The large, fun, and quirky capital of Latvia, Riga, has a ton of things to do, making it a great destination for a long weekend getaway. If you are a fan of history, architecture, or photography, then Riga may just be your perfect city escape. Read on find out about the best things to do in Riga, Latvia.
1. Old town
Riga’s old town is best explored on foot, so be prepared for walking along cobblestone streets and through quaint squares. The old town, which is the largest in the Baltics, has several important buildings, squares, and churches that you must see.
First, visit the House of Blackheads, which is an impressive pinkish, brick building with numerous sculptures and decorations adorning its facade. Here you can wander the Town Hall Square and enjoy the beautiful architecture and spires of the surrounding buildings. Next, walk along to the Dome Cathedral, which was built in 1211. It is the largest church in the Baltics and has been modified several times over the years.
Walk on to the Three Brothers, which is a row of buildings with three different architectural styles. The first building is the oldest stone building in Riga (from the 15th century), and was originally owned by a baker, which you can tell by the wheat carved next to the door. The other two buildings of the Three Brothers are from the 17th century and the 18th century.
Next, make your way to Riga Castle, which has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. It is now the official residence of the president of Latvia and houses two museums (the Museum of Foreign Art and the History Museum of Latvia).
Also in the old town, keep a lookout for the Cats’ House, which is an Art Nouveau building with two cat weathervanes and the Swedish Gate, which is the only remaining part of the former city wall. Regarding weathervanes, you’ll also notice that several of the churches have rooster weathervanes that date back to the 1200s (although they’ve been replaced over the years). The roosters are supposedly a symbol for luck.
2. Freedom Monument
Another site to visit on your walking tour of Riga is the Freedom Monument, which is difficult to miss as it is so tall (42 m/138 ft). This monument was built in 1935 and is a symbol of Latvian freedom. This tall, thin monument is topped by a statue of a woman holding three stars. The three stars represent the three cultural regions of Latvia (Kurzeme, Vidzeme, and Latgale). The surrounding park is also very nice and worth a stroll.
3. The Pharmacy Museum and The Latvian Museum of Photography
If you enjoy visiting museums, Riga has several that you may find interesting. My top two picks are the Pharmacy Museum and the Photography Museum. While these aren’t the magnificent museums of Paris or Rome, they are interesting and informative in their own right.
The Pharmacy Museum delves into the history of pharmacy, focusing on Latvia, and discusses plant medicine. The displays aren’t labeled in English, but there are informative pamphlets available in English and several other languages.
The Latvian Museum of Photography briefly describes the history of photography via informative displays and friendly staff. However the main exhibit is focused on Minox cameras, which were the original spy cameras and were originally produced on the outskirts of Riga. The display of a full disassembled Minox is particularly impressive and the short film about Walter Zapp, the founder of Minox, is informative (and in English).
There are several Latvian souvenirs and delicacies that you should purchase or taste during your weekend getaway to the capital of Latvia. Pienene is a nice design shop and cafe selling unique locally produced items. At Pienene you’ll find t-shirts, toys, bath products, clothing, handbags, homegoods, liquor, and more. Tasty souvenirs to bring home include Laima chocolate and Riga Black Balsam, which is an herbal liqueur thought to be restorative and good for health. Tasting Riga Black Balsam is essential for any visit to Latvia, although the taste may require some getting used to. Both Riga Black Balsam and Laima chocolates can be purchased in grocery stores and numerous shops throughout the city.
5. Art Nouveau
The number of Art Nouveau buildings in Riga has been recognized by UNESCO as the largest collection in the world. To identify Art Nouveau architecture, look for asymmetry, natural or human forms, folk motifs, and intricate details. Examples of Art Nouveau architecture can be found throughout the city, but are concentrated on Elizabetes iela, Alberta iela, and Strelnieku iela. If you are interested in learning more about Art Nouveau in Riga, you can visit the Art Nouveau Museum, which is on Alberta iela 12.
Preparing for your trip
It is convenient to fly into the Riga International Airport, which has flights from major European cities and flights from budget airlines. The average temperature in Latvia varies greatly depending on the season, but the hottest average temperature is 63 F (17 C) in the summer and 24 F (-5 C) in winter. Pack accordingly and keep in mind that you’ll probably want to bring some rain gear with you.
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