Riga: the highlights

Why visit Riga for your weekend away

Riga is the undisputed nightlife capital of the Baltics and is quickly becoming one of the most popular destinations in all of Europe. It was voted as the joint European Capital of Culture for 2014 (alongside Umea in Sweden). Plus, it’s got enough clubs,barsand restaurants to rival most major European cities but with cheaper booze - making it the perfect destination for a weekend away.

Whether you’re after a blistering night out on the town, or would rather relax in one of the city’s trendy bars, Riga has got something for everyone. The city has a ton of unique activities too, from bobsledding to bowling,bar crawlsto go karting, the options are endless.

Riga is also a prime destination for big groups, with discount airlines regularly offering cheap flights from the UK. So snap up some cheap flights and get your mates over to Riga - but beware, the winters can get pretty cold here, with averages of just 1°C during December.

Explore the city

Riga central market

This enormous market is one of the largest in Europe, housed inside defunct zeppelin hangars from World War 1. Inside you’ll find over a thousand stalls selling black bread, sauerkraut, smoked fish and other Latvian treats. If you're feeling brave, try some pig snouts or beef tongue!

Best view of the city

Head up the spire of St Peter’s church to see some breathtaking views of Riga. You’ll see the whole of the city’s art nouveau district, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, made up of cobblestone streets and scenic river views, as well as the famous freedom monument and the stunning national opera house. It’s a great way to see all of Riga’s cultural tourist attractions in one go.

Jurmala Beach Resort

If the sun's out and you fancy a day at the beach, the scenic Jurmala beach resort is only 30 minutes' drive from Riga city centre. With miles and miles of white sand and shallow blue water, it’s the perfect place for a sunbathe and a swim - although, don’t expect Mediterranean waters, the ocean can be cold (toe-numbingly cold).

Beer Bike

When travelling as a group, it can be hard to see everything a city has to offer so get your mates on a Beer Bike to take in the best views of Riga - you can even enjoy some ice-cold beers while you pedal during this boozy guided tour!

Olympic Bobsleigh Track

Test your courage and coordination with a fast-paced thrill ride at the Olympic Bobsleigh Track. You’ll get the chance to reach speeds of 80 km/h as you twist and turn down the icy course. Plus, in the warmer months you can still experience a bobsleigh on wheels to recreate this thrilling winter sport. It's a great way to dust off your hangover!

Outdoor Go Karting

Go Karting might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you're planning a trip to Riga, but just outside the city centre there's an impressive track where you and your mates can compete in 15-minute sprint races. Go head-to-head to see who takes the chequered flag, then finish it off with podium presentations for the top drivers.

Nightlife hotspots

Riga is renowned for having the best nightlife in the Baltics, especially during the summer months, when visitors spill out of the pubs and bars onto the narrow cobbled streets. The city has a range of late-night entertainment, offering everything from relaxed local hangouts to huge nightclubs that host international DJs.

La Rocca

For a night of classic house and electro music, check out La Rocca, the largest nightclub in Latvia. It's got a large dance floor, premium drinks and a can host up to 1,500 revellers. With an immense sound system, it’s sure to leave you satisfied.

The Old Town

The Old Town is where you’ll find some of the city’s best pubs, beer gardens, bars and nightclubs. All the bars are set within walking distance, so you can hop from bar to bar to see everything the city has to offer. If you need help navigating Riga’s nightlife scene, then try our Guided Bar Crawl and get insider knowledge on the hottest spots in The Old Town.

Eat like a local

If you’re looking for a light lunch or a quick snack than Latvian cuisine probably isn’t what you’re after. The local cuisine is heavy, hearty and rarely without some form of pork. But if that's not your thing never fear, there are plenty of healthier options in Riga’s dining scene. For those who want to avoid the pork for an evening, try one of the many international restaurants and vegetarian options spread across the city.

Smoked fish

Riga is set right on the Baltic sea, so fish is a staple ingredient of Latvian cuisine. Try some smoked fish, a traditional delicacy which you’ll see in the central market and restaurants all across Riga. It’s a must try if you want to experience some local cuisine while staying in Riga.

Latvijas balzams

Riga’s infamous drink is Latvijas balzams, a strong, thick herbal liqueur that's distilled to a potent 45-percent proof. It’s an acquired taste to say the least - think Jagermeister, ginger and cough medicine. If you want to give it a try, you’ll find it in shops all over Riga.

Traditional Latvian Beer Tasting

Why not sample some of the local beer by taking part in Traditional Latvian Beer Tasting? Enjoy a beer-inspired journey of discovery and put your taste buds to the test as you work your way through a carefully-chosen selection of beers. You’ll soon be well on your way to becoming a beer connoisseur.

Places to stay

Try and aim to stay within The Old Town if you can as this is where most of the clubs, bars and restaurants are located. Although, Riga is a compact city and easy to get around on foot so whatever you choose it’s likely to be close to the city centre (making it perfect for stumbling home in the early hours).

A guide to the ultimate weekend in Riga

Enjoy what’s great about Riga – the history, the adventure, the warm welcome you get, the good food, wonderful beer and good-time vibe. And just bear in mind, like many Eastern European cities, Riga has a lot of rules. Be a good guest and you’ll have a great time.

Riga at a glance:

  • The biggest of the Baltic cities, it’s the capital of a country that shares a border with Lithuania, Estonia, Russia and Belarus for a unique snapshot of Eastern Europe
  • Expect pleasant, sunny weather and temperatures up to 20° between May and September
  • Sub-zero temperatures from December to March make the city and surroundings exciting for extreme activities – just remember to wrap up warm
  • Sup on Black Balsam, the city’s thick, black and ancient local drink – the exact recipe is a secret, its potency is not

Local knowledge:

Riga Old Town – beer gardens and lazy summer evenings The Old Town is where you’ll find some of the city’s most interesting bars, cafés and restaurants and between May and September their beer gardens are where you want to be. Street musicians play until late into the evening, the gentle Baltic breeze cools the air and even if you’re not a diehard romantic, it’s virtually impossible not to be just a little bit enchanted.

Central District - a local look at Riga The majority of architecture in Riga’s Central District is Art Nouveau. The buildings are stunning and the intricate and immense carving and sculptural detail might be a bit sinister in places but it’s it’s always breathtaking. The streets to look out for are Elizabetes, Alberta and Strelnieku. But, if you want a more contemporary, cheaper and less touristy side to Riga the Central District does that too. It’s where you’ll find the huge Central Market – it’s so vast they do guided tours. The independent shops are fascinating and very Eastern European exotic. And restaurants, cafés and bars here are relaxed and friendly with wonderful local food and prices.

Central Market – join the crowds for a snapshot of an immense Riga institution Selling everything from pickled cucumbers and pig’s snouts to lace and embroidery, this is Eastern Europe’s largest covered market and attracts upwards of 80,000 visitors every day.

Best pubs in Riga:

Victory Pub Endless promotions, Ladies Cut Price Cocktail Nights, a legendary karaoke and all the beer brands you know and love – a bit of a party pub for sure.www.victorypub.lv

Aussie Backpackers Pub Guest DJs and live bands in the basement, wild and wonderful events programme and the only pub in Riga to have 12 different local beers on tap – it’s almost like a challenge.www.aussiepubriga.com

Paddy Whelans Riga’s first Irish pub and sports bar. Firm favourite with roaming stag and hen parties but the line-up of beers on tap and the great promotions could tempt you to stay put.www.pub.lv

Best bars in Riga:

Skyline Bar Cocktails served at 26 storeys high with views over the Central District’s Art Nouveau rooftops. Go at the weekend for guest DJs and fantastic sunsets.www.skylinebar.lv

B-Bar B stands for Balsam, the traditional local drink and the basis for many of the famous and inexpensive cocktails in this cool, three-storey bar. Take it easy though. Balsam’s strong and can sneak up on you.www.bbars.lv

Best clubs in Riga:

Club Nautilus Long-running Riga favourite with six themed bars, three dance floors and a broad mix of sounds and regular guest DJs. Girls get free admission so expect to find quite a few of them in there.www.nautilus.lv

La Rocca The weekends are full-on for this house/techno club. The crowd’s young and good looking and if you come with friends before 1am you get in free (it’s only €7 if you miss curfew).www.larocca.lv

Studio 69 Riga does Studio 54 decades down the line. The clubbers are an older mix and mainly Latvian but the energy’s good and it’s a real Eastern European experience.http://www.studio69.lv/

Radio Bar Nightclub Riga does bars-come-clubs with a relaxed feel, guest DJs or live music and a dancefloor. They’re usually quite small and not open every night. Try Radio Bar to see if you like a Riga twist on traditional clubbing, it’s one of the best.www.radiobar.lv

Food: eat like a local:

Traditional Latvian food is designed to keep you warm, so it’s hearty and delicious. Try the Piragi, pastry stuffed with bacon and onions or breaded pork chops known as Karbonade. And if you need a salad ask for Rasols. It’s salad – but heavy on potato, eggs, bacon, sausage...fantastic.

Vincents One of the best restaurants in Riga, Vincents’ modern European take on fresh, local ingredients is faultless. It is expensive, but unforgettably good.www.restorans.lv

Lido Hearty, cheap and very traditionally Latvian, there are eight Lido restaurants in Riga and they’re well-loved with good reason. Buffet style is usually the way and some have English menus too.www.lido.lv

Ala Folk Klub Traditional food, local beer and folk music all in an underground cellar, it doesn’t come more Latvian than that. Locals like Ala Folk Klub, always a good sign.www.folkklubs.lv

Coffee Inn If you can’t get through the day without caffeine pick up your fix at Coffee Inn and add some of their delicious cakes, muffins and pastries to your order. It’s like a Latvian Starbucks – only better.http://caffeine.lv/

Best time to visit:

It’s not a huge surprise that Riga is stunning in winter. It’s Latvia, so all that snowy wonderland stuff comes as standard and it’s beautiful and only perfect for extreme activities.

Getting about:

Trams, buses and trolley cars are the way to get about Riga by day and into the early hours of the morning. They’re cheap, easy to use and you can save by buying tickets in advance for up to 20 journeys or up to five days of city travel.

If you’re using taxis, use Baltic Taxi (the green ones). They’re safe, reliable, friendly and you won’t get scammed – being given change in Lithuanian currency instead of Litas, meter hikes and roundabout routes.

Riga Daily Bike Tours are also a fun way to see Riga’s historic landmarks and get a bit of exercise. The tours take off twice a day (noon and 3pm) from the Town Hall Square, they last just over two hours and your bike is included in the price.

Staying safe:

Like any major European city, Riga has pickpockets. The Central Market, between the bus station and the Old Town and along Valnu Street are favourite haunts. Take the usual precautions and pay attention in crowds or narrow spaces, like doorways.

A honey trap is a popular local scam. Attractive young women invite unsuspecting men into expensive bars, order up drinks then disappear, leaving the man to foot the huge bill. Some strip clubs run a similar racket and prey on lone males, so stay in a group.

And finally, Latvian coins are worth five times more than Lithuanian coins, if someone asks you to help them out and exchange coins for a bank note, check the change.

Useful phrases:

Thank you = paldies Yes = ja No = ne Hello = sveicinati Cheers = prieka