My trip to Riga didn’t get off to the best start after my flight was delayed by 3 hours meaning I missed the last bus back to the city and didn’t fancy taking a cab at 1am on my own, so I slept in the airport (haha). But that allows me to give you two additional bits of info - 1. Riga airport is very modern and secure and should you ever find yourself needing to sleep in it, I really wouldn’t worry about it. 2. Make sure you flight gets in early enough to catch the last bus if that’s how you intend to get to the city (last bus in November 2018 when i visited was 12.15am).
Now to resume normal programming…
As always, these guides are intended for those short on time or heading to the city for a quick weekend break. I would love to return to Latvia one day and explore more of the beautiful country, the people were so welcoming, it was very cheap, good food and beer, cheap hostel accommodation and beautiful architecture.
Beat the crowds and explore the old town
I don’t know if it was the time of year that I visited (November) but when I arrived in the city after my overnight stay at the airport, it was 8am on a Saturday and there was hardly a soul to be seen until about 9.30am. You all know how i love to get up early and explore so this was a perfect opportunity for me. Here is the quick overview route that I recommend:
Start at the House of the Blackheads. Perfectly located at the south entrance to the old town, these iconic red buildings are the most photographed in Riga so you’re definitely best getting their early.
Facing the House of the Blackheads, turn left and walk up the pedestrianised street for a front on view of St. Peter’s Church.
Turn left along Kungu iela and continue on Tirgonu iela where you’ll see buildings start to get colourful along the edge of the square.
Turn left down Krāmu iela and you will see the famous view down this cobbled street of the red and blue houses at the bottom. Walk towards them.
After snapping all your pictures, turn right in front of them and follow the road until you reach the square with the beautiful Riga Doms Church. You can check and see if there are any organ concerts on here when you visit - they have contemporary take on organ playing.
Continue straight across the square and follow Mazā Miesnieku iela around to the right to see the famous Three Brothers buildings. TIP: stand further down the road opposite them to fit them all in your photo.
Go back towards the square the way you came but turn left onto Pils iela and follow this road for a couple of minutes until you reach Laipu iela and turn right which will bring you out in the big open square, which is home to local market stalls or the Christmas market in winter. The colourful buildings on the side you’re standing with the blue cow restaurant also make a very pretty photo.
I also did this free walking tour in Riga on my first morning which was a very informative way to learn about the city. It’s two hours long so make sure to wrap up warm if you’re visiting in winter, it’s very windy in Riga!
The ideal breakfast spot
Before the free walking tour though, make sure you grab breakfast and where better than right opposite St Peter’s Church where the tour starts from?! Domini Canes was pretty cheap for being in tourist central and the food is mostly Baltic so it’s authentic too.
Climb St. Peter’s Church Tower
If you do the walking tour it also finishes in the same location, right by St Peter’s Church. At 7 euros just to go up in a lift to a single platform, this was the most disproportionately priced activity that I did. However, the views are breathtaking! Another word of warning, it is bitingly windy and cold up there in winter!!
Explore the National Library of Latvia
You will probably see this building before you realise what it is. Right across the bridge on the opposite side of the river from the old town is a huge steal wave structure. This is the National Library of Latvia and it is free to enter. All you need to do is put your bags in the self-pay lockers and ask at reception for a visitors pass to get through the barrier. I suggest taking the life up to the 3rd floor first to see the incredible book stacks. During certain times of the week the viewing platform is also open on the top floor but it was unfortunately closed when I visited.
Russian neighbourhood in Riga
If you’ve read my other 48 hour itineraries or city guides you’ll know I always try to get out the city centre and explore at least one of two neighbourhoods. The Āgenskalns neighbourhood just behind and further along the road is mostly residential with some abandoned buildings (which I always think are so spooky and cool!) but there is also this gem - a Russian Orthodox Church that looks like you could be in Moscow itself! It’s located just up Meža iela on the left side.
Lunch at Kuuka Cafe
Take shelter from the cold or have a well-deserved coffee break. This was my favourite cafe discovery of my trip because of its huge cushioned windows to watch the world go by
Arts and Culture
The large square outside RIga Doms church is a hub for any events or live concerts. In the summer they have outdoor festivals, music and concerts here, as well as art exhibitions and performances in the Church. If you’re here in the winter there won’t be anything outdoors but the Art Museum is the large sand coloured building right opposite the church and is open all year round.
Fun dining experience
For dinner I went to Rōzengrals in the Old Town. I was recommended it by another traveller and while the experience might not be for everyone, the food and the entire experience was incredible and I loved it. Rōzengrals is a medieval restaurant with authentic medieval recipes, crockery, waiters and even live medieval music to entertain you while you eat. The restaurant is a warren on tunnels and caves underground and I would recommend booking a table if there is more than two of you. The food was outstanding and for 4 courses and a dark ale I paid about 30 euros. That, plus the unique experience, was a yes from me!
I’m not hugely into the nightlife scene but I do love to find quirky bars and Black Magic in the Old Town was just that. With cocktails, beers and wine it suits everyone plus there’s a secret bookcase you can go open and find more seating within.
Another day another cafe…
Bakeberry is a bit more on the modern, trendy side than Kuuka cafe but it’s range of baked goods and coffee for breakfast is the perfect way to start the day. They also have the best vegan cheesecake I’ve ever had…
Explore the Art Nouveau District
Most of yesterday was in the Old Town and while there’s lots to see, I’d really recommend getting out and exploring the new city centre as there’s loads to see and they’re basically right next door. First head north to the art nouveau district where you will see a gorgeous mix of architecture. I had such a great time wandering around this area and the local shops here. The shot below is in the entrance of the Art Nouveau museum, while I didn’t go into the museum itself you can go into this entrance hall for free. Opposite the Museum isthe Art Nouveau RIga Homewares shop, there are some gorgeous and non-touristy souvenirs you could take home from your trip. I bought a handmade card and a brooch.
Riga City Centre
Walk towards the city centre along Elizabetes iela which has gorgeous views and also runs along the edge of Esplanāde Park and Garden. This is where you can find the Lativian National Museum of Art.
I always like to look for rooftop views and I had planned to go to the Skyline bar which is free as long as you buy a drink up there. But it was so foggy when I visited that there was no point. Instead I discovered a rooftop cafe on the top of the Galleria Riga shopping centre. Go to the top floor then take the stairs halfway down the galley and it takes you to the roof where there are several bars and cafes. I went to Herbārijs - a greenhouse oasis above the rooftops serving coffee, light bites and cocktails. This was such a lovely mid-afternoon break and the staff were lovely too.
Shop on Tērbatas iela
I’m not usually one to shop when I’m on my weekend trips, I only have hand luggage so I can’t fit anything else in! But I walked up Tērbatas iela to get to the Ziemelu Enkurs/Northern Anchor Brewing Co. and discovered so many cute, local businesses with some lovely handmade and locally produced products. Also I really recommend the Brewery but it was quite a walk out so don’t go unless you’re on the hunt for breweries like I always am!
Other places worth visiting:
Apsara Tea House
Riga has a special place in my heart as it was the first place I went solo after being robbed in Barcelona and I felt so safe, welcome and comfortable there, so please let me know if you’re thinking of visiting, I’d love to chat with you!