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National Library of Latvia – How to Visit Riga’s Castle of Light (2024)!

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One of the highlights of my recent visit to Riga was stopping by the National Library of Latvia.

Also known as the ‘Castle of Light’, this incredible book trove has 14 floors and contains over 5 million volumes!

It also houses the photogenic ‘People’s Bookshelf’ that has over 7,000 donated books in over 52 languages from nationalities around the world.  

Anyone is free to visit and while here you can enjoy a plethora of exhibitions, viewpoints, and cafés. I spent hours here and the best part is that it doesn’t have to cost you a single euro cent.

Keep reading to find out how you can visit the famous ‘Glass Mountain’ aka the Latvian National Library!

National Library of Latvia Castle of Light Riga
People’s Bookshelf at the National Library of Latvia

National Library of Latvia history 

The National Library of Latvia was formed in 1919 after Latvia became an Independent Republic. Back then, it was known as the Latvian State Library.

The first chief librarian was Jānis Misiņš who donated thousands of books from his private collection. It quickly started to grow and in 1920 there were over 250,000 volumes.

That same year, every publisher in Latvia was obliged to donate a copy of their works to the library and by 1940 there were nearly 2 million volumes in the collection. 

During and after the events of WWII, Latvia was occupied by Germany who called it the ‘country library’, as it no longer recognised Latvia as a republic.

Castle of Light Riga

Later, Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union and the collection became the State Library of the Latvian SSR.

Many volumes deemed too ‘dangerous’ in the collection were removed if they were seen as a threat and could only be accessed with a special permit!

Since Latvia’s independence in 1991, this immense book collection is now known as the National Library of Latvia. 

The majority of the volumes are currently housed in a glass building called the Castle of Light or Glass Mountain.

Castle of Light Riga National Library of Latvia

Why is it known as the Castle of Light?

The Latvian National Library is a stunning glass building which is locally known as Gaismas pils or the Castle of Light. 

It was designed by a renowned Latvian architect called Gunnar Birkerts who moved to Michigan in the early 1950s.

The architecture was heavily inspired by Latvian Mythology and the legend of the Glass Mountain. 

According to local lore, once upon a time there was a mountain made of glass where golden apples grew.

Those that were brave enough could visit the grove and, if successful, they could enter a golden castle where an enchanted princess awaited her saviour. You can see her ‘crown’ on top of the building.

The library being represented as the Castle of Light from the fairytale is symbolic of the knowledge and wisdom that Latvia gained back after the ‘dark ages’ of occupation. 

The Castle of Light from St Peter's Church
View of the Castle of Light from St Peter’s Church

The multi-million euro project was finished in 2014 and, amazingly, all of the books from the old building were carried to the new one by a human chain! 

This was part of Riga’s bid to be the next European Capital of Culture. It finally opened to the public on the library’s 95th anniversary. 

The glass mountain is a whopping 68 metres high and has 14 floors including the basement.

Today, it houses over 5 million books, 18,000 manuscripts, reading rooms, a panormaic rooftop and several exhibitions. 

National Library of Latvia Riga

Can you visit the Latvian National Library in Riga?

Yes, anyone is allowed to visit the National Library of Latvia on their visit to Riga. The Castle of Light is open to all. 

Although you can’t access the reading rooms and study spaces as a visitor, it still makes an incredible tourist attraction. 

There are bookish exhibitions, panoramic viewpoints, a gift shop and a café to enjoy. The best part is visiting is completely FREE!

National Library of Latvia Riga

How to visit the Castle of Light in Riga

The National Library of Latvia is hard to miss in Riga as it’s a huge glass mountain structure that sits on the banks of the Daugava River.

You can see this unique library from all over the Old Town and from viewpoints such as St Peter’s Church observation deck.  

To visit the library, you can take a walk over the famous Stone Bridge which can be accessed near the House of the Blackheads and Plac Ratuszowy. Click here for a Google Pin.

The walk will take around 10-15 minutes and it’s very beautiful as you can see iconic buildings such as Riga Castle and the Latvian Academy of Sciences over the water. 

If you’d rather, you can take a tram or bus to the entrance of the library. Or, taxi apps like Bolt and Uber work well and cab journeys are very affordable in Latvia. 

From Monday to Friday, the library is open from 11 am to 7 pm. On Saturdays, it’s open from 10 am to 5 pm and on Sundays, the library is completely closed.  

Views from the Stone Bridge in Riga
There’s a great view of Riga Castle from the Stone Bridge

Is the National Library of Latvia free?

Yes, tourists can visit the library for FREE. But, you do need to collect a visitor pass from the main reception. 

Also, it’s good to note that you need to place your bags in a locker and take everything you need during your visit in one of their clear bags.

Lockers are free of charge. But, you need a 1 euro coin to use them. The coin is returned to you once you open the locker. 

If you don’t have any change, there are coin machines to exchange notes. But, this usually has a big queue. To save time, I’d make sure to have some euro coins prepared before you get here.

National Library of Latvia lockers
You need a €1 coin to use the lockers (it’s returned to you)

Keep everything you need out of the locker (your phone, books etc.) and then collect a clear bag to store them from the cloakroom kiosk.

Once you’ve done all that, you can grab a visitor pass at the reception desk and scan it at the barrier to enter. 

You’re then free to explore all the public sections of this incredible library set in a glass mountain! 

National Library of Latvia
National Library of Latvia Visitor Pass
My Visitor Pass for the National Library of Latvia!

Things to do at the National Library of Latvia

There are plenty of things to do in this magical library that make it worth visiting as a tourist. 

You cannot enter any of the reading rooms or computer rooms as these are strictly for library members. 

However, you can visit the People’s Bookshelf, a plethora of exhibitions and a gorgeous panoramic rooftop on the 13th floor.

Here are all the highlights you shouldn’t miss;

National Library of Latvia Riga

Admire the People’s Bookshelf

One of my favourite parts of the National Library of Latvia was the incredible bookshelves in the centre of the library.

This is known as the People’s Bookshelf which contains 7,000 volumes from over 50 languages from all over the world.

It holds many special books that have been donated by thousands of Latvians and other nationalities. 

They are staggering to look at and you can climb multiple floors to get some unique perspectives. They make a great photo opportunity and there are plenty of places where you can take a snap. 

Anyone can donate a book to be included. In order to do so, you must write a note on the front page about why the book you want to donate means so much to you.

If you don’t write this, then your book won’t be accepted. Also, you can only bring one book to donate per person. 

You can take it to the library to be gifted during your visit or you can send it by post! Find out more about how to donate here.

The People's Bookshelf
Can you see me next to the People’s Bookshelf?

Visit the plethora of exhibitions

Most of the reading rooms at the library are off limits to visitors but every floor has something interesting to see that is open to the public.

Their permanent exhibition is the story of the “Castle of Light and Glass Mountain” which gives you an overview of how they built the library and the inspiration behind the architecture. 

You can also find amazing art galleries, the ‘Book in Latvia’ exhibition on level 1 plus a collection of rare historic books and curiosities (I loved the unicorn horn).

National Library of Latvia historic books

During my visit, they had a ‘Text is Not Our Type’ exhibition that looked at the design of books, the printing press, and text readability through time. 

They are always adding new exhibitions at the library, so there is always a reason to go back!

Text is not our type exhibition National Library of Latvia
Text is Not our Type Exhibition

Head up to the rooftop with a panoramic viewpoint

Even if you aren’t interested in architecture or books, I would still visit the library for its panoramic rooftop.

From the top floor of the Castle of Light, you’ll be standing in the princesses crown and you can get incredible 360-degree views all over Riga! 

It’s easy enough to visit on the 13th floor but, to save your legs, I would take the elevator. You can only travel to the 11th floor by the lift, then you have to walk up the stairs to the top two floors.

I loved admiring the old town from here. You could see amazing views of St Peter’s Church, Riga Castle and the Daugava River. 

You could also look over towards the Latvian Academy of Sciences with the tunnels of the Market Hall below.

Also, you saw a different side of the city over the treetops towards the suburban neighbourhoods.

The only thing I didn’t like about this viewpoint was the fact that you couldn’t step outside and the windows here had a wrapping over them with lots of little black dots. 

So, the closer you stepped toward the windows the less you could see and photograph. The dots were quite hard to look through and gave me a bit of a headache!

National Library of Latvia Rooftop Viewpoint
National Library of Latvia Rooftop

Visit the Level 3 viewpoint

If you were after a decent view without the window dots, I would head to the sitting area on Level 3. 

This has a great view of the Stone Bridge, Old Town and Daugava River without the weird wrapping on the windows. 

Plus, you can relax here for a while and watch the traffic go by from their comfy purple velvet sofas. 

This was a much-needed rest stop for me after exploring this huge library! There are so many floors and every single one had something interesting to see. So, I was exhausted.

View from the National Library of Latvia
Views from the Level 3 lounge

Visit the Castle of Light gift shop

Although this is a library, it’s also a really popular tourist attraction and I loved the fact that it had a huge gift shop onsite. 

You can find all sorts of bookish souvenirs here like postcards, posters, keyrings and books about the library to take home.

There were also amazing postcards and even t-shirts you could buy with artwork of the Castle of Light!

National Library of Latvia giftshop

Have coffee in the Divi Raiņi Cafe

After you’ve explored the Castle of Light, I would highly recommend stopping by their café located inside the building.

The Divi Raiņi Cafe is fabulously bright thanks to all the glass windows and has a lovely botanical theme. 

You can sip an espresso coffee or try some tasty pastries whilst admiring views of the Stone Bridge and Daugava River!

Again, these windows had the wrapping on them with the little black dots. But, if you sit far enough away you can see through the glass without having to squint your eyes lol. 

Divi Raiņi Cafe Riga Library
Divi Raiņi Cafe

Is the Latvian National Library worth visiting?

YES, if you’re visiting Riga you must make a stop at this unique library during your visit.

Even if you’re not into books or reading, you will still have an incredible time here due to the panoramic viewpoints and photo opportunities.

I loved visiting the People’s Bookshelf in the centre and you can take a lift up to the top floor for some of the best panoramic views over Riga.

Visiting the library is also completely free, so you have nothing to lose! It was honetly one of the highlights of my visit and you won’t regret a thing. 

People's Bookshelf National Library of Latvia

My top tips for visiting the Castle of Light 

  • Visit early – The National Library of Latvia is an incredibly popular resource for locals and an attraction for tourists, so I would visit for the opening time if you want a calmer experience. 
  • Bring coins – you need to put your bags into a locker which requires a 1 euro coin (you get this back after your visit). If you only have notes, there is a machine where you can switch them for coins but there is only one machine and it usually has a queue. 
National Library of Latvia exhibition
  • Remember you need a clear bag – all your things need to be put in a clear bag to visit! These are free and you can get them from the cloakroom. On that note, you can leave coats in the cloakroom for free too.
  • Don’t forget the panoramic views – there are plenty of free exhibitions in the library but the best viewpoints are on level 3 from the seating area and on the very top floor – use the elevator to save your legs. Note that this rooftop sometimes closes in winter season.
National Library of Latvia

Are you looking for more things to do in Riga? 

Riga is hands down one of the most underrated cities in Europe and there are so many things to do here on a weekend. 

Firstly, I would explore the Old Town to see the colourful houses and iconic sights like the House of the Blackheads, St Peter’s Church, Dom Square, The Three Brothers and Cat House.

House of the Blackheads Riga
House of the Blackheads
View from St Peter's Church Riga
View from St Peter’s Church
DOM restaurant Riga
Restaurant DOM

The Art Nouveau district is also not to be missed and I recommend visiting Alberta Street to spot some incredible architecture. 

You can also pop into the Art Nouveau Museum to see the incredible staircase and have afternoon tea at Art Café Sienna.

Art Nouveau Staircase Riga
I loved this staircase at the Art Nouveau Museum

You can then make your way past the Freedom Monument to Bastejkalna Park and take a walk or scenic boat ride along the river canals. 

If you like green spaces, I’d also visit Vermane Park with Tabu Tea House that serves up a seemingly infinite number of teas from around the world!

For a great view of the city, you can head up to the Latvian Academy of Sciences observation deck (you can only pay in cash). Then, pop into the historic Market Hall for some food or souvenirs.

View from the Latvian Academy of Sciences
View from the Latvian Academy of Sciences

For lunch or dinner, I recommend Lido which is a popular budget chain of self-service restaurants found around the city.

The traditional Latvian food here is incredibly tasty and filling with great prices. They also have beer and wine on tap. It’s so good I went here twice and it’s perfect for solo travellers as it’s no frills and fast.

If you wanted something more unique head to the medieval restaurant ‘Rozengrāls’ for a hearty feast fit for a queen.

Then, you can get witchy by sampling some local Black Balsam at Black Magic Café. Honestly, this café is incredible, it has all the Harry Potter vibes and even a secret door behind one of their bookcases.

Rozengrals-Medieval-Restaurant-Riga
Rozengrāls
Black Magic Cafe Riga
Enjoying a Black Balsam spritz at Black Magic Café

If you have extra time, why not plan a day trip to see incredible places like Sigulda and Turaida? They are close together and less than an hour from Riga by train!

I enjoyed an incredible day out here visiting all sorts of fairytale castles, cable cars, and caves. Look out for a day trip itinerary soon!

I also loved visiting Bauska Castle and the spectacular Rundale Palace which gave me all the Bridgerton vibes. 

Rundale Palace Latvia
The majestic Rundale Palace
Sigulda New Castle
Sigulda New Castle

Castle of Light FAQs

  • What is the National Library of Riga? It’s the National Library of Latvia also known locally as the ‘Castle of Light’. It’s an incredible literary attraction you can visit in Riga.
  • Who is the architect of the Latvian National Library? It was designed by Gunnar Birkerts, a Latvian-American architect and the design is based on Latvian Mythology. 
  • How tall is the Latvian National Library? Just over 62 metres high.

Read more of my Latvia travel guides

The perfect one day in Sigulda itinerary

Save how to visit the National Library of Latvia for later! 

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