Things To Do In Riga

January 27, 2015
Art Nouveau Riga

As far as European travel destinations go Riga is easily one of the most underrated.
If social media is any indication of taste, it seems that Riga gets overlooked in favour of more 'obvious' cities like Paris which has its charms but beneath the la vie en rose-tinted glasses (or rather Valencia-tinted Instagram filters) is less of the postcard-perfect city idealistic travellers make out to be - after all Pinterest tends to crop out the rubbish, chaos, and street crime that plagues most over-saturated tourist destinations. Riga, from what I saw in my short stay, seemed to have none of those nuisances but all of the qualities that make up the fantasy of the perfect European city: perfectly manicured snow-lined boulevards devoid of crowds, pastel-hued pre-war architecture at every corner, friendly and helpful locals who speak perfect English, quiet streets you feel perfectly safe wandering about at night on your own, activities that offer both the refinement of a historical capital and the wilderness of the great country, and most importantly - Riga is inexpensive and easily accessible. Riga is not so much a postcard but almost a fairytale - it's easy to see why it was named European Capital of Culture 2014 but baffling as to why it hasn't yet been swarmed with hordes of tourists flocking with their selfie sticks. Yet quite a few travel bloggers have professed a desire to visit Riga, or that they've been and love it. Is this UNESCO world heritage site one of Europe's best kept secrets? Possibly. Should you visit Riga and see for yourself why it is Europe's unsung hero? Most certainly.


For one; if you love architecture and especially the romantic, expressive stylings of Art Nouveau, Riga is the city to be in. There is the Riga Art Nouveau Museum housed in the apartment of architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns but with about eight hundred buildings adorned in sensual curves, goddesses, and mythical creatures the Art Nouveau district is essentially a living, breathing museum of this art movement and certainly the biggest collection of its kind in Europe. I stayed at Gallery Park Hotel Riga in the 'quiet district' adjacent to many international embassies and the art nouveau district, and a ten minute wander from the hotel led me to an astonishing display of some of the most ornamental, detailed, and beautiful buildings I've ever seen, especially on Alberta Street. Did you know that a vast 600 square metre two-floor apartment in the Art Nouveau district is only €1-5 million? Can you imagine living in one of these?

Art Nouveau Riga

Art Nouveau Riga

Art Nouveau Riga


Art Nouveau Riga

Art Nouveau Riga

Art Nouveau Riga


For a list of some of Riga's most interesting Art Nouveau buildings, read here.

I wish I'd read that list before my visit but I'm happy to have discovered it all by accident!  

Riga's stunning architecture isn't confined to one district. The heart of the city - Old Town - is like a little gingerbread medieval kingdom juxtaposed the occasional steel structure, all of which is best seen from the tower of St. Peter's church. You take a lift to the fourth floor for €7 and you're rewarded with this view - 

Riga Latvia

Breathtaking, isn't it? 


There is also art to be seen at St Peter's, both outside and inside. For a list of art exhibitions and events at St Peter's, read here.  

Riga Latvia

The view from the ground is also stunning, if a little imposing. 

House of The Blackheads Riga Latvia

House of The Blackheads (such a funny name for a building - sounds like a hormonal teen's nose haha) a striking Gothic building with a Dutch Renaissance facade. In its day it was used to house single members of the merchants' guild who were also notorious party animals whose soirees and feasts were often attended by royalty in disguise. 

House of The Blackheads Riga Latvia





Another must-see in Riga is the Latvian National Opera House. Home to both the Latvian National Opera and the Latvian National Ballet, the LNO stages more than 200 performances during the  'season' (from September to June) with about six new productions every season of both opera and ballet. The LNO both pays tribute to the traditional values of the classical and contemporary forms of expression with productions of modern operatic and ballet masterpieces, children's performances, and original Latvian works. Recently the LNO has toured the world from Hong Kong Festival to the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, and to Luxembourg, Sweden, and Mexico. I treated Henry to a performance of Swan Lake for our first night in Riga and it was in the neo-classical grandeur of the LNO, beneath the Rigan moonlight that we were swept away by the magic of Tchaikovsky.

Latvian National Opera House Swan Lake ballet




Tickets are very reasonably priced, starting as low as €2! I booked my seats for Swan Lake - less than €30 for dress circle - through this website

If you have a taste for long, leisurely walks through the annals of time, you should visit the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum. Just a twenty minute taxi ride from the city centre (about €12) the Latvian Open-Air Ethnographic Museum is one of the oldest and largest open-air museums in Europe - a 'village' in a pine forest of 118 old buildings from historical districts of Latvia built from the end of the 17th century up to the second half of the 1930s that have been relocated, reconstructed and furnished so as to give you a peek into the lives of Latvian farmers, craftsmen, and fishermen.

Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum Riga Latvia




Henry and I strolled through the pine forest, crunching through icy leaves and walking on frozen ponds in what seemed like a time capsule of Latvia. We peered into huts, houses, teepees and from the furnishings - household and working tools, interiors and furniture we got a feel for the time period, the district, and the owners’ vocations. Everything was so serene because the open air museum is huge - even if there are many visitors they're spread out, so you often find that you have your side of the 'village' all to yourself, almost as though the inhabitants put down their tools and suddenly left in an exodus, leaving everything the way it was. That, or The Rapture cometh.


Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum Riga Latvia

Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum Riga Latvia


We walked out to the frozen river that separated the city centre from the Open Air Museum.



Husky sled Riga Latvia

Riga is the perfect base from which to explore the more outdoorsy aspect of Latvia. Henry and I drove an hour and a half away to a log cabin in West Riga where we drove a sled pulled by huskies, which I shall write a whole blog post about as I really want to do it justice!

These are just a few things we did in Riga - for a comprehensive list of things to do I suggest the Live Riga website - but in case you need more convincing about why Riga should be on your visit list, here they are:

1) Accessibility. It's only two hours to fly to from London and flights on Ryanair are ridiculously cheap - about £40 for a return!

2) Safety. For the first time I felt completely safe walking around an unfamiliar city at night in a fur coat with a Louis Vuitton handbag dangling off my arm. The street crime rate is practically zero.

3) Convenience. The currency is euros, everybody speaks English, and because Riga is so small you can easily do all of the sights and many activities in a long weekend - perfect for if you don't have time for a long holiday!

4) Price. While not the cheapest European city, most services are cheaper than London and taxis are honest and reasonably priced - a taxi from the airport to the city centre is no more than €12.

5) Variety. You get the both of both worlds - elegant refinement and adventurous outdoor activities - making this a perfect holiday for couples or a group with very different styles. AND you get to fire AK-47s at the local firing range. More on the latter, tomorrow! x

Photos 19, 20, & 21 courtesy of Latvian National Opera.

27 comments:

  1. Greetings from Jakarta! Love your photography and your travel stories, especially to lesser known travel destinations like Latvia. Those are seriously beautiful buildings.... thanks for sharing them with us on the other side of the world!

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    1. Hello Ren! I'm glad you enjoy my blog posts - I too am from your side of the world (Malaysia) and it's always been my dream to bring each side closer to the other through my blogging. I'd love to visit Jakarta someday and show my European readers more about Indonesia! x

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  2. wow the architecture is so beautiful! I love these photos. Makes me want to visit Riga now!

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    1. GO GO GO! Flights are so cheap and everything is so pretty (especially now that the city is covered in snow) - what are you waiting for?! x

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  3. This looks amazing, going straight to the top of my travel list!

    Rosie xx

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    1. Yay, I'm so glad! You should go NOW while everything is blanketed in snow, if not, go in summer! x

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  4. You made me want to go there.
    The park with the traditional houses must be amazing , reminds me of the similar ones I saw in Romania!

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    1. Yes the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum is so magical in winter - you really feel like you're time travelling into a town full of invisible people! x

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  5. I am definitely going to look into this for a weekend break. It looks so beautiful. I can't wait to read the husky post - they are such beautiful animals. All your photos are stunning!

    Katie <3

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    1. Thank you Katie! I'm so happy you're going to Riga, I think you'll love it! x

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    1. Thank you! Riga is every bit as beautiful as the photos promise, you should visit! x

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  7. So beautiful! I love colourful little cities like this. I must admit, I'd never really considered Riga before, but your gorgeous photos really do it justice. Also, that husky is pure love ;)

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad you think so! I'll blog about the huskies this weekend! x

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  8. Beautiful buildings! Riga's always been on my list though I'm more curious about the food. What's Latvian cuisine like? Love that last photo too :)

    steph / absolutely-fuzzy.com

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    1. Stephanie! I'll be blogging about restaurants in Riga this week - keep an eye out for that post! Thank you for reading! x

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    2. Awesome! So glad I found your blog again. I remember you from back in the penguin days... I'm from KL too :)

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  9. This brings back fond memories of my time in Riga. I love your photos of the Art Nouveau buildings, the icicle and the husky

    Suze | LuxuryColumnist

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  10. Thank you Jasiminne! Riga is my home city and i love it! It is really wonderfull to read your decription! Welcome! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhaIsQtKl4s

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  11. The view from St Peter's is just like a chocolate box scene - beautiful colourful buildings with a dusting of snow on the rooftops! Riga has never crossed my mind as a destination, but it seems to be a perfect spot to pick for a winter holiday in Europe. I can't get over that last photo of you frolicking in the snow with the huskies - talk about a perfect winter photograph! xx

    Tamsin / A Certain Adventure

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    1. It really is, isn't it?! When I was up on the observation deck I seriously wondered if the buildings tasted like sweets haha. YOU need to get to Riga and have your own winter magical moment with the huskies - make sure you have a camera on hand! x

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  12. Riga looks absolutely amazing, as do yourself and Henry! You're so right, Latvia isn't yet on the radar as a place to go to, but I'll be going there myself in 2 months time. Thanks for sharing. Your photos are lovely. :)

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    1. aaaah you're going to Riga in spring, lucky you! I'm glad my blog posts were helpful! x

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  13. aaaah you're going to Riga in spring, lucky you! I'm glad my blog posts were helpful! x

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  14. WOW! Makes me want to book a ticket there ASAP :)

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