Last updated on October 22, 2023 by Wandering our World
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path European adventure, the Baltic region is the place to be. There, many of Europe’s most beautiful hidden gems and overlooked treasures can be found, with Riga and Tallinn chief among them.
Both of these coastal capitals embody everything that makes the Baltic region so special. They have gorgeous architecture, stunning surrounding scenery, fantastic food, rich cultures, and lots of interesting things to see and do.
However, for all of their similarities, Riga and Tallinn are far from identical. For starters, they’re situated in totally different countries, with Riga being the capital of Latvia and Tallinn being the capital of neighboring Estonia.
They also differ in many other key areas, from the typical weather conditions to the general vibe, ambiance, population, food, and most popular attractions. Depending on your tastes and vacation expectations, one of these cities might be much better-suited to you than the other.
But which one? Well, that’s what this guide is here to help with! Read on to find out all about Tallinn and Riga, discovering how they compare in a range of key aspects, from popular landmarks and activities to nightlife, food, shopping, and more.
- A Quick Overview Of Riga vs Tallinn
- Which Has The Best Weather?
- Which Is Better For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Hiking And Outdoors?
- Which Is Better For Shopping?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheapest?
- Riga vs Tallinn: Which Is Better?
A Quick Overview Of Riga vs Tallinn
Riga: A Quick Overview
Riga is both the capital and the biggest city in the nation of Lativa. Over 630,000 people live in this city, which is about 1/3 of the country’s entire population. And, at around 117 square miles (304 square km) in size, it’s a very expansive city, covering a lot of ground, right in the heart of the country.
Riga has a long and fascinating past, dating all the way back to the days of the Vikings. With its handy location at the mouth of the Daugava river, it was identified as a great trade location, developing rapidly over the centuries and passing under the control of various empires across the ages, from the Swedish and German Empires to the Soviet Union.
Nowadays, Riga stands out as one of the wealthiest cities in the Baltic region, while also being the cultural and economic heart of Latvia, responsible for more than half of the country’s entire GDP. It has also emerged as a popular touristic city in recent years, drawing in a lot of tourists, especially those looking for something different to the more popular European capitals.
Vibe-wise, Riga is an energetic, dynamic city with bags of charm. It’s a huge place, with lots of impressively diverse neighborhoods and areas to explore, from its historic Old Town to its Art Nouveau areas. It’s also well-known as a popular bachelor and bachelorette (stag and hen) party location, which can give it a bit of a rowdy, raucous feel in the evenings.
Tallinn: A Quick Overview
Tallinn is the capital city and also the largest city of the country of Estonia. It’s situated on a bay on the country’s north coast, looking out over the Gulf of Finland. With a population of around 450,000 people and a size of 61 square miles (159 square km), Tallinn isn’t as big and bustling as Riga, giving it a quieter and more quaint feel.
Like Riga, Tallinn has a long and storied past, going back many centuries. It passed under the control of various Scandinavian and Teutonic rulers in its early days, and, just like Riga, it was highly-prized for its strategic trade location, becoming a powerful and prosperous port in the medieval period.
While Tallinn’s historic Old Town is one of the best-preserved on the planet, this city has managed to move with the times and is one of the most forward-thinking, modern hubs in all of the Baltics. Various global tech firms, like Skype and Wise, started off in this city, and it has more startups per person out of all the capitals of Europe.
Tourism also makes up a part of this city’s wonderfully diverse economy, and many people are drawn to Tallinn for the breathtaking beauty of its aforementioned Old Town, which truly feels like it has barely aged a day since the Middle Ages. Various museums, cultural hotspots, and great restaurants complete the scene in this special Baltic city.
Which Has The Best Weather?
There are around 173 miles (278 km) separating Riga and Tallinn, with the latter being much further north than the former. Because of this, they have slightly different weather conditions. It’s not a big difference, but it could be a factor to take into account if you want to make the most of your trip.
In general, no matter what time of year you visit, the weather will be warmer in Riga. It consistently enjoys a couple of extra degrees compared to Tallinn, giving it a slightly longer summer. Riga isn’t quite as windy as Tallinn, either, although it does get a little more rain. All in all, Riga has the better weather.
Which Is Best For Activities?
So, how can you spend your days in Riga or Tallinn? Well, this is where the key differences between the two cities begin to emerge. They both have beautiful Old Town areas for history lovers and fans of beautiful architecture, but you’ll find a more diverse range of activities in each city when you start to look beyond those historic centers.
Riga: The Activities
The best way to start a visit to Riga is by exploring the city’s Old Town, or Vecriga, district. Spread along the eastern bank of the Dauvaga River, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a wonderful blast from the past, with cobbled streets, charming squares, colorful buildings, and lots of boutiques and cafes to keep you busy all day long.
House of the Blackheads, a building that began as a merchant guild base back in the 14th century. It was bombed and destroyed in the 1940s, but has been rebuilt to perfection. Visitors can enter for guided tours, learning all about the building’s extraordinary past. Other Old Town landmarks include St. Peter’s Church, Town Hall, and the Roland Statue.
For those seeking to dive into Latvian culture and history even further, Riga has a veritable bounty of museums. The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, for instance, explores Riga’s past under Soviet and German control, while the Art Nouveau Museum on Albert Street digs deeper into the architectural movement that dominates large parts of the cityscape.
On sunny days, visitors should stop off at Riga’s many parks and gardens, like Vermanes Garden and Bastejkalna Parks. The Ethnographic Open Air Museum, a short drive east of the city, is also worth checking out. Or, if you want to dip your feet in the Baltic Sea, take a trip to the local resort town of Jurmala.
Tallinn: The Activities
In Tallinn, just like in Riga, the Old Town is the best place to begin your visit. And, if we directly compare the two, Tallinn’s Old Town is even more impressive than Riga’s. In fact, it’s widely-seen as one of the best-preserved historic centers on Earth – walking around this place truly feels like you’ve stepped in a time machine and traveled back to the Middle Ages.
From the cobbled streets and winding alleys to the centuries-old Gothic churches and medieval city walls, everything in Tallinn’s Old Town has been immaculately respected across the ages. It almost feels like a fairy-tale open-air museum, with many landmarks to see, from the old Town Hall to the 14th century Viru Gate, along with a multitude of pretty old churches.
Visitors to Tallinn may also like to tour the iconic Toompea Castle, the seat of power in Estonia for many centuries and now the home of the nation’s parliament. The Russian-style Alexander Nevski Cathedral is also worth checking out, right across the street from Toompea Castle, and you can see more Russian-themed architecture at Kadriorg Park and Palace.
To see more of a modern side of Tallinn, take the walk up to Telliskivi Creative City. This former industrial area almost feels like an entirely separate town, filled with indie boutiques, lively cultural venues, and plenty of trendy cafes, coffee shops, and ice cream parlors. Various museums and parks are also dotted across the city, providing other ways to spend time.
Overall, while Riga and Tallinn both stand out for their historic centers, the two cities also have notable differences in attractions and activities. In Tallinn, the Old Town is the undisputed star of the show, and visitors will spend most, if not all of their time in this historic part of the city. In Riga, there are more reasons to leave the Old Town behind, with more museums and activities.
Which Is Better For Hiking And Outdoors?
If you love to spend time in nature, you might like to know all about the surrounding natural spaces around Riga and Tallinn. You might even like to include a couple of hikes or a trip to the beach in your itinerary. But which city is best for those who like to spend time in forests and wilderness areas?
Well, Tallinn has some decent hikes and walks to enjoy within the city limits. You can hike your way up Toompea Hill, for instance, to get some great views of the city from up high. You can also wander around the massive Lake Ulemiste or head east to Lahemaa National Park – the biggest in Estonia – for forest trails and wooden walkways over the swamplands.
Riga is a bit more built-up than Tallinn, so you’ll need to leave the city behind if you want to find big natural expanses and hiking areas. Fortunately, there are several lakes just out of the city to walk around, or you can ride the train to Kemeri National Park, a great place for birdwatching. The nearby coastal city of Jurmala is also terrific for a day at the beach.
Overall, Tallinn has more accessible hiking trails and nature spaces, while you’ll have to travel a bit further if you want to do any serious hiking in Riga.
Which Is Better For Shopping?
Shopping is always a good way to spend time in any European capital, and Riga and Tallinn are no exception. Both of these cities are the best shopping destinations in their respective countries, with plenty of brand stores and unique boutiques to check out.
In Riga, most of your shopping will be done in the Old Town. You’ll find both big European brand stores here, as well as small specialist shops and antique emporiums. Head to Audeju for the best experiences, and don’t forget to check out Riga’s Central Market – open daily and based in old World War I hangars, this is a great place to find one-of-a-kind items at bargain prices.
In Tallinn, too, the Old Town is the primary shopping hub. It’s a great place to grab traditional Estonian souvenirs and treats, like the city’s famous Vana Tallinn liqueur, and it’s also home to a range of fresh food and craft markets. Multiple malls can be found around the city, too, as well as trendy shopping spaces with retro and indie stores, like Kalamaja.
Overall, both cities offer very pleasant shopping experiences. The Central Market of Riga is a real gem, but you’ll find a bit more diversity in the stalls, stores, and malls of Tallinn.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
Like staying out late, hitting up the local clubs and bars after-dark, rather than just rushing back to your hotel for an early night? In that case, you’ll find lots to love about both Riga and Tallinn, as both cities offer excellent, lively nightlife scenes.
Riga is a very dynamic, vibrant city, earning a reputation as a premier party destination for European travelers on a budget. You can often find crowds of Brits and other Europeans in the Old Town bars and taverns, and Riga is also famed for its exceptional cheap alcohol prices, which are some of the lowest in Europe.
In Tallinn, you’ll have to pay a little more for a beer, but you can still find lots of great places to have fun in the evenings. The Old Town has an array of cozy pubs and mature wine bars, while thumping nightclubs are found just a short walk from the center.
All in all, both cities have very good nightlife, but Riga is a little more dynamic, affordable, and exciting.
Which Is Better For Food?
When it comes to the best food between Riga and Tallinn, it’s really a battle between Latvian and Estonian cuisine. While neither of these nations are as widely-loved for their food as the likes of France and Italy, they both have some delicious dishes and traditional specialties to offer curious visitors.
In Riga, you’ll find no shortage of top quality restaurants serving up all the best in Latvian cooking, with many dishes using simple, traditional ingredients, like pork, fish, veggies, and berries. Some of the must-try items include Latvian rye bread, maizes zupa (bread soup), bukstinbiezputra porridge, pelmeni meat dumplings, and karupelu pankukas (potato pancakes).
Over in Tallinn, you’ll find an affordable culinary scene, with many traditional restaurants serving up the best in Estonian food. Smoked fish and potatoes dominate many menus, and some of the best foods to try include black bread, verivorst blood sausage, mulgipuder mashed potatoes with sour cream, and aspic.
Overall, both cities are fun for foodies to visit, with lots of new flavors and tastes that you don’t tend to see much of in other parts of Europe. However, of the two, Riga has superior restaurants and a wider range of great places to eat.
Which Is Best For Families?
Families with children can easily enjoy a week or so in either Riga or Tallinn, as both cities have plenty to keep kids of all ages entertained. However, depending on the ages and tastes of your children, you may find that one city is a little better-suited to your family than the other.
Riga excels when it comes to museums, with lots of interesting historic and cultural hotspots to wander around with the kids, like the Latvian Museum of Natural History or the Riga Motoor Museum. Children are also sure to enjoy Riga Zoo, along with the Apollo Skypark amusement park and the countless public playgrounds you’ll spot as you explore the city.
Over in Tallinn, the main family attraction is the Old Town itself, and kids of any age can marvel at the medieval walls, gates, and structures around each corner. Museums like Tallinn City Museum and the Children’s Museum provide more fun ways to fill your days, along with attractions like Tallinn Zoo and Tallinn Botanic Garden.
Overall, there’s no clear winner here, as both cities can appeal to families. Kids who love history will most likely enjoy Tallinn more, while families seeking a very wide range of activities should opt for Riga instead.
Which Is Best For Couples?
For couples, too, both Riga and Tallinn have lots to offer. If you’re looking for a romantic city break or fun-filled, off-the-beaten-path adventure with someone special, either of these two Baltic capitals could appeal to you.
In terms of pure romance and beauty, Tallinn is, without a doubt, the best option. Its Old Town is truly majestic. It really feels like you’ve stepped back in time or wondered into the pages of a storybook with its centuries-old buildings and cobblestone streets. There’s nothing quite like it. Tallinn also has plenty of pleasant gardens and other romantic spaces to explore.
Riga isn’t quite as picturesque as Tallinn, but it’s still a fabulous spot for couples of any age. You and your partner can easily while away the hours in the Old Town, or spend some quality time together in the many museums. Plus, Riga has a terrific dining scene and fun nightlife for couples who like to stay out late.
Overall, Tallinn just about has the edge, due to its more typically romantic, couple-friendly vibes, but Riga is still worth considering.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
The Baltic region can also be a super place to go backpacking, with lots of intriguing cultures to uncover, unique landmarks to admire, and tasty foods to try, with Riga and Tallinn standing out as two of the top cities to visit.
Backpackers will absolutely adore the historical side of Tallinn, and the city is wonderfully welcoming to backpackers, with lots of cheap hostels, affordable street food, and friendly locals to show you around. Plus, it’s a good starting point if you plan to do day trips around the rest of Estonia, or even over the water into Scandinavia.
Riga is a bigger and more dynamic city, which may be appealing to many backpackers. It’s also got a livelier nightlife for those who want to mingle with locals in pubs and clubs, and younger adventurers, in particular, may prefer Riga. However, it doesn’t have quite the same special charm as Tallinn.
Which Is Cheaper?
Price-wise, Tallinn and Riga both offer amazing value for money. Average trip prices for these cities are really low, especially when compared to other European capitals, like Paris or Rome. You shouldn’t have to worry too much about overspending on food or accommodation, no matter which city you choose.
However, if you’re on a tight budget or really want to get the very best bang for your buck, Riga is slightly cheaper than Tallinn. This is mainly because of Tallinn’s Old Town, which has relatively high rates of food and accommodation compared to the Old Town of Riga. With that said, it’s still pretty easy to have a budget-friendly stay in the Estonian capital.
Where to Stay According to your Budget
Budget: Aparthotel Amella in Riga offers a stylish and comfortable atmosphere, located near Latvian National Opera and Riga Town Hall Square. The well-appointed units with parquet floors come equipped with fully equipped kitchens and flat-screen TVs. Complimentary WiFi and convenient on-site parking are provided, along with a relaxing shared lounge area. Explore nearby attractions like Vermanes Garden, Nativity of Christ Cathedral, and House of Blackheads. Riga International Airport is just a short distance away, with a paid airport shuttle available for convenience. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Grand Poet Hotel and Spa by Semarah, situated in the heart of Rīga, boasts an exquisite blend of luxury and wellness. The hotel, opposite Bastion Hill, offers well-appointed guest rooms with modern amenities, including flat-screen TVs and private bathrooms. Guests can indulge in complimentary access to the fitness center and spa zone, featuring a pool, sauna, hot tub, and a hammam. The hotel also features a restaurant, cafe, and bar, along with conference and banquet facilities. Riga Old Town is just a short stroll away, making this hotel the perfect base to explore the city’s treasures. See photos and rates!
Budget: Oru Hub Hotel Tallinn – Handwritten Collection, a 4-star gem in Tallinn, offers elegant rooms with free WiFi and flat-screen TVs. The hotel’s wooden furniture and warm, sandy colors create a welcoming atmosphere. Some rooms feature a seating area, adding to the comfort. Quality wines and international dishes are available at the hotel restaurant. The hotel’s prime location in Kadriorg, near the Song Festival Grounds and a short drive from the city center, makes it a perfect starting point to explore Tallinn’s wonders. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Radisson Collection Hotel, Tallinn, a magnificent 5-star retreat in Tallinn, offers a luxurious experience. Guests can savor delectable cuisine, relax in the rooftop terrace with stunning views, and enjoy the convenience of a fitness center. The hotel’s prime location near Tallinn’s historic landmarks and Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport adds to its appeal. See photos and rates!
Riga vs Tallinn: Which Is Better?
Clearly, Riga and Tallinn are both fantastic vacation destinations, with more than a few things in common. They both have lots of history, with charming Old Town areas that almost feel frozen in time. But they also have their differences in areas like nightlife, food, and family-friendliness. So, which one is best?
Well, for this comparison, it’s impossible to say that one city is truly head-and-shoulders clear of the other. They’re both great places with their own unique advantages. Of the two, Riga may just have the edge, as it’s bigger, with a wider range of activities, better nightlife, and a more developed culinary scene, as well.
With that said, plenty of people will undoubtedly prefer Tallinn, with its picturesque Old Town, friendly vibes, and great shopping areas. Ideally, if you have the time and budget, try to see both of them. If not, look back through the categories listed in this guide to figure out the ideal city to suit your tastes.