My Favorite 23 Things to do Riga, Latvia - Understand
Latvia is one of the three Baltic countries that escaped the Russian Empire a bit by accident. The Baltics are now part of the Schengen Agreement and the Euro, making travel there seamless.
Latvia is still the most Russian of the three Baltic countries and easily feels like 'Russia light
'. The city of Riga has come a long way and invested heavily in infrastructure and city planning. It's a World Heritage Site, including the whole Old Town and several churches, and it is in a supreme state of preservation.
At least in winter there is precious little tourism and you often have the Old Town to yourself to explore.
Riga felt less entrepreneurial than I expected; when you leave the city center you could easily mistake it for a small Russian city much further east.
Riga is fairly cheap
and easy to explore. It's interesting enough for a few days and the many nightlife options will give you extra things to do.
While Latvians are busy shedding their Soviet Union past, they still carry the same mental attitude; finding a person in Riga who smiles is like winning the lottery.
My Favorite 23 Things to do Riga, Latvia - Get Around
Unfortunately, Latvia isn't convinced about ridesharing and Uber
has ceased in this market. The local taxis are rather organized and there many of them. There are precious few rip-offs (though that must have been an issue in the past) but there are two kinds of cabs (which looked identical to me). Some cabs charge twice what local cabs charge (same car and almost similar livery) and to date I cannot figure out how to determine the cost. Distances are short if you stay around the Old Town in the city center so it's not a big deal to worry about.
Bus number 22 and minibus 222 run straight from the airport to the Old Town. It's just 2 EUR and a few stops later you are in town.
My Favorite 23 Things to do Riga, Latvia - Safety
This is Europe after all and it's safe in Riga. However, I was approached by a lot of dodgy types after dark in the Old Town. They gave up quickly so I could never really find out what they wanted. It might be a scam or testing the waters for mugging you, who knows. There is a decent amount of police presence at the Independence Monument and in the center, but I was surprised by how consistent these types were all over the Old Town.
My Favorite 23 Things to do Riga, Latvia - Sights
Churches in the Old Town
Several Old Town churches are UNESCO World Heritage sites. This is great and outlines their importance, but they all charge EUR 3-5 as an entrance fee and the tower view at St Peter's Church
is a hefty EUR 10. I skipped most.
Town Hall Square
This central square puts Riga right into the time of the Hanse and is beautifully renovated.
This major monument is hard to miss. It reminds you a bit more of Riga's history that always saw it caught up between the roaming powers.
Riga Central Market
This isn't a pretty market nor are there many original items to buy. However, it is a little bit of Russia and you can easily imagine things further east from here. For me, this alone was worth the short trip.
Open Market Kalnciema
This little Christmas market surprised with lots of organic items from around the country. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a weekend version of a farmers' market outside of December here.
Andrejsala (Riga Port)
This little stretch of riverbank gets great sunset views and has a number of somewhat fancy restaurants and lounges with lovely outdoor terraces.
In summer, this open outdoors area is supposedly a great way to spend a day in nature. There is also a zoo and a number of good restaurants.
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Picture courtesy of Dasha T
Latvian National Library
The National Library is right on the other side of the river (as seen from the Old Town) and is housed in a magnificent new building. I did not find a way to go all the way up, but I'm sure there is a way.
My Favorite 23 Things to do Riga, Latvia - Eat & Drink
It might have been the timing, but in December almost all the places I went to seemed shockingly empty. This extended to (normally busy) weekend hours.
Good food and coffee isn't cheap in Riga - expect to pay US prices for it.
This is seemingly where everyone aged 20 to 40 in this city eats Monday to Friday. The daily menu only has a few dishes but they all seemed perfect to me (many are Indian inspired). Dishes can be had for under EUR 4 each and they taste fantastic.
This coffee shop/bar/restaurant is an odd mix but - to my surprise - is a winner in every category. I loved the chicken schnitzel with salad so much that I had it twice. The coffee is decent and I can imagine this place rocks at night as well.
Rocket Bean Roastery
Rocket Bean Roastery is a proper third wave coffee shop that takes roasting, brewing and serving seriously. I really liked the espresso drinks here. There are two locations - one right in the Old Town
and one further out
. Both were surprisingly empty whenever I visited.
Labietis Brewery and Bar
Labietis serves proper craft beer that will warm your heart. It's cheap and the tasting room is warm enough to exterminate hypothermia forever.
The best bakery items in Riga! The interior design is just plain odd here, but their rhubarb croissants are fantastic and cheap.
MiiT is a big fan of Blue Bottle - and it shows. It's a lovely little coffee shop (that actually had very few customers) that isn't expensive. Too bad there is no WiFi and just a few seats.
Singh's Indian Restaurant & Bar
Singh's is a proper Indian restaurant in Riga and enjoys a great reputation with the locals.
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Picture courtesy of Like a Local
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Picture courtesy of Galina C
Terra is a Chipotle-style bar where you select your own healthy food. The day I went, the dishes did not look that great, but other days might be different.
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Picture courtesy of Angelo P
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Picture courtesy of Galina K
My Favorite 23 Things to do Riga, Latvia - Nightlife
Alcoholic and soft drinks in bars are rather cheap in Riga and a craft beer for EUR 2 or a cocktail for EUR 5 is certainly not expensive.
Easy Wine specializes in self-service wine - something you might have seen at the American Express Centurion Lounge in San Francisco
. Here you get a EUR 50 card and drink until you drop. Would you leave a tip in such a place?
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Picture courtesy of Benthe W
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Picture courtesy of Svetlana A
Brevings Bar & Restaurant
This could be a lovely beer bar but something is off with the vibe. However, great Belgian beers are just EUR 2 - what a steal!
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Picture courtesy of kypexin
This small bar uses car seats as furniture! The staff here are friendly and the music is loud.
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Picture courtesy of Катерина Ч
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Picture courtesy of Lina V
Balzam is a major Latvian contribution to the world - I'm not kidding; it is really great - a not-so-sweet version of Jägermeister.
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Picture courtesy of SlavchikGB R
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Picture courtesy of Natalia B
La Rocca comes to life Friday and Saturday nights and is as Russian as nightlife gets. Go there to see how Moscow parties.
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Picture courtesy of Brat2
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Picture courtesy of LaRocca
Radio Bar is another super-popular local bar in Riga.
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Picture courtesy of Linda
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Picture courtesy of Anna M
Mākonis Cocktails & Design
Makonis doubles as a coffee house and a cocktail bar and does the latter much better.
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Picture courtesy of Julija L
Vina Studija is a chain that serves great wines at reasonable prices. There are a number of outlets around the city. The one on Elizabetes
is the most flashy (though the prices are the same everywhere). It gets a lively Russian crowd during the weekend evenings.