This guide covers the best things to do in Riga including the most famous architecture, where to eat, money saving tips and so much more! Latvia’s capital is ideal for those travelling on a budget, a romantic weekend away or for backpackers like us. With so much great things to see and do in Riga, it is no surprise we walked almost 15 miles in one day trying to fit them all in!
Visiting Riga? Star these recommendations on your Google maps and the app will build a route for you. Read more about our favourite travel apps (including the Google Stars feature) here.
Is Riga expensive?
Riga is a very affordable city, we budgeted £50 a day for both of us and spent only £42 including all food, drink and activities. Beer at a bar starts around €1 and a cheap (but none the less delicious) main meal is on average €5 – €7.
We took the ferry from Stockholm to Riga (you can read about that epic night out/ferry review here) which cost €113 for both of us (including our private cabin)
Want to know exactly how much our 3 month Europe trip cost? For more money saving tips & budget ideas in Europe read this post. It covers exactly what we spent in each of the 12 European countries we visited and how much we spent on transport, food, accommodation and activities as well as a useful downloadable budget tracker!
Every backpacker in Europe has that one story of the hostel from hell. In Riga, we found ours. It’s only fair to mention here our bargain “hostel” turned out to be the worst accommodation of our entire trip. In all fairness, we paid £6 a night for a private room so we shouldn’t have been shocked to find a drunk guy asleep in our hallway and our “free” breakfast to be an apple and a cereal bar.
There were no sockets in the room, the bedding had questionable stains and the “bed” was a plank of wood with 4 wobbly legs nailed in. On the plus side, the horrific room was very warm, fantastic location and we slept like babies (partly the hangover from the ferry to blame). A definite laugh or cry moment that contributed to my gratefulness that we travel as a twosome. For our further travel advice on travelling as a couple read this.
The best restaurants in Riga for Breakfast
There are 6 Martina Bakerija cafes dotted over Riga (you can find their locations here). We cannot recommend a more perfect way to start your day as they offer traditional pastries, cakes, muffins and breads – nearly all under 1 EURO!
Martina Bakerija also serve fresh coffee (and free wifi) so it is not only one of the best restaurants in Riga to start your day, but to also stock up on picnic essentials and treats to fuel a full day of exploring. It is the perfect place to sample the traditional Piragi which are essentially mini sausage rolls stuffed with bacon and onion (instead of sausage.)
Also ideal for afternoon coffee & cake if you’re on a budget – we don’t know what’s more amazing, how they look, how they tasted or how cheap they are!!
The best restaurants in Riga for lunch
Okay, the title is a little deceiving as this recommendation is not exactly a restaurant. However, if you are on a backpacking budget then definitely look out for Rimi stores. They are the perfect place to grab lunch on the go when you have a jam-packed day of site seeing in Riga.
Some stores have seating inside, offering a place to rest those tired feet and stock up on those delicious deals! We purchased the pizza & coffee deal for only €1.50.
The Best Restaurants In Riga For Dinner
The Lido Restaurant in Riga
When defining “best” – we’d say restaurants that serve good local food, cheaply and lots of it. If that’s your definition too then the Lido restaurant in Riga is where you need to go.
They are canteen style restaurants dotted all over the city – offering traditional Latvian food at very, very affordable prices. Despite the school canteen style the food is anything but school dinners – instead expect delicious home cooking catering for vegetarian and vegans too. Definitely one of the best restaurants in Riga if you’re on a budget!
Il Patio – Best restaurant in Riga for a romantic meal
When we arrived in Riga incredibly hungover from our wild ferry antics, (read about those here) we were craving pizza. Thanks to Google’s “near me” mode (you can read more about our favourite travel apps here) we came across Il Patio.
After the stairway down we arrived into a cosy cellar setting, with exposed brick decor and requested a table for two. The kind waitress said she had a “special table for us.” She led us to a cave like hidden corner where only one booth was snuggled. We were half delighted at this unexpected romantic spot and half questioning she did it to prevent our hungover state putting other diners off their food.
Regardless, the meal was one of our best memories from our entire trip – the beer (Mezpils Alus) was one of the best we’d tried in Europe and the perfect way to cure our fuzzy heads. The star attraction of this restaurant is the pizza, baked in a traditional wood burning oven paired with other traditional dishes such as bruschetta (which Darren had to start.)
So if you’re looking for a romantic restaurant in Riga, at a very reasonable price we cannot recommend Il Patio enough. Either request the “special table” or just turn up incredibly hungover so the waitress takes pity on you.
Squeeze down Rozena Street, the narrowest street in Riga where you can touch both opposite walls at once, pick up some traditional trinkets at souvenir stalls on Skarnu Street, explore at your own pace or as part of a free walking tour. With instagrammable spots round every corner during the day and bustling bars in the evenings, Riga’s Old Town is undoubtedly the heart of Latvia’s capital.
Visit House of the Blackheads
Towards the edge of Old Town, nearby the river you cannot miss these two stunning buildings known as House of The Blackheads. Earning their name from the Blackheads Society which was a gentleman’s club for wealthy merchants. The story goes, that these journeymen earned their fortune through travelling the world in search of exotic goods whilst fending off pirates and robbers. St Maurice was selected as their patron saint to protect them from these dangerous encounters – the black knight’s armour which St. Maurice traditionally wore lead to the Blackhead name.
The buildings were destroyed in The Second World War but were restored in 1999 to the full splendour you can see today.
Find the home of the first ever Christmas tree
You might know that Riga is the birthplace of the Christmas tree. However, did you know it was the result of a drunken prank? After snapping 127933 photos of the beautiful Blackhead buildings, mere meters in front is the plaque commemorating the first ever Christmas tree. A group of men who had been partying it up in The House of Blackheads on Christmas Eve 1510, decided to decorate a pine tree they’d hauled into the house in their drunken state. After covering it in decorations they set it alight. This then started the tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas – we can only assume the fairy lights replaced the setting it on fire part.
Visit the most famous building in Riga
Classed as the most famous building in the Latvian capital, at 123 meters high St. Peter’s Church is one of the best things to do in Riga for an amazing view of the city. Don’t worry about climbing steps to reach the church’s summit, instead the tower is only accessible by elevator. Which is exactly why Loz wouldn’t go up it. If you do venture up, the tower offers views 72 meters above Riga! You’ll also notice the clock only has one hand which is a Latvian tradition. Although the tower is noticeable from all over Riga, if you can’t see it – you’ll hear it as the folk song ‘Riga dimd’ is chimed 5 times a day!
Try Piragi at Central Market
Venturing out of old town, heading towards the central railway station and the river you cannot miss Riga’s Central Market. It is one of the largest marketplaces in Eastern Europe! One of the most fascinating things to do in Riga as over 80,000 people shop there everyday. This makes it the perfect place to people watch and learn about local produce. Not forgetting another great spot to sample Piragi!
View Riga from the sky at Latvian Academy of Sciences
After leaving the Central Market you cannot miss this gigantic building known unofficially as Stalin’s birthday cake. The reason being, the building was built with the intention of gifting it to Stalin as a birthday present, however he died before it was possible. The building’s actual title is, The Latvian Academy of Science. Alongside being the most prominent representation of Stalinist architecture outside of Russia it offers one of the most amazing views over Riga. There is an observation deck on the 17th floor, offering views 213ft in the sky! Tickets to go up are only 5 Euros and include an information booklet on the building’s unique history.
Explore Riga’s Street art scene
As you maybe know from our Bucharest and Ljubljana posts we are a little street art mad, we find hunting down murals one of the best ways to get to know a city! Although Riga’s street art is very spread out there are a handful of striking murals worth the walk such as Barona 114. You can read more about Riga’s street art (including a map) here.
Wander Riga’s Art Nouveau District
Although there are so many things to do in Riga’s Old Town, venture further to capture the stunning architecture of the Art Nouveau district in Alberta iela. Most of the buildings have been incredibly well preserved or recently renovated. Highlights include the house at Strēlnieku 4a and the Riga Art Nouveau Museum which is at the end of Alberta iela.
Be Mesmerised by the Nativity of Christ Cathedral
We stumbled across this and instantly wanted to look inside. On the outskirts of Old Town, this Russian-esque Orthodox cathedral was built in 1883. The inside is just as mesmerising as the outside, with the domed ceilings covered in extravagant paintings. Note there is a strict dress code, obviously no shorts/short dresses and while women were expected to cover their heads, men are asked the opposite and told to remove any hats.
The Freedom Monument
Located nearby both The Old Town and Art Nouveau district you will spot the unmissable Freedom Monument, signifying Latvia’s historical quest for freedom and independence. Our visit coincided with Latvian Independence day (November 18th) which is also known as the Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia. The day commemorates Latvia’s independence from German and Russian occupation after the First World War. For further information regarding the country’s fascinating history, visit the Museum of Occupation nearby.
Get lost in the National Library of Latvia
Don’t you just love it when you take a wrong turn in a new city and end up discovering something completely unintended. That’s how we found the National Library of Latvia. After crossing the Daugava river on a quest to find to a quirky café Loz had read about (that we still don’t think actually exists) we were met by such an insane building (in size and style) that we had to find out what it was. Not only a library to over 4 million units, but home to exhibitions, conferences and concerts. The amazing building also offers panoramic views of Old Town, guided tours (for a small fee) a café and free WiFi. It was the perfect place to stop, recharge our batteries (thaw out) and people watch.
Plays, films and photographs were projected onto the city’s remarkable architecture, alongside live music and acting. The entire event is completely free and such a fun way to explore the city after dark. For more info on Staro Rīga 2018 dates and routes visit here.
For more photos of our adventure in Latvia, please take a peek at our gallery.
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