The Criminally Underrated City of Riga, Latvia

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Riga Streets

Every now and then, I discover a city that seems to be pretty damn close to perfection — yet mysteriously under-touristed, not visited by as many people as it should be.

That latest city for me was Riga, the capital of Latvia. It was one of my favorite destinations of my summer in Europe and I feel like it doesn’t get nearly enough love or attention as it deserves.

A beautiful city? Absolutely, with UNESCO World Heritage-listed architecture.

Things to do? Totally. Lots of tours and museums, especially if you’re into history.

Food? Surprisingly good, and nothing like the Soviet stereotype.

Shopping? You bet. Amber jewelry is probably the best quality item on which to splurge.

Green spaces? Quite a few beautiful parks with lots of flowers.

Nightlife? Absolutely. Whether you’re into beer, wine, or Black Balsam, you’re in good condition!

Day trip potential? Lots of options, whether you want to visit the beach, the countryside, or other cities.

Tourist crowds? Blissfully few. It’s not like Prague, where you’re fighting your way through the old town.

And the prices? Very, very affordable. And lots of budget airlines fly there, making it affordable to get there as well.

What’s not to love about all that?

Kate, Sarah and Mom in Riga

Most people visit Riga in tandem with trips to surrounding Lithuania and Estonia, as the three Baltic nations are small in size and have easy transit connections. That wasn’t what I did — my mother, sister and I visited Riga on its own to connect with our family ancestry in the city.

Yes, Riga is absolutely doable as a trip on its own, as is Latvia as a whole. We had hoped to branch out and see more of the country, but unfortunately it was uncharacteristically chilly and rainy, which made us want to stay put.

There is something to be said about getting off the beaten path, however you happen to define that phrase. I think Riga is off the beaten path as it has all the charm and beauty but nowhere near the level of tourism of similar cities like Prague, Krakow, even Ljubljana.

Here are my favorite highlights of the city!

Riga Latvia

The Historic Centre of Riga is one of Latvia’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (the other is the ephemeral Stuve Geodetic Arc). The Hanseatic architecture is fantastically preserved and you can see why it received that designation!

Riga LatviaRiga Latvia

And while the city center is very pastel, the flowers bring a warm dose of primary colors!

Riga ParkRiga FlowersRiga Flowers

Being so far north, Latvia is fairly dark for a few months of the year — these colors breathe more life into the city.

Riga Venison Stew

Latvia is always a running joke on Reddit. “Potato” is always the punchline and there’s even a subreddit called Latvian Jokes. (“Two latvian look at clouds. One see potato. Other see impossible dream. Is same cloud.”)

Honestly, I didn’t expect much in terms of food, but Riga was one of my favorite food destinations of my summer in Europe!

Cheese Plate RigaHerring in Riga, Latvia

And because the prices are so cheap, you can splurge a little bit. When we were in the basement pub at Folkklubs, delicious main dishes cost about 6 EUR ($7) each. In a high-end restaurant in the old town, main dishes like venison stew cost about 15 EUR ($18 USD).

Riga Cherries

Riga’s Central Market is very much worth a visit. The food is fresh and prices are super-cheap.

Riga MarketRiga Pickles

I’m a pickle fiend — always have been. (Except for sweet pickles. Blech.) As you might imagine, Latvia knows how to pickle just about everything.

At one point while on our walking tour, I broke away, bought a pickle (for something ridiculous like 20 cents) and walked back to the group. My mom and sister turned around and saw me standing there, chomping on a pickle like it was the most normal thing in the world, and they burst out laughing.

Riga Street Performer

This lady is one of Riga’s most beloved street performers. Every day she turns on a boom box with traditional music and dances in place. She cleans up quite nicely.

Riga Park

People-watching in Latvia was always interesting! You’d see old babushka ladies walking arm in arm, gorgeous young women in high heels and cutting edge couture, and families strolling together. Always something to look at.

Freedom Monument Riga

Riga’s Freedom Monument is the anchor of the city. It’s a memorial to the soldiers killed in the Latvian War for Independence (1918-1920).

Riga Changing of the Guard

Time your visit right and you’ll see the soldiers changing guard.

Riga Park

I think that having central green spaces is essential to a city, and Riga is dotted with several parks. The major central one is Bastejkalna Park, which is close to the Freedom Monument and surrounds the canals.

Riga ParkRiga Opera HouseRiga Park

Perfect place for strolling on a sunny day.

Riga Cafe Flowers

Cafe culture is important to me in my European travels, and I delighted in Riga’s many outdoor cafes. You won’t be short of places to find your afternoon caffeine boost.

Yellow building Riga

This yellow building was probably my favorite building in Riga! Love that color.

Folkklubs Riga

Our introduction to Riga nightlife was at an awesome subterranean pub called Folkklubs that my sister found. Delicious and cheap food, an excellent beer selection, and live music. We happened to be there on karaoke night — and Sarah and I rocked the harmonies on Toto’s “Africa.”

Easy Wine Riga

Our second introduction to Riga nightlife was Easy Wine — a self-service wine bar where you can order different kinds of wine in quarter, half, or whole glass portions. So many delicious options! I especially loved a New Zealand sauvignon blanc they had on tap.

I loved Easy Wine so much, I insisted we go back on my birthday two days later.

Riga ARchitecture

It’s easy to fall into the trap of going to Riga and seeing nothing but the old town, which is why my family and I loved taking the free Riga Alternative Tour, which was almost entirely outside the old town and showed us a side of the city that most tourists don’t get to experience.

Overall, I had such a wonderful time in Riga and I really think you should consider it as a future European destination! There’s so much to love about this little city.

Essential Info: In Riga we stayed at this three-bedroom Airbnb apartment for $81 per night plus Airbnb fees. It couldn’t possibly have been better situated, right in the center of the Old Town, and it was very comfortable and homey. Our hosts kindly picked us up and dropped us off at the airport for 15 EUR ($17) each way, which was equivalent to what a taxi would cost.

You can find the best prices on hotels in Riga here.

Two of our favorite places in Riga were Folkklubs, an underground pub with live music, and Easy Wine, an amazing restaurant where you get self-served wine pourings of all sizes.

We also did the free Riga Alternative Tour, which was fun and educational (remember to tip your guide!). Also, don’t miss trying the famous Black Balsam liqueur, on its own or in cocktails.

Be sure to buy travel insurance before you go – you never know what might happen on a trip! I use and recommend World Nomads.

Riga, the capital of Latvia, deserves far more attention from tourists than it seems to receive. See why it was one of my favorite destinations in Europe this summer! | Adventurous Kate

Does Riga look like your kind of city?

 

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97 thoughts on “The Criminally Underrated City of Riga, Latvia”

  1. You had me at “less touristy” and added to it with the lovely food pictures!

    All the other pictures are beautiful too – I have plans for an eastern European trip, so I look forward to Riga!

  2. I had a very similar reaction to Riga, and visited many of the same spots (did you see traditional folk dancing at Folkklubs? It is SO AWESOME). One of my favorite parts for the AMAAAAAAAZING Art Nouveau quarter. And the countryside all around (beaches, forests) is so pristine and stunning. It’s too bad you didnt make it to Tallinn – it wow’d me even more than Riga, except for Art Nouveau and prices (Tallinn is $$$). Next time, right? 🙂

  3. I visited Riga in the spring and was really surprised that I had a hard time finding info about the city on the major travel blogs I read. Now a couple of you have made the trip there, so I guess I am just ahead of the crowd 🙂

  4. Riga looks great, really pretty! I like the sound of cheap good food, I wonder if it’s veggie friendly? I haven’t explored this part of Europe at all and it’s been on my radar for a while. How cool that you have family ancestry there!

      1. Girls – there are definetely few places, that are vegan friendly. This year only we have a new place, sort of ”Raw Food Cafee” or something. Its more about vegetables, berries extc.

    1. There are more and more vegetarian restaurants popping up in Riga recently and even other restaurants normally would have at least one veggie option on their menu. Try Raw garden, Stock Pot, and there is another great veggie restaurant in that same area where those other two located on the second floor of a corner building that I don’t know the name of – it’s not a fancy one, its self service, but food is amazing. There is also the Krishna place called Rama on K. Barona street, couple of Indian restaurants and more. These are only places that I know in the area where I live. I don’t know about the old town as I am rarely there, vut you can definitely find places where to eat.

    1. Be careful with your drinks at bars or clubs! As for a taxi – there is only one reliable ”Baltic Taxi” – perfect service with no unagreed charges.
      if you need contacts, you can only ask 🙂

  5. Amazing post and pictures, I can’t wait to visit next year. And the food recommendations look amazing, i’m googling menu’s now and getting over excited 🙂

    Also thanks for the alternative tour recommendation! I love tours like that 🙂

  6. Riga looks great; there are so many places I didn’t really think about travelling in Europe to only to find out that those place are probably more beautiful than the places I have already been to. Sofia, Bulgaria is another one of those places! I loved that city!

  7. An interesting read, and we’re all entitled to our opinions. I, for one, happen to disagree on most of what you wrote. Most of all, I disagree on the food. After living here for almost 5 years now, I have to say that Riga is known among most of my expat friends here as a consistently bad food city. Maybe you were lucky to pick the few gems that Riga has to offer. But as I have been documenting for years on http://www.foodinriga.com, people here have a genuine disinterest in good food, and in the vast majority of restaurants, the chefs are dispassionate amateurs. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Michael. It is possible that we happened to stumble upon the only good places in town, but I feel like the odds would be too great for that to happen. Riga is by no means a Copenhagen, or Bologna, or San Sebastian, but I had consistently delicious food there.

  8. Totally disagree with Michael. He has made reviews mostly about Riga’s “nah”, midclas Asia’s and kebab places including food “review” about Hesburger which is Finnish McDonalds… and at the end he praises food chain TGI Fridays as his best gourmet destination. What a foodie :)) I am Latvian and ex-chef so I understand something about food and places that are worth to visit in Riga. Don’t hesitate to reach me by my email 🙂

  9. Riga is a small gem, if only for the magnificent collection of Art Nouveau style buildings that abound. People are friendly and while there might not be a great culinary tradition, my wife and I found it quite easy to find good food at, as you say, very reasonable prices. But to rebut Michael [above], while food may be a challenge for expats, you shouldn’t be going there on a foodie expedition.

  10. I traveled to Riga in late May and loved it! I also really had a great meal at Folkklubs. During that trip, I was able to travel to all three Baltic capitals – I fell for each of them differently, but there was certainly something special about Riga!

  11. So then we should define what’s “foodie expedition”? Yes, Riga lacks of good Thai food spots and I hate it though there are many top noch European and few Eastern European cuisine restaurants (I can mention them in private, don’t want to advertise anyone here). Not to mention about emerging trend of local food communities that gives another level in food experience and performance – ZeFood (https://m.facebook.com/ZeFood), 4 Seasons (http://www.tvnet.lv/egoiste/aktuali/571192-gundegas_skudrinas_gastronomiska_performance_laimes_zosada_ar_garsu) etc etc etc. The problem with “tourists” is that you guys are boiling here in your own juice (Latvian proverb) so you visiting bistros, kebab places and Riga’s centre cafes. But we should take part of the shame as oftenly we are quite introverts 🙂

  12. Magnificent photos and post about Riga, one of my favorite places in the world. It felt like home. Perhaps Michael’s palate is not quite mature yet. We had wonderful food there – and rhubarb was everywhere – tarts, pies, jellies, baked products. I love rhubarb and pickles! The borscht was incredible! The baked products in the supermarket were so incredible, I bought six items and easily could’ve tried 20. All fresh, beautiful pastries, rye breads, rye cheeses. UMMM!

  13. It took me 3 visits to fall in love in Riga but now, when I finally did so, I’m pretty crazy about it 🙂 you’re so right, it’s way too underrated! and it’s worth going outside of the Old Town as that’s where the whole fun is 🙂

  14. I just wasn’t feeling it when I visited Riga back in 2007. I found the city a bit bland and the gun shops in the train station, and being kicked out of a club for taking a picture of my friend kinda put me off. Also, craziest drivers in Europe (well, until I went to Sicily). Maybe I will go back some day and give it another chance. I do agree with the great day trip options though – I loved visiting Sigulda and the Jurmala Coast

    1. You know, I’ve found that many developing countries have developed exponentially in the past decade. Riga today might be different from when you saw it then.

      And the craziest (meaning most reckless) drivers in Europe are in Malta, hands down!

  15. One of the first things I noticed when looking at the pictures was how clean the city is! The food looks so good, It is nice to see stories about places like this because it wouldn’t have been one of my top destinations but now I will make sure to get up there. Are there any months when it is really sunny?

  16. The article was an interesting read for someone who’s been living here for over three years. It’s nice to get a fresh point of view on things, although I might have a different take on many aspects here.

    But as for the food, I totally agree with Michael (the foodinriga one 🙂 ). Food is quite obviously a matter opinion, but I’m rarely that impressed about the food here. Of course there are good places here too, but the general impression I have is.. blah.

    Also, if you take a closer look at the foodinriga website, you’ll find a lot more than just those “nah” places Norberts mentioned. I personally think that it’s refreshing to read someone’s honest opinion on the restaurants here. Otherwise a review would be quite pointless, don’t you think? Also, no one said you need to agree with the reviews. It would be great if we could talk about food without being so defensive and making it personal. Food is fun, after all.

  17. Great recap of a great city. Six weeks there and I still didn’t get to all the places I would have liked. The food scene s good for vegans too. Only thing the city/country needs is a few hills 🙂

    Lol at you munching on the pickle.

  18. Riga sounds lovely! I haven’t been, but with all the colors, great cafe culture, a Black Balsam liqueur that sounds intriguing, and a charming Old Town, I’m there.

  19. I’m currently studying abroad in France, and I’m always keeping my eyes out for cheap flights around Europe. Latvia’s come up a few times, and after your post I’m thinking I’ll have to bump Riga up on the priority list! Gorgeous photos!

  20. After watching your snapchats from Riga early in the year I added it to my list of must see destinations for my upcoming trip to Europe (I leave next month!).

    It seems so magical. This review only made me more keen to visit it.

  21. I’m so happy to hear how much you enjoyed your time in Riga! I’ve been lucky enough to call this gorgeous city home for the past year and am baffled by how few tourists pass through as compared to nearby destinations (Tallinn, Stockholm, etc.) As you’ve said, Riga has tons to offer and it’s time the rest of the world knew about it!

  22. I live in Riga and I really enjoyed this article, but what I wanted to mention after reading comments is that if you’re a vegetarian and ever come to Riga, check places like fat pumpkin, restaurant buddha, Rama, miit, RawGarden 😉

  23. Andrejs Celinskis

    Spent ten days with friends in Latvia this September. Riga is a fabulous city. My only comment………………..
    Latvija …….. brīnišķīga vieta.

  24. I was in Riga for the first time in June, I loved it! It was beautiful, and the food for the most part was good. I had the best ribs I’ve ever eaten!

  25. Oh look what you’ve done….
    Before long there the place will be packed with tourists from all over the world, people selling souvenirs on the streets, cost of living will go up and locals won’t be able to afford to live there anymore……

    Thanks for sharing though :-).

  26. I love love LOVE Riga. I really hope to go back some day! If I could speak the language and handle the bitter cold of winter, I’m sure I could live there.

  27. Guys, let me suggest you a good and cheap taxi – “Panda” taxi. It’s not so solid as a baltic taxi cars, yet it’s cheap in several times. For example the same routine in Baltic can coast 10€, but taking Panda, only 3-4€ 🙂 All locals usually use Panda or Alviks taxi (or others ones) Baltic is considered too expensive, and sometimes they like to ride fast, with sudden stops, in order for you to pay more, then it could be.
    About veggie and vegan food. Almost all restaurant and cafes has a vegetarian menu, and of course there are a lot of vegetarian or healthy food “bars” and restaurants. Riga has nowadays a fashion towards all healthy stuff and vegetarian stuff also :)) so don’t be shy and just a waitress, because usually, they can even make a vegetarian meal, that is not included in the menu. And it won’t cost you much (about 5-7€; about 12$ I guess) 😉

  28. Great review! But let’s just get one thing straight here.

    The name of the pub you visited is “Ala”. Calling it “Folkklubs” is like, well… assuming that the name of a pub is “A pub”, because it literally translates to “folk club”. Full official name is “Folkklubs Ala”, and it’s usual visitors are mostly local students, alltough recently it’s been swarmed by foreigners (both tourists and Erasmus students), who probably appreciate how this particular place showcases Latvian cultural traditions.

  29. Latvia, my very favourite country, Latvians my very favourite people. But let’s not flood it with tourists, the Chinese can have Prague, just send them there and tell them it’s Riga.

  30. “Criminally underrated” sounds absolutely right.

    I was there three or four years ago and loved this city, for all the reasons you listed. The Art Déco buildings were absoluely stunning, and the food delicious. I really don’t know why this city is not a more popular destination.

    1. There are a lot of places in the world that are beautiful, authentic and “undiscovered” or underrated. I hope it stays that way. I’m from Riga and moved to Miami and I hope tourism never grows in Latvia. While tourism supports certain businesses, it makes the place more expensive for locals and slowly destroys culture and makes people leave to search for better living in other countries. Thus people don’t represent country anymore, only “things” that stay there.

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