Top 7 Things to do in Riga, Latvia
By Cacinda Maloney
As I continue my series of articles about the Baltic Capitals, the next one I am writing about is Riga, Latvia. You have probably never even considered Latvia as a destination, and that is OK. I hope to change your mind after you read this article about the top 7 things to do in Riga, Latvia. I think you just might, especially if you are interested in an exotic eastern European vacation at a good price (what I call “value luxury”). I talk a lot about “value luxury” on my website, as it is my brand of travel. Which is having a luxury experience at a great price, a price where you feel like you are getting value out of your travel experience. I know that is hard to define, as it is different for each of us, but I think we can all agree that when the price of a meal, a tour, a hotel, transportation or gas is significantly lower than an equivalent location and the city has luxury aspects then the value is there, and I call it “value luxury travel”.
Riga is the picturesque capital of Latvia, and even though you may have Soviet-era gray stone buildings in mind when it comes to Riga, this couldn’t be further from the truth. You will be transported back into the Middle Ages while exploring this city. In fact, Riga is filled with gems of Art Nouveau architecture, has multicultural heritage and is home to many fascinating museums and churches. Riga’s “Old Town” area is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you can see, there is something for everyone to explore here.
- To truly understand Riga and its people, you should start by a visit to the Museum of the Occupation, which spells out the history of the Latvians. Latvia is a country that has spent most of the past 500 years under foreign occupation. In 1941, the Germans attacked the city, but at the time were known as the “liberators” of the Latvian people, who were under rule of the Red Army of Russia! Can you imagine that the Nazis were deemed the liberators? Well that did not last long and they ended up being just as bad as the Red Army for the Latvians. The Nazi’s murdered many of the Latvians, and also made the Latvians join the Nazi Army to fight against the Russians. They killed over 25,000 Jews just outside the city in the Rumbula Forest, where today stands a memorial in their honor. In 1944, the Russians came back into the country and sent thousands of Latvians to Siberia. However, Latvia was freed from it captors in 1991 when the USSR broke up and Latvia became a free nation.
- See Riga from a bird’s eye view – Head to one of the places with the best panorama of the city, either St. Peter’s Church’s tower in the Old Town, the 26th floor of the Skyline bar at the Hotel Radisson Blu Latvia, or just maybe, if they let you in, you can see this view from the window of a suite at the Neiburg’s Hotel (their restaurant is amazing by the way). A travel blogger I met that lives in Riga told me that so far, this was the best view she has seen! Don’t forget, while at the St. Peter’s Church to go around the back to see the famous statue known as Bremen Town Musicals and touch each level of the statue for good luck.
3, Go night kayaking thru the ring of city canals on the river Daugava. This is a fun and exciting night to meet up at around 10 pm and make your way around the entire loop of the city, with return to your hotel by 2 AM!
4. Visit the Art Nouveau district – Riga is internationally famous for its beautiful art nouveau quarter that is just a short way from the Old Town. Head to Alberta Street, and look up. You will soon discover Europe’s most beautiful art nouveau buildings. Other Art Nouveau gems are nearby on Elizabetes, Dzirnavu and Antonijas Streets. While there, go ahead and visit the Art Nouveau Museum and take a look a that stunning staircase, then pop in across the street to the Art Nouveau Café and Bookstore and sit for a while.
5. Visit Riga’s Central Market – A visit to Riga would not be complete without making your way to the giant city market. This overcrowded gem will give you an opportunity to taste some of the local food and see the city in action. It was at one time a hanger of the WW1 blimp Zeppelins, so you can imagine its enormous size as Europe’s largest indoor food market and bazaar. Each of the 5 hangers has a different specialty from meat to dairy, to fish to vegetables to bakery and flowers too!
6. Visit the restored House of the Blackheads with its Dutch Renaissance façade. The original building was erected in the 14th century, for the Brotherhood of Blackheads. They were a guild of unmarried German merchants. Unfortunately, the house was destroyed in 1941 during World War 2 and reconstruction began over various years with completion in 1999.
7. Visit the Song and Dance Festival in 2018 for a major celebration of Latvian culture and spirit. This is when the next week long is there. This festival began in 1873 and is held every five years and features thousands of singers and dancers from all over Latvia. The last one was held in 2013 and our guide couldn’t stop talking about it!
Just a reminder that all the experiences mentioned here can be had by booking with JayWay Travel.
This is a continuous series on the Baltic Capitals:
Disclosure: My time spent in Riga, Latvia was courtesy of the wonderful host JayWay Travel. My enjoyment of the charms of Riga were all my own and I would jump at the chance to return.