The capital city of Latvia, Riga, offers an array of fascinating sights and experiences for backpackers and travellers. It’s a common layover destination for a lot of people, leaving many asking the question of how to make the most of their short time in the city. Riga is a city the Eastern Europe Insight team have spent a lot of time in. We like to think we’re well versed on travel tips and advice on everything the city has to offer. Whether it’s mainstream sights, off the beaten track destinations, or dark tourism locations, read on for our top tips on how to make the most of one day in Riga, Latvia!
The Riga Aviation Museum – Start one day in Riga Latvia the right way!
If you’re spending your one day in Riga Latvia due to a layover at the airport, there’s no better way to kick things off than with a coffee and a trip to the Riga Aviation Museum! Situated right outside Riga airport, this museum was founded back in 1956 and still going strong. It offers a fascinating insight into the ghosts of aviation history while modern planes fly overhead at Riga International airport.
Although many of the planes and helicopters in the museum’s collection have certainly seen better days, the Riga Aviation Museum is one of Europe’s most treasured collections and has survived almost 70 years against various odds. If your layover is timed right, be sure to pay it a visit. It’s open 10 am – 4 pm every weekday but closed on weekends.
Breakfast in Riga
So, you’ve landed at Riga airport, checked out the former mighty metal birds of the USSR, and now you’re en route downtown. It’s time for a hearty Baltic breakfast and luckily, Riga has many options on offer. Here are our top two spots for breakfast in Riga.
1. Restorāns 3
If you’re keen to try some of the fish dishes that the Baltics are well known for, look no further than Restorāns 3. The restaurant offers an array of natural, fresh, and healthy breakfast options. All of them are made using ingredients sourced in Latvia. So for an authentic culinary start to your one day in Riga Latvia, look no further!
2. Bruņinieku 63
This unique eatery is a rather well-known place for food in Riga. Largely due to them offering cooking classes led by the qualified chefs who work there, but it’s a bit early for that! So it’s a great place to grab breakfast during a quick stopover in Riga. For those on a budget, the restaurant often offers coffee and tea included in the price of breakfast or brunch.
Things to do in Riga
After breakfast in Riga, it’s a good idea to spend the morning of your one day in Riga Latvia ticking off the majority of the mainstream Things to do in Riga before the majority of tourists head there. That way you will hopefully have the majority of Riga attractions to yourself and in the afternoon you can spend your time checking out the less mainstream sights which should also be fairly empty.
Start your walk through Riga’s streets and absorb not only the Medieval architecture but also the abundance of over 800 Art Nouveau buildings that Riga has to offer. The city has more examples of Art Nouveau architecture than anywhere else in the world. This stems from the financial boom Riga experienced which resulted in the need for trendy homes for the growing bourgeoisie class which coincided with when the Art Nouveau movement was at its peak. The majority of examples can be found outside of the Riga city walls with a massive cluster located on the magnificent Albert Street in Riga.
Your next stop can be the Town Hall Square of Riga. As well as being home to the city’s Town Hall and the jaw-dropping House of the Blackheads (a 14th-century association of unmarried merchants and ship-owners), the Riga Town Hall Square is also the site of what is believed to be the first decorated Christmas tree which was put up here back in 1510.
“If you can’t use your eyes, follow your nose.”– Latvian Proverb
You can end your tour of the mainstream things to do in Riga with a visit to a solemn landmark named ‘The Freedom Monument’. This magnificent red granite statue was built in 1935 in remembrance of the Latvians who fell in battle against Soviet troops during the Latvian War of Independence that raged between 1918-20. Interestingly, despite decades of Soviet occupation after WW2, the monument was heavily considered to be demolished but never was. Instead, it became a focal point of the revolution in Latvia during the late 1980s and subsequent independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
For an in-depth list of 25 mainstream things to do in Riga, check out this epic list from The Crazy Tourist. But now, it’s time to enjoy lunch on your One Day in Riga Latvia. Let’s eat!
Riga Restaurants for Lunch
When it comes to Riga restaurants to enjoy lunch or brunch, you have a wealth of options serving everything from fish straight from the Baltic sea to vegetarian meals. Here we’ll give you the rundown of our top three favorite Riga restaurants for lunch.
1. Big Bad Bagels
As a Bagel lover, this is one of my favorite Riga restaurants. Big Bad Bagels of Riga offers over 20 bagel fillings for you to create your dream lunch. Their sauces, such as guacamole, tzatziki, Russian dressing, hummus, and more are all homemade on site. Combine that with their fresh cream cheese, fresh vegetables, and high-quality bacon, ham, salami, smoked salmon, you are talking about a Bagel of epic proportions!
2. Save My Day Coffee Shop and Cafe
For those seeking vegan and gluten-free options, Save My Day is the place for you. Many locals will attest to this place having some of the best coffee out of all Riga restaurants. But don’t let that overshadow the fantastic food for great prices and served by friendly and helpful staff.
3. The Innocent Cafe in Riga
If you’re looking for brunch options, the Innocent Café in Riga was actually one of the first places to serve the dining option. Thus, it’s a trustworthy place to sit down and enjoy a healthy, tasty, and inexpensive brunch/lunch. They also stock a seriously impressive array of coffee options to give you an energy boost before continuing your adventure of one day in Riga Latvia.
Still undecided? No worries! Check out this great list of 20 places for brunch and lunch in Riga courtesy of the team over at The Culture Trip.
Dark Tourism Sites for One Day in Riga Latvia
In centuries gone by, Riga hasn’t always been the charming tourism hotspot that it is today. It was once the epicenter of a Crusader onslaught through the Baltics. During World War Two, the city saw one of the darkest periods in its entire history when it fell under the brutal occupation of the forces of Nazi Germany as well as the oppressive regime of the Soviet Union. As a result, when it comes to dark tourism locations there are plenty of things to do in Riga. But as we’re short on time, we’re going to shortlist two for our one day in Riga Latvia.
1. The KGB Museum, Riga
Despite looking like a classic example of one of Riga’s many Art Nouveau buildings, the Corner House is actually the local KGB Museum of Riga. Following Soviet annexation in 1940, it was here that the infamous Soviet secret police known as the KGB would bring political prisoners for imprisonment, interrogation, torture, and often, death.
Following the Soviet withdrawal from Riga after the German victories in Operation Barbarossa, the Nazis attempted to win favor with the locals by showcasing the torture that had taken place inside, despite carrying out equal atrocities of their own. The Soviets returned in 1944 and resumed their operations in the building. Today, the former HQ is open as a museum where the public can witness for themselves the inhumane cells and execution areas.
2. Riga Central Market located in former Zeppelin Hangars
Yes, you heard that right! The incredible Riga Central Market is situated across Built in stunning Neoclassical and Art Deco style, the market spans an area of 778,000 square feet inside hangars which were formerly built for Zeppelin airships. The hangars were built at the beginning of the 20th Century when Zeppelin airships were seen as the future. However, when the airships went out of fashion rather quickly, the hangars were instead put to use as an enormous market, one of the largest in Europe in fact!
When Riga fell under the control of the Nazis, the Wehrmacht kicked out the market traders and used the hangers as troop accommodation and storage for military equipment. When the Soviets, well known for their adoration of peasants, markets, and collectivization, regained control of the city, they returned it to its role as a people’s market.
Best Restaurants in Riga for Dinner
After a day of exploring and making the most of your one day in Riga Latvia, you’ll hopefully have time to round off your day with a meal to remember. Let’s look at our top three best restaurants in Riga to enjoy dinner.
1. Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs
If you enjoy folk music, traditional outfits, and eating in a rustic aesthetic, then Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs is the place for you. This is one of the best restaurants in Riga to enjoy a traditional Latvian food in true Baltic style: washed down with a few pints of locally brewed beer! For vegeterians, however, the options are limited. The fare on offer here is very much on the side of meat and carbs.
What better way to end a day in one of Europe’s best medieval cities than enjoying dinner in a medieval wine cellar. Despite being fairly touristy, there is something magical about dining in this place with its medieval vaulted ceilings lit by candlelight. Like the previous restaurant, the restaurant specializes in a range of meat dishes but does have a limited vegetarian menu as well.
3. The Hospital Bar / Hospitalis
The Hospital Bar in Riga or Hospitalis is not for everybody but will certainly be an experience to remember! The interior is a bizarre mixture of burlesque, fetish, and kitsch. The waitresses here are dressed as sexy nurses or scantily dressed scientists. This is one of the best restaurants in Riga for lovers of the bizarre where the food is eaten with surgical tools and served on steel plates and the ”nurses” can tie you up in a straight jacket and spoon feed you alcohol, if you request it…
The End of One Day in Riga Latvia
And so, your one day in Riga Latvia is at an end, and it’s onto your next destination. We hope this guide to spending a layover in Riga was helpful and allows you to get the most out of your time in this stunning medieval city. For more articles on the world of travel from city guides and food to safety advice and must-sees, check out the Eastern Europe Insight travel section!