The Latvian capital city of Riga has a lot to offer budget travellers. This list of fun and free things to do in Riga will really help you experience the city’s nature and history without spending a penny!
Walk Along the Pilsētas Kanāls/City Canal
Located in the heart of Riga, the Pilsētas Kanāls canal is leftover from medieval times. The moat was once for protection from invaders, but now its location at the centre of the city makes it popular with visitors. Many of those visitors will pay €18 for a 1 hour ride down the canal in a small boat. But you can take it all in at a slower pace, by walking along the banks of the canal!
The canal runs for 4 kilometres and is flanked by parks, memorials and Vecriga or Old Riga. Each bank of the canal offers a different experience. You can access the east bank from the Riga Central Market and follow it to Kronvalda Park. You’ll pass through quite a few of the city’s green spaces and see a lot of pieces of history. Perhaps the most interesting place to see some history is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. It’s right near the canal and entry is free.
The west bank will also take you through some green spaces with monuments. Then you can take a detour into Vecriga/Old Riga and literally walk into history.
Free Things to do in Riga – Discover the Cobbled Streets of Vecriga
Vecriga/Old Riga was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997 and it is Riga’s historical centre. The best thing about Vecriga is that it’s made for pedestrians, which makes it lovely to walk around. Upon entering Old Riga, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another century. It’s jam-packed with historical buildings.
You could easily spend a whole day wandering around the narrow cobbled streets just checking out the history and architecture. There are also no less than ten museums within the confines of Vecriga. These include the Cosmos Illusion Museum and the Literature and Music Museum. Most have admission fees of €2-8. The Latvian War Museum however is free and will give you insight into Latvia’s political and military history.
There are a surprising amount of small parks located within a 10 minute walk of the old town. Once you step inside these parks, the buzz of the city fades away and it’s very easy to forget that you’re still in the city. Many contain sculptures, historical monuments and other points of interest.
Vērmanes Garden Park
Riga’s second oldest public garden, Vērmanes Garden Park, is spread over 5 hectares. This tiny park is full of things to occupy your senses. From sculptures, gardens and fountains to historical monuments and a flower market. There’s even a play area for kids, an open-air stage and cafes where you can sit down and relax. The walking paths running all through this park are well-maintained and easy to follow. There are also plenty of benches around if you get tired or just want to stop and take it all in for a bit.
At 8.75 hectares Esplanāde is the second largest of the inner city parks in Riga, taking up a whole two city blocks. Like the other parks in Riga, it has monuments, fountains and many well-maintained paths running through it. What’s a little bit different about this park is that it has a cafe in the middle of it. Furthermore, it contains one of the city’s biggest attractions; the Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral.
Bastejkalns Park is a thin strip of greenery running along both sides of the Pilsētas Kanāls/City Canal, between the bridges of Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela and Krišjāņa Barona iela. It is home to some of the most unique flora in Riga, as well as fountains, bridges, important sculptures and monuments. Three of the city’s most recognisable sites, the Freedom Monument, Peace Dance Sculpture and the Laima Clock stand within the park.
Bastejkalns Park is lovely to walk through both during the day and at night. At night there is the added bonus of bridges been lit up. The lights of the city also cast surreal reflections on the impossibly still waters of the canal.
The largest of Riga’s inner-city parks can also be found on the banks of the City Canal. Aside from memorials and fountains, the 11.92 hectares of Kronvalda Park include walking paths and a cafe. For the more active among us there is a playground, rollerskating tracks and bicycle hire.
The unique thing about this park is that it contains some of Latvia’s largest willow, oak and beech trees. Additionally, the Chinese Pagoda in the park was an anniversary gift from Riga’s sister city Suzhou, China.
As Viesturdārzs is on the outskirts of the city centre, it is the quietest of all the parks in Riga. It’s not near the City Canal like the other parks, but it has its own tranquil bodies of water. Like the other city parks, Viesturdārzs has monuments and playgrounds for the kids. And also for dogs! Viesturdārzs is a dog-friendly park.
Aside from being furry-friendly, something that sets this park apart from the rest is its art. There are permanent art installations all around the park.
Free Things to do in Riga – Visit the Castle of Light/Gaismas pils
The Castle of Light is the combination of two significant ideas from Latvian culture; the Glass Mountain and the Castle of Light. The Glass mountain represents obstacles faced by creative folk while the Castle of Light symbolises human creativity and freedom. So it’s quite apt that the combination of these two ideas should house the National Library of Latvia (Latvijas Nacionālā bibliotēka).
With its striking design and 68 metre height, it has become a dominant part of Riga’s cityscape since it’s construction in 2014. The Castle of Light is said to be one of the most beautiful modern libraries in the world. It was even included in the BBC list of the ten most beautiful modern libraries in the world in 2017.
The thirteen floors of the library are home to over 5 million titles, including manuscripts from the 14th century! So it has something for the book worm in all of us. Did I forget to mention that it has free WiFi?
Finally, if you’re planning a trip to Riga in the future, here’s a downloadable Free Things to do in Riga Itinerary just for you!
Related Post: Reflections on Riga
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