Riga is the capital of Latvia and the largest city in the Baltic region. Founded in 1201 as a port city, developed into a big area for trade with the countries around and became part of Sweden. After that Russia invaded Riga and in 1940 the city became part of the Soviet Union.
In 1991, Riga declared independence and since then the country has been growing, making it nowadays, one of the most fantastic cities to visit in Eastern Europe.
With more than 800 years old, the city offers a contrast of a modern city with medieval influences. The cheap flights to/from most of Europe’s destinations make it a desirable destination for a short city break.
Discover the Old Town
Most of the sightseeing is located in this area and it’s very easy to explore it by foot in half a day. The area is listed as UNESCO World Heritage. It is also in this area where most of the best restaurants are located. Probably the most famous and interesting spots are:
- The Three Brothers – These three houses, number 17, 19, 21, are the oldest complex of residences dating back to the 15th century, with Gothic and baroque influence. The Latvian Museum of Architecture is located there.
- The House of Blackheads – Dated from the 14th century it was a club for unmarried German merchants in Riga. Nowadays the tourist information office can be found there as well as a museum. Entrance fee: 3€.
- Livu Square – With good restaurants around and live music in the summer it’s beautiful to sit outside and get the sunshine in one of the many outside cafes.
- Dome Square – The largest square in the Old Town is my favourite place to have dinner. From this square you can see all the three golden roosters on top of the main churches.
Explore the Nightlife of Riga
Riga is well known for the many bars around with all kinds of offers. Happy hours, special parties, you name it! This is why it’s a location picked for many hen parties and stag do’s. From the bars I’ve been, I can recommend you:
- Skyline Bar –Located on the 26th floor of the Radisson Blu Latvija Conference & Spa Hotel the views over the city are perfect, especially at sunset.
- Cuba Café – Famous for the happy hour every day from 5pm to 7pm with great Latin music.
- I Love You – Good music and good atmosphere, you will end up staying for a couple of hours, don’t miss out!
- Shot Café – As the name says any shot you can imagine is served here, the space is small so it’s good as a first stop on a night out.
Get to know more of Riga’s history
- Freedom Monument – The statue with 42 metre high of a woman holding three stars it’s one of the most important Latvian national symbols of freedom, independence and power. Often you will see soldiers guarding the statue and no cars are allowed to circle around it.
- Corner House – What looks like just any other building from the outside, was once the house of terrors. The KGB occupied the building and made it the headquarters of USSR in Latvia. Many people were imprisoned, interrogated and killed within the many rooms, cells and basement because they were considered against the regime. In reality many of them were poets, musicians, actors and others that had nothing to do with politics. On my visit I opted to have a guided tour (5€) and it was very enlighten. The visit takes you through the cells, the yard, kitchen, interrogation room and execution room with stories on how prisoners were treated. After the tour I also stayed for another hour watching a film of interviews with KGB victims.
- Museum of the Occupation of Latvia – In this museum you can get to know what happened to the country during both USSR and Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1991. It shows what happened to the victims of occupation and the crimes committed by the regimes.
Experience the Latvian cuisine
Riga black balsam is the Latvia’s national liquor and the most alcoholic drink is beer. The famous bread is the dark bread made from rye and pork will be in every menu. I have seen offers of all parts of pig, including ears, head and feet. From the restaurants I’ve been, I can recommend you:
- Stargorod – Located near the river this restaurants was something out of this world. The night I visited they were celebrating Valentine’s Day and the atmosphere was amazing! So much entertainment, from dancing, karaoke, competitions couple to couple and even a roasted pig brought to stage to be open at the sound of the music. The cuisine is Czech/Latvian traditional and it was very good.
- Aqua Luna – During the summer a meal overlooking the river can be very special. The food was fantastic and it was a mix in between the traditional and a bit more modern food.
- Black Magic – This small old coffee house it’s the place to try the famous Riga black balsam but also don’t miss on the hot chocolate. It’s so good! I tried the balsam in some truffles and it was pretty strong.
- Lido – This restaurant buffet type its part of a chain around the city and you can get some of the traditional dishes on a very cheap price.
- Moonshine – Although there is not a lot of traditional Latvian cuisine served there, it’s worth the visit because it’s such a fun restaurant. The all environment it’s around the 50’s, with Elvis’s rock live music and even tables in form of a Cadillac’s. I loved it!
Contemplate the most beautiful churches
- Riga Cathedral – Dating to 1207 it is one of Riga’s symbols and holds inside one of the biggest pipe organ with 6,768 pipes.
- Nativity of Christ Cathedral – This Orthodox Cathedral built in 1883 under the Russian occupation has a spectacular gold dome. Visit inside as because it’s very pretty.
- St Peter’s Church – The church from the 12th century is a Lutheran church dedicated to Saint Peter and it’s Riga’s oldest church. Has an elevator inside where you can see all of Riga.
Relax in the Park
- Vermanes Garden Park – Watch the boats and the many sculptures or simply enjoy life while eating an ice cream.
- Bastejkalns – Just on the corner on the Freedom Monument, this park is both magical during summer and winter. For the most romantics the Bride of Love has a lot of locks from recently married couples.
Look for the Cat
The Cat House in the Old Town was built in 1909 and has two cat sculptures on the roof. The legend says that a wealthy tradesman who owned the building was refused into Riga Tradesmen’s Guild or The Great Guild so the tails of the cats turn towards the house of the Great Guild across the street.
Go to the SPA
The city has the best SPA’s and my favourite is the ESPA Riga inside the Radisson Blue Latvija Conference & Spa Hotel. Together there are three levels: sauna, Jacuzzi, steam rooms, cold showers, body and face massages, pool, gym, manicure, pedicure and they even have their own café.
Get inspired with the Art Noveau Buildings
Riga is well known by the beautiful architecture all over the city. But when it comes to Art Nouveau there are over 800 structures and details spread all over the buildings. Get inspired by some famous streets in the city: Alberta and Elizabetes.
Go to the Opera
The Latvian National Opera and Ballet located just on the side of the Freedom Monument is a beautiful building that opened in 192. Each year presents numerous productions between opera and ballet. In there you will taste, in my opinion, one of the best things in Europe culture. For 5-25€ you can watch classics like Swan Lake, Don Quixote, The Sleeping Beauty or Romeo and Juliet. Plan it in advance and you will not regret it!