Things to do in Riga

18.05.2022
Old houses on the streets of Riga
© Kosmogenez / Shutterstock

A trip to Riga will undoubtedly be an unforgettable experience for everyone. It is also a wonderful opportunity to travel through time, relax your soul, and discover fascinating stories and legends. It seems like every building in this city has a story to tell. Walking around the colorful streets and cozy courtyards of the Latvian capital, you can perfect the skill of seeing beauty in little things. Here you will find unique architectural sights, ancient historical monuments, interesting museums, picturesque parks, observation decks, and many places that take your breath away.

Town Hall Square (Rātslaukums)

Town Hall Square is the heart of the Old Town and where you start to get to know Riga. In the XIII century, there was a large marketplace where merchants brought their goods, so the square was called Market Square. As time passed, the square expanded and was gradually built up, and in the XIV century, the City Hall was built here. Other landmarks of Riga can be seen on the square — the House of the Blackheads, the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, and the monument to Knight Roland. This square is the epicenter of entertainment and festivities during the festive season. There are all kinds of fairs, concerts, and performances. There is also a drinking fountain and several atmospheric outdoor cafés on Town Hall Square.

Ancient Town Hall Square with a purple sunset in the background
Town Hall Square © Ints Vikmanis / Shutterstock

Vecrīga (Old Town)

What to do in Riga for those getting acquainted with the capital for the first time? Go for a walk through the Old Town, of course! When you find yourself in one of the narrow streets of Vecrīga, you are fully immersed in the atmosphere of another era. In this area, you can see many historical and cultural monuments, smell the aromas of freshly baked bread, and drop into souvenir shops and colorful, quiet courtyards. You can see the Riga Castle, St. Peter's Church, the Large and Small Guild, Riga Cathedral, the Cat House, the Swedish Gate, and many other sights worthy of attention. And the Old Town itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When heading here, be prepared for a long but very fascinating walk.

Cozy old streets in the old town
Vecrīga © Sergei25 / Shutterstock
Bright roofs of houses in the Old Town
Vecrīga © kavalenkava / Shutterstock

Three Brothers

The architectural complex called the Three Brothers on Maza Pils Street is the oldest in Riga. It is an ensemble of three residential buildings in beautiful pastel colors, which somewhat resemble toy houses. According to the legend, they were built by three different men from the same craftsmen family. Each of the buildings has its own name: White Brother (the most modest in architectural terms), Middle Brother (with the greatest number of decorative elements in the style of Dutch Mannerism), and Green Brother (with a remarkable mask on the facade, which protects against evil spirits). The first building was erected in 1490, the second in 1646, and the third in 1718. Today, these medieval houses house the Museum of Architecture and the State Center for the Protection of Cultural Monuments.

Unusual architectural complex in Riga
Three Brothers © Sergei25 / Shutterstock

Latvian National Museum of Art

The oldest museum in Riga, founded in 1869, has a stunning collection of paintings, graphics, and sculptures from different eras. Its exposition consists of more than 52 thousand masterpieces and is divided into two extensive collections — Latvian and foreign art. The first one presents items created from the XVIII century until the present day and allows visitors to follow the creative development of many artists. The second collection has been expanding since its opening. Here one can see the paintings of famous masters such as Bryullov, Aivazovsky, Repin, and others. The building of the Latvian National Museum of Art is an architectural monument of national importance. There are two terraces on its roof, which offer wonderful views of the city. Anyone can visit them by purchasing a ticket to the permanent exhibition.

Central entrance to the art museum with beautiful steps and facade
Latvian National Museum of Art © Toms Auzins / Shutterstock

House of the Blackheads

The famous House of Blackheads is one of the city's main attractions, which immediately attracts attention. The ancient structure is decorated with intricate sculptures, three dials of astronomical clocks, and unique artistic forging. At the end of the XIII century, a fraternity that welcomed young foreign merchants gathered in this building. St. Mauritius was considered its patron saint, and its coat of arms was decorated with the main symbol — the black head. Hence the name of the structure came from here. During the Second World War, the house was completely destroyed. From 1996 to 2000, the building was rebuilt, and it was timed to coincide with the 800th anniversary of Riga. A museum with a collection of the fraternity's artifacts was opened in the building's basement. Today, ceremonial receptions are regularly held in the large halls of the House of Blackheads.

House of the Blackheads at dusk with night illumination
House of the Blackheads © kavalenkau / Shutterstock

Peter's Church

The Gothic St. Peter's Church is another ancient structure and one of the symbols of Riga. The main feature of this architectural monument is the highest tower in the city, which has a beautiful observation deck. Visitors can climb to a height of more than 70 meters with the help of an elevator. The church's construction dates back to 1209, but only some of the architectural elements of the old structure have been preserved. The basilica got its present appearance after reconstruction in the XV century. Its tower is decorated with a clock, and the spire is topped with a golden cockerel, indicating the direction of the wind. In 1997, St. Peter's Church was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.

Dome of St. Peter's Church with blue sky in the background
Peter's Church © Konstantin Tronin / Shutterstock

Albert Street

Atmospheric Albert Street, located in the middle of the Vecrīga, is literally dotted with beautiful buildings and cultural monuments. Most of the houses were built in the Art Nouveau style according to the designs of architect Mikhail Eisenstein (father of the famous film director Sergei Eisenstein). The street was named in honor of the city's founder, Bishop Albert von Buxhoeveden. As you walk here, you can spend hours looking at the facades of the buildings, decorated with various sculptures, columns, and bas-reliefs.

Unusual facade on one of the houses on Albert Street
Albert Street © Smiltena / Shutterstock

Bastejkalna Park

Bastejkalna Park is a great location for outdoor recreation in the city's center. Many guests and residents of Riga just love this place! Neat alleys, hilly landscapes, a picturesque water channel, lots of trees, and other plants — what else do you need for meditative walks and inner reload? It's especially nice to come here on a hot day to read a book or have a coffee. The park has many sculptures and comfortable seating areas. A significant attraction of Riga and one of the main symbols of the country — the Freedom Monument — is located very close. It was erected in 1935 in memory of the soldiers who died fighting for the independence of Latvia.

Tourists on a walk along the water channel
Bastejkalna Park © dimbar76 / Shutterstock

Latvian National Opera

The building of the Latvian National Opera is a stunning monument of XIX century architecture. It was constructed in 1863 as a city theater, according to architect Ludvig Bonstedt. The exterior of the building has remained virtually unchanged for several centuries, while the interior has been subjected to numerous reconstructions and restorations following a fire in 1882. Anyone who wants to get in touch with the art of opera and ballet can visit one of the performances with famous artists. There are regular guided tours for those who want to learn more about the history of the building, peek behind the curtains, and admire the beauty of its interiors.

Beautiful fountain in front of the National Opera of Latvia
Latvian National Opera © Ewa Studio / Shutterstock

Riga Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral

The Nativity of Christ Cathedral stands majestically in the heart of the Latvian capital. It contains treasured sacred objects and holds solemn services. The main temple of the Orthodox Church in Latvia was built in the second half of the XIX century according to the design of architect Robert Pflug. The church was built in the Neobyzantine style, following the model of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The temple is impressive in its decoration, both outside and inside. It's trimmed with many decorative elements, and the walls of its rooms are adorned with stunning paintings created by talented artists.

Ancient cathedral with golden domes in Riga
Riga Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral © dimbar76 / Shutterstock
Aerial view of Riga and the golden domes of the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ
Riga Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral © Grisha Bruev / Shutterstock

Kronvalda Park

Kronvalda Park is an incredibly picturesque green space in the city's center. It is located on the bank of the Riga city canal. The creation of this amazing place dates back to the XV century. Originally, it was a closed type park, and it only underwent extensive reconstruction in the 1920s and was opened to the citizens. Today, its picturesque area attracts all fans of nature, peace, and quiet. Green giant trees, various sculptures, decorative elements, numerous bridges, paths, and areas for recreation and entertainment await the tourist here. This place will be a great option if you do not know where to go in Riga to take a breath after a long walk around the city.

People on a walk in the green park of Kronvald
Kronvalda Park © Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock
Boat ride through the canals in Kronvalda Park
Kronvalda Park © Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock

Riga Art Nouveau Center, Museum

The museum dedicated to Art Nouveau offers visitors a glimpse into the era of this style, recreated within the walls of an early XX-century apartment. The interior of 1903 was reconstructed to the smallest detail in the Riga Art Nouveau Museum premises. There are carvings, artwork, painted ceilings, antique wooden furniture, and many characteristic decorative elements. Each room has its own unique design and atmosphere. The dining room, bathrooms, and luxurious bedrooms are especially noteworthy. In addition to the permanent exhibition, various thematic displays and other cultural events are regularly held in the museum.

Facade of the Art Nouveau Museum
Riga Art Nouveau Center © Alexander Krasun / Shutterstock

Riga Cathedral

The majestic Riga Cathedral is the country's most important architectural monument. It was built at the beginning of the XIII century and was one of the first examples of the transitional style, combining Romanesque architecture and Northern Gothic elements. Its grounds also include the Cross Gallery and the Dome Monastery, which houses the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation. One of the main attractions of the temple is its organ, installed in 1884. The structure is 25 meters high and includes more than six thousand metal and wooden pipes ranging in length from 10 millimeters to 10 meters. The cathedral itself serves not only as of the main church building of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Latvia, but it is also a stunning concert hall known throughout Europe.

Square in front of the Dome Cathedral on a summer day
Riga Cathedral © Roman Babakin / Shutterstock
Dome Cathedral at sunset
Riga Cathedral © William Perugini / Shutterstock

Latvian Academy of Sciences observation deck

You can see the best of Riga in the palm of your hand at the observation deck located on the Latvian Academy of Sciences grounds. You can see incredible panoramas of the city from a height of 65 meters, and the Vecriga neighborhoods look especially impressive from here. You have to buy a ticket in the building itself and then use the elevator to ascend to the 15th floor to visit the observation deck. You will be given a booklet describing the academy's history, which was built in the middle of the last century. The site is open from 9 AM to 8 PM.

Tall building of the Latvian Academy of Sciences against the blue sky
Latvian Academy of Sciences observation deck © S-F / Shutterstock

Vērmane Garden

The picturesque Verman Park is another beautiful place for leisurely walks. It was laid out at the beginning of the XIX century on the swamp's territory. It was thanks to a generous donation from Anna Wöhrmann, the widow of a wealthy businessman. Before her death, she donated the park to the city on the condition that it would always be public property. Today, Verman Park is truly one of the favorite green spaces for local residents. There are many plants (including rare species of trees), monuments, walking areas, and well-groomed recreational areas. It hosts various cultural events, fairs, and festivals during the warm season.

Pedestrian bridge over the canal in Vermanes Park
Vērmane Garden © Ivan Maslov / Shutterstock

Riga Motor Museum

The Riga Motor Museum has the largest collection of cars, motorcycles, and mopeds of all kinds from the XIX century to the end of the XX century. There are more than 100 unique examples, including sports and military cars, limousines, various cargo vehicles, as well as record-breaking cars that took part in all kinds of competitions. The Motor Museum was created in 1972 at the initiative of activists engaged in collecting, restoring old cars, and popularizing their history. Many museum exhibits are interactive, so it will be interesting for both adults and children to visit them.

An old car in the Riga Motor Museum
Riga Motor Museum © Roman Belogorodov / Shutterstock
Collection of retro cars in the Riga Motor Museum
Riga Motor Museum © Karolis Kavolelis / Shutterstock

National Library of Latvia

The largest national library in Latvia is a must-see place in Riga, not only for literature lovers but also for connoisseurs of architectural masterpieces. Its unusual building is popularly called the castle of light. It was constructed by a well-known American architect of Latvian origin, Gunnar Birkerts, in 2008-2014. The Glass Mountain from local mythology inspired his intricate 13-story construction. The main goal of the Latvian National Library is to expand its collection of examples of world literature, which will be available to everyone. Today its collection consists of more than four million different items. Exhibitions and lectures are regularly held in the library. There is also a cafe and a restaurant, and there are beautiful views of the city from the windows.

Huge glass showcase of the National Library of Latvia
National Library of Latvia © Kapi Ng / Shutterstock
Futuristic building of the National Library
National Library of Latvia © Viesturs Jugs / Shutterstock

Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation

The Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, founded in 1773, is one of the oldest in Europe. It is located in the Vecriga, on the territory of the famous Riga Cathedral. The museum exhibit highlights the important historical events of the city from its foundation in 1201 to the first half of the XX century. More than 400 thousand unique artifacts reflecting Riga's cultural, political, and economic life can be seen there. All of them are grouped in about 80 collections. They include various photographs and documents, objects of art and numismatics, ship models, archaeological finds, etc.
Red facade of the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation
Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation © Evgeniy Eivo / Shutterstock

Cat House

The Cat House is another unusual architectural landmark known for its legend. In 1910, this building was constructed by a wealthy Latvian merchant who was once rejected into the Large Guild. In revenge, he installed two metal cats with raised tails on the roof of the yellow house, with their backs facing the Guild building. This action led to scandal and lawsuits, so the cats were later turned in a different direction by order of city officials. The Cat House was built in the late rational Art Nouveau style, designed by architect Friedrich Scheffel. The structure adorns the central part of the Old Town and attracts many tourists.
Old cat's house with a yellow facade and a view of the blue sky
Cat House © lara-sh / Shutterstock

Riga Zoo

If you are looking for things to do in Riga with the whole family, then take a look at Riga Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the Baltics. It was opened to the public in 1912. The park's territory is divided into thematic zones, inhabited by different representatives of fauna. Here you can see many exotic animals from reptiles and fish to birds and mammals. Some of them are listed in the Red Book. In 1992, the Riga Zoological Park joined the European Association EAZA, a commitment to maintaining high standards of animal welfare and participating in the preservation of biological diversity. Its picturesque territory is perfect not only for getting to know the animals but also just for a walk. In addition, the park is open to visitors all year round.
Central entrance to the Riga Zoo
Riga Zoo © SSV.Photo / Shutterstock
Pink flamingos at the Riga Zoo
Riga Zoo © Bokstaz / Shutterstock

Riga Castle

The grandiose Riga Castle is the official residence of the president of Latvia, as well as a monument to the country's history and cultural heritage. It is located on the bank of the Daugava River, in the heart of the Old Town. Throughout its rich history, the medieval building from the 1330s was destroyed several times and was subjected to extensive reconstructions. Today, the late Classicist castle is a three-story complex with solid walls (about 3 meters thick) and six massive towers. The main gate is decorated with stunning bas-reliefs, including "Master Walter von Plettenberg" and "Madonna and Child". The bay window tower is built in the early Baroque style. Tourists can see the majestic landmark not only from the outside but also from the inside — Riga Castle welcomes visitors every day.
Towers of the Riga Castle in the sun
Riga Castle © dimbar76 / Shutterstock

Cosmos Illusion Museum

What to do in Riga for lovers of unusual entertainment? The answer to this question will be the COSMOS Illusions Museum — a place where you can see what infinity looks like, travel through the Milky Way, hear electromagnetic vibrations, and much more. The museum exposition offers visitors many optical illusions, mazes, interactive exhibits, and unusual rooms, where the feeling of connection with reality disappears. You will leave the place with a lot of impressions and beautiful pictures. Also, the location is perfect for visiting with children.
Fascinating light illusions at the Museum of Illusions COSMOS
Cosmos Illusion Museum © the-warsaw.com

Līvu Square

Līvu Square, located in Riga's Old Town, is one of the most atmospheric public spaces in the capital. It often hosts various public events, and in winter, there is an ice rink and annual Christmas fairs. The square has a complex of beautiful XVII century residences. Thanks to the cozy atmosphere and beautiful design, it is a pleasure to walk around and view the local attractions. The square is equipped with places to rest. There are several cafes and restaurants, and one of the main highlights is the lawn, made in the form of waves. This decorative feature is reminiscent of the river that once flowed here.
Places to rest on Livov Square
Līvu Square © Nikonaft / Shutterstock
Green spaces on Livov Square
Līvu Square © Jelena Safronova / Shutterstock

Skyline Bar Riga

Those who do not know where to go in Riga in the evening should definitely pay attention to the Skyline Bar, located on the 26th floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija Conference & Spa. In addition to delicious specialty cocktails and designer snacks, you will enjoy pleasant music and, most importantly, stunning views of the city, which can be seen from the panoramic windows of the bar. An unforgettable atmosphere and many impressions from visiting this place are guaranteed.
Cozy bar with a great view of the city
Skyline Bar Riga © tripadvisor.com