Although we don’t usually encourage people to spend only two days in the Latvian capital, if you’re here to experience as much as possible in a short period of time, here goes:
Day 1 – Old RigaStart with a stroll around Old Riga. Start at the Freedom Monument and walk straight down the main semi-pedestrian street of Kaļķu iela. Snap a few photos of the guild houses and medieval façades on Līvu laukums and move on to Riga Cathedral on Doma laukums. Recently renovated, this is the largest religious structure in the Baltics and well worth a visit. The Riga Bourse Art Museum across the square is one of the best museums in the city. After a tour move on to the Blackheads’ House on Rātslaukums and take in the stunning scenery. From here head over to St.Peter’s Church and take the lift up to the observation platform.
The Baltu Rotas shop opposite the entrance to the church (look for the giant wooden horse) sells reproductions of ancient Latvian jewellery found at archaeological sites from the 6th - 12th centuries. A small museum is also available. If you’re feeling peckish proceed to Folk Club Ala on Peldu iela for large servings of classic and affordable Latvian food and beer in a medieval brick cellar. The traditional pork knuckle dish is huge and is more than enough for two people with average appetites. We also recommend a Valmiermuiža brew.
It’s time to walk off all that pork so head down 11.novembra krastmala until you reach the massive Central Market. You can spend hours walking around the market sampling local seasonal food or scratching your head and wondering who buys the old stockings, lime green underwear and cheap clothing at the kiosks behind the pavilions. We recommend the delicious piping hot bread baked by Uzbeks in a traditional tandoor oven in the small hall between the fish and produce pavilions. If you still have energy you can walk over to the Academy of Sciences building not far from the market for Soviet architecture with hammers and sickles and an observation deck at a height of 65m (April - September; weather permitting).
After all this sightseeing it’s time to relax and get some dinner. The old town also has dozens of stylish upmarket restaurants like Neiburgs, but if you’re looking for affordable, authentic Mexican try El Sasnto X on Pils iela not far from Doma laukums. Afterwards you can walk down the street to Krogs Aptieka where Riga’s rock musicians and tattooed artists hang out for drinks or try Trompete for live jazz nearly every night on Peldu. Naturally, there are plenty of cosy pubs in Old Riga including The Armoury Bar, Aussie Pub, Kiwi Bar and Paddy Whelan’s.
Day 2 – City Centre & Beyond
Now that you’ve seen the city’s best medieval buildings, you can check out its most impressive art nouveau architecture. Riga literally has hundreds of buildings in this flamboyant style as it experienced a period of unprecedented wealth at the beginning of the 20th century when art nouveau was all the rage in Europe. Head straight over to Alberta iela and admire an amazing collection of buildings, many of which were designed by Mikhail Eisenstein, architect and father of the illustrious Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein of Battleship Potemkin fame. At the end of the street you’ll also find the Riga Art Nouveau Museum (closed Mondays), which is a completely restored art nouveau apartment from the furniture and flatware to the kitchen sink and the toilet. If you still haven’t had your fill of art nouveau then walk across the street to Art Nouveau Riga, a shop that specialises in stylish, locally produced art nouveau souvenirs.
Nearby Antonijas iela is loaded with cafés, upmarket restaurants and wine bars, but if you’d like a cheaper option then try Turkish-owned Food Box on A. Pumpura iela, which makes the best kebabs in Riga.
After you’ve eaten head down Elizabetes iela, which is flanked by more art nouveau buildings, until you reach Brīvības iela. From here you can explore Riga’s parks and its picturesque canal, but we recommend a short bus trip to the Latvian Ethnographic Museum. Take bus No.1 from Brīvības to the Brīvdabas muzejs stop. Here you can see what rural Latvian life was like over 100 years ago as dozens of original farm buildings, houses and even a church were transported to this picturesque lakeshore to preserve them for posterity.
Ride the bus back to Brīvības iela and visit the rooftop terrace of the Galleria Riga shopping centre on Dzirnavu for a drink and incredible views. Dozens of great eating options are at your fingertips in this area including Vairāk Saules right across the street. And speaking of streets, if you’re into gourmet burgers and craft brews then don’t miss Street Burgers on the Blaumaņa iela side of the shopping centre. If you’re on a budget then try LIDO Vērmanītis on Elizabetes for a cheap Latvian meal, but if you’d like to splurge then visit Bibliotēka No.1 in the nearby Vērmanes Park..
For drinks we recommend the neighbourhood pubs on the corner of Stabu and Tērbatas including Gauja and Sveiks Šveik! as well as the more upmarket Martinelli wine bar a little farther down the street. Don’t forget to try the national spirit Rīgas Melnais Balzams, which is a bit like Jägermeister but stronger and not as sickly sweet.