Counted amongst the least visited cities in Europe, Riga is the capital of Latvia, and quite the hidden gem when it comes to exploring lesser-known parts of Europe. Its historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its Art Nouveau/Jugendstil architecture and 19th-century wooden architecture. However, as we learned through our virtual exploration of the city, there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Continuing our New York Times inspired virtual travel blog series, we looked at travel blogs, Instagram posts, TripAdvisor reviews, Google reviews, and YouTube videos to curate a 36-hour itinerary for Riga.
36 Hours in Riga
9:00 AM: Three Brothers
Kickstart your exploration of Riga with a visit to the very Instagram-mable Three Brothers, counted amongst the oldest medieval dwellings and a couple of centuries old. The three historical houses were built by three brothers from the same family, giving it its name, and is currently also home to the Latvian Museum of Architecture (free admission).
10:00 AM: The Corner House
Next, head to The Corner House (voluntary donation for entry), former headquarters of the brutal KGB secret police, now a museum- it is a grim reminder of past atrocities and a dark period in the city’s history.
11.30 AM: World of Hats
Lighten up your morning by stopping by the World of Hat Museum (entrance fee is €4 for adults) which has the world’s largest collection of traditional headgear, including hats from Europe, Asia, and Africa.
1:00 PM: Lunch Time
2:00 PM: Art Nouveau Immersion
Riga has 800 Art Nouveau buildings scattered across the city and it would be a shame if you didn’t spend an afternoon strolling around, appreciating the decorative art style of the 20th century. Art Nouveau or Jugendstil (as it was known in German-influenced countries) is said to have originated in France, but Latvia boasts of the largest assortment of pure Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. There’s also a museum that you can check out.
4:00 PM: Motor Museum
If you’re a motorhead, you’re likely to love the Motor Museum in Riga. From Volga, Moskvich and Zigouli models from the era of Soviet occupation, an armored car designed for Josef Stalin, a Lincoln Continental 53A Town Car, to cars from the West, including a Jaguar Mk 2, a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith and a Mercedes-Benz 220 SE, words won’t do justice to the 100 vintage automobiles on display.
5:00 PM: Castle of Light
Castle of Light, named after Latvian folklore where it’s used a metaphor for reclaiming lost wisdom after a dark period of war and occupation, this mountain-shaped library in Riga houses books on Latvian history and culture, while also offering a panoramic view of Old Town Riga on the river.
7:00 PM: Wine Down
8:00 PM: Latvian National Theater
The biggest theatre in Latvia, don’t forget to catch a show at the breathtaking venue when you’re in Riga!
9.00 AM: Revisiting the Holocaust
Take a trip back in time at the Latvian Holocaust Museum and Ghetto, built in memory of the Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II. It’s not an easy visit, but it’s worth visiting and learning more about that dark period in history.
10.30 AM: Life is an Illusion
Enjoy some light-hearted moments at the Illusion Room (the Upside Down Room is epic!) and capture some mind-boggling photos while at it.
12.00 PM: Aviation Museum
Spend an hour at the Riga Aviation Museum — not something you get to experience very often. Established by a young aviation engineer in 1956, admire more than half a century old jets!
1.30 PM: Central Market
Markets are always a great place to gel with the locals and get a sense of the local way of life. The Central Market in Riga is no different. You’ll find everything under the sun here- from vegetables to clothes, to random goods.
It’s also a great place to taste some traditional Latvian food for lunch (try the colorful pickles on offer!), although it may be best explored with a local who knows their way around (consider taking a local tour).
3.00 PM: More Museums
Who would have thought that a lesser-known city like Riga could have so much in store for a tourist? Spend the afternoon visiting two or more of the following, depending on your interest: Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum, Medical History Museum, Latvian Railway History Museum, and the Latvian National Museum of Art.
6.00 PM: Black Cat of Riga
Stop by the Black Cat of Riga in the Old Town and learn more about the folklore behind it. There are several other interesting sculptures and public artworks in the area, so if you have time and interest, take a stroll around town and discover them for yourself.
7.00 PM: Skyline Bar
Quite literally, catch the Riga skyline by ending your trip with dinner and drinks at Skyline Bar! Make sure to reserve a table in advance.
When we set out to virtually visit Riga this weekend, little did we know that there would be so much to do in one of the least visited cities of Europe! While our 36-hour itinerary is packed with a tonne of sites and experiences, we sense that one could easily spend more than a weekend in Riga to soak in the vibe of this city — someday for real!
How to get there
There are direct flights to Riga from most major airports of Europe, as well as Russia, Israel, and Turkey. It is also well connected by train, bus, and ferries across the Baltic Sea.
Where to stay
There are plenty of options to pick from for different budget categories. The Grand Poet Hotel by Semarah has great reviews for a luxury stay, while Rixwell Hotel Konventa Seta is better suited for a comfortable budget stay.
When to go
Summer is the best time of the year to visit Riga.
Latvia is included in the Schengen visa and to visit Riga you’d need the same if you’re a non-EU citizen/resident.
Euro is the official currency of Latvia.
Apart from English, Latvian is the dominant language of Latvia. Latgalian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian are also spoken here.
Watch out for our virtual travel blogs every Tuesday on Quilt.AI :)