Riga: Latvia’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
Are you up for a unique city trip? Then we found just the right place for you: Riga. Apart from the typical travel destinations, Latvia’s capital offers everything you’ll want on a real city trip.
Be ready for great buildings, rich culture, and perfect spots to stroll, explore and relax. Doesn’t that sound great? Then we won’t keep you on the rack any longer – here are the most important facts about Riga, the pearl of the Baltic States. Of course, these also include the ten most beautiful sights of the city. Let’s go!
Riga in a Nutshell
Latvia is situated between the two other Baltic States, bordering on Lithuania in the south and Estonia in the north. In the west, there is the Baltic Sea. Accordingly, the coastal regions have a rather humid climate, while the rest of the country is predominantly cool and temperate. Even in the summer, temperatures rarely rise above 20 °C on average. Therefore, we do not recommend traveling there in winter, but you can check out the best time to travel in Latvia for yourself.
More than 600,000 people live in the Latvian capital Riga. It’s the most populated city of all the Baltic States! Its history goes back to the year 1150, when Gotlandic merchants used to meet at the lower course of the river Daugava to trade. However, the city was officially founded in 1201. There have been many battles to conquer Riga and Latvia in general, including the First and Second World Wars. After being under Russian rule, the city has been independent since 1991.
Due to this past, Russian influences are especially noticeable in Latvian cuisine. For instance, the traditional Russian red beetroots soup borscht is very popular. However, Latvians eat this classic dish in a slightly different way: The dish – called chalodni borscht – is served cold and topped with sour cream. Make sure to try this dish!
Do listen to the country’s music highlights, too. In the summer, the festival season starts with many different concerts, the most popular one being Positivus in Salacgrīva. Every year, about 35,000 people party on the beach to the beat of the music. A similar summer experience takes place on the light sandy beach of Liepāja. Do you prefer classical music? Then the Riga Opera Music Festival is the perfect place for you. National and international artists perform in the capital city to show off their skills.
If you want to see as much as possible during your trip in Riga, you’re lucky because the public transportation network is quite well-developed, consisting mainly of bus and tram lines. In addition, a lot of attractions are close to one another. Especially the beautiful old town is easy to explore on foot!
Want to hear a little fun fact? Latvia is home to the tallest women on average. At 169.8 cm, they rank first on a worldwide scale, and the Latvian population as a whole is in second place with an average height of 175.6 cm. Only the Dutch are taller on average. Who would have thought that?
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Riga
We can’t wait to tell you about our favorite sights in Riga! The distinctive architecture of the Art Nouveau buildings turns the entire city into a true work of art. Riga’s enchanting old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
The Town Hall Square and the House of the Blackheads
There is no better place to start a tour than the historical Town Hall Square. Here, you’ll dive into the old town’s tragic past. All the buildings around the square were destroyed during the Second World War. However, they were completely rebuilt. Thank goodness!
We and many other travelers particularly liked the House of the Blackheads. Its steep and elaborately decorated gable facade in the Art Nouveau style stands out above everything else – an incredible sight! And that’s only the beginning. Each one of the beautiful houses has a secret story behind it, the House of the Blackheads included. It once was the main house of a guild, an association of merchants.
Art Nouveau buildings dominate the entire cityscape, but in the neighborhood of Klusais Centrs this type of architecture really stands out. On Albert Street, one villa follows another. We recommend you move up close to the buildings to admire every single detail.
The old town of Riga is bursting with life, as you will see on Cathedral Square. Here, charming restaurants and cafes welcome you to take a break. As you gaze across the square, you will notice the ornate buildings – most of all the Riga Cathedral. It is the largest church in the Baltic States and more than 800 years old! Amazing, right?
St. Peter’s Church
You can’t get enough of beautiful architecture? Then the Petri Church is the place to go. In addition to being the oldest building in the city, it stands out from the rest of the buildings due to its brick gothic style.
But that’s not all! At over 120 meters, its tower is also one of the tallest buildings in Riga. You can climb the tower and enjoy the view over the capital’s roofs and the river Daugava. Make sure to visit this place during your trip.
This district offers a completely different type of architecture. Here, you’ll find restored wooden buildings from the 19th century. It feels like traveling back in time! The best thing to do is to just stroll through Kalnciema with no destination in mind – just look around and enjoy the beautiful wooden buildings, small markets, and arts and crafts stands.
Not too far from the House of the Blackheads at the Town Hall Square, you’ll find the capital’s next landmark – the Freedom Monument. It’s about 43 meters high and consists of four parts. Each of these parts is made of different sculptures that represent the most important historical events. At the top, there is a 9 meters high statue of a young woman lifting three stars over her head.
What does this monument symbolize? We have already mentioned that Latvia was heavily fought over in the past. The monument celebrates the first independence between 1919 and 1939 and the soldiers who fought for it. It even withstood the Second World War! Therefore, the Freedom Monument stands for independence, freedom, and unity.
Riga Central Market
Now we’ve got an absolute highlight for all food-lovers – Riga Central Markets fulfills every foodie’s cravings. The five pavilions are home to various stands, where you can taste and buy all kinds of regional products and specialties. The locals do their weekly shopping here too, so a tour there will feel very authentic and exciting.
Moreover, the Central Market has a long history – the market halls have existed since the 1930s. You don’t have to worry about opening hours, either. The market is open every day – except for St. John’s Day on the 24th of June.
What a breathtaking view – the magical Riga Castle is located directly on the banks of the river Daugava. It was built in the 14th century and is the residence of the Latvian government. It also houses a museum, one of the oldest in the city – the Latvian National Museum. Culture and history lovers will definitely get their money’s worth here.
National Library of Latvia
Even from the outside, the National Library of Latvia is a masterpiece – its position on the banks of the river Daugava and the enormous glass facades around the building make it quite a sight. Not without reason, the Library is also called “The Castle of Light”. Moreover, the building has 13 floors and is 60 meters high. We really recommend you check it out.
But let’s talk about what’s inside the building, since that’s what matters in a library. When it was opened back in 2014, every local was asked to donate one of their favorite books. Nowadays, the National Library of Latvia’s collection holds more than five million books and other printed media. These include both national and international editions.
And now for some more impressive architecture. The Three Brothers are three adjacent buildings, each one painted differently. It doesn’t sound extraordinary at first, right? But there’s more to it than that. Legend says that each building was painted by different men from the exact same family – the first one in the 15th century, the second one in the 16th century, and the third one in the 17th century.
What are your favorite sights in Riga? It is not easy to decide with all these architectural marvels. Every building is unique in its own way.
Both St. Peter’s Church and the Cathedral are impressive buildings. The majestic National Library of Latvia is a very different sight altogether. The glass fronts make it look like from another world. Or are you more fascinated by the countless art nouveau buildings? You’ll find plenty of them on City Hall Square in the old town.
The villas on Albert Street in Klusais Centr are not to be overlooked either! They are a glaring contrast to the restored wooden buildings of Kalnciema. Given all these options, you’ll surely want to stop for a bite to eat. Try the many specialties in the central market of Riga!
There are many more exciting buildings for you to discover. But luckily, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the city’s top places of interest on your trip to Riga. You may even go so far as to plan a whole round trip through the Baltic States. So what are you waiting for?