Cesis is a lovely well kept medieval town located in the North East of Latvia, in the region of Gauja. The first mention of Cesis dates back to 1206. Thanks to its vicinity to the Gauja River, this small town was a well known trading port and it even became part of the Hanseatic League.
Mostly famous for its beautiful castle, Cesis is a very pleasant place to visit and at such a short distance from Riga that, if you are planning to travel to Latvia, you should make it a point to go.
This small town can be easily visited on a day trip from Riga. However, I actually recommend spending a couple of days there to take in the fantastic, relaxing atmosphere and to visit all that the city and its gorgeous surroundings have to offer.
Continue reading this post to discover the many things to see and do in Cesis, Latvia, and to get some tips on how to plan your trip there.
For more things to do in Latvia, read my post A Guide To The Things To Do In Latvia.
10 Best Things To See And Do In Cesis
Explore the beautiful Castle of Cesis
Cesis Castle is the most famous sight in town and the main reason people visit Cesis – and for a very good reason! Incredibly well preserved, the Castle is a beautiful sight from the outside, and if you take the time to do a guided tour you will discover its incredible and interesting history.
The Castle of Cesis was built in 1214 and back at the time it was the residence of the Knights of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. The Castle fell in 1577 when it was put under siege by the Russian army of tsar Ivan the Terrible, but continued being used as a residence until the end of the 17th century. It was abandoned after the Great Northern War and it was finally turned into a national monument in the 19th century.
Although you can explore the Castle of Cesis on your own, I wholeheartedly recommend joining a guided tour. This goes around the premises where various workshops have been established to show traditional crafts of the time when the castle was flourishing, as well as the vegetable and herb garden that once served the people living in the castle.
Once you are done visiting the outer parts, the guide will take you inside the actual castle, where you will be handed a candle lantern that you will need to illuminate your way through the darkest rooms and passages.
The guided tour lasts between one and one and a half hour – depending on how many questions you have for the guide.
Visit the exhibition in Cesis Castle Manor House
Next to the medieval castle of Cesis there is a more modern one, known as Cesis new castle. This is a manor house that was built around 1761 and that was used as a residence by the Siever family until 1920. The castle now hosts Cesis History and Art Museum. It only costs €3 to visit, so it is a nice and easy addition to the medieval castle.
Walk around Castle Park
Once the Siever family built the new castle, the head of the family, Count Carl von Sievers, also required the creation of a park around the castle that could be used as a recreation area. The park is free to enter since 1917 and it’s one of the most pleasant places to visit in Cesis. This is where festivals, concerts and other kind of performances take place. It’s a lovely place to spend some time finding refuge from the sun on hot summer days or – I can only imagine – appreciating the gorgeous foliage colors in the fall.
Admire St John’s Church
Currently under renovation, St. John’s Church is one of the unmissable places to visit in Cesis. It was built at the end of the 13th century and it’s the country’s largest basilica outside of Riga. The view of the Castle and the Old Town from the tower of the church are meant to be gorgeous. Unfortunately I was unable to climb there due to the renovation works – but if you visit when these are over, make sure to do so and confirm the information!
Take a look at the statue of the Old Man of Time
The statue of the Old Man of Time is the most curious sights in Cesis. Located right by St. John’s Church, the statue represents a hunchback monk holding a lantern, which according to legend he used to light other lanterns around town so that by illuminating the city at night he could keep watch over the safety of the town’s inhabitants.
Go to the railway station
Whether you travel to Cesis by train or not, make sure to spend some time admiring the beautiful building of Cesis railway station. I went there as there was a temporary exhibit of the Wabadus (Freedom), aka the Historic Armoured Train which was used during the Independence War, between 1918 and 1920, and which included a hospital wagon, a sleeper wagon and a combat wagon.
The exhibit ended on 22 June, but the station remains a beautiful building and a pleasant place to walk around for a little but.
Wander around the narrow streets of the Old Town
One of the nicest things to do in Cesis is wandering around aimlessly through the narrow cobbled alleys of the Old Town. This part of town is packed with beautiful, colorful, well kept buildings in traditional style and while most of the medieval buildings have long been gone, the layout of the city has been retained. Make sure to take notice of the beautiful buildings of the City Hall, the Merchant House, and the Princess House.
Pass by the Monument of Victory
Built in honor of Latvian and Estonian soldiers that fell during the Independence War of Latvia, the Monument of Victory was first placed in Cesis main square in 1924. It was then destroyed in 1952, when it was replaced with a statue of Lenin. This was dismantled in 1990 and in 1998 the Monument of Victory returned to its original status. You will walk by this monument on your way from the Old Town to the railway station, so it is virtually impossible to miss it.
Bike (or hike) from Cesis to Valmiera
If you are spending a couple of days in Cesis, you should make it a point to further explore Gauja National Park. One of the best ways to do so is by bike – a ride from Cesis to Valmiera will take you through some of the most iconic sights in the region, including the gorgeous sandstone cliffs; some tiny, quirky museums; the thick pine forest that runs along the Gauja River, and the gorgeous Latvian countryside.
The itinerary, which you can view here, runs for 45 km and it will take you around 6 hours to complete, depending on how often you stop. It’s a moderate to strenuous ride, as in some parts it goes through the forest where you will be biking over the thick roots of the trees.
You can follow the orange marks on the trees, rocks or on the ground, or the wooden signs with a bicycle symbol. You can even download Enter Gauja app on your smartphone so that you can always check where you are on the map.
You can rent bikes for the day at Ezi shop, which is located right outside Cesis Old Town, and return them in the Ezi shop in Valmiera.
From Valmira, you will have to get the bus to get back to Cesis. Buses depart regularly from the bus station.
You can get a map of the itinerary at the Info Point in Cesis. You will need to bring enough water and food for the day – there are no shops along the way!
If you aren’t into mountain biking, you can walk this trail – it will take you two days and you can spend the night near Sietiniezis cliff, where there is a camping site and a shed where you can stay in case of rain. You will have to bring enough food and water for the two days.
Don’t forget to also read my post A Guide To Visiting Gauja National Park, Latvia
Admire the building of the oldest brewery in Northern Europe
Originally, Cesis’ brewery was located in the castle, where it was established in 1590. The brewery, which was moved to other premises, is called Cēsu Alus, is thought to be the oldest one in the Baltic countries. In 2001, the brewery was finally moved to its location in Palmu iela 13, while the old building is not in use anymore – it’s mean to become an exhibition and art center.
Where to stay and eat in Cesis
There are some excellent accommodation and eating options in Cesis and in the region of the Gauja. I have spent a few days there and stayed and ate at a few good places that I wholeheartedly recommend. Here they are:
Hotel Karlamuiza, is located in Kārļi, about 10 km and 15 minutes drive from Cesis. This is a fantastic, family run countryside hotel with very large, comfortable rooms and that splendid countryside charm that will make you fall in love with it. The staff is extremely friendly and helpful. All rooms have a view of the countryside and the area is so peaceful that you are guaranteed quality sleep. Guests can enjoy a home cooked, delicious meal – usually a traditional Latvian dish. Enquire beforehand about dietary requirements.
Hotel Vanadzina Maja is located in the main street in the historic center of Cesis. The comfortable rooms are decorated in modern Scandinavian style, so they are plain and extremely cozy. They all face a small courtyard. There is an on site restaurants known to be one of the best in Gauja.
Priede Café is a lovely small café right in one of the beautiful squares of Cesis. It has a fantastic selection of light and healthy as well as more earthy meals. Make sure to try the keto bowl.
How to get to Cesis
By public transportation
You can easily get to Cesis from Riga via public transportation.
Bus line 7730 leaves regularly from the center of Riga and takes about one hour and 50 minutes to reach Cesis bus station. The ticket costs €4.15.
There also are regular trains that connect Riga to Cesis. Depending on the train, the ride lasts between one hour and 15 minutes and two hours. The ticket costs €3.50.
Since there is so much to see and do not just in Cesis but also around town, you may want to consider driving there. You can’t really park the car in the city center – there are strict time limits – but there is a large parking lot right outside. You can check the prices of car rental here.
Other useful information
I recommend getting a good travel insurance for all your trips, including that to Latvia.
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Tourism Board of Latvia and of Enter Gauja during my time in Cesis and I wish to thank them for welcoming me and for helping me organize a fantastic trip to this part of Latvia. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post remain my own.