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Places Near Riga

The town of Bauska , a place of historical significance on the road to Vilnius, lies about 65 km from Riga. The town is a country hamlet with one major attraction- the 15th century Bauska Castle. The Castle was constructed between 1443 and 1456 as a citadel for the Livonian knights. Over the centuries that followed, the castle suffered much damage from repeated attacks till it was finally destroyed. Within the restored and rebuilt castle is a museum of sorts, which houses artefacts of the castle discovered during excavations. Bauska Castle hosts annual festivals of ancient music, and these have helped boost the flow of tourists considerably. Even otherwise, it’s a popular destination, considering the fact that it’s not too far from Riga (there are regular daily buses to and fro), and perfect for a day’s trip.

One of the most popular is the resort town of Jurmala just 20 km from Riga; it stretches down the Baltic coast, and is a riot of amusement parks, cafés, restaurants, cinemas, camping sites, sanatoriums, and shops.The seaside area of Jurmala is perhaps the best known of Latvia’s resorts, and the most popular. Jurmala is actually not one town, but a string of small towns and hamlets stretching for about 20 km along the Latvian coast, west of Riga. The entire area is replete with everything that would appeal to the pleasure-seeking tourist: forests and woodlands, amusement parks, dunes, museums, art galleries, shops and resorts. Jurmala is known as the Baltic Riviera, but fortunately, it isn’t very crowded (except over the weekends) and it’s a pleasant place to spend a relaxing holiday. There are regular trains to Jurmala daily from Riga (several trains a day make the trip), and there are taxis especially for Jurmala from in front of Riga’s main railway station.

Sigulda is the main gateway to the Gauja National Park, Latvia’s only national park (although the country has a number of other restricted areas and nature preserves). Sigulda is also excellently located for explorations into the surrounding countryside- the Gauja River Valley, often called the Switzerland of Latvia. To top it all, there are a number of medieval castles scattered all across the valley. Sigulda itself has four castles to its credit, and among these is the Turaida Castle, beautifully restored and commanding a fabulous view of the Gauja Valley. Sigulda has, in addition, a reputation as a health resort and a winter sports destination. It also has a few good caves, including Viktors Cave and Gutmains Cave, both of which appear in local folklore. The town of Sigulda may be reached by taking a bus or train from Riga, which is only about 53 km away.

Just about 12 km from the town of Bauska lies the 18th century Rundale Palace . Bauska Castle was built for men at arms; Rundale Palace was built for men of leisure. It has no pretensions to being a stronghold or a place of war and weaponry. Rundale Palace was designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, an 18th century Italian architect whose forte was baroque architecture- he is credited with having designed some of the most beautiful buildings in St Petersburg - Rundale Palace is one of his masterpieces. It contains a total of 138 rooms, of which the most opulent and extravagant are the gorgeous Golden Throne Room, and the White Hall, a ballroom with a stark white stucco ceiling- very striking indeed. Rundale Palace can be reached easily by bus from Bauska, which is accessible by road- car or bus- from Riga.

Salaspils lies about 20 km from Riga, and is one of the country’s most poignant reminders of World War II. During the war years, Salaspils was a Jewish concentration camp- one of the most horrific in East Europe. It was in Salaspils that more than 100,000 Jews died at the hands of the Nazis; and among these were not just Latvian Jews, but also Jews from other neighbouring countries. Today, a memorial to the Jews who died here marks the place at Salaspils; there’s a museum too, with a collection of memorabilia from the days of the Holocaust. Salaspils can be reached by taking a train from Riga (trains going in the direction of Ogre stop over at Darzina station, which is the closest- about 15 minutes’ walk- from the memorial.

The little town of Cesis , which lies about 35 km from Riga, is one of the prettiest and the most old-fashioned settlements close to Riga. Cesis is one of the oldest towns in Latvia; at one time a member of the Hanseatic League and the seat of the Grand Master of the Livonian order, the town was also the scene of a crucial battle during the fight for independence in 1919. Cesis, fortunately, is also very well preserved; it’s full of many old buildings and monuments, nearly all in excellent condition. Among the sights worth seeing in the town are the ruins of Cesis Castle (actually not much more than two towers), the 13th century St John’s Church, and the local museum, with its collection of regional artefacts. Even if you do no more than wander around the streets of the town, it’s still worth a visit, especially if you’re keen on history.

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