The largest city in the Baltic States and its only metropolis, Riga is a fantastic mixture of different kinds of heritage. A beautiful medieval Old Town, 19th century wooden houses, lavish Art Nouveau neighbourhoods and high-tech office towers make Riga one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. A large portion of its heritage was reconstructed and even old industrial complexes refurbished, opening spaces for new cultural and entertainment facilities. Additionally, forests and lakes surround the city, the Baltic sea just a step away. If you are visiting Riga for the first time this guide is for you!
What is Riga Like
Riga is located in central Latvia, where the Daugava River meets the sea in the Gulf of Riga. Riga Old Town is located just north of Daugava, in an area of roughly 500m x 1000m. A longitudinal park with a canal, where ancient city walls used to be, surrounds it. Several avenues circle the Old Town with main streets perpendicular to the river. Together they form the neighbourhood called Centrs (the Centre), where most of the public life takes place. The main street Brīvības crosses the whole city from the Old Town to its north-eastern end. The other bank of the river is sparsely populated with no real historical core or area of interest, except for isolated examples. The city centre is connected with the residential neighbourhoods through wide stretches of green areas.
What to See in Riga
As mentioned before most attractions are north of Daugava River. The Old Town is packed with historically important buildings. The lavishly decorated House of Blackheads, where merchants used to have their guild, is probably the most famous. A few steps away St. Peter’s Church has a distinct tall baroque steeple. Nearby Livu square is at the center of several important landmarks. Highlights include the Large and the Small Guild and the Cat’s House, whose owner decided to put two cats on the top pointing their tails towards the guild that rejected him! To the South, the Riga Cathedral is the seat of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the largest sacral building in Latvia. North of the Cathedral the Three brothers are fantastic examples of medieval residential buildings. In front of them there is another church with a tall steeple: St. James’s Cathedral, the main Catholic Church in the city. Riga Castle, the official residence of Latvia’s president, occupies the western end of the Old Town. North of the Old Town, across the city canal, Elizabetes and Alberta streets showcase the world’s best Art Nouveau heritage.
In Riga you should be well located if you are short of time. The best location to stay would be the Centrs or the Old Town. Though most expensive hotels are there, there are a plenty of budget hotels and guesthouses too. There are several hostels in the eastern end of the Old Town around Ridzenes and Kaleju streets. Across the city canal, near the train station, there is another area with cheap accommodation.
Riga is a relatively big city, with well developed public transport. The city is completely flat and traffic well organized. Most of the Old Town car-free so you can walk relaxed. Besides, there are large green areas all around the Old Town. Biking is a great option too, the city is bike friendly, and there is a public bike service easy to hire. Public transport consists of trams, trolleybuses and buses. All relatively cheap, reliable and easy to use. There is a variety of tickets, depending on your needs. At times there can be a lot of traffic so trams are recommended since they have the right of way. Taxis are cheap, but you should be careful about the route they are taking. Sometimes it’s not the fastest one, since they want you to pay more.
Riga owns its beauty to the historical importance it once had. One of the major trading spots in the Hanseatic League during the Middle Ages it emerged once again as an important city at the end of the 19th century. Most of the Old Town was built during the first golden period, while the Art Nouveau heritage materialized during said second period. In the interwar period it remained isolated together with the rest of Latvia and the Soviet Union, but since the independence it all changed rapidly. If you are visiting the Baltic States Riga is an obligatory destination on your route. Chic, cosmopolitan and modern it has a lot to offer!
Riga Travel Guide
- Stay in the Old Town or in the Centrs. Happy Frog recommends Mercure Centre Hotel
- The House of Blackheads and the Three brothers;
- Peter’s Church, Riga Cathedral and St. James’s Cathedral;
- Riga Castle and the Powder Tower;
- Large and Small Guild and the Cat’s House;
- The Kalnciema Kvartals across the river.
- Have dinner or lunch around Jacob’s Barracks in Torna street.
- By bike, on foot, by tram, trolleybus or bus.
- Go on an excursion to Jurmala and Sigulda.
DO NOT MISS:
- Get lost in the Old Town;
- Discover the Art Nouveau heritage around Elizabetes street;
- Shop at the Riga Central Market or at the Bergs Bazaar;
- Spend the afternoon in stylish Spikeri quarter;
- Visit the coastal city of Jurmala.
Read more about three Baltic Capitals HERE