Free Things to do in Riga

The cosmopolitan Latvian capital city of Riga has a plethora of activities to offer budget travellers. Not only are there many budget options for exploring the town, there are also many free options. 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!

Free Things to do in Riga – Walk Along the Pilsētas Kanāls/City Canal

Located in the heart of Riga, the Pilsētas Kanāls 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 one hour ride down the canal in a small boat.

While floating down the moat sounds nice, it’s really an optional extra. Take in the canal’s beauty at a much slower pace, by walking along it’s banks!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Riga. City Canal

Free Things to do in Riga – East and West Banks of the Pilsētas Kanāls/City 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.

Museum of Occupation Near the East Bank

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. It may be a little confronting and will leave you scarred by human nature, but sometimes we need to see these things to realise how lucky we are now.

Walk Into History From the West Bank

The west bank will also take you through some green spaces with monuments. Then you could also take a detour into beautiful Vecriga/Old Riga and literally walk into history. You might want to allow a day just to get lost in Old Riga!

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Riga. Vecriga
Image by Makalu from Pixabay

You could easily spend a whole day wandering around the narrow cobbled streets of Vecriga 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.

As this is a list of FREE things to do in Riga, we recommend the Latvian War Museum. It is free and offers insight into Latvia’s political and military history.

Free Things to do in Riga – City Parks

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.

Free Things to do in Riga – 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.

Free Things to do in Riga – Esplanāde

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

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Riga. Nymph Fountain Bastejkalns Park

Bastejkalns Park at Night

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. If you’re in Bastejkalns Park at night, expect to lose all track of time while the reflections in the water mesmerise you.

Free Things to do in Riga – Kronvalda Park

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 also 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.

Free Things to do in Riga – Viesturdārzs

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).

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Riga. Castle of Light
Image by Nikolaus Bader from Pixabay
Easily Recognisable

With its striking design and 68 metre height, it has become a dominant part of Riga’s cityscape since its 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?

Take Our FREE Downloadable Itinerary of Free Things to do in Riga

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! You can keep it on your phone to refer to while you’re on the go.

Related Post: Reflections of Riga

Check out our other Northern European guides –
Free Things to do in Vilnius
Free Things to do in Riga
Free Things to do in Tallinn
How to Prepare for Finland in the Winter


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Reflections of Riga

Unfortunately, my luxury bus ride from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius had to come to an end. I was now in the Latvian capital of Riga. In this article I’ve included photographic reflections of Riga as well as my own experience of the cosmopolitan capital city of Latvia.

The hours seemed to have flown by while I was on the bus and it was now dark. Very dark. But it wasn’t even 7pm yet. I don’t think I could ever get used to these crazy European winters!

There was something that struck me about Riga straight away. It instantly seemed more modern and happening than the Lithuanian capital city that I had just left. I had arrived in both cities at similar times, yet Riga was a lot more lively. More lights, more people, more traffic and more open stores.

Reflections of Riga – Confusing Subway Tunnel

I was hungry but as it was already dark I decided to drop my bag off at my accommodation first. Navigation through the city seemed rather easy. Except at the intersection of two main roads near the train station. Pedestrians had to use a subway to pass under the intersection. A subway that confused my map. Stupid GPS!

Reflections of Riga – Almost getting Lost in the World’s Most Confusing Subway Tunnel

So imagine being tired then having to try to get your bearings in a subway tunnel that seemed to have far too many exit options. There should have only been four but there were at least 10.

To add to the fun, the subway tunnel had an ever so slight curve that threatened to turn me around completely. I was not willing to give up like my map did. So I made an impromptu decision to take the exit that looked the nicest. That’s tired logic for you. Luckily, it turned out to be the right exit. Sort of.

Reflections of Riga – Not Quite, But Close Enough

I had actually taken the exit just after the one I needed. It wasn’t a major problem seeing as it has still taken me to the right road. Just the opposite of it.
I was able to rectify that problem at a ground-level crossing a few minutes up the road. Once I finally made it to my accommodation, I was in a very tired and hungry state.

Reflections of Riga – Chatty Chick and Local Eats

The receptionist at my accommodation was the opposite of everyone I had encountered in the Baltics so far. She was chatty. Extremely chatty. I’m normally always up for a chat but I’d had a long day and was very hungry. I asked her for recommendations for good places to eat local food. She advised that a chain called Lido would be a good choice.

Reflections of Riga – Local Non-Local food

There was a Lido nearby, so I made my way there. I was surprised to see that it was ‘buffet style’. Not only that, instead of a normal buffet, where you pay a set price and eat what you want, you had to pay individually for each thing that you ate.

Furthermore, there were only a few local looking dishes on the buffet. It mostly seemed like American kind of food. That’s not what I came to Europe for!

I was not interested in walking around town looking for some local food, so I settled on a €1 beef wrap from the place next door. It hit the spot and didn’t break the bank. My favourite kind of food!

Reflections of Riga – Beautiful Buildings and a Blue Bridge

Now that I’d got some food in me I was feeling much better and was ready to explore the town a bit!

While walking to my accommodation from the bus station, I had noticed a few things that I had decided to go back take a closer look at. Firstly, there were a crazy amount of Christmas decorations adorning trees on the side of the road. That wouldn’t be too strange if it weren’t the end of January. More than a month after Christmas was over!

The main attraction for me was the blue bridge I’d seen earlier. This bridge is the path of Krišjāņa Barona Iela over Pilsētas Kanāls or City Canal. Of course, it looks like any normal boring bridge during the day. But at night it’s mesmerising. Especially with the reflections of Riga in the canal.

The canal starts and finishes at the Daugava River which flows 1020 kilometres, all the way from Russia, through Belarus and Latvia to the Gulf of Riga. Pilsētas Kanāls is flanked on both sides by lovely parks and green spaces. But who cares about that, how about that bridge, eh?

Reflections of Riga – Day Trip to Sigulda

One of the main things I was looking forward to doing in Latvia was bobsledding at the international track in Sigulda. The town is about an hour from Riga by train. The train runs quite regularly throughout the day. I didn’t want to leave it until too late but I also wanted to leave after sunrise. Would you believe sunrise was around 9:40 am? I settled on the 10 am train.

Unfortunately, I had miscalculated the time it would take me to walk to the train station. I nervously approached the ticket window at 9:58 am. I half expected the lady behind the counter to refuse me the ticket as it was so close to departure time. She didn’t. She took my €2.10 then gave me the ticket with a smile and no hint of urgency. I still needed to get to the platform though!

Reflections of Riga – Train to Sigulda

Most people would run at that point, but I’m not a runner. I just started walking faster. To be fair, my fast walking is faster than some people’s running. I made it onto the train and was comfortably seated just before the train started moving. The train ride was quite relaxing and the scenery was very green. I was especially impressed with the pine forests where all the trees seemed to line up in perfectly straight lines. For kilometres upon kilometres.

Reflections of Riga – What’s in Sigulda

Just over an hour later I had made it to Sigulda. It felt like the temperature had dropped between Riga and Sigulda by at least 5 degrees. I might’ve thought this was all in my head if it hadn’t been for all the people dressed in snowsuits and ski gloves. This was amusing to me as I’d never seen people walking around in snowsuits when there was no snow.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Path in Sigulda.

I stopped for a quick eat in a cute little cafe near the station where they served soup in a bowl made of bread. Then I made the freezing walk to the international bobsled track. I was excited about the adventure on which I was about to embark. But of course, things didn’t quite go to plan.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Bobsled Track in Sigulda.

I saw many people walking around adorned with colours of different countries. Canada, Russia, Korea. Uh oh, it was a competition day! That meant that bobsledding was closed to the public for the day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. View of Bobsled Track in Sigulda.

I had gone all that way, so I decided to take a walk around the complex. It was rather impressive actually. After watching a few of the teams fly past me from a viewing area, I couldn’t stand the cold any longer.

Reflections of Riga – Train to Sunset

As I had decided to leave earlier than planned, I got back to the Sigulda train station rather early. More than 40 minutes before the next train was due. I was happy to wait inside the station where it was much warmer than outside!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Sigulda Train Station

The wait didn’t really seem to be that long, even though I was having problems accessing the free WiFi at the station. There was no announcement when the train had arrived. Luckily I’d seen it pass the station building on the way in. Once I was back in Riga, the sight that I saw was nothing short of amazing.

You know the strange thing, it wasn’t even night time yet! I had arrived at the Riga Train Station just after 5 pm! It was still afternoon.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Train Station Clock at 5:20 pm

Reflections of Riga – Leaving on Another Luxury Bus

I had learned my lesson from having to pay extra by purchasing my bus ticket at the last minute in Vilnius. So I had pre-purchased my ticket online the day before. This was a weird concept to me, as transport prices are generally set, or negotiable, no matter when they’re purchased in most other regions that I’ve travelled in.

Reflections of Riga – Almost Empty Bus

After I showed the bus lady my ticket she motioned for me to get on the bus and said that I could sit anywhere on the bottom deck. The service was going all the way through to St Petersburg in Russia, but it was almost empty until Tallinn, which was my destination. This bus also had a swanky hot drink machine like the Vilnius to Riga bus. The seats weren’t as comfortable though.

We made some random stops along the way. At one of the stops, we seemed to just be waiting, as no one got on or off. One of the passengers decided to take the opportunity to pop off the bus to have a quick smoke. The driver wasn’t having it, but as he didn’t speak English, the best he could come up with was, “No bus stop please”. Can’t argue with that, I guess.

Do you have any of your own reflections of Riga? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Keep an eye out for the continuing Baltic adventure in Tallinn, Estonia

Need help planning a trip to Riga? Head to the Live Riga website.

Check out all the destinations visited on this trip –
Reflections of Riga


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