RIGA SIDE TRIPS
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
By Tim Campbell Oct 2020
HUGE VALLEYS AND IDYLLIC BEACHES IN LATVIA?
If you know anything about Latvia then you’ll know that it’s basically flat with a coastline. Most people don’t know it has the longest beach in Europe and a huge valley that needs a cable car to cross it.
Most tourists just visit Riga, the capital, but there are two day trips from Riga worth mentioning. Sigulda and Jurmala. Sigulda is a 40 mile drive to the North East, and Jurmala is a 30 minute drive to the west. Both can be reached by bus or train within an hour.
These day trips are well worth exploring because they both have spectacular scenery, and their own identity so different than the capital. Jurmala reminds me of Wales, and Sigulda of the Peak district in the UK.
ON ARRIVAL IN SIGULDA
The bright orange train station is clean and tidy. 100 metres away across the car park is a row of shops, cafes and restaurants, even a small food hall.
FOOD AND DRINK
I ate at this food hall three days in a row because it had cheap local food for the locals. You bought the salmon from the fishmonger or the steak from the butcher, and then the guy on the grill next door cooked it. A bit of salad with fries, and a draft beer poured meant dinner for ten Euros.
Different sections provided breakfast, lunch or dinner at a reasonable price. Out of the food hall and down the street was the Locals favourite bakery called Mr.Biskvit, for coffee and cake or ice cream.
ACCOMMODATION IN SIGULDA
I stayed at a B and B within walking distance from the station. A small hotel with manicured gardens and a host that will do your laundry for free if you ask. There are other hotels, but the Livonija B&B for 25 Euros per night was perfect for me.
MUST DO DON’T MISS IN SIGULDA:
If you’re so inclined, the amusement park is about 30 minutes walk away, but the reason I was in town was to visit its most famous son, Turaida Castle. A ruin over the years, the local government has built Turaida into the red brick monument it has become today.
From Turaida castle and the Sanitorium on one side of the ravine to the Amusement park and town on the other side of Gauja valley, there is a cable car. A bright yellow cable car that holds about 15 people. In 10 minutes you are whisked across the valley for 8 Euros. A Steep price for a steep valley, but well worth it.
MY SUGGESTIONS FOR SIGULDA.
At the station when you arrive go into the information office outside to the left. They will give you all the info you need about Sigulda and what to do.
Eat at the food market called Jana Tirgus across from the station. The lads at the grill at the back of the food hall all speak English and are excellent servers and cooks. The beer is good too.
Down the street have coffee and cake at Mr.Biskvits.
The Cathouse restaurant serves the best breakfast in town. (If you arrive early enough or stay overnight.)
In the warm late summer evenings stroll among the parks that are everywhere.
Take the bus from the station for 1 Euro to Turaida castle.
After Turaida take the same bus to Krimulda to see the old sanitorium.
Take the cable car across the valley. Only one side has a ticket office and the conductor asks for cash on the one side that doesn’t. You can pay at destination with a card though if you don’t have any cash.
ON ARRIVAL IN JURMALA.
The train from Riga puts you right at the station where your hotel is and costs 2 Euros. I was staying at the Amber Spa so that meant jumping off at Bulduri station.
The main station in Jurmala for the centre is Majori station but most places are either walking distance or a short cab ride away.
FOOD AND DRINK
There is one street that the population uses in Jurmala. A pedestrian precinct called Jomas Iela. This 300 metre stretch is full of restaurants and shops and has everything you’ll need. From church to food to bike rentals to pharmacies, Jomas street provides everything for the perfect day or evening out.
My favourite place to eat was Kompots, right at the beginning of Jomas. There is a stunning Russian orthodox church and a globe statue at the foot of Jomas that you have to see before taking the long walk up the pedestrian avenue.
I suggest you walk up one side of the street to see what there is, and then back down the other to choose where to eat or drink. They have every type of restaurant imaginable so it’s whatever you want to eat really. Luckily, I don’t remember seeing any fast food places.
Like most popular seaside resorts there is a hotel for every budget. Your budget depends on where to stay. Check booking.com for a place and then call the hotel directly and ask for the 15% discount they give to booking.com. You, and the hotel, save that way. Booking.com will give you all the information on every place.
I, unfortunately, stayed at the Amber Spa Boutique Hotel.The only saving grace for this abysmal place was that it was close to the beach. A short stroll through the woods and there was the full 32 kms stretched out in front of me like the Venice Lido.
It actually reminded me of Daytona Beach in Florida, or those north sea dunes in the Netherlands or Belgium. Long, hard surface, runners and walkers, people walking their dogs, deck chair renters, and small restaurants to grab a bite or get a drink while you stroll this expansive sand.
MUST DO DON’T MISS IN JURMALA
As described, walk the beach for hours.
Walk the pedestrian precinct of Jomala iela street.
Check out the Russian church at the top of Jomas.
Eat fish from the sea at Kompots
Eat Latvian or Russian dishes at Kompots or other restaurants.
Eat ice cream from one of the numerous sellers on the pedestrian precinct.
Drink the local beer Aldaris brand.
Go to Kemeri national park (if you have time)
Two great days out. If you’re in Riga for a week or more then these are must sees. If you’re there for less than a week then try one. A long weekend means you won’t have time to see either. They are so close to Riga though that, if you make the effort, you might be able to see both in one day.
On another trip I would return to these two places, plus go to the forests of Eastern Latvia and Liepaja on the coast. I’ll let you know how that turns out next time.