What To Do For a Perfect Riga City Break
If you’re looking for a city break that has it all, a weekend in Riga is exactly what you need. You may have heard of its charming UNESCO World Heritage Site old town, the one that leaves you wondering if you took a wrong turn and ended up on the backstreets of Rome. But that’s just the start of the fabulous places to visit in Riga.
We loved getting lost in the coloured art deco facades of the Centrs (central) district, enjoying the views from the top of one of the most beautiful modern libraries we’ve ever seen, delving into the fascinating ancient history and turbulent modern history of Latvia’s capital. If that hasn’t convinced you, this is (probably) also the only city you can eat and shop for local produce in ex-German zeppelin hangars. If you’re wondering what places to visit in Riga or still need convincing that a weekend in Riga should be your next destination then look no further.
1) Explore the sights of Vecrīga (Old Town)
Regardless of whether you’re spending a weekend in Riga or a full week-long Riga city break, Riga Old Town is a must-visit. Think of it as a central neighbourhood situated between the Daugava River – which slices Riga in half – and the more modern Centrs (central) district. Vecriga is the cultural and historic heart of the city; a labyrinth of cobble streets and medieval stone buildings that hide secrets of Riga’s medieval past. All of its buildings are perfectly maintained, and are used today as homes, churches, shops, cafes, and restaurants. Given just how beautiful and enticing both the aesthetics and the history of Riga Old Town is, it is absolutely one of the most unmissable places to visit in Riga.
2) See the Freedom Monument and wander Bastejkalna Park
This is one of the most important and impressive things to see in Riga. The Freedom Monument was erected in 1935 to commemorate the Latvian soldiers who died fighting against Soviet Russia between 1918 and 1920 in what is now called the Latvian War of Independence. The monument is a tall and powerful structure topped with a figure of liberty holding high three stars which represent the three districts of Latvia: Vidzeme, Latgale, and Courland. Around the base of the monument are smaller statues of both soldiers and civilians. The Freedom Monument itself can be found at the edge, dead centre, of Bastejkalna Park. The park itself is a gorgeous green area of tranquility and serenity. There are fountains, stone statues, a love-lock bridge, and a gently flowing stream. The park is one of the most picturesque parts of the city and one of the must-visit places to visit in Riga.
3) Discover the City’s History at The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum
The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum is less a museum and more a preserved area of Riga’s darkest past. Not far from the centre of Riga is this collection of outdoor exhibits in old wooden houses which aim to show you, in an honest and upfront manner, the atrocities which occurred in Riga during World War II. The ghetto itself is where poor Jewish merchants in Riga once lived, before the Holocaust in Latvia. The museum honours the names of those who died, while highlighting the evils that occurred there, the actions of the resistance movement, and the real lives and homes of the Jewish people in Latvia. While this might not be the easiest and most comfortable place to visit for a weekend in Riga, but it is arguably the most vital.
If you’d like to learn more about the holocaust then try visiting the Žanis Lipke Memorial Museum -which tells the story of Žanis Lipke and the ‘underground railroad’ he and others created to save Jews from the Nazis during the German occupation.
4) Visit Mr Pages then settle for a coffee at Robert’s Books
There are two excellent and unique bookshops in Riga’s central district: Mr Pages and Robert’s Books. Mr Pages is an impressive shop of curated books from various genres and backgrounds. You must wear gloves when handling the books, since they only get one or two copies of each book in at a time. And they only pick the finest books of each genre, including comics and graphic novels. There are some fantastic Latvian novels in translation at Mr Pages for you to pick up and get to know the literary scene of Latvia. Once you’ve explored this niche and beautiful bookshop, wander down the street to Robert’s Books, one of our favourite places in Riga. Robert’s Books doubles as an English language bookshop and a delightful cafe nook where you can sit, read, and get some work done. It’s a delightful and serene bookshop-cafe and one of the best places to visit in Riga if you need an afternoon to relax during your Riga city break.
5) Look for the “Town Musicians of Bremen”
Inspired by the famous Brothers Grimm tale of the same name, the Town Musicians of Bremen is a sculpture that can be found on Skārņu Street in Riga. If you’ve read the story, you know that these town musicians are four animals: a dog, a cat, and a cockerel all standing on the back of a donkey. The statue, however, is not really an homage to the Brothers Grimm. It is, in fact, a satirical political statement, as the four animals in the sculpture are not peering into a feast, but instead peeking behind the Iron Curtain into the Soviet world. The sculpture was gifted to Riga by its sister city of Bremen, Germany, and has stood on Skārņu Street since 1990.
6) Visit World of Hat – Riga’s quirkiest museum
This museum is exactly what it sounds like: a massive collection of hats, headwear, and headdresses from across the globe. It demonstrates the geographic, cultural, religious, and ethnical diversity that should be celebrated and admired all around the world. If you visit their website, you can see where all the different hats come from: almost every country on every continent. It’s a delightfully quirky and fun museum to visit and explore, but also one that can really teach you about the wonderful diversity in fashion and culture from every corner of the map. A delightful place and absolutely one of the most memorable and fascinating places to visit in Riga.
7) Walk over Vanšu Bridge to the National Library of Latvia
There aren’t many cities in the world today which have a library as their most dominant landmark, but that speaks to the artistic, architectural, and cultural beauty of Riga. Across the Daugava River from Riga Old Town stands an enormous asymmetrical pyramid of steel and glass which shimmers in the sunlight. This impressive structure is the National Library of Latvia. As bookish travellers, we, of course, recommend you visit the library on principle, but beyond that it’s also a fantastic walk to the library across the epic Vanšu Bridge. Crossing it over the wide expanse of the Daugava River is like a journey into another world. And the library itself also has two floors of viewing platforms at its peak, which – if you visit on a Sunday – are open for the public to reach and explore for as long as you want without a guide. This is the best spot to get a view of the entire centre of Riga and Riga Old Town. In that regard, it’s one of thebest places to visit in Riga, especially if you’re spending a weekend in Riga! Make sure to head to the National Library on a Sunday.
If you’d like to know more detailed information about the library and what you can do there, check out this amazing post by our friend Christine.
8) Enjoy breakfast or a coffee at Rocket Bean Roastery
Everyone needs a local coffee shop to relax and unwind in during a trip. Most of us pick a favourite when we’re spending a week or more somewhere. So let Rocket Bean Roastery be your go-to coffee shop during your Riga city break or even just a weekend in Riga. There are actually two of them in central Riga, not far from one another, so pick your closest one. Rocket Bean Roastery serve the freshest, most flavourful coffee in all of Latvia. If you’re wondering what to do in Riga as a caffeine-addict, Rocket Bean Roastery will definitely be your jam.
9) Indulge in Latvian food at Lido
Lido is a very curious and unique thing in Riga. It’s a chain of cheap restaurants littered across the city which all serve authentic and traditional Latvian foods as well as local beers. If you’ve spent any time in the UK, the closest equivalent we have is Toby Carvery: a gastropub experience where you take a tray and move from server to server, picking the food you want, and then pay at the end before you eat. Lido is much the same, but with real local food. When you get some lunch at Lido you’ll notice a total blend of locals and tourists, which is always a good sign that the food really is legitimately local and authentic. It’s good food, a slice of Latvian culture, and, as I said, cheap! One of the unmissable places to eat in on a Riga city break, for sure.
10) Visit Central Market
When we first arrived at our hotel in Riga for our Riga city break the Central Market was the very first thing recommended to us when we asked what to see in Riga. Riga Central Market is found right beside Riga Central Railway Station and Riga International Bus Terminal (where we arrived when we got to the city). It’s very hard to miss. This market isn’t hidden away down a few backstreets; it’s hosted inside a series of massive disused zeppelin hangars, which in itself is incredible awesome. Once you get inside, you’ll find so much good, fresh, cheap, and wholesome local foods to sample and take home with you. Just be wary of pickpockets – Riga Central Market is pretty much the only place in the city where you’ll find them. Don’t let that deter you from one of the most unique and exciting things to do in Riga during your Riga city break.
Tips for enjoying your Riga city break
We had a wonderful stay at The Grand Poet Hotel and highly recommend them (if only for their out of this world breakfast). You can read all about our stay there and why we loved it here. They’re located in a perfect spot between old town and the Centrs district so you can walk everywhere including the rail/bus station.
It’s super easy to travel between The Baltic States; you can either take the train or take the bus like we did – it’s easy, cheap, and there’s coffee on board! Check out our guide for taking the bus in the Baltic countries.
They use the euro € in Lativa (and the neighboring Baltic countries), you’ll find costs generally very low in Riga especially when compared to Western Europe. Here are some examples taken from Latvia Travel:
Three-course meal in a restaurant 20 – 25 euros
Lunch 3 – 5 euros
Glass of wine -15 cl 5 euros
Glass of beer 0.5 l 3 euros
A Latte – 3 euros
Public transport ticket for one trip – 1.15 euro
Public transport ticket for a day – 5 euros
Taxi ride from the airport to the city centre – 11 – 14 euros
Taxi boarding price 1.70 euros / Taxi Fare (1 km) 0.50 euros.
The Baltic states can be, well, baltic. So it’s always best to plan your Riga city break or your weekend in Riga during the peak of summer – July and August. That being said, there’s a definite charm to seeing the city during the winter months when there’s the chance of snow and Christmas is in full bloom. But a clear blue sky on a summer’s day is definitely something special, and it gives you the best chance to fully explore the city – especially Riga Old Town – to your heart’s content.
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Jess is the creator and editor of Books and Bao. She's passionate about the world, it's literature, food, culture, and people. She enjoys sharing her travel tips with others and capturing those perfect moments.