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48 Hours in Riga

Old Town Riga, Latvia, as seen from St. Peter's

Riga is a brilliant mix of the old and the new. At any moment on a walk through this lovely city, you could glimpse a 700-year-old church next to a modern store next to a new building that was reconstructed to look old. This blend of architecture and interests means there’s something different around every corner and in every square. With its bustling markets, refreshing open spaces, and pieces of history everywhere you look, Riga quickly became my favorite city on my tour through the Baltics. Here’s a look at some of the fun things to do in Riga, Latvia, if you have 48 hours to explore.

Visiting the Central Market in Riga, Latvia, is one of the best things to do in the city.

Visit Riga’s Central Market

Built in 1930, the Central Market is the largest in Europe, serving as many as 80,000 people a day. It is made up of five massive former Zeppelin hangars, each of which sells different types of products. Wandering among the sections, you see everything from pig snouts to flowers to fresh cheese. And, of course, pickles.

An interesting place for tourists, the market is very much geared toward locals doing their weekly shopping. There are fewer cafes and opportunities to sample items than I’ve seen in other European markets, but if you ask nicely, you might just be able to get a bite of the day’s specialty.

Visiting the House of the Blackheads on an Old Town tour is one of the best things to do in Riga

Take a walking tour in Old Town

Riga’s walkable Old Town is full of history and lots of beautiful buildings. My favorite was the House of the Blackheads just around the corner from my hotel. Originally built to house the Blackheads guild in the 14th century, the Gothic-Dutch Renaissance building was destroyed by a combination of World War II bombing and the takeover of the Soviets. It was reconstructed in 1999 and is impossible to walk by without taking (several) photos.

Other sights worth visiting in Old Town include Riga Castle, Riga Cathedral, and Dome Square. Also in Old Town (but not “old”) is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, which tells the story of the 51 years Latvia spent occupied by Germans and Russians.

View of Old Town Riga, Lativa from above. Getting this panorama view of the city from St. Peter's Church is one of the best things to do in Riga.

See the city from above at St. Peter’s

St. Peter’s Church in Old Town offers the best bird’s-eye view of Riga. Take the clanking elevator up to the panoramic viewing platform for magnificent views of Old Town, the Central Market, and the river. Afterward, spend a few minutes walking around the 13th century Lutheran church – it is sparsely decorated but sometimes houses art exhibits. At €9, the price is a bit steep, but, if the weather is nice, it’s definitely worth a stop during your 48 hours in Riga.

Livu Square is a great place to people watch in Riga, Latvia

Enjoy one of the squares

Riga is a series of squares filled with cafes, shops, and historic buildings. Take some time out from sightseeing to rest your feet. Grab a seat and try some local food or relax with a cold beverage while you enjoy the ambiance.

One of the Art Nouveau buildings in Riga, Latvia. Visiting this neighborhood is one of the unique things to do in Riga.

Wander the Art Nouveau neighborhood

Only one kilometer from Old Town is the city’s Art Nouveau district centered around Alberta, Elizabetes, and Strelniku streets. The 100-year-old buildings here are unique to say the least.

The Art Nouveau movement in Riga (and, indeed, throughout Europe) was a rejection of everything plain, which is apparent as you stroll the streets. As you gaze up at the facades, faces, animals, and unusual things stare back. A walk in this historic neighborhood will only take about an hour and is certainly one of the most interesting things to do in Riga, even if you’re not usually excited by architecture.

The Nativity of Christ cathedral in Riga, Latvia

Step inside the Nativity of Christ Cathedral

The gleaming golden dome of the Nativity of Christ Cathedral is impossible to miss and beckons visitors inside. The orthodox cathedral was originally opened in 1884 and served as a house of worship before the Soviets took it over in the 1960s. Under their reign, this lovely building was used as a planetarium and even a cafe. Now restored to its original purpose, the interior is a feast for the eyes, brilliantly decorated with Neo-Byzantine art. Take a quick peek inside, if only to gaze at the massive, unexpected neon sign.

Kalnciema market in Riga, Latvia.

The market had a Spanish theme during my visit

Head to the Kalnicema Quarter

Across the River Daugava about 20 minutes from Old Town is the Kalnicema Quarter, a bustling hub of fun things to do in Riga. This area is renowned for its wooden architectural heritage but is popular for the numerous events that happen here.

Concerts, movies, art exhibitions, and markets mean this area is always buzzing with activity. Its Saturday markets are particularly popular with locals and tourists, so get there early if you want some of the great food available.

Enjoy a Black Balsam cocktail in Riga, Latvia

Try a sip of Black Balsam

Riga’s traditional drink, Black Balsam, is a 90-proof herbal liqueur. Drunk straight, it’s pretty strong and has a bit of a medicinal taste. To make it more palatable, it is often mixed with schnapps or in drinks like coffee, Coke, or black currant juice. We enjoyed it expertly crafted in a cocktail.

We explored the Baltics as guests of JayWay Travel and stayed at Hotel Justus in Riga. As always, opinions are our own.

Have you been to Riga? What was your favorite thing to do there?

There are so many great things to do in Riga, Latvia, even if you only have 48 hours to spare | 48 Hours in Riga

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What do you think about 48 Hours in Riga?

  1. Tami July 28, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

    Enjoyed this beautiful post about Riga…there are so many places I’d like to, and this is just another one of them!

  2. Edith Rodriguez July 29, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

    The architecture is beautiful! I’ve never heard of Riga but it seems like a place I’d enjoy visiting!

    • Laura Longwell July 29, 2015 at 9:06 pm #

      It’s a lot of fun, especially if you have the chance to tack on a visit to any of the other Baltic countries.

      • BILAL August 5, 2015 at 3:55 am #

        Plz tell me that how to get latvia study visa …….
        i like this country very much…..
        me from pakistan ….. thnx in advance …

        • Laura Longwell August 6, 2015 at 12:27 am #

          Sorry, but I don’t know anything about the visa requirements.

  3. Heather @ Ferreting Out the Fun August 7, 2015 at 4:01 am #

    Yay, I’m so glad you loved Riga! Hopefully word will get out about this awesome city and the tourists will come!

    • Laura Longwell August 11, 2015 at 5:09 pm #

      It’s a great city. I’d love to come back some time!

  4. Deanna August 7, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

    I have been to Riga twice, once in December and once in July.
    I loved it both times but did prefer July. It was really cold in
    December but wanted to check out the Christmas markets. I
    Was not disappointed. Riga is a beautiful city, easy to walk around
    And I love all the parks and green spaces. The food was great and
    always presented beautifully. It is easy to take side trips too. Their
    transportation system is great. I do hope to go back as it has been one
    of my favorite cities to visit.

  5. Vanessa August 26, 2015 at 6:24 am #

    Thanks for a great post go Riga. I’m planning a trip for next summer that includes Latvia and your tips will come in useful. The architecture looks amazing!
    Vanessa at Green Gloabal Travel

  6. Victor August 31, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

    I never tire to visit Riga. It is so comfortable city.

  7. Joy @MyTravelingJoys September 25, 2015 at 5:37 pm #

    We spent about 48 hours in Riga AND stayed at Hotel Justus as well. Such a pretty city! During winter, they serve the basalm hot like a mulled wine. It was delicious! 🙂

    • Laura Longwell September 27, 2015 at 10:55 pm #

      I bet the city is beautiful and the balsam is delicious. Would be fun to see it that way.

  8. Jesper, The Biveros Effect January 16, 2016 at 4:35 pm #

    Thank you for nice suggestions, Riga is for sure a really nice city. 🙂

  9. Valeriia February 20, 2016 at 5:50 am #

    We loved Riga more than any other Baltics capital!
    Most of all I loved taking a bike and going to the seaside. 🙂
    Did you like the Black Balsam?

    • Laura Longwell February 20, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

      Riga was my favorite, too 🙂 I didn’t try Black Balsam straight, but it was great in the cocktail I had.

  10. Lance Longwell August 27, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

    Thanks for including us in your travel itinerary.

  11. Caitlin August 29, 2016 at 7:16 am #

    I never thought to put Riga (or even Latvia!) on my travel to-do list but it definitely is now. Great post!

  12. Bethan December 6, 2016 at 11:01 am #

    This has made me very excited for my trip to Riga in march which was booked yesterday!
    Thanks for the tip!!
    Bethan xx

    • Laura Longwell December 6, 2016 at 5:49 pm #

      That’s great. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  13. Stephanie December 29, 2016 at 8:04 pm #

    Riga is high on my list of places to visit for my next Europe trip! Love the old world charm, colourful buildings and I hope to get there soon!

  14. Anna January 22, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

    Thanks for cool tips!!! 🙂
    I just came back from Riga and I love it!!! Can’t wait to go back in April!!! 🙂
    Location is the most important for me, I don’t like to waste my precious travel time in public transportation. I better walk and enjoy the view. I stayed in gorgeous place in Old Town and I could just walk everywhere. Old Town is so beautiful and I love the historic buildings.
    My Riga favorites:
    1. Old Town – so romantic and lively
    2. Opera – feels like fairytale and prices are so good
    3. Restaurant Biblioteka No 1. – simply delicious and really nice atmosphere
    4. Skyline Bar in Radisson Blue – so much fun & feels like you are in heaven
    5. Best Airbnb I have stayed in my life + super helpful and friendly host

    I have seen many amazing places in my life and I always love to add new secret treasures. You have really cool blog!!! 🙂

    • Laura Longwell January 22, 2017 at 2:14 pm #

      Thanks, Anna. The photo of our cocktails is actually from Restaurant Biblioteka — great place.

  15. Cm August 26, 2018 at 12:13 pm #

    Definitely need to plan a trip to Riga soon. Obviously this is for 48 hours but how long would you suggest staying? I love to do everything I can when seeing somewhere and am worried about not having enough time.

    • Laura Longwell August 26, 2018 at 8:16 pm #

      I think three days would give you enough time to see everything and be leisurely enough to enjoy it.

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