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.
The Medieval Castle is one of the unmissable sights of Cesis
10 Nice 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 costs €8 and lasts between one and one and a half hour – depending on how many questions you have for the guide.
The beautiful tower of Cesis New Castle
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!
The Old Man of Time is one of the symbols of Cesis
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.
The lovely center of Cesis
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.
One of the many gorgeous views along the bike ride from Cesis to Valmiera
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. It costs €8.50 to rent the bike for a day, plus €3 more for the helmet.
From Valmira, you will have to get the bus to get back to Cesis. Buses depart regularly from the bus station. The ride lasts around 40 minutes and costs €1.60.
TIP: You can get a map of the itinerary at the Info Point in Cesis.
TIP: You will need to bring enough water and food for the day – there are no shops along the way!
TIP: 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.
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.
The beautiful building of the Railway Station
Practical Tips To Organize A Trip To Cesis
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, at 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. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
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. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
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.
For more readings about Cesis and Gauja National Park, or for more about Latvia in general, you should consult the websites of the Tourism Board of Latvia and of that of Gauja. You can check one of these books:
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.
There are many incredible things to do in Latvia. This small Baltic country is blessed with gorgeous nature; a unique and fascinating history; culture and traditions that deserve to be discovered; and a multitude of charming towns and villages.
I got to spend a week in Latvia in June and I can say I barely scratched its surface – I am bound to go again to explore it more in depth and discover more of what it has to offer. One thing for sure, though: whatever your travel taste, Latvia won’t disappoint you and you can be certain that you will find something – many things – that will keep you entertained for days.
Another reason I fell in love with Latvia is the atmosphere. It’s a country that still retains all its local character. Indeed, I found Latvia to be still very much undiscovered – at least, this is what it looks like to someone who comes from a country (Italy) that at times gets terrifyingly congested with tourists. You won’t find tourist crowds here – just the odd group in Riga, but that will hardly bother you.
This won’t last long though: a country that has so much to offer is bound to get in the tourist radar very soon! So, make sure to visit as soon as possible!
So, if you are planning a trip to this part of the world, continue reading this post to discover some of the things to do in Latvia that you simply can’t miss. I will also share some tips to plan your trip to this beautiful country.
The House of the Black Heads is one of the unmissable sights in Riga
15 Unmissable Things To Do In Latvia
Walk around Riga Old Town
Riga is the obvious starting point to explore Latvia, and a fantastic city that has an incredible array of traditional as well as unique attractions. The Latvian capital is very spread out, and it will take you a few days to explore its main highlights.
However, if you have limited time in the country, I’d say that one of the unmissable things to do in Latvia is exploring Riga Old Town. This is a beautiful maze of narrow cobbled alleys, splendid squares, colorful buildings, beautiful churches and charming little cafés.
Places you should not miss when in Riga Old Town are the House of the Black Heads, St. Peter’s Church (make sure to get to its dome for breathtaking views of the city), Riga Cathedral, the beautiful Three Brothers (three adjacent colorful buildings) and the lovely Swedish Gate – which takes its name from the time when Latvia was under Swedish occupation.
One of the things I immediately noticed about Riga is how much nature there is within the city. There are many large, very well kept park; a beautiful river with a fantastic waterfront – with a proper bike and running lane if you care to do some exercise. You will find several spots where the locals like to enjoy the sun – small beaches along the river, places where they can relax and just get out of the busy city life but still within the city!
Make sure to hit Kengaraga Promenade – a nice promenade in Kengaraga, a residential part of Riga. It’s a beautiful walk along the river where you’re likely to only meet locals enjoying a day out!
TIP: The best way to explore nature within Riga is by bike – in fact, it’s the locals’ favorite way of getting around. There are several spots in town where you can rent it – in fact, you can rent it in one place and return it in another.
If you want to learn about Latvia’s difficult past, the Corner House is a must!
Learn about Latvia’s difficult past
I always recommend visiting at least one museum to get a proper understanding of a country’s history – which generally helps grasp aspects of its present and its culture as well. You should do the same in Latvia, and you have a great selection of places in Riga where you can do that.
I wholeheartedly recommend going for a tour of The Corner House in Riga as what to do in Latvia to learn about its difficult past. This is a building that through the course of last century was used by the regimes that succeeded themselves in Latvia – first the Nazis, then the Soviet regime – to interrogate, torture, imprison and often kill their opponents.
The Corner House is open every day (except on national holidays) from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. You can visit the exhibition on the ground floor, which is free, and join a guided tour through the building for €10. I recommend booking in advance here as it is often sold out. Calculate around one and a half hour for your visit.
Walking in a bog is a lot of fun – but it’s challenging!
Gor for a bog walk
One of the most fun things to do in Latvia is walking in a bog! I (accidentally) walked through one when in Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego, and it was such a messy fun that I was thrilled to find out that there are many bogs in Latvia. Make sure to visit at least one!
I went to Babite, which is at about 45 minutes drive from Riga. It is not the biggest bog in the country, but it surely is a lot of fun. You will need to hire a guide – it is extremely easy to get lost in a bog, and you need to wear proper gear or else you won’t be able to walk around and make the most of the gorgeous, unique scenery. I visited with Purvu Brideji, a local company that does regular tours and whose guides are very knowledgeable. They offer various experiences, including dinner in the bog!
The castle of Cesis is an interesting place to visit
Cesis is a lovely small town at about one hour drive from Riga, in the region of Gauja. Some people visit on a day trip from Riga, but I recommend to factor in at least a couple of nights in the area to make sure you appreciate all that it has to offer.
If you like castles and stories, one of the unmissable things to do in Latvia is visiting Cesis Medieval Castle. You can explore by yourself or – better – go on a guided tour that in about one and a half hour will share plenty of details about the history of the castle throughout the centuries. It costs just €8 and it is totally worth it.
There also is a castle museum and a modern castle all in the same complex that are also worth visiting.
Other notable places in Cesis are the historic center, with its well kept buildings and cobbled streets; St. John’s Church – which is currently under renovation; and the beautiful railway station building.
Cesis is an excellent access point to explore the gorgeous Gauja National Park. This is the largest national park in Latvia, famous for its biodiversity, for the many species of mammals and birds living there, for the unique historical sites scattered in it and the various river that run through it.
When in Gauja, make sure to go on a hike in the national park. There are several trails you can follow. If you want to admire the beautiful sandstone cliffs, make sure to follow the Amata trail, which runs along Amata river. The trail starts in Karlamuiza Hotel, at 10 km from Cesis, and runs for little over 15 km all the way to Veclauču Bridge.
It’s a moderate hike during which – aside from the cliffs and the fantastic forest – you will be able to spot some beautiful traditional Latvian homes, various meadows, and the famous Zvartes Rock, a beautiful sandstone rock formation under which you will also find a nice natural swimming hole – perfect to refresh yourself during hot summer days!
One of the most fun things to do in Latvia to properly appreciate nature is going mountain biking. Gauja National Park is a perfect place to do so. You will have the chance to completely disconnect from the stress of city life and admire the gorgeous forests and countryside of Latvia.
I recommend renting bikes in Cesis and ride all the way to Valmiera – follow this itinerary. It’s a 45 km bike ride that will take you about 6 hours, during which you can stop to admire the characteristic sandstone cliffs, and visit some unique museums (more about it below, in this same post).
TIP: The itinerary that goes from Cesis to Valmiera can be done by bike or, alternatively, you can walk it in around 2 days.
One of the places I enjoyed visiting the most during my time in Latvia was the Chair-makers museum. I stumbled upon it during my bike ride from Cesis to Valmiera and decided to stop and see what it was about. It’s a tiny place – just a small room – entirely dedicated to chair making, which used to be one of the main occupations in the area. The visit costs only €3 and you get an hour of detailed description of the history of the area and of how chairs were made – from getting the right material to selling them at the market.
A flower crown in preparation of Sigulda Midsummer festival
Participate in the Midsummer celebrations in Sigulda
If you happen to visit Latvia around mid June, make it a point to hang there a bit longer and join the Midsummer (Ligo) celebrations in Sigulda.
On the evening of 21 June people from Sigulda, Gauja region and in fact from all over Latvia head to Turaida to take part in a festival that lasts until after sunrise.
It’s the longest day of the year, and locals welcome summer making and wearing flower crowns, and with a night of singing popular songs around bonfires, traditional dances, and a variety of other rituals such as that of burning the dried flower crowns from the previous year.
What’s impressive is that you will find people of all generations – from elderlies to parents with very small children, and even lots of well behaved dogs; all of them enjoying the celebrations in a very friendly atmosphere; all of them connecting to nature and showing maximum respect for it.
Ligatne is one of the most interesting places to visit in Latvia. It’s a very small village where there once was a paper mill (which is not in use anymore and which can’t be visited while it’s decided what to do with it) – in fact, the village was built in the early 29th century to provide proper housing, education and health care facilities to the people working in the mill.
You’ll also be able to spot many small caves and cellars carved in the rock – they were used (in fact, some are still in use) to store household goods or for industrial needs.
A road trip is an excellent way to appreciate Latvian countryside
Go on a road trip
One of the best things to do in Latvia is renting a car and go on a road trip. You can drive for hours through the beautiful countryside and the gorgeous, thick forest, stopping here and there to marvel at the stunning views or to visit small villages, pretty towns and hidden gems.
TIP: Make sure to respect the speed limits. Latvians are very responsible drivers, and you should be too!
If you are in need of good sleep, head straight to Karlamuiza Hotel, at around 10 km from Cesis. It’s a gorgeous small countryside hotel with just a handful of rooms, all of them very large and comfortable, with gorgeous views of the countryside. The area is incredibly quiet and peaceful and you are guaranteed an excellent night’s sleep! You’ll also be able to get an excellent home cooked dinner, and a scrumptious breakfast. Click here to check out Karlamuiza Hotel rates.
A refreshing summer dessert
Enjoy local food
Traditional food in Latvia is very earthy and very seasonal. It uses a few, simple ingredients that are carefully picked and cooked to create delicious meals. Potatoes and pork are ever present, as well as dry curd cottage cheese. Red berries are commonly used in the summer months to create delicious desserts. And don’t get me started about the bread – so rich, moist and full of texture, perfect at any time of day.
For more specialties to try in Latvia, check out this article.
You can’t leave Latvia without having tried Black Balsam. This very strong liquor will remind you of Jägermeister, though I am quite sure that it’s even stronger than that. The name “balsam” refers to the fact that it in the past it was used for medicinal purposes – after all, it is made of a mixture of herbs!
The best place to try it is Black Magic, once a pharmacy and now a beautiful bar full of historic charm in Old Town Riga. You can drink it straight or have a cocktail with it. Though straight Black Balsam is probably too strong for anybody not used to it, I recommend trying it in that form first and only then opt for a cocktail.
Sigita, my guide in Gauja National Park and now a friend
Meet the lovely locals
People in Latvia are absolutely kind and welcoming. In Riga, you’ll get more of a city vibe – it’s fast paced and international, but people are always friendly. Yet, it’s outside of Riga that you’ll get to fully appreciate how nice the locals can be. My guide for the Amata hike in Gauja National Park was one of the most fun, kind hearted and easy to get along person I have met throughout my travels. In fact, at the end of the day I felt like I had been on a hike with a friend rather than on a guided hike.
Most people in Latvia speak at least some English. Even those that don’t really speak will make an effort to make themselves understood, and they do so with a huge smile on their face. Enjoy!
Practical Information To Organize A Trip To Latvia
When to visit Latvia
Any time is a good time to visit Latvia. I went in the second half of June and was blessed with gorgeous sunny, warm days (if anything, they were on the verge of hot!). Since it is so far north in Europe, days in June are very long with the sun raising as early as 4:30 AM and setting after 10:00 PM. It’s a perfect season to stay out and enjoy the countryside.
I have a plan to go back in the winter, to explore the country when it is completely white and covered in snow – days will be shorter and temperatures very cold, but I am looking forward to experience the country under a different light.
The fall is a perfect time to visit if you wish to experience foliage and the fall colors – with the amount of forests Latvia has, it is bound to be spectacular!
Public transport in Latvia works well – but road trips are fun!
How to get to Latvia
Riga is the main international airport in Latvia, and it is very well connected to the rest of the Europe and the world via regular and budget airlines. There are direct flights to all European capitals as well as to Russia, Israel and Turkey.
If you are based in Sweden, you can even take the daily ferry that connects Stockholm to Riga.
By train or bus
There are good bus connections to other Baltic countries and trains from Russia and Belarus.
How to get from Riga International Airport to Riga City Center
Riga City Center can be easily reached from the airport in a variety of way.
There are plenty of taxi outside Riga airport arrivals terminal. The journey to the city center takes about 20 minutes. Make sure to check the taxi fares before getting on – they should be written on the back right door of the vehicle.
By private transfer
Several companies run private transfer services between Riga and the airport. The price of the transfer varies bases on the size of the group but it never costs more than €35. You can check the fares here.
Bus n. 22 and minibuses n. 322 and 241 connect Riga International Airport to the center of the city. The ticket costs €1.15 if you buy it in advance or €2 if you buy it directly on the bus. The bus leaves roughly every 15 minutes, but rides are more frequent during the peak hours.
How to move around Latvia
Public transportation works well in Latvia, and you can easily move around by bus or – depending on where you want to go – by train. Having said so, this is a country that calls for road trip, and it is extremely easy to drive around, with local drivers actually being very respectful of the rules and road conditions generally good – though you may often encounter roadworks. You can check the prices of car rental here.
Other useful information
I always recommend getting a good travel insurance for all your trips. Get yours here.
For more readings about Latvia in general, you should consult the website of the Tourism Board of Latvia; for specific information about Gauja National Park check the website of the Tourism Board of Gauja. You can also check one of these books:
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Tourism Board of Latvia and of that of Gauja during my trip to Latvia and I wish to thank them for their organizing a fabulous trip. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post are my own.
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