Europe & Britain | Destination Guides

Why you'll love Riga, Latvia's 'Paris of the North'

British author, Graham Greene, dubbed Latvia’s capital city ‘The Paris of the North’. Like so many who love Riga, Greene adored its beautiful architecture, thriving art scene, street-side cafés and eateries – all attributes that make it one of the most intriguing cities in all of the Baltics.

1. Its eclectic mix of architecture

The three brothers in Riga

Grab your camera and start exploring. From Maza Pils Street in the Old Town to Albert Street in the Art Nouveau district, Riga’s mix of intricate Hanseatic, Art Nouveau, Gothic and modern architecture will surprise and delight.

Start with the ‘Three Brothers’ in Old Town. This residential complex is the oldest in Riga, with the firstborn (white house) dating back to the 15th century; the middle brother (yellow house) to the 16th century; and the youngest brother (green house) to the 17th century.  Standing shoulder to shoulder, the ‘brothers’ are a striking example of Riga’s architectural roots.

Legend has it that the houses were built by three men in one family, and today visitors can actually step inside the historic buildings, which house the Latvian Museum of Architecture.

More medieval treasures in Riga

In fact, Riga’s Old Town has more medieval treasures, historic buildings, statues and monuments than you can shake a stick at. Make sure to visit:

  • The House of the Blackheads, Riga’s most iconic building
  • The Town Hall and its impressive clock tower
  • The Cat House, with its cocky black cats keeping a close eye on the square below
  • Riga Dome Cathedral
  • The Swedish Gate
  • The Musicians of Bremen statue, inspired by the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name

Equally impressive is the city’s UNESCO World-Heritage-listed Art Nouveau district. A slow wander down Albert and Elizabeth streets will bring you face to face with Europe’s biggest collection of Art Nouveau buildings, most of them built by Latvian architects in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

Even the most architecturally-unaware among us will enjoy a coffee in one of the district’s cafés. The opportunity to soak up the curved lines and ornamental touches of this beautiful design period with make you love Riga even more.

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2. The views

Latvia Monument

If you’re looking for memorable things to do in Riga, take in the view from St Peter’s Church in Old Town.

First built in 1209, with many renovations and iterations since then, St Peter’s Church is one of Latvia‘s most interesting – and beautiful – cathedrals. It’s certainly Riga’s tallest, and the spire’s viewing platform offers panoramic views over Old Town, Riga Bay and the Daugava River.  

3. Riga Central Market

Aerial view of Riga

In the mood for a spot of shopping, the freshest pastries and a great cup of coffee? Make your way to Riga Central Market. Officially Europe’s largest market, it’s housed in five old German Zeppelin hangars near the edge of the Daugava River. A popular spot for locals and tourists alike, you can shop for fresh produce, sample local delicacies (think dumplings, fresh fish, bread and a range of cheeses) and hunt for trinkets and souvenirs – including old Soviet memorabilia.

Unlike other markets across Europe and the Middle East, you won’t be able to haggle, as this is where residents do their everyday shopping. But you will get a real glimpse of local life, and if possible, love Riga even more.

4.  Its cafés and bars

Street Cafe in Latvia

Take a stroll around Riga, and you’ll soon draw comparisons with Paris. Students, professionals and fashionistas abound in this vibrant, modern city with its wonderful mix of history, art and culture.

Catch your breath in one of the pavement cafés that spill onto Dome Square, or grab a bite on Miera Street, in Riga’s up-and-coming hipster neighbourhood.

While Riga has a notorious reputation for stag parties, you can avoid the crowds by seeking out local restaurants and bars. Traditional Latvian food won’t disappoint and a swig of Riga Black Balsam, Latvia’s national drink, is almost a rite of passage.

5. Its parks and green spaces

Coloured Padlocks on a bridge

Riga has plenty of green spaces and it’s easy to find beautiful spots for a jog, stroll or picnic. Perhaps the most well-known is Bastejkalna, or Bastion Hill, a 19th-century park with walkways and waterfalls, flowered beds and a winding canal. Lovers can stroll hand-in-hand, feed the ducks or take a river cruise on a 100-year-old wooden launch.

If that’s not romantic enough, ‘padlock bridge’, with its impressive collection of love locks, spans the canal. Local tradition has newlyweds add a lock on their wedding day, before throwing the key in the water below. 

Further north, you’ll find Esplanāde Park, a grand park flanked by Riga’s orthodox Nativity Cathedral with its striking gold-domed roof, the National Art Museum and the Latvian Art Academy. Closer to the Art Nouveau district, Kronvalda Park sits on a former hunting ground and features a dancing fountain, a Chinese pagoda and roller skating track.

More reasons to love Riga

With so many things to do in Riga, it’s hard to put together a definitive list of our favourites. Here are just a few more reasons to love Riga:

  • The Latvian National Museum of Art houses a staggering 52,000 works of art.
  • Kalnciema Quarter, Riga’s creative quarter hosts weekly craft and farmer’s markets, open-air concerts, art exhibitions and movie nights. 
  • Latvia’s National Library, the extraordinary ‘Castle of Light’ is home to centuries of secrets – catalogued in 13 storeys of books, resources, art and history. It is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and visitors will be enchanted by legends of princesses and ‘castles of light’.
  • The beautiful seaside resort of Jūrmala, with its 33 km stretch of white quartz beach is only half an hour from Riga, making it the perfect day trip.

Do you love Riga as much as Graham Greene did? Let us know your top tips, attractions and Latvian experiences in the comments below …

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