If you’re planning a Baltic break to Latvia, we’re here to help. Riga’s offbeat collection of hidden museums has something for everyone in your group!
Riga is a popular destination for a short group break, with an impressive array of cultural hotspots in the Old Town alone. Look beyond the UNSESCO-protected medieval center to find some of our favorite museums.
Riga Film Museum
Although it’s the birthplace of iconic Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, Riga has never been known for its movies. That might explain why this gem is tucked down an inauspicious alley on the edge of the medieval Old Town. What the Riga Film Museum lacks in size and visibility, it makes up for in volume and variety of exhibits. The space is refreshed bi-annually with new content exploring cinematic epochs and personages throughout history, and current talents from the Latvian visual arts curate the exhibits, so the museum is always superbly layered with images, artifacts and ideas.
While attention is rightfully lavished on Riga’s glorious Art Nouveau Museum, it might be at the expense of an even more refined relic: Mentzendorff’s House. This recreated eighteenth century home belonged to a wealthy merchant, and exhibits a stunning array of original paintings and frescoes, an exhibition of artistic glassworks, and a vast collection of period furnishings and household objects. It’s an opulent side of Latvian history rarely seen since the Soviet era.
The Sun Museum
Specific and strange, the Sun Museum catalogues the history of sun mythology. Though enjoyable simply as a quirky collection of sun stories, the museum also allows visitors to paint their own solar souvenir in a creative workshop – the sign of a playful, innovative exhibition space if ever there was one.
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
The monolithic Museum of the Occupation of Latvia has a bold, imposing presence in the heart of Old Town – rarely does a museum’s architecture match its name and subject matter so well. It’s worth visiting before work starts on a large renovation that will double the museum’s size and, sadly, do away with the dark architecture to represent “the progression from the dark past, to the bright present and enlightened future.”
Zanis Lipke Memorial
A more sophisticated monument to the past stands at the end of a 20 minute walk from city center to the north western district of Kipsala. There you’ll find what looks, at first glance, like a giant black shed. Look closer and you’ll see that it’s the Zanis Lipke Memorial, a monument and museum highlighting Lipke’s bold rescue of more than 50 Jews from Nazi ghettos during the occupation. The quiet environs are the perfect place to contemplate his noble actions, and the subtle architecture makes this building a hidden treasure – and a fitting tribute to one of the war’s unsung heroes.
Railway History Museum
Almost directly opposite the Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija, Riga, the Railway History Museum displays a sprawling range of railroadiana across its large interior and exterior spaces. A must-visit for railway buffs, it’s also one of few museums to embrace the city’s proud industrial heritage. Riga was the railway workshop of the Soviet Republic, and the museum proudly displays the city’s many engineering achievements.