Even though Europe is full of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, there are pockets which, due to history and circumstances, have been mostly overlooked. Riga, the capital of Latvia in the Baltic north, falls into that category. Despite being a beautiful and historic city, Riga has been slow to draw notice from international travelers. Though if they were to see the best things to do in Riga and learn how affordable a destination it is, they’d be off packing. If your curiosity is piqued and you don’t want to miss a thing, follow our Riga itinerary and you’ll be shown how to best experience Riga in 2 days.
Best Time to Visit Riga
As it’s on the northern Baltic coast, Riga isn’t the kind of destination which is ideal year-round. When it comes to working out when to visit the Latvian capital, weather really is the biggest factor.
Situated so far north, summer is the best time to visit Riga if you want ideal weather for being outdoors. Riga isn’t yet a city suffering from a busy high season like other European capitals, so the crowds aren’t that bad in summer. If anything, June is the busiest time of year for Riga and by July and August the crowds have already started to ease off.
But, if you want to visit Riga at other times of the year then that is certainly still possible. Attractions and accommodation are more affordable if you visit during shoulder season, but you’ll want to wait until May for the weather to warm up. For the same reason, September and early October are also good for travel. Come winter though and Riga is cold and snowy, with the city’s Christmas markets being the season’s only saving grace.
How to Get Around Riga
In order to see everywhere we’ve included on this itinerary for visiting Riga, it’s important you understand how to get around the city. Riga certainly isn’t a huge city but there are attractions at the opposite ends of the city which would require a long walk to reach. Knowing how to get around for your weekend in Riga is even more important if you’re staying across the river.
Now, once you’re in the old town of the city, it’s perfectly easy to walk around from one attraction to the next. Most of the popular tourist areas are actually located inside pedestrian areas so getting around on foot is really your only option.
But, since you’re not necessarily going to be staying in old town, you may want to know how to get there. Plus, when you’re ready to go beyond the old town, public transport becomes quite useful.
To get around the downtown area, out to the bus station, and across the river, there is a network of trams and buses at your disposal. Both use the same e-Ticket, with disposable yellow and blue tickets which can be reloaded. A single trip fare with this ticket costs just 1.15€, while a paper ticket bought from the driver costs 2€.
Recommendation: Another great way to get around Riga and see all the important sights is on a hop-on hop-off bus tour. You can purchase a 2-day pass here.
Accommodation in Riga
For your visit here, you have a few choices when deciding where to stay in Riga. Thankfully, the city has quite an uncomplicated layout. Of course, the best places to stay in Riga are the ones that put you right in the city’s beautiful Old Town or just outside of it. This way, the majority of Riga’s attractions are on your doorstep, or just a short walk away.
The downtown area northeast of Old Town is also fairly central, and it too has a huge selection of restaurants and shops close at hand. Choosing to stay across the Daugava river, you’ll trade potentially cheaper accommodation for the need to get a bus or tram back over to the city center.
There’s no better place to spoil yourself during your Riga stay than the Grand Poet by Semarah. This 5-star hotel overlooks the park at Bastion Hill on the edge of the Old Town and boasts a beautiful contemporary style design in its rooms, not to mention a gym, spa, and fully equipped wellness center.
With its selection of rooms, suites, and apartments, Rixwell Hotel Konventa Seta makes for a flexible mid-range place to stay. Not only is the location ideal and the rooms spacious, but you can fill up on a big free buffet breakfast each morning.
Riga excels at budget accommodation with plenty of hostels across the city, but one of the best is Tree House Hostel in the city’s Old Town. With a simple, homely feel this hostel combines well kept rooms with a positive, friendly atmosphere.
For more accommodation options in Riga check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 2-Day Riga Itinerary
In many ways, Riga is a perfect place for a city break as you can quickly dive into what makes this city so memorable. With 48 hours in Riga, this itinerary will take you to each of the city’s most interesting places, helping you understand Riga’s past and get a feel for life in Latvia. Along the way, we’ll show you the sights of the wonderful Old Town and then see more modern spots in the downtown and residential areas. That way, you’ll get to experience the very best of Riga.
However, before we get to our Riga itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
And now that you’re covered for your trip should the worst happen, back to the fun stuff! And by fun stuff, we mean talking about all the best places to visit in Riga which are covered in our Riga travel itinerary.
Day 1 in Riga
It’s best to head straight to the city’s Old Town upon arriving in Riga. This gets you straight to the city’s star attractions and gives you a feel for the place.
Recommendation: If you want to learn a little bit more about the history of Riga, consider booking this private walking tour. Not only do the guides speak great English, but they are also super knowledgeable about Riga and all its beautiful sights.
Bastion Hill Park
A great way to start your exploration of Riga’ Old Town is by first visiting the Bastion Hill Park which runs along its northeastern edge. Once the old city’s fortifications, Bastion Hill was replaced with this romantic park full of gardens, canals, and ornate bridges.
The park makes a great transition space between downtown Riga and the historic center, while also being an attraction in its own right. Other key landmarks in the park include the mighty Freedom Monument dedicated to those who fought for Latvia’s independence and the city’s sightly Opera House.
Riga Old Town
Depending on which way you enter Riga’s Old Town, it could either be obvious you’re entering the Old Town or seem like any other part of Riga. Kaļķu Street is the main thoroughfare which slices straight through Old Town, but it isn’t particularly scenic or historic at first glance. Smilšu Street on the other hand is far less subtle, especially with the ivy-covered Powder Tower in view.
Once you give it a minute and actually enter the Old Town though, it’s hard to deny the quaint charm of the historic city centre. An unruly maze of medieval streets, it’s easy enough to get turned around in this part of Riga. But that’s half the fun, right?
Following Kaļķu Street you should soon arrive at Livu Square. This square was created after the destruction caused by World War II and has become one of Old Town’s most bright and cheerful corners. In the center of the square you’ll see flower beds full of life and color, while the cafes and restaurants around the sides all reside below a fascinating mix of architectural styles. Buildings not to miss on Livu Square include the Small Guild which looks like a small Gothic castle and the distinguished Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre on the corner.
St. Peter’s Church
Working your way through the backstreets of the Old Town, you’ll come to a fixture of Riga’s skyline, St. Peter’s Church. The tallest church in the city, this large Gothic church dates all the way back to 1209, although little of the original church is actually left. The attraction here for most visitors isn’t so much the main hall of the church or the artwork inside, but rather the climb up the 130 meter high tower and the views down at the rooftops of Old Town and the rest of the city.
Bremen Town Musicians
After you’ve visited the church, be sure to head around the back of the building to see the little market and gardens there. It’s also there that you’ll find one of the most photographed statues in the city, the Bremen Town Musicians. This sculpture of animals stacked on top each other gets a lot of love from tourists and is a gift from the city of Bremen based on a fairytale by the Brothers Grimm.
Another of Riga’s enchanting city squares is the Dome Square which sits out below the impressive Riga Cathedral. While there, you’ll want to be paying attention to the beautiful brickwork of the medieval cathedral and scanning around the square’s other sights. While buildings like the Riga Bourse Art Museum and various government buildings draw people’s attention with their architecture, it’s the gripping street art over the Doma Dārzs restaurant that catches most peoples eye.
Throughout the city of Riga there are a lot of exceptionally well-preserved buildings, but the Three Brothers are quite unique in that they are the oldest residential buildings in the city. These three adjoined buildings date from between the 15th to 17th centuries and are home to local craftsmen. Each has its own vastly different design full of flourishes and quirks, like the inscription over the middle brother which reads “Glory to God alone”.
The Swedish Gate
Although Riga was once a walled and fortified town, not a whole lot of the city’s defenses are left to this day. One of the remnants though is the Swedish Gate, a small gateway through what looks like a row of traditional residences. Along from the gate, you can walk down either side of what is left of the town walls, either down a narrow cobblestone alley or past the restaurants of Torņa Street. While only a small spot, the gate bears Riga’s textbook medieval charm.
House of the Blackheads
Finish wandering through Riga’s Old Town with a stop at the Town Hall Square to see the iconic House of the Blackheads. Even though this building sits across from Riga’s Town Hall, it easily draws all the attention of sightseers thanks to the stunning design of its front facade.
Built for members of a merchant guild known as the Blackheads in the 14th Century, it is one of Riga’s most picturesque landmarks despite having been destroyed in the Second World War. Beyond admiring its beautiful facades, you can also tour through the museum exhibits and recreated grandeur of the Conference Hall.
Day 2 in Riga
On your second day in Riga, it’s time to find all the other landmarks which lie outside the city’s Old Town.
Riga Central Market
A great way to start the day, and to get a sense of what local life is like in Riga, is with a visit out to the Riga Central Market. This big, bustling indoor and outdoor market focuses on several large 1920s pavilions and the area around them. Here you’ll see plenty of local Latvian goods, from meats and fish to loads of other locally grown produce. Outside, it’s hard to escape the smell of strawberries especially in early summer!
Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum
On a walk along Riga’s riverfront you’ll soon arrive at the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum which details the city’s history of the Holocaust. Set inside an outdoor courtyard, this museum details what happened to the local Jewish population during the city’s Nazi occupation and the devastating events of the Rumbula massacre. The exhibits focus on individuals’ stories and photographs from the time.
Latvian Academy of Sciences Observation Deck
Built during Latvia’s period under Soviet rule, the towering figure of the Latvian Academy of Sciences is hard to miss. Just up the road from the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum, the tower looks very similar to the huge Palace of Culture in Warsaw, Poland.
Unless you have business at the academy, the best way to visit this tower is to take the elevator up to its observation deck. Much like at St Peter’s Church, you get great views of Riga, although this time the church tower is visible amongst the skyline.
Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral
Compared to the more restrained look of the Lutheran churches in the Old Town, the Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral really stands out. This Russian Orthodox church in the Esplanade park gleams thanks to its gilded facade, and is striking inside as well. While the cathedral has been under restoration since 1991, you can still go inside and admire the painted icons which it is best known for.
Art Nouveau Buildings
Riga has been going through a restoration phase of late, revitalizing many of its faded art nouveau buildings into pristine gems. While they can be found all through the central downtown area, the best place to see them is in a neighborhood of streets centered around Alberta Street. While it is the most spectacular of the streets, you’ll also find more art nouveau buildings on Elizabetes and Antonijas streets. Really, going out in search of these architectural beauties is a great way to get out on your own and uncover everything else that Riga has to offer.
Like the rest of the Baltic States, Latvia became part of the USSR during the Second World War. Living under Soviet rule meant being under the watchful eye of the KGB, the history of which you can learn about in the KGB Museum. Also known as “The Corner House”, this was the headquarters from which the KGB secret police operated and tortured subjects. It’s free to visit the museum exhibits which explain the history of the building and the operations of the KGB in Riga, but you’ll need a tour to see the full museum.
Now you should have a much better idea of what 2 days in Riga can involve and how special of a place it is.