2 days in Riga, Latvia: the best things to see + do

Much like Scandinavia, I had long been wanting to make it over to the three Baltic States {Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia}. Something about the cross between Nordic and Russian influences has had me intrigued. I hadn’t heard much about Latvia or its capital city, despite it being the largest city in the Baltic, but, after a little research and a few days in the capital city, I cracked the code to the best things to see and do.

Riga is filled with historic churches, medieval architecture, and cultural landmarks. Its Old Town and city center was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in the late 90s, making it increasingly popular with tourists.

After visiting the lesser-known Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, and declaring it one of the best hidden gems in Europe, I hopped on a bus to Riga, hoping it would match up.

Spoiler alert: Riga wasn’t a favourite of mine overall. However, I gave it a proper go and this post the very best of Riga in a 2-day itinerary!

2 days in Riga, Latvia: the best things to see + do

getting to riga

Riga is serviced by Riga International Airport, the largest airport in any of the Baltic states. It has direct flights to a reported 106 destinations, including most of the European capitals. It is also quite easy to get to Riga from Vilnius and Tallinn via bus. If you’re a seafaring folk, consider taking the ferry from Tallinn down to Riga.

getting around

Riga is easy to get around thanks to a network of trams and buses that make up Riga’s public transportation. I relied on my feet to carry me across the city, which was easy because it’s super walkable. In fact, other than a tram to get me from my AirBnB to the city center, I got around entirely on two feet. If you’re hell-bent on taking a taxi, I’ve heard Red Cab is reliable and affordable, especially for those who need to get to and from the airport.


DAY 1

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BREAKFAST AT big bad bagels

Kick off your first day in Riga with Big Bad Bagels! My love of bagels {and carbs in general} is well documented. For those who love carbs as much as me, Big Bad Bagels is the place you’re looking for in in Riga. There are two locations in Riga, but for this itinerary it’ll make more sense to go to the location near the center of town.

free walking tour

The Free Walking tour in Riga didn’t wow me the way others of its kind have in neighbouring European cities, but it did its job of providing me with context for the history of Riga and Latvian culture overall. “Free” tours aren’t actually free, but they are as close as you can get. At some point before or after the tour, the guide will remind you that these tours are not funded by any organization, and their continuance relies on the gratuity of patrons {read: cash tips}. It’s standard to pay €5/USD $5.49 per person on a tour like this, though it really is up to you and your budget.

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learn about Art Nouveau architecture

You will walk by the art noveau buildings that Riga is famous for during your free walking tour, however, I encourage you to visit the art noveau museum. The buildings themselves are highly impressive, but the museum offers insight into the architectural style and why it is so prevalent in Riga.

NOTE: The museum is open seasonally, so be sure to check out their website before making plans.

picnic lunch in the park

Are we surprised I included a #parksit in this itinerary? No. No, we are not. There are heaps of green spaces in Riga, but the more central parks are seriously stunning and, if you visit in the summer, you won’t be alone in your enjoyment of nature— locals will be all over the place! Grab snacks from a local supermarket {I recommend Rimi} and bring a book!

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CHECK OUT THE street art in the old moscow neighbourhood

This neighbourhood in Riga is brimming with murals, many of which are political or delve into cultural topics. I was pretty blown away by all the pieces depicting indigenous culture.

2 days in Riga, Latvia: the best things to see + do

snap a photo in front of the Three Brothers

The Three Brothers are Instagram-famous due to their Medieval architecture. They sit together in a row and are the oldest homes in Riga. The story goes that each house was built by three men of the same family at different times. One of the buildings has been turned into the Latvian Museum of Architecture, which I didn’t make time to visit {and thus can’t recommend}, but you could look into it if you have a little more time.

VISIT THE house of the blackheads

The exterior of the house of the Blackheads is what gets most tourists’ attention, but it’s the history of this building that maintains that attention. The building was constructed in the 14th century for a group of unmarried merchants, foreigners, and shipowners known as the Brotherhood of Blackheads. The original architecture was destroyed during the Second World War, but it was rebuilt in the 1990s and restored to its former glory.

DINNER AT street burgers

After arriving to our hellish AirBnB, we decided we wanted to stay out as late as possible avoiding our drunken host. We decided after a long #parksit {starting this hashtag because it became such a “thing” this summer"}, to have dinner at Street Burgers. The place had a high rating online and was right around the corner from the aforementioned park. There were a number of vegetarian burger options and side choices as well as beer on tap. I indulged in a pint and the falafel burger. The beer was good, but the falafel burger was pretty underwhelming. That said, the menu is extensive so there is a good chance you’ll be able to find something that lives up to the online hype.

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map of day 1

2 days in Riga, Latvia: the best things to see + do

DAY 2

BREAKFAST AT riga central market

Riga’s Central Market is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s located near the city’s bus station and only a 5-minute walk from the heart of Old Town. The market is brimming with stalls selling fresh, locally-grown produce, traditional foods {think everything pickled in jars}, and knock-off products {fake Gucci t-shirts and Ray Ban sunglasses}. The central market also has vendor stalls that sell breakfast baked goods. I enjoyed a cinnamon roll from Bake Berry, which also sold coffee, hot sandwiches, and a variety of other pastries at a reasonable price. The Central Market encompasses 5 pavilions that each have their own “category”— dairy, produce, meats, etc.. In the newly remodeled section of the market, you’ll find everything from Prosecco to oysters, pizza to craft beer, Thai soup, raw food, and yummy falafel.

VISIT the riga ghetto and holocaust in latvia museum

Just down the road from Big Bad Bagels is the Riga Ghetto and Holocaust in Latvia Museum. The museum was opened in 2010 by a non-governmental organization near the grounds where actual ghetto once stood. Its aim is to preserve the memories of the Latvian Jewish community. Part of the grounds have been turned into exhibition space for Jewish artists and their work rooted in the Jewish experience during the Holocaust. I found the example of a ghetto house the most shaking. The tiny beds, the newspaper for insulation, the large gaps between the floor boards that invited in rodents and cold— they were all little details that stand as reminders of what happened and why we have to remember.

2 days in Riga, Latvia: the best things to see + do

grab a sweet treat at Parunāsim café

You might not have much of an appetite after learning about the horrors of the Rig Ghetto, but you can’t let yourself go hungry either. My recommendation is to head back into the Old Town for a little something to tide you over in the self-proclaimed “most romantic café” in Riga— Parunāsim. This beautiful café and bar is set down an alleyway only steps from the photo-famous Three Brothers of Riga. The exposed brick walls stand in juxtaposition of the ornate chandeliers hanging from timber beams. I adored the mix-match seating, the wildly patterned dishware, and the tall vases overflowing with decadent floral arrangements.

 
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LEARN ABOUT THE kgb AT THE museum of the occupation of latvia

Riga’s history of occupation and torment didn’t end with the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. From 1940 until 1991, the State Security Committee of Russia {often abbreviated as the KGB}, made a home for themselves in Riga. Though it was initially put into place as a way to keep countries that were a part of the Soviet regime safe from foreign spies and the like, the KGB quickly evolved into a large network of oppressive authoritative figures that physically eliminated opponents. The scariest part about the KGB wasn’t the many ways they tortured individuals who rejected the Bolshevik regime or promoted “Western” ideals— it was the stealth with which they did it all. In the middle of the day or in the depths of night, it made no difference. The KGB Museum in Riga, which is also referred to as “The Corner House” due to its corner location, houses brilliant evidence including video testimony of the KGB’s occupation in Riga.

The first level of the museum is free, but I highly recommend paying the extra money for a guided tour of the basement and other floors so that you can have a detailed understanding of the history o

DINNER AT lido

There probably isn’t a more “Latvian” food experience {outside of eating at a local’s house}, than having the greasy comfort food at Lido’s famous buffet. It’s not the most vegetarian-friendly place, but it is filled with buttery carbs and potato-based menu items. Traditional Latvian food at an affordable price is what Lido is all about! There are multiple Lido locations throughout the city, so check around to see what’s closest to you.

 

 

map of day 2


tips for first-time visitors to riga:

  • Latvia is part of the European Union + uses the Euro as currency

  • Roughly 50% of the people in Riga speak Russian, but the other 50% speak Latvian

  • Like most places, it’s cheapest to stay on the outskirts of town but it’s easy to get into the center of town thanks to the trams

  • Riga is cheaper than Tallinn, but a bit pricier than Vilnius, so those on a trip around the Baltics should set their budgets accordingly

  • Rimi is a supermarket chain in Riga that has affordable snacks and meal ingredients


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2 days in Riga, Latvia: the best things to see + do #thingstodoriga #travelriga #latviatravel
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