What to Do in Riga: 5 Unusual Places to Discover
Riga is picture postcard pretty wherever you look and of course there are plenty of things to see and do in Riga. From the impressive art nouveau architecture, medieval lanes of the UNESCO listed Riga Old Town to the skyline of storybook spires.
While Riga is famous for its nightlife, river cruise, lip-smacking dishes, Central Market and House of the Blackheads, there are other unusual places not everyone recommends to tourists.
Our alternative guide takes you on a journey through unusual streets, museums and forests of Latvia’s capital. So enjoy it!
1. Count all the hats in The World of Hat
Take a turn towards Vilandes street from Elizabetes street, and you will reach The World of hat museum. What started as a personal collection by Dr. Kirill Babaev is now a five-hall collection full of different headgears spread across traditions around the world.
The collection contains hats from Europe, Asia and Africa. There are some from the United States as well. There are headdresses worn only on special occasions and the story of each is displayed there beside them. This small museum is a meeting point of many cultures and if you are curious about (hat) fashion around the world, don’t hesitate visiting this unusual place!
2. Listen to live Jazz
Many people head over to Old Riga’s Peldu iela for cheap beer and no-holds-barred nightlife. One of the city’s wildest streets has finally been given a touch of class with the opening of this casual jazz club, restaurant and craft beer bar – Trompete Taproom. It is an incredible courtyard that includes an outdoor grill and an authentic wood-fired pizza oven. Order a glass of wine, a cocktail or one beer from small Latvian microbreweries. After that, head into the main room. There are live jazz performances on a small stage throughout the week. You can check its FB page for schedules.
3. Enjoy Baltic’s biggest graffiti
To celebrate Riga as European Capital of Culture, in 2014 two Latvia’s most renowned street artists – Rudens Stencil and Kiwie – came together to create the biggest graffiti mural in the Baltics – 800 square meters. They used more than 1500 spray cans to create this symbolic street art that combines the ancient with the modern. Moreover, the inspiration for graffiti was a 1938 poster for Latvian Song Festival – one of the largest choral events in the world. Most importantly, “Saule Pērkons Daugava” is the unofficial anthem of the festival.
You can see the graffiti from Tallinas street. After that, you can see another huge graffiti mural – Gray Rainbow by Kiwie (not far from – on 13 Alauksta Street).
4. Explore Biķernieki Forest
Riga is also well-known for its parks, which are very clean, relaxed and well-landscaped. But the strangest and wild spot within the city’s limits is Biķernieki Forest (Biķernieku mežs). This one most accurately mimics the tracts of wilderness that make up most of the country,
Bikernieki forest which is cut into two parts by Bikernieku street is located in the eastern part of Riga. You’ll just find yourself suddenly stumbling into it. Wander through to find the secrets snagged in its thickets: one a racetrack curving loopily through the trees, another a looking-glass lake watched by severe Soviet apartment blocks. By the way, Biķernieki was also the site of the largest mass shootings of World War II on the territory of modern-day Latvia.
Then the Nazi occupiers and local collaborators killed tens of thousands of people, largely Jews from Austria and Germany. Collection of thousands of sculpted, asymmetrical stones, as individual as the humans they stand for, marks one site. To sum up: it will impress you!
5. Find a treasure on Latgalīte Market
Certainly, every tourist guide and its mates will recommend you to visit Riga Central Market (Rīgas Centrāltirgus). It’s worth visiting, no question, but to be properly consumed by the other side of Riga, you have to strike deeper into Maskavas Forštate. That is to say, mostly Russian suburb in the shadow of the towering Stalinist Academy of Sciences (Zinātnes Akadēmija), which glowers over the railway tracks at Riga Old Town. There you’ll find Latgale Market (Latgales tirgus).
Latgalīte — and quite regularly as “the criminal market”, for the not inconceivable possibility that unlawfully seized possessions may end up here. Fascinating and seamy, it’s a bit like a corner into which the detritus of Latvia’s complex past has been swept; vendors sit behind tables piled with the cast-offs of various eras.
If you dream of a battered Soviet record player, a medal from one of the many armies who have swept bloodily through the region, this is where to go. In conclusion, don’t expect a great deal of English (or Latvian, in many cases). And remember they’re not over-fond of photos.