From the moment we arrived for our first weekend in Riga Latvia, we found a charming city that instantly endears itself to you.
Named the European Capital of Culture in 2014, the capital city of Latvia is very pretty, in a whimsical fairy tale kind of way.
From the impressive art nouveau architecture, the finest collection in Europe, the winding, medieval lanes of the UNESCO listed Old Town to the skyline of storybook spires. Riga is picture postcard pretty wherever you look.
A Weekend In Riga
While Riga is the largest capital city in the Baltic States, it is by no means a “big city”. It’s charm also stems from the wide main streets, lack of traffic and bicycle friendly culture in the city centre. There is no shortage of lush city parks making this a very walkable and pleasant city.
Everyone walks or cycles; the city is clean, friendly and quite refined. Throw in a modern and fresh cafe culture, some of the best restaurants in Europe, a great bar scene and you can have a fabulous weekend break in Riga.
The Best Things to do in Riga.
The Art Nouveau District
Nowhere else in Europe will you find a better collection of beautifully preserved art nouveau buildings than in Riga. Head to the Art Nouveau Quarter, a short walk from Old Town. Around Elzabetes and Alberta streets you will find a few blocks of the most astonishing architecture.
With over 800 art nouveau buildings in the city, Riga is referred to as the biggest gallery of work by Russian architect Mikhail Eisenstein.
Facades, some with wedding cake intricacy, others as fanciful as a children’s storybook have people, necks craned, wandering in awe of this beautiful little neighbourhood.
Visit the Art Nouveau Museum
Stop by the Art Nouveau Museum in Alberta St to gaze from the foyer at this incredible staircase. That you can do for free, entry to the museum will cost a few Euro.
Explore Riga Old Town
The heart of Riga. The UNESCO listed Old Town is incredibly picturesque. Narrow cobblestone streets wind their way past restaurants, museums, galleries and medieval churches, unexpectedly opening up onto squares bustling with street cafes and markets.
Exploring Old Town Riga is an excellent way to spend a day in Riga, and the best way is to lose yourself, meandering the streets and ancient alleyways.
Grab a Free Map of Riga Old Town
If you are short on time, stop in at the tourist information centre and pick up a town map to help you find the highlights because there are many. Enough to keep you busy for an entire day.
Take a Riga Walking Tour
If you want to get the most from a day in Riga, we can highly recommend taking a walking tour. While you can do a walking tour of just Old Town, you can also take a walking tour to incorporate the top three Riga sights; Old Town, The Art Nouveau District and The Central Market.
Having a guide in such a fascinating city is invaluable, especially with the amount there is to see in Old Town alone.
See the Famous Cat House of Riga
The Cat House in Old Town is a must if for no other reason than the story behind it.
History of the Cat House Riga
The iconic yellow art nouveau mansion was built in the early twentieth century by a wealthy Latvian merchant. It so happened the building faced Riga’s Great Guild. The Guild oversaw the business interests of the town so it made sense the wealthy merchant would wish to become a member of the esteemed organisation.
Unfortunately, the Guild did not agree and declined his application. So incensed was the merchant he commissioned two black cat statues, backs arched, tails aloft. He installed them on the two corners of his roof, anuses squarely facing the Guild!
The members of the Guild were so outraged by the cat’s bums pointed in their direction, they took the merchant to court winning an order to have the cats turned around which is how they face today.
While this may sound like a childish version of some urban myth, there are actual court documents to prove revenge may be served in many ways.
Have Lunch at The Central Market
We have never met anyone who doesn’t like to explore local markets and Riga delivers on this front, in spades. The Riga Market is slightly fascinating, well organised and a great place for lunch.
Reportedly one of the largest and oldest markets in Europe, five food pavilions are located within the enormous converted Zeppelin hangars. This fact alone was enough to draw us in.
Each of the pavilions houses different types of produce with open air stalls in the spaces between each hangar. The hangars are so spacious and clean it makes for a very enjoyable market experience. As with everything in Riga, the markets are very orderly.
Each of the food pavilions has small eateries where you can stop for a bite to eat. These range from little takeaway bakery style shops, diner style restaurants through to fantastic fish cafes. We strongly recommend at least one lunch at the Central Market.
Sample Delicious Rye Bread
If you are anything like me and enjoy good quality rye bread, Latvian rye is some of the best in the world and the market is where you find the best in Riga.
The Freedom Monument
It would be hard to visit Riga and not see the Freedom Monument even if somehow you didn’t pass it. It has been a symbol of Latvia’s freedom since it was erected in 1935 to honour soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence.
The monument became an important symbol of Latvia’s freedom again following the fall of the Soviet Union, acknowledging those lost during the Soviet occupation. And so it remains Riga’s most important landmark.
Set alongside the canals with beautiful adjacent parklands, the area around Freedom Monument is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. Hire a boat and take a cruise down the canals or just wander the parklands.
Pauls Stradins Museum for History of Medicine
This is possibly one of the more unusual things to do in Riga and one of the more fascinating museums we have been to.
Established in 1957 based on Pauls Stradins personal collection, the museum explores the development of medicine from ancient times to the present day and the relationship between history and medicine.
You will find some fairly standard medical displays, such as dentistry through the ages, as well as examples of the Soviet Unions medical contributions to the space race.
But by far the most outstanding and intriguing exhibit is the two headed dog which, believe it or not, was the pioneering research that gave us what we know today as organ transplants.
Riga Festivals & Culture
In addition to some of the finest classical arts and galleries in Europe, hence being named the European Capital Of Culture; Riga has a full calendar of festivals throughout the year.
Riga Beer Festival
We were lucky enough to stumble across the Latvian Beer Festival in May. This perhaps should have been named the Latvian Beer and Meat Festival, but I suppose, ask any man; what is beer without meat.
A fantastic day in one of Riga’s beautiful city parks, sampling craft beers and delicious Latvian cuisine. And as with everything in Riga, this was not your standard rowdy beer fest, this was a more cultured and relaxed affair. Although, we did board a flight to Russia the next day with very sore heads.
Latvia Beer Festival Dates and Facts
Riga’s beer festival is the largest beer festival in the Baltics. Each year a different brewery is given the honour of making the beer for the opening ceremony. Once the honorary barrel has been rolled out and opened, the festival is considered officially open.
The Latvia Beer Festival is held in the Vermanes Garden, a 19th century, 5-hectare park a short walk from the Old Town of Riga.
Dates: The festival is usually held for five days from Wednesday to Sunday in the last week of May.
Entry: €2 pp
See the official Latvia Beer Fest Site for more details.
Is Riga Worth Visiting?
Absolutely. We just love Riga. So much so we are looking forward to spending more time exploring the rest of the Baltic States beyond Latvia and Tallinn Estonia.
There is a wonderful vibe about Riga that has been described by some as “pleasant”. We found it to be more than just pleasant. It is cultured, progressive, friendly, clean with an almost youthful quality.
There are many wonderful hotels and so many fantastic places to eat in Riga, the city could easily rival any of its more popular European counterparts, especially when it comes to value for money in terms of quality. Maybe this is something that comes from being a newly liberated country, fresh insight and enthusiasm to exceed expectation.
We believe Riga and the rest of the Baltic States will continue to rise to the top of Europes “must visit” list as not just a cheap destination for Stag Do’s or Hens weekends from the UK but for those seeking a beautiful, value for money European destination.
Make it a Long Weekend. Cruise From Riga to Stockholm
If you want to make a long weekend of it, consider taking advantage of Riga’s close proximity to Scandinavia, Stockholm in particular.
Add a two night round trip cruise from Riga to Stockholm across the Baltic Sea including comprehensive sightseeing tours of both capital cities and onboard accommodation.
A cost effective way to experience two magnificent cities and add an extra indulgence to a weekend getaway.
Riga Travel Guide
Latvia is one of the three countries that form the Baltic States. Riga is less than a two-hour flight from England, making it very accessible for a weekend away.
Latvia and the entire Baltic States are part of the EU and are in the Schengen Zone.
Currency in Riga Latvia:
Language in Latvia:
The official language of Latvia is Latvian although many speak Russian as a second language due to their time as part of the Soviet Union. English is also widely spoken, especially among the younger generations.
Best time to Visit Riga
- The best time to visit Riga or any of the Baltic States is late Spring to early Autumn; late April – mid-September.
- The Baltics experience quite short summers and very cold, dark winters.
- Early spring can still see the countryside under frost and fairly barren.
- Late Spring, the entire country comes alive with colour and locals embrace the opportunity to be outdoors.
- Equally, early Autumn will see a spectacular display of colour and a hive of activity in the cities as locals enjoy the last of the mild weather for the year.
- Late Spring and Summer are also the best time for events and festivals.
Getting to Riga
There are daily direct flights to Riga from many of the major European capitals. Expect flight times from 1 – 4 hours depending.
We use a combination of Kayak and Google Flights to research the best flight deals and times. It’s the easiest way to compare fares and flight times from various airports, look at the cheapest times to travel or find alternative airports you may not have known about.
Getting Around Riga and the Baltic States
Riga is a very walkable city so most major attractions can be reached by foot. If you need to go further or want to take public transport from the airport, you will find a reliable network of trams, buses and trolley buses. Tickets can be purchased by trip or by time/day. You can find out more about public transport in Latvia here.
The Lux Express Bus Service runs frequent buses around Riga and to the other Baltic States, Russia and Warsaw. These are luxury buses with all modern conveniences and very good value for money. Expect prices as low as a few Euro for short trips or as high as €55 for longer trips. You can find schedules and prices here.
Latvia is a relatively small country and very easy to drive around and visiting neighbouring countries is very easy. If you would like to head further out of town and don’t have a lot of time to rely on bus schedules, there are car rental depots at both the airport and main rail station. You can check car rental rates here.
Where to Stay in Riga
We stayed at The Hotel Edvards. A fabulous 3-star hotel that has been refurbished in the most authentic retro style. It is centrally located offers great service, large rooms and excellent food. It is also great value for money.
We have also stayed at The Gallery Park Hotel. Rated as the best hotel in Latvia and home to one of Europe’s top 5 restaurants, we can highly recommend this property for an indulgent weekend away. And even if you don’t stay here, we encourage you to pop in for dinner. You can read our full review of this beautiful hotel HERE.
Looking for something different? You can browse current accommodation rates and availability here.