Riga is a lovely city and a great place to get a taste of Latvian culture and history. However, Latvia has much more to offer beyond the capital, so if you’re planning a trip to Riga, allocate some extra time to explore the rest of the country. Here are some of the best day trips from Riga to help you decide where to go, with a mixture of my own experiences and recommendations from fellow travel bloggers. I visited Kemeri Bog, Sigulda and Gauja National Park on a sponsored trip as part of the Women in Travel Summit in Riga.
I must admit that I didn’t expect to enjoy visiting a bog. I thought it would be smelly, dirty and basically lots of mud! But I was most definitely wrong. We spent a fascinating morning at the Kemeri bog, bog shoeing with a fantastic guide who led us across the bog.
Kemeri Bog is actually stunning, especially early morning when the mist hangs in the air. The water is still and reflects the trees like a mirror. There are few trees in the boglands, but the moss beneath our bog shoes is the star of the show here. It varies in colour from pale green to dark green, red and shades of yellow. Most of it is springy, created a strange natural trampoline as we bounce along. Some, however, is deceptive and can easily lead to sinking beneath the water – so walking across the bog should not be attempted without an official guide.
From the visitor centre, there are clearly marked wooden paths across the boglands which are another option if you are visiting alone. We visited a different area of the boglands with our guide, truly getting off the beaten track!
Getting to Kemeri Bog is easiest with your own transport, or you can take the train to Kemeri (about 23 minutes from Riga) and walk about 40 minutes to the Bog car park and beginning of the trails. There are also several trails around Kemeri National Park where you can go birdwatching and you can easily spend a few hours exploring the boglands. If you have time to spare you could also combine it with a visit to Jurmala and the coastal beaches, although again that is easier with your own transport.
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A Day Trip from Riga to Jūrmala
When thinking of going on an exciting day trip, Jūrmala may not be the first Latvian city to come to mind. It’s a famous resort town on the Baltic Sea with lots of charm and character, Jūrmala also has a good mix of traditional and Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) architecture going on. Walking through its streets is an adventure because you never know what you’ll find behind the next corner.
With a 30-minutes train ride connecting from the Riga Central Station (Riga Pasazieru) to Majori (closest station to the centre of Jūrmala), it is easy and more convenient to reach the beachfront town of Jūrmala in a whizz. You can get off the train at either Dzintari or Majori, though the latter has a nicer station area.
What’s surprising is the lack of development. The pristine 26 km long powder-sand Jūrmala beach along the Gulf of Riga is backed by seemingly endless pine woods and offers endless opportunities for walking, jogging, swimming, kite surfing, windsurfing, and even collecting amber. Mostly you’ll find quaint homes with ornate and imaginative carvings and glazed verandas tucked among the trees. A pedestrian promenade lined with shops and cafes connects the two most popular areas, Dzintari, and Majori, known for their blue flag beaches.
Stroll along Jomas street – one of the oldest pedestrian streets of Jūrmala boasts some decent restaurants, summer terraces, souvenir shops, and cafes. This is the heart of Jūrmala only a stone’s throw away from Majori and Dzintari stations. Summertime in Jūrmala is in full swing during July with plenty of theatre plays, musical performances, and special programs for kids throughout the town.
To truly experience the natural beauty Jūrmala has to offer, you have to visit Dzintari forest park. The park features two-hundred-year-old pine trees, cross-country skiing available in winter, skater and pedestrian paths and an impressive 110-foot-tall viewing tower that offers panoramic views of Jūrmala and the sea.
By Ivan from Mind The Travel
A Day Trip from Riga Hiking in Gauja National Park
Gauja National Park is the largest National Park in Latvia, covering over 90,000 hectares. Within the National Park are over 500 cultural and historical monuments, as well as the towns of Sigulda and Cesis and an array of natural wonders to explore. I’d recommend spending at least a couple of days in the National Park, but if you only have one day and love the outdoors, hiking in Gauja National Park is an excellent way to enjoy Latvian nature at its best.
We walked two nature trails in Gauja National Park; part of the Cecīļu Nature Trail and the Amata Hiking trail with our guide Sigita Klētniece from Cesis Inside. Sigita was great fun and a delight to spend time with, explaining more about the Latvian countryside and culture as we chatted along the trails.
The Cecīļu Nature Trail is actually on private property, but the owners maintain the trails and allow public access. As we walked through the forest we came across waterfalls, dancing rivers (so-called because of the fast-moving water) and rustic cabins – even a sauna!
From there we hopped in the car to get to the Amata Hiking trail where we walked through the forest along the Amata River to Zvartes Rock, one of the steepest sandstone and dolomite bedrock banks of the river. The rock is more than 350 million years old and is 20m high, and in summer is a popular swimming destination where families picnic and camp. Sigita’s daughter Tereze runs the Tourist Information Centre at Zvartes Rock, where we finished our walk with a delicious lunch. You could also start your hike from there and pick up maps and supplies before you go. It isn’t open every day though, so get in touch before you go.
Cesis or Sigulda are the nearest towns, which are reachable by train or bus from Riga. To get to the hiking trails you will need your own transport, or contact Sigita at Cesis Inside to arrange a guided tour.
A Day Trip from Riga to Sigulda
Sigulda is part of Gauja National Park, but I’ve included these separately as there are plenty of things to do in Sigulda without venturing further into the park. Sigulda is the perfect combination of adventure, nature and culture and makes a wonderful day trip from Riga.
You can take a cable car across the Gauja River for spectacular views – adrenaline junkies may like to know that you can arrange to bungee jump from the cable car, although we didn’t take the plunge ourselves. You could also take some time to explore the other side of the river, including tasting some delicious fruit wines at Krimulda Manor.
On our e-bikes, we went to Sigulda Castle, tried our hand at making a mini walking stick (a typical souvenir from Sigulda) and ate a tasty lunch at Jāna market. Before lunch, though we also visited Sigulda Bobsleigh track, where Latvian Olympians train by speeding down the icy track. It is open for public visitors, and for a bargain 10€ per person, you can have a go yourselves (if you have a team of 4 people). We zipped down the track faster than I imagined but emerged unscathed and having thoroughly enjoyed the adventure! I do recommend coming here before lunch though, as my stomach was doing somersaults as we were thrown around the corners!
After lunch, we visited Gutman’s Cave and Turaida Castle, both of which have fascinating legends to uncover. I really enjoyed my time in Sigulda and am working on a full post for you which will be coming out soon!
To get to Sigulda there are regular trains from Riga, which take around 45 minutes. There are also buses which are cheaper but take longer. Getting between the various attractions in Sigulda is easier with your own transport, if you don’t have a car then you could look at hiring a bike or e-bike from Sigulda Adventures to whizz around town. It is also possible to hike if you’re feeling energetic – start off in Sigulda and take the cable car across the valley to Krimulda, and hike down the valley back to Sigulda, stopping off at Turaida Castle and Gutman Cave on the way.
A Day Trip from Riga to Cēsis
Cēsis is an attractive small town with plenty of green spaces that turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red in autumn. The real highlight of Cēsis, though, is its AD 1209 medieval castle, which now lies in ruins. When you buy your entrance ticket, the staff hand you a candle-lit lantern so you can negotiate three levels of dark, spiral staircases in the western tower, admiring the vaulted roof on the second floor and the views of the castle grounds and beyond from the top. You can also climb down a staircase into a chilling dungeon, and both of these experiences will help you imagine what the castle would have been like in its day.
One of the most intriguing sights on the grounds of the castle actually dates from a much later era. It’s a statue of Lenin that once stood in Unity Square for 31 years but now lies on its back in an open-topped box, abandoned and forgotten by all but a few curious tourists. The treatment of the statue is a real testament to how unfavourably the Soviet era is viewed by most Latvians.
Cēsis lies just under 100 kilometres from Riga and is accessible by bus or train. Trains are very inexpensive at about 3 or 4 euros each way. The fastest trains take 1 hour 15 minutes, and all of them take under two hours. Buses cost slightly more but are more frequent and take just under two hours to reach Cēsis.
By Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan
A Day Trip from Riga to Rundale Palace
Rundale Palace (Rundāles pils) tells the story of a Duchy, which although once glorious, today remains a bit in the shadows of history. The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia existed from 1561 until 1795, when it was ceded to the Russian Empire. Rundale Palace was the summer residence of the Dukes of Courland. The palace was built in the 18th century and after serving as an infirmary and a school, today it’s an amazing museum – a fine example of Baroque architecture with Rococo elements. The restoration of the palace took a bit more than 40 years, but the results are stunning.
The moment you step in the palace you are carried back into the 18th century. Like in a dream you walk from one ballroom into the other, from the Blue Room into the Pink Room, admiring the lavishly decorated interior and the beautiful furniture of the period. Open for visitors are the Duke’s and the Duchess’ private rooms and reception rooms, the reception halls, and the kitchen. One room in the palace is left unrestored, which I found quite interesting. Thus, you can see the dilapidated status the palace was in and the great work that has been done to bring back its glory.
If you are visiting the Rundale Palace in the summer, you get a bonus – the amazing French and rose gardens. The French Garden reminiscences slightly of the Gardens of Versailles.
Rundale Palace is located some 80 km to the south of Latvia’s capital Riga. The best way to reach the palace from Riga is by car. The drive takes about an hour and 15 minutes. Using public transport to get to Rundale can be a bit tricky. You will need to change buses at Bauska. Although Rundale is not an easy day trip from Riga if you don’t have a car, it’s for sure the most beautiful one.
Ticket prices range from 13 EUR in high season to 8 EUR in low season. There are also 2 different routes to choose from: short and long one. Unless you are very short in time, I would advise you to take the long route. Thus, you can see the whole palace and the gardens.
By Daniela from Ipanema Travels
A Day Trip from Riga to Salaspils
The Salaspils former forced labour camp is one of the most important dark tourism destinations in Latvia. Created as an intended part of the Nazi’s Final Solution during WWII, the camp saw about 12,000 prisoners pass through its grounds between 1941 and 1944. Conditions were harsh, and treatment of the inmates was brutal; roughly 2,000 people died while it was in operation.
For those looking to take a deep dive into serious history, Salaspils is the destination for you. The layout of the memorial site is quite striking. As you approach, the path runs under a huge concrete wall which bears the message in Latvian “Beyond these gates the land groans”. Inside this, at either end, are housed the main museum pieces, with the wall containing a corridor linking the two exhibition areas.
Beyond that, the main area is open-plan and has been turned into a sculpture garden. The large, stone statues there show different aspects of the life and mental resolve of both the former inmates and of the Latvian people. Strong themes of humiliation, maternal instinct, protest and solidarity are thrown into stark relief, with each work conveying its own unique power. Salaspils concentration camp was a place of sorrow, cruelty and death. But what remains there now is a very fulfilling sanctuary of peace, historical import and quiet contemplation.
Trains run to Salaspils regularly throughout the day – Dārziņi is the nearest stop to the memorial from Riga station, just seven stops down the line. Buses run on average every hour from Riga city centre, and can take you directly to Dārziņu iela, a street just over the main road (A6) from the site. Both options involve a short walk after getting off public transport (30 minutes from the bus, an hour from the train station), but the paths/roads are not difficult to traverse.
By Jeremy from Cultura Obscura
A Day Trip from Riga to Grobina Viking settlement
On a recent trip to Latvia, for a family wedding, we took a day out to head south to visit the Curonian Viking Settlement in Grobina, near the city of Liepāja. Grobina is home to several UNESCO heritage Viking burial sites. From Riga it takes just under 3 hours to reach the destination, using the A9 (a good road). It is worth it though! We visited with our children, and we spent over 3 hours learning all about the Viking-Curonian culture in this area of Latvia. We were taught fighting and hunting skills, using bows and arrows and shields and spears. Competitively we threw sacks as we pretended to quickly load/unload a longboat of supplies. It was tiring, though educational and fun.
A Viking meal was prepared for us, consisting of roast and smoked meat (beef or pork), and delicious honey cake. Afterwards, we took a ride out on the lake in a replica Viking-style longboat. Having learned lots about Vikings and been tested too (!) we were awarded ‘Viking for a day’ status. You can purchase souvenirs, which are made locally, that are Viking themed naturally. The settlement offers Viking glamping too, where for a reasonable fee you can camp in their five-pointed star tent. Our children learned a lot about Viking life, and it helped them succeed when they covered Vikings back in school!
By Tracey from PackThePJs
I hope this post has inspired you to explore more of Latvia with these fabulous day trips from Riga. Thank you to my fellow travel bloggers for contributing!
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