Latvia may not be as popular a summer destination as, say, Spain or Italy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great place to visit. The season here is short and oh so sweet – especially if you know how to take full advantage of all that Riga has to offer. So don your sunglasses and SPF and get ready to enjoy a pretty European capital away from the tourist crowds with some of my favorite ways to make the most of the region’s fleeting summer sunshine!
Relax at a Beer Garden
German cities aren’t the only ones in Europe with beer gardens! During the summer months, the squares in Old Riga are converted into vast open-air cafes/beer halls and are the perfect spot to chill out with a quality Latvian brew. Many, like Egle, feature live music every night of the week. Stellar groups include the Latvian Blues Band, Flame & the Rolltones, and Normunds Kietis.
Attend a Festival
Riga knows how to throw a party! The season kicks off in June with Ligo, the Summer Solstice celebration, and fades into fall with the Mikelis Day Fair marking the Autumn Equinox in September. In between, there is the Latvian Youth Song and Dance Festival, Baltica Folklore Festival, International Dance Festival, and many more. The highlight is the Riga City Festival, a multi-day event commemorating the city’s birthday. Find out what’s happening around town via Live Riga.
Enjoy a Free Concert
Many Riga venues offer free music concerts between May and September. Beautiful organ music can be enjoyed at St. John’s Church (6pm Saturdays), St. Savior’s Church (1pm Wednesdays), and Old St. Gertrude’s Church (dates and times vary). Jazz concerts take place on the grounds of the Small Guild every Thursday at 5pm. Also on Thursdays (7pm) you can rock out at Kalnciema Kvartals, a district of restored wooden Art Nouveau buildings. The Spikeri Creative Quarter, the rehabbed former warehouse district and Jewish Ghetto, hosts eclectic musical acts ranging from funk to blues to jazz. So get your groove on!
Hit the Beach
The spiffy Baltic Sea resort, Jurmala, may be just 26 kilometers from the city center, but why haul all your gear on the train when there’s a perfectly good stretch of sand right in the heart of Riga? The place is replete with volleyball courts, a children’s playground, a bar, and public toilets. To get there, walk across Vansu bridge or take any bus that stops at Kipsala, the island in the Daugava River where the beach is located.
Visit Mentzendorff’s House
This interesting Old Town museum is located in the restored 17th century home of a master glass maker and provides a glimpse of how Riga’s upper crust used to live. Visitors can stroll through the entire house from basement to attic and see period furnishings, restored wall paintings, and special exhibits showcasing local artisans. The museum is named after the home’s final owner, August Mentzendorff, and is only open during the summer months.
Get a Birds-Eye View
For sweeping views of the city, skip the crowds and tight spaces at St. Peter’s Church and head to the wide open observation deck atop the Latvian Academy of Sciences building. Knicknamed “Stalin’s birthday cake,” the Soviet-era building was the first skyscraper in Latvia.
Buy Berries and Chanterelles
Berries and mushrooms are ripe for the picking – literally! – in Latvia’s fertile forests. Take the train out of the city and you will see locals filling their baskets to the brim. Enjoy the fruits of their labors at markets and sidewalk stands all over Riga.
Tour the National Library
The Latvian National Library is also known as “Gaismas Pils,” or “Castle of Light.” The unique design was inspired by a Latvian folktale about a crystal mountain and by the country’s experience overcoming the darkness of war and occupation. The building has recently reopened to the public after serving as the headquarters for the Latvian EU Presidency. Tours with an English-speaking guide are a steal at just €2 and the only way to visit the glass observation deck at the top. The library also boasts a rare treat – air-conditioning!
Delve into Riga’s Difficult Past
The most chilling spot in town might be the KGB Building, the former headquarters of the Soviet secret police. For decades, many locals were subjected to torturous interrogations, imprisonment, deportations, and executions if deemed an “enemy of the state.” Located on what is now called “Freedom Street,” the building today has been turned into a museum in conjunction with the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. Guided tours lead visitors through the building, from prison cells to the exercise yard. Last year it closed for the winter, so see it now.
Browse a Saturday Craft Market
With the Kalnciema craft and farmer’s market, the Spikeri flea market, and the Berga Bazars market, Rigans are spoiled for choice come Saturday. Join them on the search for something special, whether it’s vintage clothing and tableware or farm-fresh seasonal produce and locally-made wine.
Stop and Smell the Roses
Take to the Water
Riga’s waterways are the ultimate summer playground. Whether you splurge on a dinner cruise down the Daugava or pedal your way along the City Canal, you’re sure to have a good time. Feeling adventurous? You can even try kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding!
Eat an Ice Cream Cone
There is nothing more refreshing on a warm summer day than ice cream. You’ll find plenty of options around Riga, but look out for the pale yellow carts dishing out Ekselence brand ice cream. It’s top notch and made right here in Latvia!
How would YOU enjoy a Riga summer?