16 Amazing Things To Do In Riga, Latvia

From Art Nouveau, Renaissance, Baroque to Medieval; Riga’s authenticity is spoken through the walls of striking structures that have stood the test of time.

Take a few minutes to explore Albert Street, and you’ll soon understand why. Latvia’s largest city whispers enormous charm through sculpted theatrical faces and proud animals that adorn Art Nouveau architectures sprawling through 1/3 of Riga. Its decorative romanticism is one of many artistic qualities that sets the city apart from Vilnius and Tallinn. To truly experience Riga, however, is also to grasp a sordid history that shifted from Nazi Germany to USSR’s occupation. Latvia’s independence in 1991 was a turning point beyond democracy, it was a transition towards modern technologies and Western European introspection that now circulate throughout its youth population. Have a conversation with anyone under 40-years-old, you’ll see that most Latvians are completely and impressively fluent in English.

Riga is definitely worth a visit. All you have to do is look up, be inspired by its classic structures, and you’ll want to stay just a little bit longer.

Three days in Riga is perfect: 

Spending 3 nights with 2 full days in the city is enough to pack in all the famous landmarks, since many attractions are located in Old Riga.

House of the Black Heads

Rātslaukums 7, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia

There’s no shortage of gorgeous buildings in Riga, but House of the Black Heads stands out on its own with ornate sculptures from Mannerism period. Brotherhood of Blackheads was a fraternity for merchants, foreigners, and shipowners in Riga. Today, there’s a museum inside, where visitors can walk through various ballrooms and dining halls that hosted kings and queens from around the world.

House of the Black Heads exterior
House of the Black Heads exterior. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Riga Town Hall Square

Kaļķu iela, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia

Rathausplatz Riga, or Town Hall Square, is the plaza where House of the Black Heads is located. The 13th-century cobblestone is where locals and travelers relax on benches, admiring the beautiful architectures that frame the square. There’s a number of sights that permits a deeper look inside this city’s important history, including: Old Town Hall, St. Peter’s Church, and Riga City Council.

Riga Town Hall Square
Riga Town Hall Square. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Vecrīga / Old Riga

Old Town Riga

There’s always an Old Town in capital cities of the Baltic States. In Latvia, you must stop by Vecrīga, or Old Riga, where the city limits were marked before an expansion during the late 19th century. This is where you’ll encounter Riga Cathedral and stroll through charming alleys that host busy restaurants, cafés and bars. For fans of history and design, there are several classic examples of Art Nouveau, Renaissance, Baroque and Medieval Times architectural style in this area.

Old Riga
Old Riga. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Riga Cathedral

Old Town Riga

Riga Cathedral
Riga Cathedral. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Located right in Vecrīga is Riga Cathedral, also seat of the Archbishop of Riga. As one of the most recognizable structures in Latvia, the cathedral has been widely illustrated in photos and artworks. During the Soviet occupation from 1939 to 1989, the cathedral was used as a concert hall since religious services were not permitted.

The Swedish Gate

Aldaru iela 11, Torņa iela 4-1, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia

Another must-see landmark is the Swedish Gate located in Old Riga, it was used as a way to connect between the barracks and city center. Originally, there were eight gates, this is the only remaining one in present day.

Legend has it that, the name derives from a story of a young girl who fell in love with a Swedish soldier, despite that it was forbidden for them to date. Although the gate was their meeting spot, the soldier didn’t show up after realizing the girl was involved in another relationship. When locals found out, they built her into the walls of the Swedish Gate. It was said that those with true love could hear her cries at midnight.

Swedish Gate
Swedish Gate. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Riga Central Market

Nēģu iela 7, Latgales priekšpilsēta, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia

Europe’s largest market happens to be in Latvia. Riga Central Market is a feast for the eyes and stomach. A foodie haven to eat, browse and shop. There are 5 pavilions that cover 72,300 square meters (778,000 sq ft) of space by the sea and it hosts the livelihood of more than 3,000 traders. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the market’s structures also boast both Neoclassicism design and Art Deco style.

Here, you can sample glorious amounts of fish, particularly herring. Want to bring home some caviar? You’ve come to the right spot!

Riga Central Market
Riga Central Market. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Albert Street

Albert Street

Riga is internationally celebrated for abundant Art Nouveau architectures that covers 1/3 of the city. Head over to Albert Street for decorative apartment buildings mainly designed in the late 19th-early 20th century. Architect Mikhail Einstein created many of these structures adorned with romantic and nationalistic elements. The magnificent and historical art covers an entire block, elevating a promenade on Albert Street into a splendid treat for any art fanatic.

Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau. PHOTO WENDY HUNG
Art Nouveau style
Art Nouveau style. PHOTO WENDY HUNG
Art Nouveau architecture
Art Nouveau architecture. PHOTO WENDY HUNG
Art Nouveau building
Art Nouveau on Albert Street. PHOTO WENDY HUNG
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Cat House

Meistaru iela 10/12, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia

Today, the Cat House has become another quintessential stop. The medieval yellow house in Old Town was built in 1909, with some components of classic Art Nouveau. Its unique element is the two cat sculptures at the top of building, both with arched backs and high tails. Rumor has it that the owner of the house was upset about being rejected from the house of the Great Guild, therefore designed the cats’ tails facing the guild as a sign of retaliation.

Cat House
Cat House. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Three Brothers, Latvian Museum of Architechture

Mazā Pils iela 19, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia

Also in Old Riga are three attached buildings that are the oldest complex of dwelling houses in the city, now known as Three Brothers. Each of the house showcases a dwelling house from a different period, distinguished by their architectural façades; from Gothic, Renaissance, Dutch Mannerism to Baroque styles. Today, it is a museum preserving the heritage of Latvian architecture. NOTE: Sometimes, the museum closes its doors despite that it might be marked OPEN on Google Map. 

Three Brothers
Three Brothers. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Latvian National Museum of Art

Jaņa Rozentāla laukums 1, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1010, Latvia

Be prepared to spend a few hours at Latvian National Museum of Art, home to this country’s largest collection of artwork. Its plush, red grandiose staircase leads the way to 52,000 pieces from the Baltic region. Most of the paintings are from mid-18th century to now. The building was the first-ever structure designed specifically for a museum, done in 1905 by Baltic German architect and art historian Wilhelm Neumann. The museum also regularly holds exhibitions, scientific conferences, cultural events, and educational programs.

Latvian National Museum of Art
Latvian National Museum of Art. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Museum of the Occupation of Latvia

Latviešu strēlnieku laukums 1, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia

Museum of the Occupation of Latvia came to life in 1993 as a hub of archives, exhibitions and educational center focusing on the 51-year occupation by USSR (1940-1941,) then by Nazi Germany (1941-1944,) then by the USSR again until Latvia gained its independence in 1991. Of all the museums dedicated to a similar subject throughout the Baltic States; this one might be the most modern, interactive and elaborate.

Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

The Freedom Monument

Central District, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia

Standing tall in the middle of the city, Freedom Monument pays tribute to soldiers that were killed during the Latvian War of Independence from 1918 – 1920. The monument is made from granite, travertine and copper. Today, it is the site of concerts, celebrations, rallys and a gathering place for locals.

Freedom Monument
Freedom Monument. PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Bastejkalna Park

Central District, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia