I must admit I had absolutely no idea how pretty the capital of Latvia, Riga was. On my two-day trip with Magnetic Latvia I saw it firsthand however and realised: I needed to come back. There is such intricate architecture to enjoy, so many parks to stroll through, restaurants to send your tastebuds to heaven and activities within and outside the Old Town that you can easily fill a week.
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Day 1: Saturday City Vibes for Things to Do in Riga
Start your day at the weekend market at the Kalnciema Quarter Market. Stock up on sweets, fresh produce or cut flowers, for instance. Besides food, Kalnciema is also the ideal place to source local handicrafts and jewellery.
Address: Kalnciema iela 35 (Open Saturdays 10:00 – 16:00)
After your visit, why not explore the historical wooden houses of Riga? Take the tram and make your way over to the district to Āgenskalns. The official red brick building of its local market is closed for the moment but some of the market stalls can be found around the streets instead if you want to continue shopping.
You can easily combine your visit with an extended breakfast or brunch at a local restaurant or cafe. The entire area is very picturesque and the cute wooden houses among shady trees and painted picket fences invites you to take your camera along.
Address: Nometņu 64
Fun fact: Uzvaras parks (Victory Park) boasts a few cherry blossom tree alleys that were a gift by Japan and in spring you can admire the wonderful sakura in full bloom. In fact, when I visited in early May, they were still blooming strong as they are the late blooming type of sakura. It looked absolutely stunning paired with the lush green meadows dotted by bright yellow dandelions and blue ponds.
Afterwards, we had a great time just wandering the many streets, meandering between parks and towards the rather unique library. It still evokes emotional responses, some decrying it as monstrous and a waste of money and energy (imagine the heating costs), while others have simply accepted it. The idea behind the rather unique glass architecture was to display the tallest mountain in Latvia and thus metaphorically the steady uphill climb for Latvia.
Biking to Moscow
Start the day slow with a guided three hour bike tour that will take you away from the picture perfect Old Town and along the riverside. With the Riga Exploration Tour you will get the real deal. You will quickly see an entirely different side to the pastel coloured touristy Riga as soon as you cross over to the Moscow District.
Here, the buildings are far from polished with paint having long worn down to crispy faded pieces barely hanging onto the facades. This isn’t a EU funded area, local citizens get by and don’t have money to spare on keeping up the exteriors.
During WWII this was also where the local Jews were kept in the Jewish ghetto before being marched out into the fields, where they were shot while standing in dug out holes – their graves. The Jewish population was basically annihilated. Luckily, nowadays the district is alive again and even Jews have moved back in.
Visiting Riga Old Town
After your tour there are plenty of options within Riga Old Town to reenergise and sample local Latvian food in one of the many restaurants. Typical Latvian cuisine includes cheese and meat platters, sausages and bread desserts with whipped cream or sweet cottage cheese.
Once you are full, take a stroll through the wonderful cobblestone streets. Check out the market for fresh produce, flowers and spices and then hit the parks. Riga seriously has a lot of parks and when spring starts, people sit outside, lounge on the grass and enjoy the sun and flowers in bloom. Try the Esplanade behind the Art Museum, Vermanes darzs to its East or the parks around the pilseteas channel with the picturesque bridges and statues.
Day 2: Active Sunday outside of Riga
No time for the restless! So dress up in good outdoor clothes and head out of Riga to the swampland Dzelves-Kroņapurvs. For this, we forayed through the undergrowth of the Latvian woods, past pine trees and deeper into the bushlands. An hour or so later we reached the edge of the swamp and attached our snow shoes to the rubber boots.
The feeling is strange at first but even more so when you take them off at the end of the walk. It’s like a weight has been lifted. And they didn’t seem heavy at all at the start. It’s a slight workout but once you start wading on the bobbing moss, you will not feel it. It’s like on a water bed. The strangest feeling!
The swamp hike was utterly delightful with landscapes I wouldn’t ordinarily see and colours so vivid, it reminded me of the Canadian woods. If you dare, you can join your tour guide for a quick refreshing swim in the brown water (from the iron).
What to Pack for a Swamp Hike
I wear my beloved Lowa hiking boots nearly every day of my life but for the swamp hike, I totally forgot to pack them. That was totally cool because you absolutely need rubber boots (long ones). Don’t ruin your shoes! On my swamp tour with Purvu Bridēji I received a pair of them (although too big, so if you can bring your own, that’s even better!) as well as snow shoes.
Even if the weather is absolutely glorious and warm, I highly recommend wearing long sturdy pants. Beating your way through the shrubs and undergrowth will result in scratches and you can protect yourself better this way. Also, Latvia is home to ticks and wearing long clothes (tuck your pants into your socks) helps to prevent them from getting a hold on you.
Since swamps are the birthplace for tons of mosquitoes, bring your insect repellent and plop on your sunscreen. The swamp is exposed and you don’t want to get a burn. Ideally, you can bring a hat but make sure it doesn’t easily fly away. You can’t just chase after it in the swamp. Last but not least, bring a water bottle to stay hydrated.
Join a Cooking Class
Food is a huge part of any travel experience, if you ask me. Therefore, a cooking class experience is one of the best things to do in Riga to learn about the country’s traditional dishes, how they are made and why they are such staple dishes.
At Liepupe Manor we had a little cooking session. While the cook prepared the dough and super thin pancakes, we learned how to fill, roll and decorate them before they were baked on the iron oven. Then, we helped ourselves to a variety of jams and sauces to go with our meat or sweet cottage cheese pancakes and dined outside in the garden.
Simply visiting this wonderful mansion if only for an afternoon is just splendid. I wish I had had a period dress so that I can feel fully immersed in this experience. It was just too good. Next time I want to stay overnight!
Watch an Ocean Sunset
Not far away, from Riga you can find the ocean. And where there’s ocean, there is beach. Beaches in Latvia are magnificent, long stretches of white sand and with only few visitors. Settle down in the dunes or dip your toes into the Baltic Sea while you watch the sun slowly set. During summer solstice, the sun sets as late as 9:35 PM.
Tūja beach is just a ten minute drive away from Liupepe Manor. If you want to stay overnight, there even is a camping site to pitch your tent in. A wonderful spot to walk along the shoreline from wooden walks leading up to the white dunes is Dune Saulkrasti. It’s on the way back to Riga and it takes take only 24 minutes to get there by car. (You can rent one from Sixt, for instance.)
Which Riga Hotel to Stay in
Just like there are many things to do in Riga, there are a lot of wonderful Riga hotels to choose from and the one I stayed in and can definitely recommend is Hotel Clarion Collection Valdemars right in the heart of Riga. From here, it is only a five minute walk to the canal, shopping mall or to catch a tram to head outside. The antique corridors in the vintage townhouse are perfectly blended with a sleek reception area and modern rooms. I really enjoyed my stay here. (The window sills are perfect for reading as well!)
Also, if you really fell in love with Liepupe Manor like I did, you can also book a room here. At this 18th century manor, everything is charmingly coordinated stylewise and you will feel like staying in the 19th century – in the best of ways. The wallpapers are designed by a worldclass wallpaper designer, the furniture blends perfectly and there are rooms with balconies as well. Weddings are super popular as well if you needed a bigger reason for returning.
Is a Riga Weekend Trip too Short?
To whet your appetite and get an idea of just how beautiful the Latvian city of Riga really is, a weekend getaway is a brilliant idea. You can easily fill your days with a multitude of things to do in Riga. Plus, there are cheap flights with Ryanair and Air Baltic and you can easily take a ferry from Helsinki.
The neighbouring Baltic countries Estonia and Lithuania are also super close and you can easily combine a visit of all three of them in a roadtrip (that’s at least a week long). I would have loved staying in Riga for a week as there is so much to explore and eat but thatÄs for next time.
Tell me: Which of these things to do in Riga would be your priority?