Riga, Latvia is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Eastern Europe. From the birds-eye views to a tasty local chocolate shop, here are 7 things to do if you visit Riga’s Old Town.
While planning our spring road trip through the Baltics, Riga – Latvia’s capital – was hardly on my radar. I was focused first and foremost on our heritage trip to Lithuania (it’s where my family’s originally from); I didn’t give the city a second thought until we were basically there. But then we arrived. And then … I fell in love with this tiny, adorable city – especially the Old Town.
Sadly, we only had a mere day to explore this gem of the Baltics, but we made the most of it and saw just about everything. If you’re visiting Riga for a quick, one-day trip, here are seven things you must add to your itinerary. Enjoy!
1. St. Peter’s Church and Bell Tower
If you read this blog, you know I’m always on the hunt for good views, and of course the tradition carried over to Riga where we found ourselves perched atop the city at the St. Peter’s Church Bell Tower.
Unlike most bell towers in Europe, this one has an elevator which is a definite plus because everyone visiting Riga should have access to these views! You can see the Town Hall Square, the Daugava River and street after street of Riga’s signature red roofs. Even better? The bells play Latvian folk music five times a day. (Cue the dancing shoes! Except, I may keep mine in the closet to preserve some semblance of dignity given my horrible rhythm…)
Long story short? Dancing or not, this bell tower’s for you!
2. Riga Town Hall Square
Visiting a main square is one of the best ways to get an authentic feel for a city – and the same goes for Riga. At the city’s Town Hall Square, you can see some of the town’s most unique architecture – including Riga’s iconic House of Blackheads – as well as, of course, the Town Hall. Riga’s Old Town is relatively small, but the Town Hall Square is one of the most prominent photo spots and a great place to start your trip.
3. Check out the Three Brothers
While they may sound like a hilarious Latvian comedy duo or the latest Eastern Europe boy band, the Three Brothers are unfortunately, not musically – or comedically – inclined, because they’re, well, houses. But not just any houses! These three neighboring flats (located at 17 Maza Pils Street) make up one of the oldest housing complexes in Riga, which means they showcase some of the city’s most unique (and diverse) Latvian architecture.
4. Stop by the Laima Chocolate Store
Is a chocolate store really a must-see in Riga? Initially we stopped here for one simple reason – my mom’s name is Laima (she’s Lithuanian)! – but given their assortment of souvenir containers and tasty treats, I’m so glad we did. Riga has a number of Laima stores, but if you’re sticking to Old Town Riga, you’ll want to visit Laima 1870, located at the intersection of Amatu iela and Skunu iela.
If you have more time, there’s also a Laima Chocolate Museum outside the Old Town. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit, but if you do, let me know what you think! (I mean, let’s be honest – a chocolate museum is the kind of museum I can get behind…)
5. Relax at the Bastejkalna Park
Located a few blocks from the Laima 1870 store is Bastejkalna Park, a quiet, peaceful oasis tucked between Old Town and the rest of Riga. You can stroll along the water, take a little boat ride or even catch some local Riga wildlife… we were lucky enough to see a busy little beaver going back and forth while building his new home. (Disclaimer, I’m not sure if he was building a home, but then again, it doesn’t matter what he was doing because he was SO cute.)
6. Try the traditional Black Balsam Liqueur
Black Balsam Liqueur is to Riga what bourbon is to Kentucky – an iconic local drink you have to try at least once. (Although, real talk, I hate bourbon …) The liqueur is a traditional Latvian balsam (basically a traditional herbal – and high-alcohol – drink in Eastern Europe); it’s made with ingredients like honey, caramel and natural juices, and often mixed with schnapps or vodka. Or, if you’re feeling daring, you can drink it all by itself … which we did because we’re just so brave.
Our initial thoughts? A little cough syrupy, a little strong, but fortunately our Laima chocolate proved to be the perfect pairing. (Note: You can find this special spirit at most local liquor stores throughout Riga.)
7. Drink at the local hot spots
While Old Town Riga is pretty small, it has a number of great spots to grab a local brew. We visited The Armoury Bar (a local bar decorated with old weapons), Folkklubs (one of the town’s best beer bars) and the Single Malt Bar, where we grabbed a quite bite in between rain storms.
Fortunately, Riga felt much less touristy to us than Tallinn (although I still love Tallinn!), so even when we stumbled into a bar or restaurant close to the Town Hall Square, it never felt over-the-top touristy.
As it goes with any day trip, there’s always way more to do than you have time for; with Riga, we’ll definitely have to come back. When we do, you better believe we’ll have a stop at the Riga Castle and the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia (this one would be especially interesting), but until then, I’d love to hear if you have any recommendations for a trip to Riga. If so, please leave your ideas in the comments below!
Want more from Eastern Europe? Here’s a quick rundown on the best spots to visit in Tallinn, one of the Baltics’ most beautiful cities!