Riga is a fabulous city and I recommend spending as long as possible exploring all it has to offer. But we don’t always have the luxury of time. If you find yourself with just one day in Riga, this guide to the top attractions and activities will help you make the most of your visit.
Begin your one day in Riga at Central Market, one of the largest and busiest food halls in Europe. The market is housed in five WWI-era zeppelin hangars, each dedicated to a particular food group (i.e. fish, meat, dairy). This is a good place to find souvenirs, such as Latvian honey and linens, and to sample local delicacies, like salted herring and pickled vegetables.
From Central Market, head into Riga’s beautiful UNESCO-listed old town. The House of the Blackheads is one of the most stunning buildings in Old Riga and is not to be missed. It originally dates to the 1300s but was completely destroyed by WWII bombings. The current structure is a meticulous 20th century recreation that locals are incredibly proud of.
St. Peter’s Church towers over the adjacent square. Originally built in 1209, the church was severely damaged by lightning strikes and WWII bombs. Inside, you’ll find a lovely reproduction of the wooden altar, coats of arms of the former nobility, and a massive 16th century bronze candlestick. Take the lift to the observation deck in the church’s spire for unbeatable city views.
Dome Cathedral has been the ceremonial heart of Old Riga since the Middle Ages. The cathedral’s most notable feature is its 1880s organ. Its technical specifications and excellent acoustics make it one of the most valuable in the world. Organ concerts are held several times a week and 12:00pm.
Make your way past the Three Brothers, Riga’s oldest buildings, through the Swedish Gate and around the Powder Tower. (To learn more about these fascinating buildings, read this guide to Old Riga’s historic architecture.)
When the old town walls were torn down to make way for new development and roads, a city park was thoughtfully included in the plan. Bastejkalns Park is a beautiful green space in the center of Riga. Walking paths and a canal wind around stone ruins and well-tended flower beds. You’ll see Latvia’s Freedom Monument peeking over the trees. The Latvian National Opera House stands at the far end of the park. This area is especially stunning in autumn when the foliage is at its peak.
Latvian National Museum of Art
Since you probably only have time for one museum, make it the Latvian National Museum of Art. Here you’ll find works by the best Latvian painters and sculptors, including Janis Rozentals, Johans Walters, and Vilhelms Purvitis, just to name a few. I thought it was interesting to see the progression of these artists’ styles during their careers, as well as Latvian art as a whole throughout the country’s turbulent history.
No visit to Riga would be complete without a stroll through the Art Nouveau district. From 1900-1913, Riga experienced unprecedented economic and geographic growth. After the old city walls were demolished, hundreds of new buildings were constructed, many of them in the fanciful Art Nouveau style. Jugendstil, as it’s also known, celebrates womanly beauty, nature, and mythology. While over one-third of Riga’s buildings are Art Nouveau, the largest concentration can be found along Elizabetes and Alberta ielas.
If you have time, check out the Art Nouveau Museum to get an idea of how these luxury apartment buildings looked during their heyday. The ground floor of Albert iela 12 has been beautifully restored and lavishly decorated to recreate early 20th century Riga life, while staff in period costume complete the effect. Even if you don’t plan to visit the museum, at least go inside the lobby and look up at the incredible spiral staircase!
Looking for a place to have dinner? Check out my guide to the city’s top restaurants.
How would you spend one day in Riga?
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