvības iela 61, Centra rajons / Mon-Tues 10am-5.30pm Weds 12pm-7pm Thurs-Fri 10am-5.30pm Sat-Sun 10am-4pm
Take in some high culture
One of Riga’s most prestigious cultural institutions, the Latvian National Opera and Ballet dates back to the 1860s and plays host to a busy programme of high-quality shows throughout the year in its expansive 300-seat auditorium. The neoclassical building itself is no less impressive, fronted by immaculate gardens that make for a delightful pre or post-performance stroll. The season runs between September and May, so if you’re planning your trip be sure to check schedules.
Aspazijas bulvāris 3, Centra rajons
Attend a top-class music festival
Originally held in the pretty coastal town of Salacgriva, in 2022 the Positivus Music Festival moved to Riga where by common consensus it’s become bigger and better than ever. The annual festival has received international recognition for its star-studded line-up of musical acts, with such notable names as Muse, Nick Cave, Robert Plant, Iggy Pop, Ellie Goulding, Sigur Rós and Sinéad OConnor performing here over the years. As well as the live stage music, there’s also plenty of food and drink, plus campsites for those who want to prolong the festivities overnight.
Lucavsala island / July each year
Spend a day on the beach
A short drive north of the city brings you to the Gulf of Riga, where pleasure-seekers flock on balmy days to enjoy several excellent beaches. Among the most popular is Jūrmala, a golden and sandy pine-fringed beach lapped by clear waters and set against a backdrop of Art Nouveau architecture in what has been a popular tourist town for over a century. Sun-lovers come to swim and kick back on the sand, or for the more active-minded there are energetic pursuits including beach volleyball.
Learn about Latvian wine
Latvia has a burgeoning wine scene and many of its finest bottles end up being sold here in Riga. Wine enthusiasts can discover some of them for themselves on this two-hour wine tour, where you and your small group will visit a medieval dungeon to meet a local monks and learn about the secrets of Latvian wine production. Here, your guide will share fun facts and mystical legends, as well as the local products Latvians use to make their wine. There’ll also be the chance to sample six authentic Latvian wines, inclusive of the tour price.