The best things to do in Riga include stunning architectural landmarks, world heritage sites, and lush green spaces offering brief escapes. The Latvian capital is a young-feeling city with a wealth of culture to explore. It’s a must-visit for architecture buffs, famed for its numerous photogenic Art Nouveau buildings. This makes the city’s streets perfect for casual, slow-paced, self-guided walking tours. 

    Riga’s lively bar and restaurant scene in its UNESCO-recognised old centre is also worth checking out, and for beach lovers, there’s a vast expanse of stunning coast within easy reach of the city.

    What are the best things to do in Riga?

    1

    Riga Central Market

    One of the largest markets in Europe

    • Couples
    • Families
    • Shoppers

    Riga Central Market (Rīgas Centrāltirgus) is one of the best places in Riga to start off your day at. It’s worth visiting just as much for a glimpse of its iconic 20th-century structure – one of the finest examples Riga has to offer – as it is for the wide variety of fresh produce and ready-to-eat goods you’ll find inside.

    This is one of Europe’s biggest markets, open for close to 100 years and now declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pick up a coffee and a bite at one of the cafés in and around the market – adventurous eaters can try local breakfast delicacies like smoked fish, but there are also countless pastries on offer if you’re looking for something easier to stomach.

    Location: Nēģu iela 7, Latgales priekšpilsēta, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 5.30 pm (Sundays until 4.30 pm)

    Phone: +371 67 229 985

    Map

    photo by TomasEE (CC BY 3.0) modified

    2

    Albert Street

    Scenes of Art Nouveau architecture

    Albert Street is a notable thoroughfare in Riga that's famed for its beautiful Art Nouveau architecture. In fact, as many as a third of all the buildings in the city’s centre sport this architectural style, meaning Latvia’s capital reportedly boasts one of the world’s highest concentrations of Art Nouveau structures. Why? Simply lucky timing: Riga was enjoying a financial boom when Art Nouveau was in favour. 

    One of the finest spots to soak up all this magnificent beauty is Alberta Iela (Albert Street), where strolling from one end to the other will give you ample opportunity to take in an array of splendid, ornately decorated houses. For an extra fix, stop at the Riga Jugendstila Centrs (Riga Art Nouveau Museum) at number 12.

    Location: Alberta iela, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1010, Latvia

    Map

    photo by Zairon (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    3

    The Corner House

    Visit the former Latvian KGB headquarters

    The Corner House (Stura Maja) is a historical landmark in Riga, known as the previous KGB headquarters. The occupation of Latvia by the Russians from 1940 onwards, giving rise to the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, remains a dark part of Latvian history. This museum is set in what was formerly the Latvian headquarters of Russia’s secret police and serves as a sobering reminder of the atrocities that took place during this period of Latvia’s past. 

    The Corner House is another example of Riga’s awe-inspiring Art Nouveau architecture, but it hides tales and memories of political torture and killings that took place here at the hands of the Soviets. It’s a macabre place to visit, but a must if you want to understand Riga’s ghosts.

    Location: Brīvības iela 61, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1010, Latvia

    Open: Monday–Tuesday from 10 am to 5.30 pm, Wednesday from 12 pm to 7 pm, Thursday–Friday from 10 am to 5.30 pm, Saturday–Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +371 27 875 692

    Map

    photo by Edgars Košovojs (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    4

    House of the Blackheads

    One of Riga's visual highlights

    • History
    • Photo

    The elaborate House of the Blackheads (Melngalvju Nams) is the visual highlight of a visit to Riga’s Town Hall Square (Rātslaukums). And yet while it might be difficult to believe, it’s actually a recent reconstruction of the real thing, which was destroyed by WW2 bombing (although the original basement vaults remain). 

    The original building is said to have dated back to at least 1334, serving first as a public meeting place and later as home to the Melngalvju Brālības (Brotherhood of Blackheads), a foreign merchants’ association that ultimately gave it its name. Now feeling almost prophetic, an inscription that once adorned the main gate read ‘should I ever crumble to dust, rebuild my walls you must’.

    Location: Rātslaukums 7, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +371 67 043 678

    Map
    5

    Jūrmala

    Riga's vast and sandy coast

    • Couples
    • Families
    • Adventure
    • Group

    Jūrmala is Riga’s main beach that offers a vast and sandy coast that stretches for almost 25 km. Riga pulls hard with its cultural draws, but it’s more than just an intellectual city break destination – this is somewhere beachgoers can just as easily feel at home. The beach is just a 30-minute train ride out of the city’s downtown core.

    The golden and sandy pine-fringed beach is lapped by clear waters and topped off with the odd hint of Art Nouveau architecture that Riga is best known for. Jūrmala is worth a visit whatever the season since the area still makes for a rewarding, fresh-air-aplenty beach walk even when the temperatures drop.

    Location: Gulf of, Rīga, LV-2015, Latvia

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    6

    Bastion Hill

    Riga's beautiful central park

    • Couples
    • Families

    Bastion Hill Park (Bastejkalna Park) is one of the most popular spots to catch a sunset view over Riga. It is the highest point beside the Brīvības Piemineklis (Freedom Monument) in the central district. 

    No city break is complete without somewhere to watch one of Mother Nature’s most magnificent shows. Fortunately, Riga doesn’t disappoint when it comes to sunsets from Bastion Hill Park. The city’s canal runs right through the colourful, winding park, adding to its overall romantic feel.

    Location: Central District, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia

    Map

    photo by PIERRE ANDRE LECLERCQ (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    7

    Latvian National Opera and Ballet

    A lavish neo-classical theatre

    • Nightlife

    Visit the Latvian National Opera and Ballet (Latvijas Nacionālā Opera un Balets) to get your fix of Riga’s arts scene. This theatre shows that Riga offers beyond just the Art Nouveau beauties that first lure visitors. Fronted by immaculate gardens, this imposing neoclassical structure dates right back to the 1860s. 

    Today, it still sees a regular rotation of new productions and hundreds of captivating Latvian and international performances each year. That means there’s sure to be something showing that will let you join Riga’s high-flying set for a stylish slice of mid-evening entertainment.

    Location: Aspazijas bulvāris 3, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia

    Phone: +371 67 073 777

    Map

    photo by giggel (CC BY 3.0) modified

    8

    Vecrīga (Old Riga)

    Home to Riga's medieval landmarks

    • Couples
    • Food

    Old-town Vecrīga is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the jewel in Riga’s crown. It might be a tad touristy in parts, but the narrow-cobbled streets are atmospheric enough to excuse that. Some of the city’s earliest structures can be found here, but the neighbourhood also houses countless charming restaurants. 

    Elegant Salve, right on Rātslaukums (Town Hall Square), offers an introduction to traditional local cuisine, including a 6-course Latvian tasting menu. More modern but no less authentic, Domini Canes on Skārņu iela blends innovative new takes on Latvian recipes with a particular focus on locally sourced produce.

    Location: Ratslaukums 5, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia

    Open: Daily from 12 pm to 11 pm

    Phone: +371 67 044 317

    Map
    Chris Wotton | Contributing Writer

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