When we arrived in Riga after a stuffy 5 hour bus ride from Lithuania, we weren’t exactly in a positive mindset. We were tired, cranky and hungry. It was dinner time, so the only thing we had on our minds was checking into our Airbnb as quickly as possible then finding something to eat. But as we started strolling through Old Town toward our Airbnb, we instantly felt our moods lift.
We’ve been to a lot of Old Towns during our 5 months exploring Europe. We’ve seen new-ish Old Towns, really old Old Towns, UNESCO world heritage site Old Towns…you get the point. We felt like we had seen them all. But Riga’s Old Town is one of the reasons why we enjoy traveling so much. Travel has a funny way of surprising you (especially when you’re certain that you’ve seen it all).
Old Town Riga has an undoubtedly magical feel about it. As we strolled through the winding cobblestone streets, the sun was setting behind beautiful churches and art nouveau buildings. Everywhere we turned, twinkling patio lights lit up the streets and people enjoyed meals in cozy restaurants.
Needless to say, we were immediately excited to spend two weeks in Riga. After all, if a city is full of life on a rainy Wednesday night in October, it’s probably always a good time.
25 Things To Do In Riga Old Town (Travel Guide)
Old Town Historic Sights
Old Town Riga is a historic part of Latvia, and there are a ton of great sights to see. This beautiful area is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight with a really interesting history. Old Town is often the first place tourists start when exploring Riga, and for good reason. It’s almost always recognized as the most beautiful part of the city, with tons of great restaurants and shopping.
But before you dig in at a delicious restaurant or head to a sparkling shopping center, it’s worth exploring the main historical sights in Old Town Riga. By visiting each of these sights and learning a little about each one, you’ll gain a much better understanding about Riga and Latvia in general.
Here are the main historical sights to see in Riga Old Town:
1. Town Hall Square
Town Hall Square is a great place to start your visit to Riga Old Town. It’s central, plus it has a ton of history. Since this square was heavily bombed and destroyed during WWII, it has since been rebuilt.
The Riga City Council meets in the reconstructed Town Hall Building, fairly normal looking building across the square from the House of the Black Heads.
2. House of the Black Heads
The House of the Black Heads is a magnificent bright red building that is used as a venue for all types of shows and exhibitions. Pictures truly can’t do this building justice. When we saw it for the first time as we came around the corner into Town Hall Square, it literally took our breath away.
The original House of the Black Heads was built back in 1334, but was destroyed during WWII bombings. A new House of the Black Heads was constructed in 1999, so it’s actually a fairly new building in Old Town.
3. Swedish Gate
The Swedish Gate is part of the wall that surrounded Riga during medieval times. This particular gate provided one of only a few entrances into town. Since the wall is so old, it was starting to fall apart and was restored in the 80’s and 90’s.
Even though it’s not the most exciting sight, it does make a great place to take pictures. It’s a popular spot for tour groups so don’t worry about journeying here one your own if you plan to take a tour of Old Town.
4. St. Peter’s Church
The beautiful St. Peter’s Church is a gothic style church that was built back in 1209. While very little of the original church remains today, it does have the tallest church tower in the entire city. The tower was built back in the 15th century, but ended up collapsing in 1666 and had to be rebuilt.
Today, visitors can pay a fee to climb the tower and view Riga from an amazing viewing platform. Don’t worry, it’s much more structurally safe today than it was back in the 1600’s!
5. Rozena Street
Rozena Street is one of the narrowest streets in all of Europe. If you stretch your arms out, you can touch both sides of the street. It’s a really pretty street to walk through since they’ve hung up string lights and flags.
6. Bremen Town Musicians Statue
The Bremen Town Musicians statue depicts a donkey, dog, cat and chicken stacked on top of one another. Believe it or not, this is actually a political monument. It’s supposed to depict a look of surprise in the animals’ eyes because they are peering through the iron curtain.
The sculpture was a gift from Riga’s sister city, Bremen, and was created back in 1990. We were surprised to see how popular this statue was! Tons of tourists we’re standing in line to take a picture with this statue and rub the animals’ noses. Perhaps for good luck?
7. Soviet Victory Monument
The Soviet Victory Monument is a very controversial monument in Riga. Built back in 1985, this towering monument was meant to symbolism Europe’s triumph over Nazism.
It’s hard not to notice the monument, since it’s nearly 80 meters tall. The future of this monument is unclear, so go see it while you still can.
8. Cat House
The Cat House has become an unofficial symbol for the city of Riga. While the story behind the two cats perched on the roof is unclear, it is a really cool bright yellow building to check out.
9. Riga Castle
Riga Castle is a very important part of Latvian history. It has stood along the Daugava River for over 700 years! It’s been destroyed and rebuilt several times since then, and today, it is the residence of the President of Latvia.
10. Riga Cathedral
The beautiful and historic Riga Cathedral was originally built back in 1211. Today, it is the seat of the Archbishop of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church. It represents a fusion of architectural styles, including Romanesque, Early Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau.
11. Riga Central Market
Riga Central Market is included with Old Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Made out of 5 zeppelin hangars, this is one of the coolest places to visit in Riga. Here, you’ll find any raw ingredients you might need to cook a tasty meal. While it’s not technically in Old Town, we had to included
While you’re at the Central Market, you have to visit Centrālais Gastro Tirgus, the hangar dedicated to delicious restaurants. You can order everything from traditional Latvian food to Asian food. We tried chicken wings, soup, pastries, Japanese food and everything in between. It was all delicious.
Things To Do in Old Town
12. Take a Tour
If you’re looking to gain a bit more of the historical context behind these beautiful sights, don’t hesitate in booking a tour! For a tour exclusively focused on Old Town, try the Old Riga Free Tour. The tour is about 2 hours long and covers a ton of great sights in Old Town.
If you’re looking to get outside of Old Town and see other parts of Riga, try the Riga Free Tour. The tour features the Central Market, the Moscow District and the City Centre.
13. Try Black Balsam
Black Balsam is a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur. It’s fairly popular in Riga, so it’s an interesting cultural experience to give it a try. We weren’t crazy about the taste (it reminded us a bit of cough syrup!) but we were glad that we gave it a try.
14. Go Shopping
The shopping in Old Town Riga is wonderful. There’s a great combination of smaller boutique shops and the big brands we all know and love. There are even ultra modern shopping centers that have everything from clothing and makeup stores to sushi restaurants and grocery markets.
15. Taste Latvian Chocolate
Latvian chocolate is delicious. Whether you go for a more traditional flavor like dark chocolate or try a more adventurous pistachio flavored truffle (pictured above!), you’ll love the decadent taste. There are chocolate shops all over the place just waiting to take your money! 😉
16. Experience the Nightlife in Riga Old Town
At night time, Riga Old Town comes to life. The streets light up with twinkle lights and cozy patio fireplaces, with people everywhere enjoying the sights. There are countless amazing bars to try, you can seriously just throw a stone and you’ll find one.
During the summer, you can pretty much enjoy the nightlife on any night of the week. During the cooler months, weekends are the best time to enjoy the nightlife. We went out on a rainy Friday night and loved how picturesque the city looked.
17. Spend a few hours getting lost
If you’re like us, then your first instinct is to do a ton of planning and research for your visit to Riga. But we noticed that part of the magic of Riga is that you can wander around and find beauty almost everywhere. Try to give yourself some free time to get lost and explore without anything on your agenda. Trust us, it’s worth it!
Initially, we had created a long list of sights in Old Town that we wanted to see. But when we actually started exploring Riga, we would just see something cool and then walk in that direction. We ended up discovering most of the historical sights on our own anyways. It was so much fun.
Best Restaurants in Old Town
18. For a medieval dining experience: Rozengrāls
Rozengrāls is an authentic medieval restaurant with an incredible atmosphere. This unique restaurant serves up massive plates of hearty food and has an extensive beer list. Stop by for an unforgettable evening in the heart of Old Town.
19. For authentic Latvian cuisine: Valtera Restorans
Valtera Restorans is beloved by locals and tourists. With a cozy yet casual interior, you can order some wonderful Latvian classics here like fish soup, salmon, and Latvian cheese. Make sure you make a reservation since this place is really popular!
20. For a decadent dessert: Black Magic
Black Magic is the restaurant where we tried Black Balsam and Latvian chocolate, so it holds a special place in our hearts! Located in an old pharmacy, this candlelit restaurant is perfect for a pre or post dinner beverage. They do have a food menu, if you’re interested.
21. For a fine dining experience: St. Petrus Restaurant
St. Petrus is a really popular restaurant for fine dining. Praised for their delicious food and excellent service, this is a great option if you’re looking to spend a little more for a high quality meal.
22. For a casual bite to eat: Hesburger
Hesburger is a burger chain based in Finland that is very popular in the Baltics. They have really good burgers at very affordable prices, so it’s worth trying if you’ve never been to a Hesburger before.
This is definitely not the place to go if you’re looking for a romantic candlelit dinner. But if you’re starving and want something quick to eat, this is your place!
Best Bars in Old Town
23. French Bar (La Belle Époque)
The French Bar is hidden away from the main hustle and bustle of Old Town. This means that it draws a more local crowd, which we love. It’s got a really laid back vibe and drinks are super cheap. If you enjoy no-frills bars, then this place is for you.
24. Rockabilly House
Rockabilly House is one of the more touristy bars, but it’s so cool that it’s hard to resist! This American-style bar is situated in the middle of a square and has a beautiful patio during the summer months and a closed-in glass eatery during colder weather.
They have a pretty good food menu, but the cool thing about this place is that they have beer towers. Good beer, hearty food, cool atmosphere…what’s not to like?
25. Bon-Vivant the Belgian Beer Cafe
Belgian Beer is our FAVORITE beer in the world. So when we walked by Bon-Vivant the Belgian Beer Cafe, we were stoked to see a bar specializing in beer from the beautiful country of Belgium. We knew we’d have to stop in.
They also have a yummy food menu with Belgian specialties like mussels. Yum!
Where To Stay in Old Town Riga
There are a lot of options for accommodations in Old Town Riga. Whether you are looking for a hotel, hostel or Airbnb, there is something for everyone.
We loved our Airbnb that we stayed in. The location was absolutely wonderful since it was right in the heart of Old Town. Plus, it had a full kitchen so we were able to cook when we felt like saving money.
The Wellton Riga Hotel & Spa is a wonderful option if you’re looking for a nice hotel. It is located in Old Town and has beautiful, spacious rooms.
For travelers on a budget, consider a stay at the Riga Old Town Hostel & Backpackers Pub. This is probably the most popular hostel in Riga, because many travelers enjoy socializing at the Backpackers Pub on the first two floors.
Final Thoughts + Best Time to Visit Riga
Riga is a really special city and it’s a beautiful place to visit at all times of the year. During our visit in October, the leaves were changing colors and everything seemed extra beautiful. We loved how the leaves were bright orange and yellow–it made everything more beautiful.
To be fair, it does get a little rainy and chilly in fall. But during the summer, there are far more tourists. There are pros and cons to visiting during any season, but know that Riga is beautiful no matter when you visit.
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