Is it the atmosphere? The food? The slightly sinister architecture? Or maybe just those giant beers? As more and more flights are chartered for the Latvian capital, we asked international travellers what they love most about Riga.*
Dome Square in Riga's Old Town
Riga may be the largest city in the Baltics but it has oodles of small-town charm. While much of the city was destroyed during World War II, Riga’s Old Town survived and today it’s a charming labyrinth of cobbled streets, fragrant bistros, raucous bars, and captivating street performers.
The Old Town is also home to the Latvian National Opera, whose performances can frequently be heard echoing through the surrounding streets. Make the most of what is effectively a free concert and check into the Tree House, only a 4-minute walk from the Opera and 6 minutes from the Daugava River.
The city's historic Art Nouveau buildings
The architecture in Riga stretches from whimsical buildings in the Old Town like The House of the Black Cat (a building with twin black cat statues perched on the roof) through to the decadent Art Nouveau buildings that make up a third of the city centre.
There are plenty of architecture tours available, and some hotels even curate their own. If you prefer to conduct your own tour, make sure to head down to the Daugava river. On its banks you’ll find plenty of sunny spots to admire the futuristic National Library of Latvia, a.k.a. The Castle of Light.
Park Bastion Hill in Riga city centre
The people of Riga are well aware — and justifiably proud — of how beautiful their city is, and many students and retired residents work part time as tour guides. One of the most popular tours starts at St Peter's Church at midday, and once the tour is over visitors can treat themselves to an enviable view of the city by retiring for a drink at the Albert Hotel’s rooftop bar.
While the Old Town and the city centre architecture offer more than enough distractions, it’s also worth exploring other parts of Riga, starting with the Āgenskalns neighbourhood. Located on the left bank of the Daugava, opposite the Old Town, Āgenskalns is full of 19th and 20th-century buildings and has a bustling market full of regional crafts and produce.
Sklandrausis, a traditional Latvian dish
All that walking builds up a healthy appetite and Riga’s restaurants are full of hearty Latvian food (think potatoes, cabbage, and lots and lots of beef). But there’s so much more to this bustling capital city, with the last ten years seeing trends towards sushi, wine, and vegetarian cuisine flavoursome enough to satisfy even the most committed carnivore.
If after a day sightseeing you decide you’d rather not travel far for food, it might be worth checking into one of the many Riga hotels with their own restaurants. The Hotel Bergs’ onsite restaurant is rated the highest in the city for food and throughout the summer the boutique hotel also hosts weekly concerts in the courtyard.
Riga's Freedom Monument
The Art Nouveau architecture and wooden buildings dotted throughout Riga’s Old Town have inspired UNESCO to name it as a World Heritage site. As one of the three capital cities that took part in the Baltic Way — a human chain protesting Soviet occupation in 1989 that stretched from Tallinn, through Riga, and on to Vilnius — Riga’s streets and museums are filled with reminders of the country’s eventful history.
Visitors interested in this side of Latvian history should start their exploration at the Freedom Monument, on the outskirts of the Old Town. From here you can head south-west, through the Old Town and to the award-winning and recently refurbished Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.
** The data scientists at Booking.com looked at the activities most endorsed in Riga by international travellers.