A Long Weekend in Riga, Latvia
This 3 night map-based itinerary will walk you through where to eat and drink in Rīga, what to see, and how to discover their tumultuous history. I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend in Riga, Latvia for my 2019 New Years Eve! Even when there’s not a holiday being celebrated, this city is perfect to spend 3-4 days in. Some of you may only be visiting Rīga, some may be traveling on to the Latvian countryside after, and some may be visiting as part of a trip among the other Baltic countries of Estonia and Lithuania afterwards. Let me know in the comments below how you plan to visit Rīga!
On your first day of a long weekend in Riga, Latvia, you are most likely land with airBaltic at RIX airport. Depending on what time of day you land, you’re 15-25 minutes from downtown. If you’re headed to Old Rīga, you can hop on the 22 or 322 bus, or grab a taxi. All taxis are not created equal though – make sure to read the signs on the passenger door of the cab, as they are all required to clearly outline the initial fare, as well as the charge per minute. Some are more than triple others! Another cheap option is ordering a car with Taxify. Taxify is Latvia’s uber, and you’ll be picked up in someone’s personal car, identifiable by their license plates. Fares are very affordable.
As to where to stay, I recommend a hotel or Airbnb in the North East side of Rīga old town, close to the Freedom Monument. This will give you the best of both worlds: you’ll be staying in the beautiful, pedestrian only Old Town, but will be within walking distance to Rīga Centrs, which starts on the other side of the monument. The Centrs is where you’ll find all of Rīga’s breweries and lots of dining options. We chose the Relais le Chevalier, a 4 star hotel on the Līvu laukums square. The rooms were all uniquely decorated, they have a cozy 24 hour bar, and the breakfast buffet was incredible; unlimited smoked salmon is right up my alley!
Once you get unpacked and settled in your hotel, it’s time to head out for your first meal. I recommend the trendy rooftop terrarium, Herbārjis. Bonus points if you can arrive by sunset to see the views out of the glass walled restaurant. Don’t be deterred that you have to enter a shopping mall to find it – take the elevator all the way up, and it will be worth the trip. We walked in without a reservation, but here’s the number if you prefer to call ahead: +371 2734 3393. If they have a beet dish on the menu make sure to order it, the one we had with goat cheese was incredible! End the meal with the bartender’s local liqueur made from a friend’s garden.
It’s Thursday, so for a more relaxed night out, I recommend heading to Vieta wine bar. It’s also in Rīga Centrs, about a 10 minute walk from Herbarjis. I’m so glad my local friend Loreta recommended it to us, as it could not have been more up my alley. The atmosphere is cozy and calm, with about 8 tables in the whole place. You can find less distributed Eastern European wines such as Hungarian Bulls Blood, something we hadn’t been able to try since our visit to Hungary in 2015, since it’s not widely distributed. They also offer many French wines, which was a fun trip back to our trip in May where we got engaged. If the owner Jānis is around, make sure to say hi. He is a wine genius, and can tell you about every wine he sells because he has visited each vineyard himself! If you’re a wine lover like me you could spend hours here, and it will be the perfect low-key start to your holiday.
Onto Friday, your first full day of a long weekend in Riga, Latvia. I recommend starting off your first full day in Rīga with a walking tour from Rīga Free Tours. We chose the Old Rīga Free Tour at 10am, but they also offer the “Alternative Rīga” Free Tour at noon, and bicycle tours in the summer at noon and 3pm! They start at the entrance to St. Peter’s Church, and take about an hour and 45 minutes. The Old Rīga tour was an excellent mix of history and architecture, and gave us a framework of what we were looking at when we walked around town.
You will have worked up an appetite from all your steps around the old town, so I recommend heading over to Rīga Central Market for lunch. Not everyone can say they do their daily grocery shopping in a UNESCO world heritage site…but Rīgans can! Their central market was built inside 5 former German Zeppelin hangars left over from WW2. The largest market in Europe, it houses over 3,000 stands, selling everything from rye bread, shoes, and live seafood, to Christmas trees! It’s a sight to see from either the outside or inside. One option is to take a guided tour of the market, which I would recommend adding if you have more time. We just wandered around by ourselves and it was a little overwhelming!
Depending what time of year you’re visiting, it may be getting dark already! We visited over New Years’ Eve, so the sun set around 3:45pm. Next up on my itinerary is a brewery and dinner crawl around the Rīga Beer District. Almost all of the breweries we visited were more than just a bar, and had full food menus! Since there are so many breweries in Rīga and you are only here a few nights, I recommend maximizing your time by hopping around between them for a “progressive dinner.” Then you’ll be able to see a little attitude of each, from cozy rocking chairs, to current event inspired labels, to outdoor courtyards, to live music. Check out my map above for the list of breweries, and a little description of each that I found on the Beer District website. They tout a 2.5km route with nine pubs, gastropubs, and brewpubs where you can enjoy over 100 Latvian craft beer varietals! A few we went to that had food menus were Alkīmikis, Vest, and Valmiermuižas alus vēstniecība.
Enjoy the rest of your evening and there is certainly nightlife to be had in Rīga if you’re still walking after your brewery crawl!
Take it easy Saturday morning, perhaps hit the breakfast at your hotel, and once you’re up and about, head to the Saturday only Kalnciema Street Market. It’s located south of the Daugava River, and is open from 10 to 4. We unfortunately didn’t make it here, but I heard it is a lovely local craft market with entertainment for adults and children alike. Pick up some rye bread and other food from the stands for lunch.
If you’re unfamiliar with Rīga’s history, I recommend spending your afternoon learning a little bit about their past, and some of the difficult times the country faced when they were under Soviet rule from World War 2 until 1991. It hit close to home, since what we learned about is so recent it occurred in our lifetimes. This of course means there are still tensions today. Our tour was by Liga of Raami Travel, and met at the Freedom monument at 2pm. (3pm in summer.) The tour will take you through the old town and back south of the Daugava. You will see some difficult subjects, such as the train station where tens of thousands of Latvians were sent away to Siberian labor camps. You then return to the Centrs with the tour, and end over a beer. It’s not a jovial subject, but Liga taught us so much, and kept our attention the whole two hours.
Tonight, if you’re looking for a more formal well-regarded dinner, you could check out 3 pavāru, Latvian for “3 Chefs”. We had our New Years’ Eve dinner here, and enjoyed the experience between an interactive bread course and a great wine menu where we were able to find a bottle from a region we recently visited in New Zealand. It was recommended by a few locals I spoke to as well.
If you happen to be visiting Rīga during November, December, or early January, make sure to check out the Christmas markets at night as well. My favorite, and seemingly the largest, was at Doma Laukums. There was live music most nights during our visit, and tons of food stands, from vegan food, to ramen, to chestnuts roasted on an open fire (my first time having them, so I got a kick out of singing the song!) You can buy clothing with the traditional Latvian patterns on them, a Christmas ornament, children’s toys, local honey, you name it. It was just packed every night we were there, and we loved being part of the lively, cheerful crowd!
The last thing on my list to invite you to do during a long weekend in Riga, Latvia, is take a walk through Rīga’s Art Nouveau District. Rīga has a very impressive collection of buildings in this style! A few factors contributed to this concentration of architecture in Rīga.
Art Nouveau, also called “Jugendstil,” was at the peak of its popularity in the late 18 and early 1900s. That happened to be when Rīga’s economy was booming, and Rīga had just lifted a rule about all houses outside the walled city center being made of wood (so they could be burned if enemy forces took over!) The result was people with money finally being able to build and decorate their buildings how they wanted, and they did! The key traits of Art Nouveau are curved figures and structures, such as plants, flowers, and human bodies.
The roads with the most Art Nouveau style buildings are marked on my map, and are in the NW corner of the Centrs. Make sure to pop into the Jūgendstila muzejs to rest your feel or warm up. On the top floor there’s an artist’s studio from the early 1900s that’s still decorated as it was at the time (he lived there until 1907.) On the bottom floor is a well-regarded Art Deco museum, which also contains an apartment decorated from the time period! Recreated homes are one of my favorite kinds of museums as I feel it gives you the best look into life at the time.
That’s all on my itinerary, and if you are just visiting for a long weekend in Riga, Latvia, , head back to RIX, for your airBaltic flight home. If you are lucky to have longer to explore, head out to the Latvian countryside, or to it’s neighbors, Lithuania and Estonia!
Thank you for reading my guide to a long weekend in Riga, Latvia. A huge thank you to airBaltic for providing me two round-trip standby tickets from Copenhagen to Riga in exchange for coverage on my blog and Instagram. They helped make this last minute trip more affordable! (I planned it about a week in advance, after I spotted a cheap $400 RT fare from Chicago to Copenhagen.) I also received a ~20% discount at Relais le Chevalier, our accommodation for a long weekend in Riga, Latvia. Thank you to James from Riga Free Walking Tour for sending me tons of restaurant recommendations you will find in the map guide above! I wanted to take a tour with him at eatRiga, but since he was out of town for the holiday, he provided me some tips over email instead. Everything not mentioned here, including the tours, were purchased at full price by Joe and I, and all opinions remain my own regarding this post on a long weekend in Riga, Latvia.