There were three reactions I got when I told loved ones I was visiting Latvia:
- Thats in Europe, right?
- Is there even enough to do for a week-long Latvia itinerary?
- Is Latvia safe?
That last question was from a loved one and, actually, they didn’t ask if Latvia was safe so much as send me all types of forums talking about how the country is full of thieves, car jackers and terrorists.
I know they meant well; but while it’s important to be prepared when traveling Latvia solo and to know about any safety concerns, I also didn’t want to get into my own head.
Instead, I hoped to visit with an open mind and naturally discover what this former USSR country has to offer.
So, what does Latvia have to offer the solo female traveler — or really any visitor looking to have a memorable trip?
Read my Latvia itinerary and trip advice to find out.
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Table Of Contents
5. Map Of Riga
Latvia Travel Video
Looking for a Latvia travel video guide? Well you’re in luck, because I made one!
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A Brief History Of Latvia
While it’s always a smart idea to understand at least a little bit of the history of a place before visiting, this is especially true for Latvia.
As a visitor, my immediate thoughts on the first day of my trip were that:
- The skyline was stunning, with a wide array of architectural styles rising up. It’s the type of skyline that you’d only find in a historic European city.
- Latvia is super green. Even in the capital city of Riga there are many parks, as well as the River Daugava and a canal running northeast to southwest. I loved wandering and breathing in the fresh air.
But, it’s important to realize that under the beautiful buildings and tree-lined waterways is a darker past, and that Latvia only regained its independence in 1990.
That means that even many local Millennials you’ll meet have birth certificates that say “USSR.”
It’s a very complex topic that I’ll dive more into below when I discuss the KGB Museum and some of my other Latvia experiences. I’ll also share some short videos.
What’s interesting to note is that over 25% of Latvia’s population is Russian. According to my Riga Free Tour guide, these people, for the most part, get along fine with the rest of the population.
Here’s what is scary for many Latvians today:
How Russia could potentially become involved again, and that the past is not really behind them.
If we look at recent relatively events with, for example Russia and Ukraine, it’s easy to see why this is still a concern for many Latvians.
Here is a short, well-made video that explains this point well:
Why Latvia Is A Great Destination For Solo Female Travelers
I’m going to start with a spoiler and say I found Latvia to be an excellent destination for solo female travelers.
Riga Is Walkable. As a solo traveler, taxis don’t make sense to use as my main mode of transportation, since I don’t have anyone to split the cost with.
Luckily, Latvia’s capital of Riga — which I used as my home-base for this Eastern European trip — was extremely walkable, at least in terms of the two main tourist neighborhoods of Old Town and the City Center, as well toward the Brasa neighborhood, which is fun and less touristy.
Otherwise, Latvia has a reliable bus and tram system, as well as their own version of Uber (called Taxify) and even a bike share system called Sixt.
Easy From The Start. Riga International Airport is small, and because I flew carry-on only into Oslo Airport and got customs done there, I was able to zip straight to the information booth in Riga International Airport to sort myself.
Here, I was directed to a newspaper stand right outside the airport to grab a SIM card (~5 Euros for 1,000 megabytes). I popped it into my phone, typed in a pin code and it worked.
Then I paid less than 2 Euros for the #22 bus — located across the airport car park — which took me to the City Center in less than 30 minutes. Note you can also take the #222 bus.
Because Norway and Latvia are both within the Schengen Area of Europe, I only needed to go through customs once for both countries.What are your favorite #solotravel destinations? Here's why #Latvia makes my list! Click To Tweet
Safety. I felt very safe exploring Riga — as well as the rest of Latvia — solo. This is always essential, but especially when I’m on my own.
That being said, I do always like to note my two favorite travel safety items, including:
- Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments. These hidden-pocket garments ensure thieves never even know you’re carrying cash, cards and valuables.
- Vigilant Personal Alarm. Simply press a button and this small device will blare as loud as a fire truck to scare potentiall attackers — and animals!
Both of these are travel safety essentials I use both at home and on the road.
You Can Base Yourself In Riga. You can certainly road trip Latvia, and I bet that would be a wonderful experience; however, since I was traveling solo I wanted to have one base and then do Riga day trips via public transit.
Often, this is less stressful than having to worry about driving and new traffic laws on my own.
It’s affordable. Hey, I’ll never complain about a budget-friendly destination; however, when I’m traveling solo and have nobody to split costs with, this becomes even more essential.
Just to give you some ideas of price, you can find hostel dorms for less than $20 per night (many with private rooms), a bus ticket to get from Riga to Cesis (a 1:45 minute journey) was 4.15 Euro, and a meal with a glass of wine in a sit down pub was about 12 Euro (though you can eat cheaper at local cafeterias or even grocery store takeaway cafes).
There are many free attractions. I’ll dive more into my favorites below, but for now know there is plenty to do in Latvia for free. In Riga specifically, some examples include the Riga Free Tour, the KGB Museum and the Latvian War Museum — all worth being added to your Latvia itinerary!
Carry an umbrella. As stated above, I found Riga to be extremely walkable, though note because of its maritime location the weather can change instantly.
Latvia Travel Tips
After traveling Latvia myself, here are a few pieces of advice to travel smarter:
Eat at the grocery store. Sure, you can buy groceries on a budget; though another perk of many grocery stores in Latvia — specifically Riga where I based — is the takeaway counter. I had a tasty venecin burger for about 3.50 Euros inside the Origo Shopping Center supermarket.
Learn a few phrases of Latvian. While the Millennials and younger generations mostly speak English — they learn it in school — older generations tend to know Latvian and Russian. Don’t be offended if you feel like you’re getting weird looks or an “unfriendly” attitude in response to a question. There’s a very good chance the person doesn’t know what you’re saying if you’re speaking English.
Get a local SIM card or KnowRoaming SIM Card. When I was younger I touted myself as a free spirit who didn’t need a phone or to be connected to the world. In my 30s — especially as a solo traveler — I realize that it’s totally possible to keep your phone in airplane mode, but still have it in case of emergencies (or, you know, the 101 times you’ll likely get lost). Let’s be honest, how many times have you not been able to find your tour guide and wished you could call them?
Use this website to plan your day trips. Super easy and clear!
Don’t be alarmed by the swastikas. The first time I saw swastikas on the road I was in Taiwan. I was shocked.
But here’s the thing:
Swastikas existed before Hitler, and were originally a Buddhist symbol of peace (which he stole and gave an evil twist).
In Latvia, folklore is a huge part of the culture. As one of my tour guides informed me, “While in the US your cool kids do sports, in Latvia the cool kids sing folk songs and do folk dances.”
Swastikas are part of this folk culture, and they’re not letting Hitler ruin it.
Map Of Riga
To help you get a sense of the geography of Riga, it’s helpful to look at a map.
I like this one from Visit Latvia:
You can also click here to download the above map as a PDF with Riga attraction suggestions for your Latvia itinerary.
Neighborhoods Of Riga
Now with the map it’ll be easier to understand the main Riga neighborhoods you’ll likely hang out in.
Most tourists stay in Old Town, which is gorgeous and definitely worth some time.
The problem is that many visitors never leave Old Town; which is a shame, because there is much more to explore within and outside of the city.
Here is a brief overview of each of the Riga neighborhoods I hung out in:
Old Town. Definitely the most expensive neighborhood in Riga, as you’ll be paying tourist prices; but the cobbled streets lined with historic architecture — think old world castles and churches — is gorgeous.
City Center. This is where you’ll find attractions like the Nativity of Christ Cathedral, Old St. Gertude’s Church, the Art Nouveau Quarter and the Latvian National Museum of Art — one of the best museums in Riga. The architecture also has grander facades with a (not surprisingly) more Art Nouveau feel.
Brasa. This lovely Riga neighborhood has a residential vibe. The main Riga sightseeing attraction here is Miera Iela (Peace Street), which is a hipster haven with tons of shops, cafes and galleries. Oh, and it’s also where you can explore the delicious side of Latvian culture at the Laima Chocolate Museum.
Getting Around Latvia
In terms of getting to Riga day trip destinations like Cēsis and Jūrmala, you can purchase tickets right on the bus or train. Depending on the route, you might be able to purchase your ticket beforehand in the bus/train station or in a newspaper shop.
- When going from the airport to the City Center I purchased my ticket in a newspaper shop
- When going from the City Center toJūrmala I purchased my ticket on the bus
- When going from the City Center to Cēsis I purchased in the bus station.
When in doubt, ask.
On all the Latvia travel routes I took, purchasing straight from the driver was an option.
Money In Latvia
I took out 150 Euros from the ATM for my one-week trip…
…and regretted it.
It’s easier to use a credit card in Latvia than it is in NYC! I didn’t encounter any credit card minimums. Really, the only things I needed cash for were tips.
Personally, I’d rather use my travel card — I use the Chase Sapphire Rewards card — so I can earn points, vs paying with cash where I don’t get any perks.
Where To Stay In Riga
Riga Hotels: Radisson Blu Elizabete Hotel, Riga, Latvia
For the beginning of my trip, I stayed at the gorgeous Radisson Blu Elizabete on the bustling Elizabete Street in Riga’s City Center.
I loved this trendy, immaculately-clean hotel so much, from the art-adorned hallways to the wide windows with birds flying past.
Below my window, I had a view over the restaurant courtyard.
On the first floor, the indoor-outdoor restaurant, CUT, had delicious food and an equally appetizing atmosphere with lots of plants (some of which were culinary ingredients) and tables under strings of bare-bulbed lights.
Nearby, their sister property offered a sumptuous spa and rooftop bar from 26 storeys. More on both of these experiences below.
Starting Rate: $115
Riga Hostels: Central Hostel
If you’re on a budget, Central Hostel in Riga’s City Center is a great option.
Since I didn’t want my budget to get out of control, I spent the second half of my trip here, in a small private room with shared bathroom for about $30 per night.
It’s a chill, non-party hostel, with two lounges featuring bean bag chairs and televisions, a communal kitchen, a large $4 breakfast, and free 24/7 Wi-Fi and coffee.
Note that there is no air conditioner or fan, and street noise may bother some (though it does get much quieter at night). I visited in summer and didn’t get hot, though.
To help with the noise the hostel has ear plugs. If you wear them and play this awesome white noise YouTube video you won’t hear a thing!
Starting Rate: ~$13 for a for dorm (depending on the date).
A Latvia Itinerary For Solo Travelers
So, what did I do to make this solo trip such a blast?
Steal this Latvia itinerary, which bases you in Riga and includes some incredible day trips.
1. Treat Yo’ Self (To A Full-Service Spa Day)
ESPA — located inside the Radisson Blu Latvija Conference & Spa Hotel, Riga — is one of the best spas I’ve ever visited.
For one, because of all the facilities!
They have a heated pool, numerous saunas and steam rooms to choose from, a Nordic shower area and multiple relaxation rooms with free refreshments.
When it came time for my “Stressbuster” treatment, I was brought into a room and told to sit in a large chair with a bucket in front. This is where I was given an incredible foot massage and exfoliation, followed by me getting to choose my oils for what followed:
- A full body massage on a heated table
- A facial using serum laced with pumpkin
- A relaxing scalp massage (that put me right to sleep!) and hair mask
Afterward, my therapist took me to a relaxation room for some tea, fruit and wafer cookies to continue the relaxation. It definitely put me in the right mindset for the rest of my Latvia trip!How do you treat yo' self on a #solotravel trip? In #Riga, this is how I did! Click To Tweet
2. Take An Alternative Walking Tour (For Free!)
Of course you’re going to spend time in Riga’s Old Town. All the tourists do, and for good reason:
Along with having a rich history, it’s extremely charming.
That being said, it’s also important to go beyond the tourist area to see the other side of Riga and Latvian life.
I absolutely loved my free walking tour with Riga Free Tour — though do make sure to tip your guide!
The tour meets daily in front of St. Peter’s Church in Old Town, and if you get Kaspars as your guide, I guarantee you’re in for a treat.
What’s interesting is that along with seeing sites like Riga’s Oldest Russian Orthodox Church, the Central Market and the Latvia Academy of Sciences (a Socialist Realism building ordered by Stalin), you hear stories.
One that really brought to life the situation in Latvia was a story of Kaspars’ friend.
During a holiday party, the grandfather of his friend and the grandfather of his friend’s partner were discussing the old days, and realized that during WWII they were in many of the same places at the same time — on opposite sides, shooting at each other.
This is apparently not uncommon in today’s Latvia.
We also discussed the Holocaust while visiting a large memorial site.
On one side of the memorial sit the remnants of a synagogue that had been destroyed, while the other side listed names of locals who had helped hide Jews during this horrific time.
On a happier note, another topic of discussion was Latvia’s rich Pagan origins, and how certain traditions — even those that locals know are silly — still exist.
One is the Midsummer’s Festival, an event meant to bring prosperous crops for the new year.
During the Latvian festival, locals — who are very connected to nature — leave the city for the countryside and go out looking for a mythical flower. While in the woods, couples “get lucky,” and nine months later there is a dramatic baby boom!
It’s a really great tour if you want to gain a better understanding of Latvian culture and heritage beyond your guidebook.
3. Dive Deeper Into Latvia’s Darker History At The KGB Museum
I’m usually not a museum person; however, Latvia has such a complex and, let’s be honest, often dark history. I couldn’t leave without visiting at least a few Riga museums to learn more.
One of these museums was the KGB Museum, located inside the former KGB building, known fearfully during those dark times as “The Corner House”.
Before Soviet troops invaded in 1940, Latvia was a neutral, independent country full of people living relatively normal, happy lives.
Things drastically changed during the next 50 years, when locals were oppressed under a regime directed from Moscow. Actually, many Latvians were deported or murdered without the chance to say goodbye to loved ones.
If someone were suspected of being against the country in any way, they might also be held in a small four-person cell with over 40 other prisoners, sometimes even confined to a tiny one person cell in solitary confinement with no room to lay down.
Inside the KGB Museum — which is free to enter, or 5 Euros if you want to see the former “Cheka (KGB) Dungeons” — you’ll gain a better understanding of this time, and even “meet” some of the prisoners who were sadly murdered through their photos and bios.
As NATO Review aptly notes this museum is an important reminder of how vital it is not to become complacent.
Now, I don’t want to go too much into detail about life in Latvia under Soviet control, since I didn’t live it myself.
So, here is a list of a few recommended books that can give you some first-hand account insight:
- Spy Handler: Memoir Of A KGB Officer
- Eagle In The Fridge (incredible book written by a local Latvian!)
- Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II
This Business Insider interview with a Soviet immigrant whose father was killed under the KGB is extremely interesting, as well.
4. Standup Paddle Board At Sunrise
I’ll admit, when I was told a cab would be picking me up at my hostel at 2:10am for this experience, I wondered if I’d lost it a bit. I won’t even book a flight that requires me to get up that early, let alone an activity I’d done countless times before.
While I’d been stand up paddling numerous times prior, I’d never been like this.
The Latvia activity — hosted by SUP Adventures — takes place in the stunning Cenas Tīrelis Preserve.
By the time the group met at 4am, the preserve was still and silent aside for the calling of birds.
Now, here’s where things get a little less serene:
You will need to carry a backpack of your gear — provided to you by SUP Adventures — about 20 minutes through the forest to the launch point. The bag includes your deflated SUP board, pump, fins and leash, and weighs about 29 pounds total, not counting any of your own gear like water and a camera.
It’s very, very heavy.
You’ll also need to pump up your own SUP board, which is challenging.
Actually, our group struggled so much we all burst out laughing the entire time. I’m so weak I couldn’t quite get those last few pumps in, though luckily my guide helped with that.
While a lot of work for 4am, it definitely woke me up and warmed me up for the water.
Oh, the water!
Lake Skaists (“Lake Beautiful”) is like a mirror, small Islands littering the lake and reflected in great detail on its surface.
“Serene” is the perfect word to describe what I paddled on, absolutely still water that cut like glass with my paddle, fog rolling gently in front.Would you wake up at 2am to go paddleboarding? Check out why I did in #Latvia! Click To Tweet
My favorite moments were when the birds would come down from above the trees to barely skim the water, a reminder of these other worlds that exist beyond city walls.
We paddled for an hour; and by the time I was back at my hostel at 730am, I couldn’t believe how much I’d accomplished by a time I’d usually still be sleeping at!
5. Enjoy Riga Day Trips To The Latvian Countryside
Specifically to Cēsis, which I was told by many locals is Latvia’s “cutest” town.
You’ll pay just 4.15 Euros each way for this scenic 1.45 hour journey.
And when you arrive in Cēsis, you’ll be enveloped in Latvian charm through cobbled streets, medieval architecture and the surrounding Gauja National Park.
Just a little background first:
According to Baltic Run, the enchanting town of Cēsis dates back to the 13th century, when it was a stronghold of the Livonian Brotherhood of the Sword — later called the Livonian Order. They were a military put together by Bishop Albert of Riga in 1202 to convert pagans in the Baltics to Christianity.
This military constructed an ornate fortified castle as their headquarters, which historically was home to many battles, including the Livonian War when it was blown up to keep Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible from taking it over.
This wasn’t the last of the castle though. It was actually re-built and destroyed again, this time by the Russian Army.
What’s neat about visiting is there is so much to explore!
You can wander around the castle ruins, explore a beautiful attached park.
There are actually two castles onsite.
The first features old fortress ruins dating back to 1214. Here you’ll find a dark history, as 300 soldiers blew themselves up inside, and the remains of women and children were found during excavation.
The other castle is a stately 18th century manor house.
You can explore the numerous art collections, historical artifacts, and restored and reconstructed rooms — ranging from libraries to offices to coffee rooms and beyond. The best part though is climbing an enormous winding staircase to the rooftop for a 360-degree view from the Lademaher tower.
Now, these Cēsis Castles aren’t the only reason to visit Cēsis.
In fact, there are a number of cafes and shops within the town that I enjoyed stopping into, such as:
- Cafe2Locals. A bit overpriced, though I enjoyed sitting outside with a medieval church view and drinking a beer from Grimbergen Brewery, dating back to the year 1128.
- Kimene. This shop sells all kinds of artisanal Latvian products, like wines, jams, honeys, ice creams, candies, coffees, condiments and even unique garlic candies.
- Cesu Maize. Latvia has some of the most delicious bread I’ve ever tasted, especially their black bread. At Cesu Maize, you can try fresh, homemade Latvian bread on the spot.
- The Global Center For Latvian Art. This free-to-enter museum features Latvian artwork through a variety of mediums. Even their yard has some unique pieces.
If you’re looking for a Latvia tour that visits Cēsis, some recommendations include:
- Private Full-Day Culture and Food Tour to Sigulda and Cēsis
- Full-Day Private Tour to Cēsis and Sigulda from Riga
Honestly, if you’re looking for things to do in Latvia, a day trip to Cēsis is a must!
6. Wander Riga’s Old Town
This is hands down one of the most popular places to visit in Riga.
You’ll know immediately when you’ve exited Riga’s City Center and crossed into Old Town — Riga’s oldest section — as the streets become narrow and cobbled, with medieval buildings much closer together.
Buskers dance and play DIY instruments, restaurants beckon tourists with live music and al fresco seating, and the architecture makes you feel like you’ve stepped back into medieval times.
What’s most striking here is the varied styles of architecture, including Romanticism, Gothic, Mannerism, Baroque, Eclectic, Classicism and Modernism.
Old Town is right near the center of Riga, so if you’re not already staying there it’ll most likely be easy to walk to. Which is a good thing, since there are a number of not-to-miss sites, including:
- St. Peter’s Church – Which, by the way, has a lookout with a beautiful view from the top!
- Riga Dome Cathedral
- Riga Castle
Looking for unusual things to do in Latvia?
The narrowest street in Riga is Rozena Street, located in Old Town. It’s so slender you can actually spread your arms and touch both sides at once!
7. Go To The Movies (Yes, I Really Said That)
One reason Latvia is so green:
It rains — a lot!
So, if you encounter a rainy day on your trip and you’ve already visited Riga’s best museums, spend time at Forum Cinemas.
Now, this isn’t just any theater. Actually, they have movies in numerous languages with subtitles (plus they sell booze to pair!).
If possible, see a Latvian film with English subtitles — possibly even a documentary if one is playing — for a unique dose of local culture.
Want even more Latvian theater?
The Latvian National Opera is not only aesthetically beautiful, but it puts on world-class productions.
And, if you have a flexible schedule, you can visit the theater right before showtime to get highly discounted tickets on unsold seats (for 5-10 Euros!).
Don’t worry if you don’t speak Latvian. The opera is in Italian, so even the locals don’t know what the performers are saying. Simply Google the plot before the show to follow along, or follow along with the sub-titled screen above the stage!
8. Enjoy Seaside & National Parkland In Jūrmala
Before visiting Jūrmala, I thought it was simply a small seaside town.
Getting off in its Majori hub and visiting the tourist information center, however, showed me it’s actually a larger city with many cities, districts and territories within it.
Actually, if you head into the tourist information center, they have a booklet with all your options, including experience recommendations and easy-to-understand hand-drawn maps.
As an active adventure lover, I opted to catch the next train from Majori to Kemeri. The train station is right across the street from the tourist information center — which is also right where the bus drops you off — so it was an easy change to my Latvia itinerary.
Oh, and the round-trip ticket between Majori and Kemeri was less than 2 Euros total. Booya!
The train ride took a scenic 27 minutes, and when the train drops you off you’re just steps from Kemeri National Park, covering over 147 square miles.
Now, there are tons of trails to choose from and many natural sites to explore. The highlight however — at least in my opinion — is the Sloka Lake Nature Trail.
First if all, it’s enormous! So big you can’t see all of its sides. There is a small dock with a seven-meter-high lookout platform you can climb for a gorgeous view and some bird-watching.
My favorite sighting:
An adorable family of ducks floating by!
Kemeri is also known for its swamps filled with sulfur waters — which becomes quite obvious from the smell. There are a number of scenic boardwalk trails that allow you to better see these swamps.
Interestingly, Kemeri was developed as a curative Latvian destination.
And while I didn’t see anyone bathing in the sulfur waters while I was there, people are certainly exploring the destination to better their mental and physical health through nature.
Actually, many of the paths are accessible, and I saw plenty of people in wheelchairs exploring.
Good news for solo travelers:
All trails — and even the main streets — are well-marked with actual tourist signs (not just trail markers), so it’s almost impossible to get lost.
If you still have energy afterward, head north from the train station to the other end of the city to swim in the Gulf of Riga and enjoy the beach. Or, if you don’t want to head that far from the train, go back to Majori to do this.
If you’d prefer to explore Kemeri National Park with a guide, there are a number of Latvia tours departing from Riga to choose from, like:
- Sunrise To Great Kemeri Bog
- Day Tour to Kemeri National Park
- Full-Day Private Tour to Jurmala, Fisherman Villages and Nature Trails
9. Go For An Overnight Hike
Hiking through Kemeri National Park wasn’t my only trekking experience in Latvia.
In fact, I signed up for a hiking excursion with The Latvian Element that started at 9pm at night — when the group met in Riga — until 8am when I got dropped back off at my hostel.
I’m not going to lie; I was nervous about this excursion; not because of the darkness or the difficulty, but because of the lack of shut eye.
But, oh, it’s so worth it!
While I was expecting a flat trail illuminated by my headlamp, this is actually more of a shamanic experience. I explained it to my boyfriend like “taking ayahuasca, but without the throwing up.”
Don’t worry, you won’t be ingesting trippy mushrooms; however, the hike is cathartic, as you enter complete darkness and only use your headlamp when truly needed, though the glow worms and certain glowing plants also help shed some light.
Before entering the forest you set your intention, leave the “mental traffic jam” behind and allow the woods to take over and give you what you need.
Oh, and don’t think you’ll follow a clear path. Instead, you’ll make your own. At times, the darkness causes your eyes to play tricks on you, too.
The Latvian Element changes up where they take their guests, always choosing places that are truly off the beaten path. For this Latvia trip, we entered a forest thats name translates to “The Witches Cauldron.” This is due to its valley-like shape and the fact it’s believed witches once came in here to practice their magic (and possibly still do).
My favorite part of the experience was when the sun began to slowly illuminate the forest.
Your other senses become heightened when one is turned off, so you’re really aware of every sound, smell and change in light.
It was incredible being one with the woods as it woke up.
10. Cross The Akmens Bridge
From Old Town Riga, you can cross the Akmens Bridge over the Daugava River. While walking, you’ll take in gorgeous views of the Riga skyline and some of the islands right off the coast.
On the other side of the River, I recommend visiting the National Library of Latvia and heading up to the 12th floor for a gorgeous view from across the water.
You’ll need to book a guide in advance to go all the way up. Or, as a local informed me, you can simply sign up for your own library card and say you’re going up to study.
If bringing a backpack, you’ll need to lock it up for 1 Euro.
11. Walk Riga’s Most Beautiful Non-Touristy Street
When I turned onto Alberta Iela (Street), I almost fainted.
In a good way!
As stated above, most tourists to Latvia stay in Old Town Riga and never leave; but there are so many other architecurally gorgeous areas of the city to see.
The buildings feel like they should be owned by royalty. It’s amost like you shouldn’t be able to get so close to such stunning spaces.
Nearby there are tons of adorable outdoor eateries, too.
Food & Drink In Latvia
Now that you know a few unforgettable things to do in Latvia, let’s talk about Latvian food and drink.
As my Riga Free Tour guide put it, over the years Latvia has lost their culinary identity.
Today, they’ve actually adopted a mix of German and Soviet cuisines due their past of having both powers conquer them.
So, you’ll find a lot of tasty sausages.
Because Latvia is so lush and full of countryside, there are also a lot a lot of naturally organic products.
Other defining characteristics and ingredients of Latvian cuisine include:
- Pickled foods. They pickle everything here, even if it’s typically something you wouldn’t!
- Smoked/salted foods.
- Fish, thanks to the country’s martime location. Some signature seafood eats include “sprats” (Baltic herring) with butter on rye bread, and “lamprey eels” with herbal jelly.
- Dill. I’m obsessed with dill, so I was happy to find Latvians are, too.
12. Try Riga’s Black Balsam
In terms of drinks, Latvians often drink tasty beer and not-so-tasty Black Balsam. Quite honestly, it tastes sort of like cough medicine mixed with Jägermeister.
As my Riga Free Tour guide put it, “It’s one of our biggest mistakes, but I still drink it!”
Here’s the thing:
It is a true Latvian tradition, with the strong, herbal drink invented in Riga in 1752 as a medicine to cure Empress Catherine II.
Interestingly, it features over 20 ingredients, though the exact recipe is a secret.
Picture a ton of herbs, plants and spices — from wormwood to ginger to peppermint — mixed with vodka and water and aged for about one month in oak barrels.
Trying this drink, whether in a bar or right from the liquor store, is a must-add to any Latvia itinerary!
13. Have A Latvian Beer (And Then A Cocktail)
I’ve got to be honest:
I tried Latvian wine a few times, and it always seemed to be made with apples for a really tangy, fruity taste I didn’t love.
A local friend agreed, and said in Latvia it’s better to stick with beer — especially local beer.
So, I made a trip toward the hip Aristida Briāna (Street) to check out the Labietis Brewery, where instead of focusing predominantly on hops they use unique ingredients to create a profile.
I tried their signature suds made with yaro and meadowsweet, which made the Latvian beer taste like a refreshing field of flowers.
The brewery is chill and hip, with tree stump-topped stools, a communal wooden table and lights that look like upside down glasses.
They’re located within a large courtyard lined with hip experiences, so it definitely feels like a party outside.Did you know #Latvia makes its own beer? I visited an incredible brewery in #Riga! Click To Tweet
If you want to keep drinking, head next door to Nemiers for a craft cocktail and mingle with locals outside if the weather is nice.
14. Dine Al Fresco (Beyond Old Town)
On my first night in Riga, I — like most tourists — went straight to Old Town.
I knew it was overpriced, but I paid the equivalent of about $20 USD for a small salad with a little chicken and a small water.
And it wasn’t even that good!
As I got to meet more locals and explored beyond Old Town Riga’s walls, I quickly learned you can still get an ambient al fresco meal elsewhere — and pay a fraction of the cost!
My favorite dining area was right around the Riga attraction of St. Gertrude Old Church, where hip and delicious eateries serve affordable meals from all over the world.
A few favorites:
stockPOT. Holy spicy! If you’re a hot head like me, you’ll love this Asian-influenced restaurant. Their menu changes daily, and you can get fresh salads and spicy homemade hummus alongside dishes like Indian butter chicken, fish laksa, Naga ghost chili con carne and Cambodia Khmer mussel soup.
Each dish has a spice rating from 1-10. I of course got the chicken phall rated at 10 because I apparently love pain. In all honesty though, it was a pleasurable pain and I finished every bite. Just make sure you have a local beer to wash it down!
For ~10 Euro I got chicken phall, rice, salad, a huge serving of homemade hummus, pita, a glass of local beer and a free cheese plate with my drink!
Miit. Hands down my favorite hipster breakfast spot! An Americano coffee with buffet featuring 15+ meat-free dishes was only ~8 Euros.
The spread features everything — bean salads, fried chickpea balls, pizza bread, pickles and more!
Plus, they play a great 90s soundtrack.
Vest. Hipsters unite! This outdoor patio-adorned gastropub offers the chance to brunch, dance, admire art, sip local craft beer underneath bare dangling bulbs and just chill in a trendy space.
Oh, and they also serve up some of the best coffee in the city, making it one of the top Riga cafes, too!
In terms of food, expect pub fare like burgers, salads, sandwiches and pastas.
On weekends you’ll definitely want to call ahead and book a table, as this Riga restaurant gets super busy.
If you’re set on staying in Old Town for your meal, there is one fun, locally-loved place:
Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs. Not only are their dishes and desserts based on Latvian traditions, but so is their decor and entertainment.
You’ll find Latvian symbols adorning the space, and on Wednesday nights you can see Latvian folk dancing.
On other nights when there’s live music there is also often folk singing.
Latvian folk song and dance is a major pride for locals, so getting to see this live is a special experience.
Don’t leave without having some dessert, specifically Ala’s “Cielavina”.
Pictured above, it offers a twist on the classic meringue and hazlenut dessert, often served at Latvian celebrations.
15. Go Hyper Local In Central Market
As my Riga Free Tour guide explained, the city’s Central Market sells everything from fresh produce to stolen bicycles — plus it’s the second largest market in Europe after Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar — so you’ll likely find what you’re looking for.
The market’s 3,000+ stalls are located within four old German Zeppelin hangars, welcoming 80,000 to 100,000 shoppers each day.
Something important to note:
This is not a market where haggling is okay. Actually, the locals take this as an insult to the quality of their product, so just don’t do it.
To really dive into this market, don’t miss a Riga Central Market and Food Tasting Tour.
Looking for unusual things to do in Latvia?
About a five minute walk away is another example of architectural revitalization. The Spikeri Quarter features 19th century warehouses turned into modern art, culture and food spaces.
You’ll even find an al fresco flea market here plus a number of Latvia festivals and events. Click here to see their Riga events calendar.
Riga’s Central Market along with the Spikeri Quarter are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
16. Have A Cocktail At 26 Storeys
The Skyline Bar inside the Radisson Blu Latvija Conference & Spa Hotel in Riga’s City Center is a must-add to your Latvia itinerary.
Visit at sunset.
Craft cocktail in hand, you’ll watch the city’s ornate cityscape become shrouded in hues of purple, pink and orange.
Honestly, it looks like Disneyland from above with all the turrets, gothic castles and serpentine bridges.
But it’s not a theme park. It’s real, with all the major landmarks in view, from the Nativity of Christ Cathedral to St. Peter’s Church and beyond.
In terms of what you should order, don’t miss the “Ligo Spritz,” a gorgeous flower-adorned drink featuring Aperol, sour cherry gin, strawberry and Fentimas Rose Lemonade, served in a large wine glass (shown above and below).How gorgeous is this rooftop cocktail in #Riga? The #sunset made it even more beautiful! 🙂 Click To Tweet
For a globally-inspired drink that takes you from Mexico to Japan to Italy, the boozy “Crocodile Harry” is made with tequila, Luxardo maraschino, umeshu, cherry, lime, coconut and yuzu foam.
Honestly, the foam is tasty enough to eat as a dessert on its own!
If you’re curious to try Latvia’s Black Balsam, you can have it in a tastier fashion in their “Baltic Winter.” In this drink, you’ll have Blackcurrant Black Balsam, mint, cranberry, mandarin and pomegranate.
Can’t get a seat near the window? The bathroom also has a great view for some photos!
17. Grab Some Gelato To Go
If you want to really heighten your Old Town Riga experience, pop into Gelato Italia for a cone to savor while you walk.
Funny enough, when I first arrived in Riga I was surprised at the city’s lack of gelato; just because so many other European cities have a lot of it.
When I went on the Latvian Element trip, one of the other women was from Italy. She’d studied abroad in Riga years prior, and when her father visited her he fell in love with the city and never left. Gelato Italia is his shop, and it truly is delicious.
My flavor choice:
Half pistachio, half whiskey creme. Yum!
18. Have A Cheap, Satisfying Meal
Depending on what Riga restaurants you dine at, you may spend very little or quite a bit.
What’s great about eating in Riga, though, is that if you’re looking for a meal on a budget, there are a number of inexpensive cafeteria-style eateries.
You can easily eat a filling lunch for less than 5 Euros, whether you want pasta, pizza, salad, a sandwich or something else!
The best part:
Delicio has locations all over Riga, each chill enough to not make you feel awkward dining alone as a solo traveler in Latvia.
What experiences would you add to a solo travel Latvia itinerary? Please share in the comments below!
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