Riga is the capital city of Latvia, the middle of the three Baltic States. It is the largest city in the Baltics at approximately 640,000 people, sitting astride the Daugava river, which flows through the centre of the region.
Riga is easy to reach by ferry or bus, as it is the major hub for the region. In Riga’s downtown, you can find evidence of its proud past as a cultural centre for the region. It has the largest Old Town of any of the Baltic States, which you could easily spend several days exploring. However, this is a guide of What to Do in Riga in One Day — so I’ll focus on the highlights!
Your Morning — Visit Old Riga
Start your day’s explorations by visiting Old Riga and hitting a few of its highlights. The Old Town of Riga sits on the eastern bank of the Daugava, although the city proper extends onto both banks of the river. There are a ton of churches and museums to visit in the Old Town, but these were a few of my favourites.
House of the Blackheads
The House of the Blackheads is a very unique-looking building, with a lot of historic significance in the region. The Brotherhood of the Blackheads were a fraternal order of unmarried and foreign merchants or tradesmen, established in Estonia-Latvia (then Livonia) in the mid-14th century.
Originally a quasi-military organization, the group’s role has evolved over time. Initially, it was formed to protect Riga from invasion by the indigenous population, who wished to push foreigners out of the country. Later, it became a group to protect the interests of those ineligible for membership in the Great Guild (unmarried men and foreigners).
The Blackheads were split into regional chapters throughout Latvia and Estonia, and continued to exist into the 20th century. Many of their traditions of ceremonial drinking continue to exist in student organizations and other groups in the region.
St. Peter’s Church
A Baroque church located in central Riga, St. Peter’s Church affords a great opportunity to get a good view of the city and take some photos. It is fairly typical otherwise — similar to St. Nicholas’s Church in Tallinn (if you read my What To Do in One Day guide for this other city).
And don’t worry about stairs — this one has an elevator! See a preview of the view below, looking out across the Daugava.
Your Afternoon — Boat Tour
After finding a nice restaurant somewhere in Old Riga, I’d recommend you explore the area by boat — which gives you an alternate perspective for the area and a chance to rest your legs!
To find the boat tour, simply head to the canal in Bastejkalna Park, where you’ll find several locations to hop aboard! On your way, check out the Latvian National Opera, which borders the canal.
City Canal & Bastejkalna Park
Bastejkalna Park surrounds the Old Town of Riga on the east side, while the river surrounds it on the west. It is a beautiful, well-maintained park, often filled with students and tourists in good weather. There are a number of tour boat companies operating out of the park, so you shouldn’t have to wait more than 20 minutes for a boat.
Your tour will take you out onto the Daugava River, giving you a view of the waterfront of the Old Town, before looping back to your starting point through the city canal. The canals are filled with fountains, other tour boats, and some kayakers (which you can choose to rent as an alternative). As you can see from the pictures, it’s a really lovely circuit.
After your tour (or while you’re waiting), try finding a circular glass tea house in the park, where cushions on the second floor allow you to lie back and take in the scenery outside. This spot is not well-marked on Google maps — but you’ll find it easily if you take the time to stroll through the park, thanks to its unique appearance.
Thanks for reading my What to Do in Tallinn in One Day guide — part of my series on the Baltic States. Loved reading it or have a recommendation that you’d like to see included? Leave a comment below to let me know!