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A Long Weekend in Riga Latvia

The House of Blackheads historical red building - A Long Weekend in Riga

I enjoyed my visit to Riga last year, but to really get under the skin of the city I asked local Riga expert Lelde to share her top tips for spending a long weekend in Riga, including the best things to do in Riga, recommendations for what to eat in Riga and the perfect escape from the city.  

The ultimate long weekend in Riga is a city break with the added bonus of an outdoor hike. It satisfies all the senses through mindful walks, rich meals and cultural experiences.  Latvia’s capital city gives a fascinating insight into the country’s culture, food and people, but try to explore the rest of Latvia as well as Riga.

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How Many Days to Spend in Riga?

Riga itself is compact and you can explore most of the best things to do with just 2 days in Riga.  Delicious food, arts and culture, and shopping are the building blocks of a deeply satisfying and memorable weekend in Riga. 

However, spending 3 or 4 days in Riga gives you the chance to get outside the city and see some of the Latvian countryside.  A long weekend in Riga should serve as a profound introduction to Latvia and entice you to return and explore more of what lies outside the capital.

The Three Brothers - Historical Buildings in Riga
The Three Brothers – Historical Buildings in Riga

A Long Weekend in Riga: Things to do in Riga City Centre

The old town or Vecrīga is Riga’s business card. Its playful facades, soaring church towers and fantastical House of Blackheads are what you’ll see on postcards, posters and guidebook covers. Explore it on a walking tour to learn how Riga acquired its eclectic jumble of buildings in so many shapes, styles and sizes.

Armed with your new knowledge of the city’s history, make your way to the other side of the canal to the Centrs neighbourhood for some independent exploring. Gaze up at the incredible Art Nouveau style buildings on streets including Tērbatas iela, Blaumaņa iela and Elizabetes iela.

Also across the canal from the old town is Riga Central Market with its five indoor hangars and sprawling outdoor space. The market is a haven for budget-conscious travellers with an appetite.

Get a bowl of handmade dumplings at the corner cafe in the fruit and veg pavilion. Grab a takeaway pie or samsa with lamb or spinach at the Uzbek bakery at the entrance to the fish pavilion. Pick up some rye bread, hemp butter and seasonal veg to enjoy at the Daugava Riverfront promenade just across the road from the market.  

The market is an excellent place for edible souvenirs and stocking up on ingredients if you’re staying at an Airbnb.

Fruit stall in a hangar building - Riga Central Market - A Long Weekend in Riga
Riga Central Market – A Long Weekend in Riga

Riga Food Scene – Full of Exotic Flavours

Even restaurateurs source ingredients at the market. You can always find seasonal produce such as birch sap in spring, juicy forest berries and wild mushrooms in summer and autumn.

Potatoes, meat and dairy remain popular staples in the Latvian diet, but there’s never been a better time to be vegan or vegetarian in Riga. Producers and purveyors aren’t just cooking up fabulous international favourites like veggie burgers, but also creating plant-based alternatives to regional dishes like honey cake and siļķe kažokā (Russian-style dressed herring).

Grab a healthy bite at Terapija, Green Pumpkin or Angārs street food hall, which are all centrally located and accessible on foot, by bike or public transport from the old town and market.  

Diet-permitting, try smoked fish, grey peas with bacon and venison dishes. Folkklubs Ala, Milda and Valtera Restorāns are solid options for getting a traditional taste of Latvia.

Due to shared history under Soviet rule, Riga’s also great for food from the Caucasus region. Uzbek, Armenian and Georgian cuisine are heavy on nuts, meat and pomegranate. Restaurants like Alaverdi, Uzbekistāna and Armenia provide a good introduction.

Traditional Food in Riga - Things to do in Riga
Traditional Food in Riga – Things to do in Riga

Sunday Brunch in Riga – a Contemporary Tradition

Sunday brunch is a popular modern-day tradition among younger residents following the example of their peers in cities like Berlin and Copenhagen. It’s typically a buffet affair. Tables are loaded with salads, canapes and mini sandwiches and there’ll either be hotplates or a menu for ordering warm dishes. Austra, Autentika and Miit Coffee do amazing spreads.

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Cultural Things to Do in Riga – Galleries, Cinemas and Event Venues

A long weekend in Riga would be incomplete without an injection of arts and culture. The Latvian National Museum of Art and Museum of Decorative Arts and Design never disappoint with their topical exhibitions.

However, parallel to that is a growing gallery scene to delve into. Kim? Contemporary Art Centre, the ISSP Gallery for contemporary photography and Low gallery address relevant questions of our time. Once every two years from May to October, the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art draws visitors to unusual locations like former factories, warehouses and disused faculty buildings.

In the evening, join the locals at one of the arthouse cinemas, the Latvian National Opera or a music venue. There’s not a day in the year when you won’t find something happening.

Pretty buildings in Riga - Exploring the Streets of Riga - A Long Weekend in Riga
Exploring the Streets of Riga – A Long Weekend in Riga

For live music and DJ sets, see what’s on at Kaņepes Kultūras centrs (Kaņepe Cultural Centre). Prefer something on the classical music spectrum? Check the programme at Lielā Ģilde (the Large Guild). Movie lovers can get their fix on Elizabetes iela, a street that’s home to three independent cinemas: Kino Bize, Splendid Palace and K.Suns.

Souvenir Shopping in Riga – Where to Buy Local Design Items and Books

If you’re looking for a tangible memory of your long weekend in Riga, how about a pair of hand-knitted socks, East Latvian pottery or an aromatic bar of herbal soap? Awake, Riija and Ziemeļmeita are design and craft stores with beautiful selections of locally produced items.

Mr Page and Robert’s Books are independent book shops. The former stocks new books and provides white gloves for browsing lest visitors leave a mark on their pages. The latter sells second-hand books in Latvian, English and other languages, and is also a cosy cafe and event venue.    

Woollen Socks are a traditional gift from Riga
Woollen Socks are a traditional gift from Riga

A Day Trip to Saulkrasti For Fresh Sea Air

On weekends, locals enjoy spending time in the outdoors and often head to nature trails and national parks for hiking or foraging. Fortunately, some spots are easy to reach by public transport. From Riga Central Station take the hour-long train journey to the blissfully silent Saulkrasti, a town on the east coast of the Gulf of Riga.

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While it does have yearlong residents, Saulkrasti is livelier in spring and summer with the arrival of seasonal locals and visitors to their owned or rented cottages. The beach takes 10 to 15 minutes to reach on foot from the station and is a sweet introduction to the 500 kilometre-long Latvian coastline. Sandy beaches, rugged dunes and teetering pine trees are a grand setting for hiking, swimming and sunbathing – all popular pastimes.

Wooden pathway next to the beach Saulkrasti - A Beautiful Day Trip from RIga
Saulkrasti – A Beautiful Day Trip from Riga

In Saulkrasti, enjoy the scenery from the well-marked and equipped nature trail, which runs right along the seafront. You’ll find plenty of benches for taking a moment to enjoy being alone in nature. The scenic Baltā Kāpa (White Dune) is the trail’s highlight. From there, walk to the Pabaži station to get your return train to Riga. The walk from station to station should be four to six kilometres depending on how long you spend wondering along the beach and in the dunes.

Other suggestions for day trips from Riga include the Kemeri Boglands, Jūrmala, Gauja National Park and a day trip to Sigulda.

Would you like to visit Riga?  Do you have any other recommendations for things to do in Riga for a weekend?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave your comments below.

About the Author

Lelde Benke was born in Australia to Latvian parents. She’s lived in Riga on and off since the age of seven. Life In Riga is Lelde’s passion project through which she aims to understand her identity and help others embrace Latvia and Latvianness. For many years Lelde worked for Latvia’s national tourist board. She’s now a freelance translator and copywriter.  You can follow her Riga tips on the blog Life In Riga, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.

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Last updated: May 20, 2020

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