Visiting Riga but not sure of the most interesting places to visit? Lux Express gives you the lowdown on which places you should make a priority on your next trip to the Latvian capital.
With a population of 630,000 Riga is the biggest city in the Baltic states. Naturally, for a capital city of this size, there are bags of things to see and do, especially if you have the latest inside information from locals.
Riga for foodies
When it comes to food, the first place on your to-visit-list should be Riga Central Market, the biggest central market in the whole of Europe. The core of this incredibly fascinating bazaar is five former German Zeppelin hangars which date back to World War One. Today, they are used as buzzing food pavilions, full of produce from home and abroad.
It is unlikely you will ever have seen such a dizzying choice of milk products, vegetables, and fruit in your entire life as are being traded in the hundreds of outdoor market stalls and inside the gargantuan pavilions! Meat, fish, nuts, and aromatic spices are some of the other prominent goods being sold inside the pavilions, while outdoors everything from shoes, jeans, and flowers are on sale!
Food buffs should also visit Kalnciema Quarter on the opposite bank of the river Daugava. This is home to quirky food stalls and classy restaurants and hosts some excellent music events, as well as a regular farmers’ market.
For a unique dining experience with a view, visit the top floor of Galleria Riga shopping center where you will find a delightful concept bar and café Herbārijs. Food, drinks and cocktails inspired by the plant kingdom. A laid-back ambience, evergreen hospitality and a literally heavenly view. D’arte Terrace is a relaxed universe ready to host you day and night offering sophisticated food, extensive drink list and highest quality hookah. If you want to enjoy a grilled meal, 67 Grill&Lounge restaurant will be the perfect choice. BBQ chicken, pork ribs, grilled burgers, steak, coctails and a sophisticated wine list will please your taste buds.
Sports in Riga
Riga offers a surprisingly rich choice of sporting events and venues for visitors. Dynamo Riga plays in the Kontinental Hockey League, arguably the world’s most competitive hockey league after the NHL. This means you can enjoy the amazing atmosphere of 5000 or more fans lapping up the hockey and free-flowing beer, as pretty cheerleaders encourage their heroes at Arena Riga for the visits of teams such as Dynamo Moscow and Jokerit Helsinki.
Basketball fans can enjoy European club competition as well as internationals with the Latvian team currently ranked 27th in the world.
Motor racing enthusiasts should not miss out on a visit to the Bikernieki motor racing track on the edge of Riga when there is an event on. The track is in the middle of a gorgeous pine forest.
Football fans will have no problem catching a game between March and November with the Latvian Premier League featuring three clubs from the Latvian capital. Another 55 league clubs play in Leagues 1, 2, and 3 (regional), so there are always plenty of games to catch in Riga from Spring to late autumn.
Latvia’s most important waterway is the Daugava River, cutting a swathe through Riga before flowing out into the Gulf of Riga. Arguably the best way to enjoy the river is on a sunrise or sunset Stand Up Paddle Board! Guided tours start from Riga’s charming city canal before venturing out into the Daugava and the islands beyond. And if you don’t fancy a SUP then you can do the same tour by kayak!
Other sports that you can enjoy include rugby, beach volleyball, and winter sports such as ice skating, bobsleigh at nearby Sigulda (one hour away), and skiing and snowboarding on Zagarkalns’ 14 slopes. Visitors to Riga can also try their hand at kart racing, bowling, horseback riding, swimming, and shooting while visiting the city.
Music, events and nightlife in Riga
World-class opera, ballet, and classical music concerts are not only affordable but performances are numerous, and tickets are usually fairly easy to get your hands on at short notice. The Great Guild, Small Guild, and Riga Cathedral are in Riga Old Town, while the magical Riga Opera House is a two-minute walk away.
Many international mainstream music artists appear at Arena Riga throughout the year. For dance music events and nights out with Riga’s cool young things, you are best to venture beyond the Old Town, with Tallinnas Quarter, a former ambulance depot, one of the coolest current hangouts. Hidden courtyards and hipster-inspired bars are all the rage in Riga. Current popular party spots include Vest, Gauja, and the excellent KKC.
Nature in Riga
You are never far from nature in Riga. The centre of the city was painstakingly designed to encompass parks and canals, and the River Daugava cuts a swathe through the heart of the city. You can kayak to the city’s islands or jump on a tram to the delightful forest suburb of Mezaparks, which also has a beautiful lake and beach where you can swim or enjoy a coffee.
The great news for nature buffs is that the white sand beaches and gorgeous pine forests of Jurmala are only a 30-minute train journey away. Vaivari is a handful of stops further but you can partake of this delightful spot all to yourself. Not far from here is the otherworldly Kemeri Nature Park, an incredible bog which is traversed by wooden boardwalks. It is home to abundant birdlife and should not be missed at any time of the year!
Art in Riga
There is some fascinating street art in Riga which is a good excuse to set off on an exploration to find it! The massive and incredibly dramatic 800m2 street mural entitled “Saule, Perkons, Daugava” (Sun, Thunder, Daugava) on Tallinnas Street is arguably the most impressive in the city. The nearby Grizinkalns district has other street art worth discovering, as does the waterfront district of Andrejsala, and the down-to-earth Moscow district of the city.
Riga Art Space is a contemporary multifunctional art space with many interesting exhibitions, while the Latvian National Museum of Art, Riga Bourse Art Museum, and the lesser-visited Arsenals Exhibition Halls are all must-sees for art aficionados.
History in Riga
Riga is more than 800 years old and is an absolute treasure trove of history. From its UNESCO listed old town to its centuries-old wooden houses, reminders of the Soviet occupation, and the world’s largest ensemble of Art Nouveau buildings, the Latvian capital is a living, breathing museum.
History-lovers should not miss the wonderful Latvian Ethnographic Museum on the edge of the city, with almost 100 hectares of traditional Latvian life recreated for visitors. The Museum of the Occupation of Riga, the Corner House KGB building, and Riga Ghetto & Latvian Holocaust Museum offer sombre reminders and detailed history of the twentieth century.
Those wishing to learn more about Latvia’s colourful past should also visit the National History Museum of Latvia, and the Latvian Photography Museum. The Laima Chocolate Museum also offers history in a much sweeter form for visitors to the Latvian capital.
Science & technology in Riga
Latvia recently made world headlines as it unveiled a 6-metre high statue paying tribute to health care workers around the world fighting coronavirus. You can see the statue, which features a female medic with outstretched arms, outside the Latvian National Art Museum. Not far away, is the Zinoo Centre, a favourite with local kids who can enjoy and learn about science through loads of interactive exhibits. Those interested in technology should pay a visit to the fascinating railway museum (next to the National Library) as well as the Riga Motor Museum next to the Bikernieki race track, on the edge of Riga, where the eclectic collection includes numerous vehicles from the Soviet era.
Text: Graham Williams