Travel tips and advice for Riga, Latvia: Nine must-do highlights


Riga's old town is wonderful to stroll around and, in the past 20 years, plenty of money has been pumped into restoring old apartment buildings, guild houses and churches. The Town Hall Square is the finest example of this, with the ziggurat-sided House of the Black Heads rebuilt and reopened in 2001. Take a little time to gawp at the blizzard of decorative flourishes on the exterior. See


Riga Central Market is supposedly the largest market in Europe, and its bizarre look is due to being based around five former zeppelin hangars. The meat pavilion is full of oddities such as pig's heads and trotters. But the gastronomic pavilion – all posh food court stalls, deli counters and merchants selling a bewildering array of pickled goods – is the one you'd want to spend most time in. See


Urban Adventures' Darkest 50 Years tour looks at the city's Soviet-era remnants, including the once dicey but now regenerating Moscow District behind the Central Market. This includes the memorial stones in the park ring around the old town, dedicated to those who lost their lives on the barricades holding off Soviet forces when Latvia became independent. There's also plenty of insight into what life was like in the Cold War years. The tour costs €43. See


The Latvian Academy of Sciences in the Moscow District is very much love it, or hate it. The nickname – Stalin's wedding cake – is perfectly apt for this multi-tiered, clunking beast of a building. If you don't like it, then head inside and up to the open-air observation deck, which offers tremendous 360-degree views over a city that's green-fringed and almost eerily flat. See


The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia is, as you might expect, not exactly lighthearted. But it is really well presented, and gives illuminating explanations of the horrors Latvia suffered under the Nazi and Soviet regimes. The bits that strike home hardest are on how families were split as the country changed hands; some families had one son fighting for either side, and another for the resistance movement. See


Riga has one of the world's greatest collections of art nouveau buildings, most in the Art Nouveau District north of the centre. The most remarkable efforts are by architect Mikhail Eisenstein, whose sumptuously OTT efforts on Elizabetes iela and Alberta iela throw everything into the mix.


Café Leningrad knowingly plays up its Soviet-era kitsch theme: Lenin portraits on the walls, furniture straight from the `70s, and old radios are stacked against the wall. A tiny stage around the corner – a punk venue at night – is decorated with bras donated by patrons. See


Latvian cuisine is undergoing a renaissance, with smoking and pickling things increasingly seen as a way of introducing new flavours rather than preserving ingredients. Forest foods are also back in fashion. Zviedru Vārti inside a handsome 16th century old-town building indulges this with its meaty dishes. See


The Radisson Blu Latvija has solid business-focused rooms, but its real selling point is the Skyline bar, on the 26th floor, which has expansive views out over the city. Getting up there for a cocktail or two is part of the fun – the lifts are on the outside of the building, and you get a show as you climb up above the golden dome of the orthodox cathedral. Doubles from €98. See



In 1510, Riga erected what is believed to be the world's first Christmas tree. A marker with token information on the city's place in festive history can be found in Town Hall Square.

David Whitley was a guest of the Riga Tourism Development Bureau and Urban Adventures.