Top Things to Do in Riga, Latvia this Summer

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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

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The Latvian Blues Band performs at Egle in Old Riga.

Enjoying summer in Riga, Latvia with pear cider and fried garlic bread

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

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Latvian girls prepare for the Youth Song and Dance Festival.

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Scenes from last August’s Riga City Festival.

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Latvians perform folk songs at Baltica Festival 2015.

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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

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Listening to live jazz outside the Small Guild.

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The organ inside St. John’s Church in Old Riga.

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

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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

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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

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A birds-eye view of lovely Riga, Latvia

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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

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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

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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

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Looking out a former interrogation room at the Latvian flag hanging in the courtyard.

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

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Farmer’s market at Kalnciema Kvartals.

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Treasure hunting at the Spikeri flea 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

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The Riga Botanical Garden offers up new delights every season. In summer, the roses and dahlias are in bloom. The varied colors and fragrances are intoxicating!

Take to the Water

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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

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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!

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How would YOU enjoy a Riga summer?

23 thoughts on “Top Things to Do in Riga, Latvia this Summer

    • LOL, Daina, it depends on the day 😉 I just finished editing the 300 I took in Bauska and Mezotne, so that post will hopefully be up soon. But we have family visiting from the States and summer here is just too nice to sit inside at the computer!

  1. Fabulous post…thank you so much? Can you please tell me where and when Equinox is celebrated there? Daudz Paldies!

  2. Wow, Heather – this is exactly the post I needed to read to get amped up for my time in Riga later this month! I had read that Latvia’s a forager’s dream, but your pictures of the berries and Chanterelles really made it hit home!

    I’d had the Latvian Academy of Sciences on my radar, too, but Mentzendorff’s House looks so cute, I think we’ll have to stop there, too! On Kipsala, I’d read that there are some great original wooden houses – is that still the case, or has the island been mostly gentrified at this point?

    Thanks so much for sharing all the great tips!
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    • I’m happy to help, Nick! Kipsala has been gentrified, but it does still have some pretty old wooden houses. There is also a high concentration in the Kalnciems and Agenskalns neighborhoods which are located nearby. I’d definitely recommend a walk through the area. A great cafe is Fazenda, which is located in one of the old houses and serves super tasty food. Let me know if you have any other questions! I’d be happy to answer them 🙂

  3. Fantastic post, Heather! Summer here has indeed been wonderful. I’m glad you’ve been able to get out and do so many things, in spite of some of the colder and rainier days we’ve had. And how funny- the KGB building in Minsk is also on Independence Avenue.

    • Thanks, Deena! Have you been to check out the Kipsala beach yet? I still need to try the waterfront restaurant that’s over there. So much to do!

      • I haven’t hung out on the beach; just walked around it. It seems nice! It’s been a popular place in the last couple of weeks. The restaurant is good- we should go together sometime. It’s called Fabrikas, and it’s a block from our house. There is a little pontoon dining room right on the water! 🙂

  4. Great post on Riga. I certainly enjoyed my two visits to this beautiful city! It really does have so much to offer and I love how easy it is to walk everywhere. Plus there are so many little cafes in which to stop and take a break! 🙂

  5. Great post Heather and what a great photo of Valmiermuiza beer! I’m heading out to Riga in a few weeks and can’t wait to explore Cesis and Koknese castle ruins. Have you been to Cesis yet? You’ll probably have the best photos of it. 🙂 Also, which cafe has the best honey cake? Medus Kuka.

    • Thanks, Indris! Unbelievably, I haven’t made it to Cesis yet. I had planned to go in the spring but heard the castle tower was closed for renovations, and have yet to reschedule the trip. I’m thinking it will be lovely in the autumn!

      As for honey cake, I really like the one at Art Cafe Sienna in the Art Nouveau district. But I’ve heard that the cafe chain VecRiga has the most traditional version. You’ll have to let me know what you find.

      Enjoy your visit!

      Heather

  6. Heather, I wish I had found your info a few weeks ago. I just got back from 10 days in Riga and the countryside, tracing my father’s heritage. The indigenous people were such a joy! AAHL B BACK.
    Awesome and informative post.

    • Thank you, Tobias! That must have been a very special trip! Even without a family connection to the area, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring Latvia’s smaller cities and towns. The people have been so kind and welcoming! I was just in Bauska and Jelgava, and hope to do more exploring soon. If you have any tips, I’d love to hear them!

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