What to see in Riga in 3 days – Top 12 Sights
The austere silhouettes of Catholic churches, incredibly beautiful views and the spirit of the Middle Ages in the streets – all this is about Riga. The capital of Latvia is not far away, so you can visit the city at the weekend. If you have only three days to spare, it is worth preparing a travel itinerary in advance and not to lose another second. From the article you will learn where to go in Riga, in which sequence it is best to do it.
Independent walking route
St. Jacob’s Cathedral
St. Jacob’s Cathedral is one of the most interesting places in Latvia. According to history, in the past this structure was located outside of the ancient city. The cathedral was constantly visited by the inhabitants of the nearby settlements. Changes in the life of the city brought the seventeenth century, as a result of anti-Catholic riots, this church was completely destroyed. Then it was converted to Lutheranism.
Cathedral of St. James
The cathedral is famous for the fact that during its history it constantly changed hands from one denomination to another. In the seventeenth century the assignment was again destroyed by several shells hitting its facade. One of these shells was later used to make an exhibit outside the cathedral. Two more shells remained embedded in the walls of the church. Today they are symbols of that era and serve as a reminder of the siege of Riga.
The building is of architectural value. If you go inside the church, you can see a very unusual for Riga decoration of the building. Inside, a very rare type of mahogany was used to decorate the pulpit. Stained glass windows attract the attention of tourists with their extraordinary beauty.
After visiting St. Jacob’s Cathedral, it is worth moving on to another Catholic church in the Latvian capital, the Church of Mary Magdalene. This church used to be part of an old monastery, which has not survived to this day. After seeing the Church of Mary Magdalene, you can move on to view the Riga Castle.
Riga Castle is of great historical importance not only for the Latvian capital, but for the whole country. The building is located on the bank of the river Daugava. In the past it was used by the Livonian knights. Over the years, the building has changed its appearance, because it was often taken over by various nations. Poles, Swedes and even Russians made their changes. As soon as Latvia received its independence, the Castle of Riga was immediately granted the status of the Presidential Palace.
The Castle of Riga
If you haven’t been to Riga before and aren’t familiar with its history, you’re unlikely to have noticed this little arch in one of the houses. The Swedish Gate is a symbol of culture, architecture. In ancient times, this part of Riga was ruled by the Swedish people. At a rapid pace, the city was being rebuilt under Swedish rule. The construction was so dense that a small arch with gates had to be made to connect the inner part of the city with the outer. The gate opened early in the morning and closed after sunset. Today the gates themselves are not at the arch. It is the only such structure of the time, which is so well preserved. Seven more arches of the ancient city have not survived to this day.
In the Middle Ages, Riga was protected by a large fortress wall against enemy attacks. Little remains of the wall to this day. Tourists can now admire the preserved gunpowder tower. In the seventeenth century it was used to store gunpowder. Thus appeared the name of the tower. Today you can visit the military museum, which is located inside the structure.
Large, Small Guild, Liv Square
Another historical monument in Riga is considered to be the Large and Small Guilds. These structures were built, then used by the merchant organization and association of craftsmen of Riga. The large building was occupied by merchants and the small building by artisans. The large guild is considered one of the oldest public buildings in the Baltics. Nowadays the Philharmonic Hall is located there.
Livova Square offers a very good view of houses of various styles in Old Riga. In the summer, you can spend a pleasant time here in one of the cafes, listen to local musicians, and buy souvenirs.
The figure of a woman who is nine meters high cannot go unnoticed by any tourist who has been to Riga at least once. Monument is a symbol of freedom, independence of the Republic of Latvia, which is located on the main street of the capital. The woman holds three gold stars in her hands. The monument is clearly visible from the city’s observation points.
Riga History Museum, Dome Cathedral
Dome Cathedral is one of the largest surviving churches of the Baltic states. This building was built in the Middle Ages, and it is very well preserved up to now.
The construction of the church began in 1211 under the direction of German craftsmen, its founder was Albert von Buxhoeveden. Under the bishop’s indefatigable control, the construction of the church continued until 1270. After the completion of the cathedral, several more changes were made to its construction. In the sixteenth century a tower was added to it. Later masters of this epoch tried to put a wooden spire on top of the cathedral, but they failed to increase the height of the construction. Only in the eighteenth century craftsmen managed to build a spire in the form of a dome.
When visiting this place it is necessary to pay attention to the state of the construction, the level at which it is in relation to the ground. The fact is that an impressive part of the building is underground. This is due to a natural feature of the Latvian capital – regular flooding of Riga streets, bringing with it sand and gravel. Gradually the level of the ground rose, filling up the building.
It is easy to get inside the church. Inside the cathedral, note its Gothic interior, which has elements of Baroque style. At the end of the nineteenth century, a leading German company built a huge organ inside the cathedral. It is still used to this day for concerts and performances. This impressive construction is made using different materials – several types of wood, different metal alloys.
From the Dome Cathedral, you can walk to the Riga History Museum and the Maritime Museum. Riga History Museum is one of the oldest museums in Latvia. In the museum you can see a huge collection of art, history, science, see figurines of miniature ships.
Not far from the Dome Cathedral is located construction that consists at once of three separate buildings. These buildings were built in different eras, located next to each other. They are well preserved and convey the atmosphere of the past. The buildings are painted in different colors.
The white building was erected at the end of the fifteenth century. The construction of the yellow one began only in the middle of the seventeenth century, and the green building was built in the eighteenth century.
After viewing the exterior of the buildings, you can move on to the interior. Visit the Latvian Museum of Architecture, which is located in the house of yellow. There you can see unusual staircase designs, extremely high ceilings for the houses of that era, and many other details of the medieval interior.
St. Peter’s Church
The high spire of St. Peter’s Church is considered one of the symbols of the Latvian capital. It is most recognizable and its image is often used to create souvenir products. St. Peter’s Cathedral was first mentioned in 1209. The church was built with donations from local residents of various professions, classes. The erection of the structure united the inhabitants of the city.
St. Peter’s Church
The original design of the building has not been preserved very well. Even in our time you can notice elements of the Gothic style when you first look at the building. Most of all about the Gothic style, which used to be inherent in the building, says its central part. History has made its adjustments to the appearance of the building, more and more the church turned into another baroque building.
The church was under reconstruction because of the bombing during World War II. The building was badly damaged, it was almost completely destroyed. At the end of the hostilities, the authorities decided to rebuild the cathedral, to rebuild the high spire, which is now a symbol of Riga. The church was so badly damaged as a result of the war that its restoration continued from 1954 to 1983 (the last stage of reconstruction of the internal premises was completed).
Attentive tourists will notice the clock on the building, which still works, showing the exact time. However, there is only one hand on the clock. If you are lucky, you will hear the sound of the clock, a folk melody that plays at that moment.
From the observation deck of the tower there is a beautiful view of the Latvian capital. Must take the opportunity to visit this place. You do not have to climb to the very top by yourself, a special elevator was built in the building. The observation deck is located at a height of 72 m above the city, with a good view of the river and all the buildings.
The second part of the church is worth seeing. Here you can see the monument to Bremen musicians, which was presented to Riga by the Germans. There is a belief that the monument to the Town Musicians of Bremen makes wishes come true. Rub the nose of a donkey or a statue of some other character in the composition and your wish will come true.
Town Hall Square, Riga City Hall
When visiting the Old Town, you should certainly visit the Town Hall Square and admire the Riga City Hall. The town hall is situated next to the House of Blackheads. In the past this place served as a huge trading platform for the local population. It wasn’t possible to preserve its primeval appearance because of the outbreak of World War II. Most of Riga was almost completely destroyed at the time, including the town hall. Modern architects restored the medieval appearance of the ancient city according to information from various historical sources.
Riga City Hall
Nowadays the town hall is a seat of Riga City Council.
A visit to the central Riga market is a must, because here you will find the best souvenirs in the entire Latvian capital. There are many noisy pavilions, where you can not only buy a beautiful souvenir, but also try the national cuisine.
Riga market is interesting in the neighborhood of one very famous street – Jauniela Street. Exactly on this street was filming of the movie about Sherlock Holmes, in the movie the street was depicted as Baker Street. The apartment of Sherlock Holmes is also located here.
During your stay in the area of Riga Market it is worth visiting the House of Blackheads. Here you can learn the history of the architectural complex from the locals. It is in this part of the city that you can find most of the buildings made in the Art Nouveau style.
Victory Park on the banks of the Daugava
If you are going to visit Riga, you should definitely go to Victory Park. This historic place was completely destroyed in 1909. After the reconstruction of the park took place, the opening was attended by Emperor Nicholas II. The park is interesting because of its location on the banks of the Daugava. From the center you can get by streetcar, you need to go just two stops.
Victory Park on the banks of the Daugava
In the wintertime in the park you can rent skiing equipment, drive along a 1250 m long track. In the summer you can sit on the lawn, do yoga. Incredibly beautiful pictures of nature make you forget that you are in the center of a modern European city.
Right from the Victory Park you can go to Arcadia Park. In the middle of the nineteenth century the authorities decided to plant exotic trees in the place of a wasteland in the Latvian capital. Since then, Arcadia Park has been considered a green oasis among the stone jungle. In addition to unusual plants in the park you can see a whole system of waterfalls and streams.
Latvian Ethnographic Museum
When visiting Riga, tourists rarely pay attention to museum tours. Latvian Ethnographic Museum deserves attention, it is one of the largest museums in Europe.
Here you can see the characteristic style of Latvian buildings, get acquainted with the cultural customs of the inhabitants of the Baltic countries, the local craftsmen. Tourists can make their own souvenirs in one of the pottery workshops.
Buildings for the ethnographic museum were collected from all over Latvia and brought to Riga. In the past, these buildings belonged to representatives of different classes. Museum founders have tried to accurately convey the atmosphere of ancient Latvia, its cultural traditions.
Tours of Old Riga from locals
You can book an excursion route around Old Riga while planning your trip or find a guide on site. The initial cost of a group tour of the city is 10 euros. The more you want to hear and see from your guide, the more you will have to pay for such a walk through ancient Riga. But you can learn all the historical data about the most famous sights of the Latvian capital.
The average duration of sightseeing tour in Old Riga is 2-3 hours.
Trip to Riga, tips for independent travelers
No matter whether you are an experienced traveler or a first-time traveler to Europe, you are quite capable of organizing a trip to Riga on your own. Without dwelling on the advantages of the city, as we have written about many times, here are five steps for planning a trip on your own.
Let’s assume that you have decided on the destination, the budget, and the participants of the trip. The first step is planning the time of the trip.
Planning a trip to Riga
Riga is a very popular city among tourists, each year it is visited by more than a million visitors, and the city council plans to increase this figure to 1.5 million tourists a year. And it is with a population of 700 thousand inhabitants, that is, for one Riga resident accounts for 1.5 tourists.
But still, we hasten to calm you, even in the peak period, tourists are dispersed over Riga and Jurmala in such a way that for Muscovites the city can seem deserted.
The best period to visit Riga is from May to August, as well as Christmas and New Year holidays. If you are planning a trip at this time – make sure you have a hotel and tickets for transportation 2-3 months in advance.
If you prefer a quieter atmosphere, you should come in the second half of April, or from September to mid-October.
Tourist flow goes down, but the weather often brings warm sunny days. In addition, hotels at this time cut hotel rates, so you can save up to 30-50% of the summer room rates. Below we will share the secret of how to book a hotel in Riga in the most advantageous way.
So we assume that the trip time is planned, and it’s time to think about the entry visa.
Viewpoint of Latvian Academy of Sciences is located in the Stalinist skyscraper at the level of 65 meters. From there you have a panoramic 360 degree view of the city: you can see the Central Market, the Old Town and even the television tower. The views are picturesque, but it is rare to see more than a couple of people on the site. Admission costs 5 € (356 P).
Central Market is one of the largest and oldest markets in Europe. It is a colorful place: here they sell fresh cheeses, rye bread, sauerkraut, smoked and fresh fish, meat, vegetables, fruits and delicious local dairy products.
At the market I suggest snacking on a sprat sandwich for 1.5 € (107 P) and fish hodgepodge for 4.5 € (322 P). They are sold at the iconic Latvian café Siļķītes un dillītes, translated from Latvian as “herring and dill”. It is located in the passage between the fish and vegetable pavilions.
For 90 years, Riga Central Market has been located in hangars that were originally built for airships.
Boat trip (on the map – Riga by canal). Comfortable and lazy way to see the most beautiful places of the city without getting up – the river walk. On the route there are four ships. The ship “Darling” is more than a hundred years old, the others were made in its likeness in the 21st century. The boats leave from the pier of the Bastion Hill, which is on the right side of the Freedom Monument.
The route runs along the Riga City Canal past the National Opera, the Central Market, and the Spīķeri neighborhood. Then the ship goes along the river Daugava, where you can see the Latvian National Library, through the passenger port, yacht club and Kronvalda Park.
The walk lasts one hour and costs 18 € (1,281 P) per person. Until September 15, 2019, there is a 3 € (214 P) discount on the ticket with this coupon. The boat leaves every half hour, but if the weather is bad, the flight can be cancelled.
The route of the boat passes by the building of the Latvian National Library. In Riga it is called the Castle of Light. It has 4 million books
Old Town, or Vecriga, is an area in the very center of the city by the Daugava River. People come here to look at the spires of Riga’s towers, take pictures of the narrow streets and ancient houses, which now house restaurants, bakeries, souvenir and amber stores. There is also the Riga Castle, the residence of the president. Wear comfortable shoes when walking: the streets are paved, so your heels get stuck between the stones.
The most popular square in the Old Town is Dome Square. In summer it’s a pleasant place to have an open-air dinner or a glass of beer, and in winter you can warm up by the fire, where they make hot wine with spices, and buy Christmas gifts at the annual Christmas market. You can also go to the Dome Cathedral for a concert of organ music. Tickets cost 10-20 € (720-1440 P), check the website for the schedule.
In the Old Town on Jauniela Street was filmed the Soviet film “Sherlock Holmes and” Seventeen Moments of Spring “. The street is small, the walk takes five minutes The oldest complex of apartment buildings in Riga is called “Three Brothers”. These are houses No. 17, 19 and 21 on Maza Pils Street.
House of Blackheads on Town Hall Square is the most luxurious building and one of the main attractions of Riga. The original 14th-century structure was destroyed during World War II, but the house was restored to its former glory in 1999.
Usually travelers are limited to seeing the facade of the building. You can go inside to see halls with crystal chandeliers and painted ceilings, collections of jewelry, paintings and ceramics. Admission ticket for adults costs 6 € (430 P), for pupils, students and pensioners – 3 € (215 P), for children of preschool age admission is free.
Not far from the House of Blackheads there is a memorial plaque similar to a manhole. It says that in the 16th century, the first Christmas tree in the world was installed there. Now the city’s main Christmas tree is also placed on Town Hall Square.
St. Peter’s Church is one of the oldest buildings in Riga. It was first mentioned in chronicles in 1209.
The spire of the church can be climbed and there is a popular sightseeing platform for tourists. The opposite bank of the Daugava is clearly visible from the height of 72 meters. The tower is swaying on a windy day, which adds to the excitement. The entrance ticket to the platform costs 9 € (641 P).
Museum of Art Nouveau, or Art Nouveau Museum. Riga has more Art Nouveau buildings than any other European city. The most unusual buildings are concentrated in the quiet center: on Strelnieku, Alberta and Antonijas streets. This is also where the Art Nouveau Museum is located. There you can see how the wealthy bourgeoisie lived at the beginning of the 20th century. The building has restored interiors and exhibits include silverware, old hats and pretty kitchen utensils. Admission costs 9 € (641 P).
Not far from the museum is one of the most elegant cafes in Riga – Art Cafe Sienna. Prices are high: a three-cup tea kettle costs 7.5 € (534 P), a cappuccino 5.25 € (375 P), a goat cheese cheesecake 8 € (572 P). But the ambiance is worth it. The cafe has subdued lighting, art nouveau interiors and a tranquil atmosphere. Drinks are served in imperial china, and stacks of art and fashion albums are stacked on the tables. They are allowed to leaf through them only when wearing special white gloves – they lie next to them.
The Art Nouveau house at 4 Strelnieku Street was designed by architect Mikhail Eisenstein. Its facades are full of fanciful decorative elements, so contemporaries ironically called Eisenstein a mad confectioner.
Registration of entry visa for Latvia
Latvia is a Schengen country, which means that if you have a Schengen visa in your passport, you can skip this point – the road to Riga is open to you.