If you’ve been to Riga, you know why we’ve had a crush on it for a while. Latvia’s capital city is a place you could spend a lot more than 24 hours, but if that’s all you’ve got, it’s well worth a quick visit. Being more than 800 years old, Riga is brimming with history, but it’s also got a lot more going for it, including being the cultural capital of the Baltics. We have you covered for the best things to see, do, and eat during a short stay.
Start your day with a visit to the city’s Central Market. Located in one of Riga’s most iconic buildings, the market first opened in 1930 and was regarded as the largest and most progressive marketplace in Europe. Set in five massive pavillions, which at one time were military airship hangars, it’s got plenty to explore while you’re there. During the morning the place comes alive and the stalls are filled with products from all over the country. The market is the perfect place to grab some fresh pastries and a cup of coffee while people-watching or perusing local goodies.
After fuelling up at the Central Market, it’s time to visit some of the historic neighbourhoods of Riga, which are home to many of the architectural masterpieces that make the city so famous. These noteworthy neighbourhoods include Riga’s quiet centre, which is also referred to as the Art Nouveau District. This area highlights Riga’s place as Northern Europe’s Art Nouveau capital with its many buildings depicting the famed architectural style.
Next up, head to nearby Old Town where you can stroll the cobblestone streets of the oldest section of Riga, included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1997. As you explore the winding streets you’ll come across St. Peter’s Church, the tallest in Riga. Take the elevator up to the tower observation deck for beautiful views over the city. After snapping some pictures of the panoramic view, head back down and continue exploring Old Town, with its many historical buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, and galleries.
If you’re in need of a rest stop after getting a feel for the city and what it has to offer, make your way to Apsara Tea House just a few minutes from Old Town. The treehouse-style café boasts huge windows and makes the perfect spot to relax thanks to the pillows and blankets that boost the comfy factor. Relax with a tea while looking through the glass walls watching the city go by.
When you’re ready for lunch, head back to Old Town following your coffee or tea stop to Domini Canes, known as one of Riga’s best restaurants among both locals and tourists. It’s a cozy place that offers friendly service and excellent quality for a decent price.
After a hearty, tasty meal, go for a walk from Old Town towards Miera iela, Riga’s bohemian quarter (it’s take about 20 minutes). Miera iela, or Peace Street, is a calm, relaxing part of town and consists of one street, lined with many artsy cafés, art galleries, vintage stores, bars, and trendy shops, all perfect for hunting down unique souvenirs and keepsakes. This up-and-coming neighbourhood is gaining popularity among locals but is still relatively unknown by tourists, so make sure to include this on your trip.
Spend your evening in Riga back in Old Town. In terms of where to eat dinner, if you asked a local where the number-one place is to eat in Riga, chances are high they’d tell you to go to Lido Atpūtas Centrs. Lido is Latvia’s most successful culinary project and is an ever-growing chain of restaurants throughout the country. It’s a self-service restaurant with a beautiful wooden traditional Latvian interior, and staff are dressed in traditional clothes. There is a wide range of Latvian dishes and local drinks and it’s the ideal way to get a taste from many different recipes.
After dinner, stick around Old Town for a drink or two. The whole area is filled with many bars and clubs so there are lots of options for anyone wanting to experience nightlife in Riga. Be sure to check out Skyline Bar to have a cocktail with one of the best views of the city from their rooftop bar. There are four different Lido restaurants around Old Town so it’s either a 45-minute walk back to the centre or a taxi ride, which shouldn’t cost more than EUR 6.
For travellers on a short visit, we’d recommend having a layover that will allow you to spend two to three hours in the city centre, and another 45 minutes to an hour for travelling to and from the airport. All told, budget five hours to make sure you have enough time for everything you want to see and do, plus getting back to the airport.
The best way to get from the airport to the sites is by taking Bus 22, which has direct service between the airport and the city centre. The bus comes every 10 to 30 minutes and your trip to the centre will be about 30 minutes. To find it, look for the bus stop located opposite the terminal behind car park P1.
You can also take the airport express shuttle bus, which can be found near the exit of the “E” terminal arrivals hall and the shuttle. It will get you into Old Town, and departs every 30 minutes.
If you want to see Riga in two hours in the morning or afternoon, make Central Market your sightseeing goal for a short stopover in the city. Riga’s Central Market is huge — it’s set in five different pavillions — so there’s plenty to explore and makes for a great way to get a taste for local life. Wander around, grab a bite to eat and do some people-watching.
If you’re in Riga for an evening or nighttime layover, spend some time in the Old Town. Cobbled streets and charming little houses and cosy cafés are the reason why Old Town is so loved and special. It’s also the ideal place to have a drink or dinner. If you do want to eat something, be sure to check out the aforementioned Domini Canes.