The Best Things To Do in Riga for History, Culture and Great Food

By Abi King | East Europe

Nov 04

There are some pretty amazing things to do in Riga, Latvia, which is what you'd expect from a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But you might not expect them all. From respectable architecture to innovative cuisine, let me show you the highlights of Riga. It's a city on the up, but it’s also a place where the past is not so far away.

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Where is Riga?

 Riga is the capital of Latvia, the pocket-sized country in the middle of the three Baltic States in north-east Europe.

Things to do in Riga-look up at the spires via @insidetravellab

Beautiful Riga's Medieval Town Centre

Riga’s medieval town centre glistened in the morning sunlight like a child's box of treasure: cobbled streets with pale pink and blue facades, rough-slated spires and live music from stringed instruments played by lively arms in blooming blouses.

Relish getting lost in the side streets of the old city centre and look out for the tradition of the cat on the roof...

Where? Rīga, LV-1050

Things to do in Riga- Visit the haunting KGB Museum via @insidetravellab

The KGB Headquarters in Riga

A man waited, then spoke.

“If you look this way, at the glittering chandelier and the gold edged frames, the beautiful corridor. You see what communism looked like.

“At street level. What it was supposed to do.

“And if you follow me beyond this door, you will come to learn the reality.”

The blood-splattered prison cells grew smaller and darker and more and more terrifying the further into the building we went.

An unflinching look at Riga's past under communism. Visit the KGB museum.

Where? The Corner House between Brīvības Street and Stabu Street.

Did you know?

Architects call Riga the Art Nouveau Capital of Europe. The whole historic centre is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Revel in Riga's Art Nouveau

As it happens, Riga made a lot of money just as funky gargoyles and naked maidens came into fashion (in stone wall terms, anyway.)

As the Art Nouveau capital of Europe, Mikhail Eisenstein’s work grabs the headlines and even if you don't think you're interested in it, I'd highly recommend a walk around the Art Nouveau area. 

The Art Nouveau Museum focuses on local architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns and introduces newbies to the concept (as well as providing a chance to dress up in period costume and go instagram-tastic with the spiral staircase at the entrance.)

Book a guided tour or let the Art Nouveau Museum introduce you to this fascinating (and unashamed) period of history.

Where? Alberta iela 12, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1010

An Organ Recital at Riga's Dome Cathedral

A twenty minute organ recital at Riga’s Dome Cathedral cemented the spirit of Riga’s heyday: first as part of the Hanseatic League and then as a prosperous port - and part - of Sweden

It's a calming, contemplative atmosphere and a great way to encourage local musicians. 

Buy tickets in advance or at the door for a soothing recital in one of Riga's landmarks.

Where? Herdera laukums 6, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050

Skyline Bar

Claimed to have the best view in the whole city, this is where you come when you want to take in the city skyline. It's also the place to visit when you need a cocktail or two.

The cocktail menu is impressive. Each tempting creation is presented with a little tale about Latvia, so you see drinking one is as much an educational experience as it is enjoyable!

You can also grab a bite to eat too. The menu includes seafood, two pages of meat food and a few token vegetarian dishes. 

Where? Elizabetes iela 55, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1010

Nativity of Christ Cathedral

Known as "the Orthodox Church", the Nativity of Christ Cathedral has quite an unusual background. It survived both world wars, which is impressive in itself. More so though, I found it fascinating that in the early 1960s, Soviet authorities closed the cathedral, removed the crucifixes, and melted the bells to convert it into a planetarium. It was known as the Republic House of Knowledge.

However, since the late 1990s the beautiful building has been restored as a church and holds regular Orthodox services. Like many historical buildings the renovation project is ongoing. It's financed by public donations through the project 'Svet'.

Where? Brīvības bulvāris 23, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050

Eat Out

Eat at some of the best restaurants in Riga.

Head to this post for information on dining out in Riga, including my favourite restaurants and dishes.

Where to Stay

Grand Palace Hotel is in what is known as the Old Town, so it's a perfect location for exploring the city and enjoying the best things to do in Riga. 

As the name suggests it's a chic, luxurious hotel. It was built in 1877 and transformed into a 5 star (now 5 star-superior) boutique hotel in 2000. It's been named as Latvia's Leading Hotel for the past 13 years, so it really is the place to go if you want a memorable, classy experience.

Where? Pils street 12, Riga, LV-1050

More About Latvia

Day trips from Riga

My instagram piece on Riga for Lonely Planet


My travel to Latvia came about as part of a collaboration between iAmbassador and Latvian Tourism Development Agency with the support of the European Union Regional Development Fund. As ever, as always, I keep the right to write what I like.

And, as a special shout-out, I’d love to highlight the Grand Palace Hotel. Beautiful place, wonderful service, highly recommended. Enjoy!


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.