I visited Riga, Latvia in October 2017 as part of a visit to the Chernobyl nuclear exclusion zone. I discovered a beautiful city that I would love to return to and explore more, along with the rest of the Baltic states.
Riga is small, walkable city with a well persevered Gothic Old Town surrounded by a river and a canal ring with a string of lovely parks. Most of the sights and destinations are within walking distance of Old Town.
The city is full of architecture, culture, parks, nightlife, and history. It has a bit of a reputation for stag and hen party trips from the UK, but overall is very laid back.
Safety is not an issue. Riga is clean, safe, and family-friendly. The people are friendly and helpful, if a bit shy when sober.
Riga is an accessible place to start if it’s your first time in the former Soviet Union or a Soviet satellite country. The culture, cityscape, and vibes are very European – but with a US Midwestern feel. The Occupation Museum near the canal is a great way to learn about life under the Soviets, and the Nazis before them.
Further afield, the Centrs is surrounded by old Soviet-style apartment blocks that Riga is now reclaiming and modernizing.
Just outside the Old Town is the newer Centrs district and the Art Deco District. Riga is known for having the world’s largest collection of buildings in this style. The Art Deco museum is a great small museum worth a visit to learn more about the city’s architecture.
Food and Drink
Lido Latvian restaurant has several locations around the city, including the Old Town. Authentic local food served cafeteria-style. Kitschy atmosphere but popular with the locals. Great value.
Black Balsam is the Latvian liquor. It’s super bitter and super strong, but I did enjoy the version with black current.
Riga Central Market
The largest public market in Europe is an old Nazi-era complex of Zeppelin airship hangers that can easily take up a full day’s worth of wandering around. The buildings are stunning and the number of vendors is enormous.
Each hanger is devoted to a different food (meat, veggies, fish, etc.). There is a maze of merchandise stalls surrounding the hangers, including a big section selling second-hand Soviet kitsch. Many of the farmers and smaller food stall vendors speak limited English, but pointing and gestures will get you by.
More things to see and do
Easy Wine and Easy Beer
Self-serve bars for sampling many local, European, and international beers and wines.
SemeraH Hotel Metropole and De Commerce Gastro Pub
Hotel and pub near in the Old Town
Taverna Kirbis (Pumpkin)
In the vegetable and produce hall.
Convenience store chain
Bar in the Old Town, with guns.
Omas Briljanta Istaba
Bar, live music, and food in the Old town
Cafe Britt Shop
Coffee in the Art Deco district
Japanese restaurant in the T/C Gallerija Centrs shopping mall
Coffee in Centrs.
Gift shop in Centrs.
Aspara Tea House
Lovely little place in the park on the south end of the canal.
- Riga, a city reveling in its culture – The Guardian
- Three days in Riga – Travel Codex
- What to do with 48 hours in Riga guide – Rucksack Rumblings
- Amateur Traveler podcast’s Riga episode
- Riga videos from The Endless Adventure vlog
Money, Language, Transport
Latvia is on the euro, but prices are much lower than the average European city.
English is widely spoken. Learn a few key phrases in Latvian to be respectful of the locals.
Most of the things for visitors are within walking distance of Old Town or Centrs districts. Buses, trams, and bike share are readily available. The airport small and well-designed, close to the city. Taxify is the most common taxi and ride share app.