So you’ve only got one day to spend in Riga? Don’t worry. As many sites as there are to see in this gorgeous gem of a city, if you stick to this pick of 10, I promise you a relaxed, stress-free sightseeing experience with a nice medieval touch.
While Riga has several different areas to explore, if you’re time-bound, do stay in the Old Riga area, which is packed with architectural sites, historic monuments, magical little cafes and fancy restaurants. I’ve put together a small travel guide for you, collecting all the main sites there are in Riga that you can see in just one day and mentioning a few of my favorite restaurants here and there. So here we go!
10 Things To See In Riga In One Day (DIY RIGA TRAVEL GUIDE)
1. Town Hall Square & The House of the Blackheads
Riga takes a lot of pride in The House of the Blackheads, which is definitely one of the most admired buildings in the city. It was erected in the 14th century by a group of rich merchants, who were also young and single and liked to party. Nowadays, we’d call them “eligible bachelors”.
Originally, the House was built as a trade guild – but because those rich guys actually liked partying more than business, the guild soon became a vibrant center (nowadays we’d call it a “club”) attracting all the social butterflies of the early Rennaissance. This means that there was a lot of drinking going on in The House of the Blackheads back in the day.
Today, however, people come to admire the building for its dazzling architectural details, the gorgeous Astronomical Clock (Riga’s answer to Prague), and the treasures inside the Medieval Cellar.
Note: Right in front of the House of the Blackheads, you can also find a small spot of the world’s first-ever Christmas tree from 1501.
2. Dome Square, Riga Bourse House & Riga Dome Cathedral
Dome Square is the centerpiece of all action happening in Riga. Christmas markets, concerts, protests, meetings, parades – everything happens there. So you have to go there too to keep up.
All streets in the Old Town are leading to the Dome Square, making it Riga’s personal Rome. There are numerous restaurants you can check out at the location, and while I don’t promise that the food there is good, you can at least have my word that it will be totally overpriced :D It really is a lovely spot to chill at on a warm summer day, though!
Now, the first one is this very good art museum that hosts these very good art exhibitions. Totally recommended!
And the second one is none other than the ultimate symbol of Riga. An absolute must-visit!
Riga Dome Cathedral is the largest cathedral in the Baltics, with the roof of the size of a football field and once the world’s biggest pipe organ. There’s a museum inside as well, where you can see some medieval sculptures, church bells, and stuff like that.
FOOD TIP: If/When you get hungry, my favorite pancake cafe is just 3 minutes away from Dome Square! It is called Šefpavārs Vilhelms, and it has the best pancakes in the world. (Honestly!)
3. The Three Brothers
Now, speaking of the ultimate symbols of Riga – there’s another one that you might have heard of before. The Three Brothers.
The Three Brothers are the three oldest residential houses in the city, and while all three of them were built in different centuries (1490, Middle Ages/Early Renaissance; 1646, Mannerism; and 1718, Baroque), rumour has it that they all belonged to the same family (hence, the origin of the name). The buildings are called the White Brother, the Middle Brother, and the Green Brother.
4. Changing of the guards at the Freedom Monument
This simple yet super stylish monument represents Latvian independence and was built as a war memorial for those who fell during the Latvian War of Independence (1918-1920). The monument is essentially a young woman standing on a pedestal and holding three golden stars – we call that woman Milda. So if you hear people say, oh let’s meet at Milda’s, now you know it’s not the real person they’re talking about.
But anyways. You should see the monument because it’s like an important symbol of Latvian patriotism, and there are cool folklore motifs carved on the walls (which is, like, cool too), and also, most importantly, there are cute guys wearing uniforms and guarding Milda because, well, she’s a woman and she needs protection.
Note: The Guard of Honour changes between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. every hour, every day.
5. The Powder Tower
The only surviving tower in the city – WOAH!
Just to compare: Riga used to have 28 towers during Middle Ages. This only remnant, once called the Sand Tower, is now called the Powder Tower, because in the 17th century, when the Swedes conquered Riga, they destroyed it, then rebuilt it, and then stored their gunpowder there.
Now, the Tower is part of the Latvian War Museum.
6. Liv Square (Līvu laukums)
If you’re tired of walking around and feel like you ned to slow down, Liv Square can guarantee some peace and quiet without you having to leave the Old Town. It’s a small green square with some cafes nearby where the locals come to relax and take a break from the hastened pace that Riga acquires during summer. On hot sunny days, Liv Square also hosts a number of amazing outdoor restaurants and street shops selling Baltic amber jewelry and handcrafted souvenirs.
FOOD TIP: Another great place to eat is at the restaurant called Melnais Kakis at Meistaru St. 10/12. Last time I checked, they had quite affordable, very yummy business lunches.
7. Convent Yard (Konventa sēta)
Convent Yard in located the very heart of Riga, and yet it’s easy to overlook as it kinda looks like a white wall without windows. It is, significantly enough, the oldest building in the city. First built as a castle in the beginning of the 13th century, it was turned into a convent for widows and spinsters. You can go inside the Convent for Yet Another Museum, but you can also walk around in its inner Yard which preserves the oldest parts of Riga. So if you want to travel back in time, take a small stroll and enjoy the truly medieval atmosphere!
8. The Swedish Gate
(History geeks and architecture aficionados, listen up!)
In the beginning of the 17th century, when Riga was in the grip of the Swedes, the city was lined with houses along the fortification wall, making it quite hard to enter the city. To solve the problem, the Swedes built a gate. But not just an ordinary, typical, boring gate that you’ve seen everywhere else. Riga’s Gate is highly utilitarian and extremely space saving, as the Swedes built it through the houses, keeping the apartments on the top of the gate. Ah, those lovely Scandinavian designs!
9. The Jacob’s Barracks & Riga’s Fortification Wall
Just on the other side of the Swedish gate, you can find the longest building in the Old Town and Riga in general: Jacob’s Barracks. Built in the 19th century to house soldiers, now the barracks are inhabited by a number of bars, restaurants, and boutique shops.
If you walk along the barracks, you’ll also see the remains of Riga’s fortified wall. Back in the day, Riga used to be the strongest fortified center in the Baltics, so it’s pretty impressive to see and touch and feel all these old stones once used to protect the city from foreign invasions!
Advice: walk along the fortification wall from the other side of the Jacob’s Barracks: it’s more of an experience. Also, when you do that, pay attention to the brick road: you’ll notice that sometimes there’s a brick line running across the road, indicating the porches of the buildings that aren’t there anymore. Remember that as narrow as the streets are in Riga, they used to be even narrower!
10. Churches & Cathedrals
There are at least four must-see churches and cathedrals in Riga.
First is the above mentioned Riga Dome Cathedral.
Then, of course, there’s also St. Peter’s Church to marvel at, particularly at its three identical Baroque portals and headless angels (lost their heads during World War II and never found them again). St Peter’s is where you can also enjoy a beautiful view over Riga, if you’re willing to pay 7 EUR.
After, you should definitely see the St. Jacob’s Cathedral that was (and still is) famous for its church bell. Unlike all other ordinary church bells that you can usually find inside bell towers, this one is located outside, on a wall, making St. Jacob’s one of the wonders of Riga.
Last but not least, there’s also St. John’s Church located close to the Convent Yard. If you pay enough attention, you can notice tiny head sculptures on the church, as if looking out from the exterior war. These little heads were sculpted to pay tribute to two medieval monks, who, according to the legend, allowed to immure themselves in the church as they believed this would make the walls stronger. After death, the monks’ wish was to be canonized for having sacrificed their lives for such a noble cause, but then the Church considered that to be too ambitious (oops). So now they’re just nameless, fameless skeletons immured in the walls of a church in Riga.
Here’s what you can do in Riga, too:
If you’re good with time, there are more things to see in Riga in one day:
- Bastejkalns (Bastion Hill) in the Bastejkalna Parks next to the Freedom Monument, for an excellent view over the city;
- Univerisity of Latvia, to see the country’s biggest university;
- Riga Castle, to check out where the president lives;
- Take a walk on the 11 November Embankment along the Daugava river.