A walking guide to Riga, Latvia
“Only where you were walking, you have really been” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
For all of you who like to explore on foot, the following guide to Riga will come in handy. I stayed in the city for two days and two nights and here is what I can recommend to see, eat and do.
Bastejkalna parks: A little green oasis in Riga, this park invites you for a relaxing morning walk to start your busy itinerary.
Not far from here you will see the Opera House and the gardens that lead up to it.
Do not miss the Cat House. What other city in the world are you going to be able to tell this story from? Rich guy over 100 years ago holds grudge against members of the guild. The rich guy buys house just across the street. Rich guy puts two cats on his roof that turns their back sides to the Guild. Then rich guy gets ordered to turn the cats on the roof around before people were offended by the view.
Then, see the Powder Tower and barracks at Torna iela. This is a narrow street with all same style yellow buildings that now house restaurants and shops.
For a refreshment, visit any of the bars in Central District close to Small Guild. In the summer all the bars have terraces with outside seating, many have free live music and all of them seem to have menus with literally hundreds of choices of drinks. Come back here after dark if you like nightlight, because this is where things go down!
Climb up tower of St. Peter´s Church. This is one of the highest points in Riga, so you can really see EVERYTHING from up here. And the good news is: they have an elevator so you don´t even have to climb the stairs.
Afterwards check out the Town Hall and House of the Blackheads for a bit of historic education.
From here you can cross bridge to the National Library if you like. Locals call it the Palace of Light, which make sense as soon as you enter. Otherwise I found there was not much to see on that side of the bridge, so save yourself the trouble of walking further and head back to the old town.
For dinner I suggest Salve. This is a cozy restaurant close to the town hall that offers local cuisine. I tried Latvian grey beans here and potato pancakes – both I really liked.
Embassy Quarter architecture
From downtown, walk up the Esplanade to enjoy some greenery on the way. It will lead you past the Russian Orthodox Church, Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral with its shiny golden dome.
From there walk around the embassy quarter, for example the streets of Elizabetes iela & Kalpaka bulvāris. The buildings in the area are a proud example of Northern European Modernism. I am adding some pictures below so I can show you what that looks like.
In the evening, have drinks at Skyline bar of Radisson Blu Hotel – you can´t miss it, it is close to the Orthodox church – the tallest building you can see. The view from here is fantastic:
Walk along the cobble stone road of Balasta dambis! To the left you´ll find a row of colorful wooden houses, including the one of the Dutch ambassador. To the right, you overlook the water and downtown Riga on the other side.
Hercogs, almost at the end of this cliché picturesque road is a convenient option for lunch while you are here.
Jurmala Day trip
I suggest you get off the train at Majori station.
From there, stroll along Jomas iela. Here you will find plenty of restaurants and cafes as well as souvenir shops.
Head down to the beach and take in the view of the Baltic Sea. If you come in the summer: this is the place to spend your day!
Make sure to pass by the former Swimming Establishment of Emilija Racene – a beautiful modernist building right on the beach.
The Concert Hall is also worth a visit, but they charge a small fee for entry.
Head back to town and go for dinner in Riga´s Old Town at Rozengrals.
This is a medieval dining experience in a candle lit cellar. They set the atmosphere with authentic music and waiters dressed in medieval outfits. Wholesome food in large portions, even four vegetarian options.
Riga´s Central Market is as honest as it gets. If you´ve ever been to Naples you´ll know what I mean… honest as in non-pretentious. It´s next to the main train station but not really on the way to any of the places described above.
Not worth it: wooden house route along Stabu iela. We read about this is a travel guide and were expecting to see some pretty, renovated modernist architecture, but were disappointed. If that is what you are looking for, you´ll find much nice wooden houses on the peninsula.
BUT: Makonis offers waffle brunch – all you can eat 🙂 That was the best thing about this part of town!
Looking back at it now, I can hardly believe we did all this in 48 hours. To be fair, it is pushing it and you may want to spread this itinerary out over 3 or 4 days. However, it is possible to do it all in a long weekend, if you are for plenty of walking 🙂
Let me know if this was helpful in the comments below!