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Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

Sydney, Australia
posts: 326
reviews: 1
Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

Dear TAs,

We are planning a trip for next year spending about 1 week in Riga, and then touring the countryside by car.

We are looking for advice / your recent experience if you have done such a trip recently; things you wished someone had told you before etc.

(For instance, is it easy to get accommodation as you go or is it necessary to pre-book everywhere?)

We envisage doing a 'circle' starting from Riga, Jurmala, possibly along the coast to Kolka, Ventspils, Kuldiga, Liepaja, then Skrunda, Saldus, the Auce area, Jelgava, and via Bauska back to Riga (finer details yet to be worked out). We intend to get more details about local attractions/sights from local tourist information centres.

Any feedback / information / experiences would be gratefully received, thank you!

Riga, Latvia
posts: 124
reviews: 20
1. Re: Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

I can comment on pre-booking accommodations - it is recommended in weekends as many guest houses in summer are busy with weddings and corporate events and may not be available at all. In weekdays most places should have rooms available but, then again, in small rural guest houses it is recommended to call or e-mail in advance otherwise hosts can not be on duty when you arrive.

Sydney, Australia
posts: 326
reviews: 1
2. Re: Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

Thanks, Antuanete, this is really good advice, and just the sort of hint I am looking for! Paldies!

Riga
posts: 15
3. Re: Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

Hi!

Here are my suggestions about main sights and possible activities in Riga and Latvia:

Riga:

- catch the feeling of Old Riga! Buildings from Middle Ages, cobbled, narrow streets and a lot of caffees and restaurants! Riga itself is a green city with greenery and nice parks.

- an elegant area of Riga is the so called "quiet center". Here you can see many art nouveau buildings. This is also one of the most expensive districts in Riga.

- find out more about Latvia's history and visit the Occupation museum! Actually, there are many museums in Riga - I suggest visiting Open - air museum, Art nouveau museum, Sun museum, Latvian National museum of Art. If you are interested in other museums in Riga and Latvia, check the website http://muzeji.lv/en/museums/.

- you can catch great views of Riga from the top of St. Peters church and Akmens bridge (cross Daugava river partially and turn round).

- other important things - the Freedom monument; the Central market (former zepelin sheds); a boat trip on Riga canal. I've seen good comments about Riga free tour tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g274967-d1… I think, this could be worth it!

- if you wish, you can enjoy shopping and different spas.

Jurmala:

- Jurmala is a nice resort city on Riga gulf. The main attraction is a very long sandy beach. In the center of Jurmala (Majori - Dzintari) you will also see a lot of small shops and cafes/restaurants and the beach is within reach (5 minutes walk from main street). Traditional Jurmala architecture (in the older parts) consists of wooden summer cottages.

Jurmala is quite popular and, if weather is hot, you could have some difficulties to get to Jurmala (traffic jams, packed public transport, lack of parking places).

- Best activities: Livu aquapark - a place where to get a lot of fun (especially, if weather is bad and water in the sea cold); go from Riga to Jurmala by boat (there are a few companies that provide these rides); if you go to Jurmala by car, you can visit a nature trail of Kemeri swamp celotajs.lv/cont/…hiking_kemeri_lv.html- really great sights (unfortunately, under reconstruction).

Jurmala - Kolka and Kolka

- Kolka is the "meeting point" of Baltic sea and Riga gulf. On the way from Jurmala to Kolka you will see dunes, pine woods and small fishing villages. In every village you can buy smoked fish of different sorts. On the Kolka beach you will see the remains of an old stone wall lighthouse (the new one is 6 km further in the Baltic sea). Nearby, there are several Liv villages. (Livs are a nearly extinct ethnic group, which used to live near the coast of Baltic sea. There is only about a 100 people left who speak the Liv language.)

Kolka - Ventspils

- On the way to Ventspils (approximately 16 km from Kolka) on the left side you can look at 3 small stones. These stones are plague stones from beginning of XVIII century. Inscriptions on stones in latin language tell about plague in this region.

- Going further to Ventspils, an object, definitely worth to visit, is the radiotelescope in Irbene. The eight largest in the world, used for counter-espionage in soviet times, now a center for radioastronomy. http://virac.venta.lv/en/

- You can get nice views from height, if you visit lighthouses (Ovisi, Mikeltornis).

Ventspils

Ventspils is a nice, pleasant and clean city at the coast of Baltic see. Unfortunately, my visit in Ventspils was a long time ago, so I can't suggest special top-sights for you. By all means, Ventspils is worth visiting.

Ventspils - Kuldiga, Kuldiga

- On the way to Kuldiga there are no special sight-seeing objects. Kuldiga is a small town, former participant of Hanza union. The main sight of Kuldiga is one of the longest brickstone bridges in Europe. The bridge is recently reopened after renovation. If you wish, you can cross by wading the widest waterfall in Baltic states (on Venta). The center of Kuldiga is lovely.

Kuldiga - Liepaja, Liepaja

- No special sights on the way to Liepaja.

- Liepaja is the third largest city in Latvia, twice the capital of Latvia (for a very short time in the WWI and WWII). Liepaja is called a city where "wind was born". In Latvia Liepaja has always been famous for its love to music (sculptures of guitar and drums, Latvia's first rock-cafe).

- As in Riga, so in Liepaja you can see some buildings in art nouveau style. And - similar to Jurmala, Liepaja has always been a resort city - you can make a nice stroll through a district of summer cottages and nice parks.

- The organ in St.Trinity church is the biggest in Europe. Until 1912 - the biggest in the world. Unfortunately, the church itself is not in the best condition.

- Visit the former military prison in Karosta (north part of Liepaja)! Here you can expierence interesting excursions, play spy games in former forts, stay over a night in the hotel (chambers - prison cells). www.karostascietums.lv/new/en/intro-en.html

Liepaja - Skrunda - Saldus

No special sights on this route.

Saldus - Auce, Auce

- Around Auce you will find some nice manor houses in Vecauce and Lielauce. Both are built in the middle of XVIX century and now serve as a hotel and a school.

- Going north-east to Dobele through Ile, approximately 20 km from Auce, you can visit the wood of Pokaini. For people that believe in esoterics this place is very important - they feel some stones here are hot or cold, admire stone rivers etc. Many don't feel anything. But everyone is different:)

Auce - Dobele

- Dobele is a small town with castle ruins and nice church. In the spring here is a great lilac garden.

Auce - Tervete/Jelgava

- You can skip Dobele and go further to Jelgava or Tervete. Jelgava is the fourth largest city in Latvia and has a tragic history. Almost all traditional architecture perished in the WW II. So the main sight-seeing object is the University of Agriculture (Castle of Jelgava). This university was the first institution of higher education in Latvia (built 1785). I suggest visiting this place - really beautiful. Jelgava is also the cradle of Latvian performance art and newspapers.

- Tervete is a nice resort place with many nature trails, castle ruins and castle mould. Tervete was a home place for a famous play-writer in Latvia. She invented different creatures in her works, and everywhere you will see wooden sculptures of them. Tervete is a good place for children - they will find nice playgrounds here.

Tervete - Bauska

- On the way to Bauska there are two beautiful manor houses - Mezotne and Rundale, especially Rundale. If you have to choose one, then Rundale is much more impressive - great manor house with a fantastic rose garden. Definitely worth visiting!

- Near Bauska, visit a museum of antique vehicles that were used for different (military, agriculture etc.) purposes at different times! Really interesting.

- The main sight is the castle of Bauska - very nice castle ruins in a good condition. Don't miss! www.bauskaspils.lv/en/castle-and-museum

Latvia can offer you much more than listed here. I named my favorite places, activities and attractions:) If you want to know more, just ask and I will try to help you.

Sydney, Australia
posts: 326
reviews: 1
4. Re: Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

Hi Metra,

I am overwhelmed by your wonderful response, thank you very much! I will work my way through everyone of your suggestions, and probably come back with more questions.

I forgot to mention, we will be in Latvia starting with the 2013 Song and Dance Festival and then throughout July.

We are keen photographers and are interested in Latvian culture, history, arts, food, architecture, landscape etc.; outside of Riga we'd like to see old mansion houses, castle/castle ruins, churches, old cemeteries, memorials, historical sights, museums, and nature parks or sights.

PS. We hope to also visit Sigulda, perhaps as a day trip from Riga.

Riga, Latvia
posts: 124
reviews: 20
5. Re: Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

Metra K indeed gave a wonderful suggestions! I can add that in your way from Liepāja to Saldus you can stay in Berghof manor http://www.pienamuiza.lv/ which has museum of dairy making, there you can try to make cream and butter by yourself (previous arrangement needed). Bedrooms and views are also nice (but be sure to book because this is specially busy with weddings in summer).

If you have time left, try to ride on other directions from Riga as well. If you go to Sigulda, you can as well stretch your trip to Cēsis which is one of oldest towns in Latvia (first mentioned in 1206.) and has old castle ruins (special excursions there), smithy of ancient jewellery http://kalve.cesis.lv and in general is a nice place to wander around a little bit. Between Sigulda and Cēsis is Līgatne which has various options of activities visitligatne.lv/…

Sydney, Australia
posts: 326
reviews: 1
6. Re: Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

Thank you, Antuanete, for your suggestions, that very helpful! Pienamuiza looks lovely and the dairy museum sounds interesting! We'll definitely try to incorporate Sigulda and Cesis, and the castle sites. If you can think of more interesting sites, please let us know.

san francisco
posts: 100
reviews: 303
7. Re: Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

We are currently doing all three Baltic countries by car (Riga today, looking on line for information on Bauska)....no issues at all...border crossings are a breeze, drivers are courteous, speeds are reasonable.

Couple of observations....(1) lots of bicycles on the highways, so drive appropriately; (2) most highways are two-lane country roads; (3) get a GPS (from home or rent) so you can get around without worrying about signs; and (4) gas and car rentals are expensive. We bought the European GPS chip from Garmin, but had so many problems with it, we rented a GPS when we rented the car. All signs are "European" so that is not an issue, but still, the GPS is well worth the cost. If you have driven in Europe before, driving here should not be an issue.

Regarding hotels, I also recommend pre-booking. I know when we were in Tallinn, Estonia (and I recommend travelling to Tallinn since it is only three hours from Riga), the information desk was turning people away saying the hotels in Tallinn were full.

Lots of Information offices, all well stocked for tourists (English pamphlets; English speaking representatives). Most restaurant and hotel staff speak 200-1000 words of English, even in the countryside, so that should not be an issue.

san francisco
posts: 100
reviews: 303
8. Re: Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

I forgot to mention...don't always rely on your GPS....once you get on a highway in the direction you are going, stay on the highway, do not follow the GPS instructions to get off the highway for 5 km, because it is 0.1 km shorter (but 15 minutes longer) than just staying on the highway.

Sydney, Australia
posts: 326
reviews: 1
9. Re: Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

Thank you BBB57 for your comments and advice!

We will make sure to take our GPS with us and hope that it works ok.

It's good to know that there are lots of tourist offices, and that information is available in English. My husband speaks Latvian but regrettably my vocabulary is quite limited.

Do you have any advice regarding your car rental experience (at this stage)?

Have a wonderful trip yourself!

Riga, Latvia
posts: 124
reviews: 20
10. Re: Any advice/recent experience about touring Latvia by car?

According to GPS and their "European" maps, I wouldn't rely on them in Latvia. One of most popular, TomTom, still doesn't have Southern Bridge in Rīga, and it was completed few years ago. Also, some of devices are too hysteric about driving speeds on gravel roads (considering them to be 20 km/h and therefore trying to navigate long distances around just to stay on pavement - but that depends whether you choose fastest or shortest route).

For me, the best navigating device in Latvia is paper map - this one is all you need to get around http://www.kartes.lv/?wp=115&lg=4&p=0&sid=55

This is the most reliable source of information, publisher is biggest and oldest mapmaker in Latvia. You can look at their maps also here http://latvijas-karte.zl.lv/ and use them while planning your route.