Riga is the largest city in the Baltic States and its most cosmopolitan center. I reckon that it’s the one that offers the most activities. Indeed, the large medieval Old Town is full of historical architecture; there are plenty of green parks, nice wooden houses, magnificent Art Nouveau buildings and a couple of cool ex-industrial neighborhoods.
Additionally, you can take several day trips from Riga to very interesting places nearby. In fact, the city’s closest beach in Jurmala is just a step away. On the other hand, if you want to disconnect a bit you should visit beautiful Sigulda north of the capital.
- 1 Day Trips From Riga: How to Choose
- 2 Jurmala
- 3 Sigulda
- 4 How to Get From Riga to Jurmala and Sigulda
- 5 Organized Tours to Jurmala and Sigulda from Riga
Day Trips From Riga: How to Choose
Jurmala and Sigulda make the best day trips from Riga since they combine nature and architecture. Additionally, you can get there on public transport. So we got to reduce our high ecological footprint while hanging with Latvians! That said, there are other options close to Riga. Visit the Rundale Palace and the Jelgava Palace to the south if you are into palaces.
The Kemeri National Park is pristine nature within easy reach. In fact, you can combine it with nearby Jurmala. The medieval Castle of Cesis is another fantastic place worth visiting. Go to Tukims and Talsi if you like small charming towns. As you can see, don’t rush and save time for a couple of day trips from Riga.
Jurmala has it all: a gorgeous beach, beautiful old mansions, a nice pedestrian street, lush green forests and plenty of great restaurants. To get there take the half an hour train that departs from Riga Central Station. It’s a fairly long place so we decided to begin in Marjori, in the center.
We spent time wondering about its pedestrian Jomas Street and people watching. Then we went through the forest and spent hours on the beach. In summer the beach gets crowded. Why wouldn’t it? The sea is warm, the sand soft and the atmosphere quite lovely! Of course we took pictures of the Former Swimming Establishment of Emilija Racene and the Giant Turtle.
For over 200 years, Latvians have chosen Jurmala as their favorite beach. Even hard-line communist couldn’t resist its charms. In fact, Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev loved to spend time here. Originally a cluster of small villages and towns, it is now a large urban sprawl along a 32 km long beach.
What surprised us the most, were the sand and the sea. We found out that the sand is fine white quartz sand and that the sea is low in salt. Take note that 5 of the 11 organized beach areas have the Blue Flag certificate. We walked for hours under the sun. Football fields, bars, restaurants, and a couple of hotels on one side, on the other, the endless sea.
If you like trekking, you are going to love Jurmala. The area offers some of the best hiking in the country. You can walk as long or as relaxed as you want. Walking along the beach from Jurmala Beach east to Lielupe Beach takes 2 hours. It’s a beautiful area with forests where the streams enter the sea.
Of course, you can walk along the sea to the west for hours. The area west of Jurmala is pure nature. Walk one hour to Taka Park. The area offers several trails with boardwalks over the bogs. You can take a bus back to the city.
Where to Stay in Jurmala
Jurmala has a wide variety of hotels to choose from. After all, it is Latvia’s prime beach destination. If you want to stay directly on the beach, as you should, book a room at The Baltic Beach Hotel & SPA. It’s a famous hotel from communist times brought up to 5 star standards. Located on Jurmala beach, it offers a fantastic spa and rooms with balconies overlooking the sea.
The Boutique Hotel Light House Jurmala is another great option on the beach. Without a doubt, the two best spa hotels are the Hotel Jurmala Spa and the Lielupe Hotel SPA, both set amongst gardens. If you want to stay in a traditional old wooden house, Wooden Villa is the best choice. Finally, if you have a thing for cool modern architecture, stay at the Kurshi Hotel & Spa.
Where to Eat/Drink in Jurmala
The best place to eat and drink in Jurmala is along the coast. For a fancy dinner directly on Jurmala beach, head to Line Grill Restaurant. They have a wide selection of wine and cocktails too. You can sip your favorite cocktail while listening to music at X.O Beach Lounge and Club. Killer sunset guaranteed.
All types of eateries and bars line Jomas Street. Grill & Fish Jomas Terase serves the best seafood in the city. Local people flock to Restorans Jurmala for its elegant setting and delicious food. Mar Mar Cafe is two blocks to the east. We had authentic Georgian cuisine at Kinza House. Atmosphere Cafe is on the beach next door.
On our next free day we wanted to escape the crowds so we headed up north to Sigulda, a perfect blend of nature and architecture. The super comfortable (yet old) train departs from Riga Central Station and takes over an hour through an idyllic forest landscape. Once you arrive at Sigulda, walk all the way to Turaida Castle.
You’ll cross the nice small town, Sigulda New Castle and several interesting churches. Take your time since you will be surrounded by nature. In fact the views from Turaida Castle alone will compensate for the slight effort. We didn’t visit Gutman’s cave nor Krimulda Castle or Manor House. Instead we walked slowly enjoying every moment in beautiful Sigulda.
Turaida Castle and Turaida Museum Reserve
The Turaida Castle is a large red brick structure built for the Livonian Brothers of the Sword in early 13th Century. Since then, the Castle remained alive until abandoned in 1776. Unlike the Trakai Castle in Lithuania, the Turaida Castle was never fully reconstructed. No complains, we loved it!
Today it consists of fortification ruins and a couple of towers. In 1988 the Soviet authorities established the so-called Turaida Museum Reserve. The entire Reserve includes the castle, a church, a cemetery, several mansions, the center of a kolkhoz and a park with ponds. The whole place is impressive. Latvia has done a fantastic job by preserving the cultural and historical landscape of one of the oldest ensembles of monuments in Europe.
We loved walking all around Sigulda. Since it has soft hills, it offers breathtaking views. You can walk at your own rhythm and pace. The nicest walk is to Turaida Castle. It takes one hour. You will see the Sigulda Castle across Gauja River. Stop by the ruins of Krimulda Castle. There are several caves before Turaida.
Another great walk is east to see the Deudas waterfalls. It’s less than an hour. For the best views of Sigulda, walk 40 minutes to Paradise Hill. You will see an ocean of trees and the castle! The hill is a great starting point for several treks.
Where to Stay in Sigulda
Most tourists go to Sigulda on organized day trips from Riga. Hence, the limited accommodation offer. However, there are a couple of nice hotels in the city. If you want to stay in the center not far from the train station, Hotel Sigulda and Hotel Pils are your best options.
If you’d rather stay in a historic house then Kaķis is your place. Villa Alberta and Villa Vanilla are two great options a bit away from the station. On the other hand, for elegant architecture and gardens, stay in Boutique Hotel Bersas, the closest to the Castle.
Where to Eat/Drink in Sigulda
As mentioned, Sigulda is all about forests and views. The best restaurant near Turaida Castle is EJ Rata Buffet. Their burgers are delicious. Mr. Biskvits nearby makes the best pastry in the city. The view is great too. Doma is beneath Sigulda Castle, closer to the center. The cozy restaurant serves yummy food!
For cocktails, music, and local craft beer, head to Valhalla Lounge. The place is awesome! Local musicians play live regularly. It’s got a garden too. If you are into wine, go south of the train station to Zilver. It’s an authentic winery that produces the best wine in the region.
How to Get From Riga to Jurmala and Sigulda
Take a train at Riga Central Station to go to Jurmala and Sigulda. While not all are new, trains are inexpensive and reliable. Trains to Jurmala depart every half an hour from 5:30 AM to 23:30 PM. Though Jurmala has several train stations, the most centric is Marjori, near pedestrian Jomas Street. The journey takes roughly 30 minutes.
About a dozen trains a day connect Riga to Sigulda in over an hour. Sigulda’s train station is in the city center, some 5km from the Turaida Castle. To get from Jurmala to Sigulda, you have to change trains in Riga. You won’t have a problem. Most Latvians speak English and will be more than happy to help you. Just relax and let Riga gently surprise you.
Organized Tours to Jurmala and Sigulda from Riga
If you don’t feel like exploring on your own, we have great news for you. We sent a couple of friends on this tour to Sigulda and Turaida Castle, and they loved it! The tour takes 10 hours and covers the best of the area. It includes hotel pick-up from Riga, transportation, guides, and entrance tickets.
For Jurmala, we have two fantastic organized tours. The half-day tour includes hotel pickup from Riga and transportation. The one that takes the entire day includes Kemeri National Park. It includes hotel pickup, transportation, a guide, and a picnic! If you only want to go to Kemeri National Park, hire this one.