When visiting a new country or region, we’re conscious of capital-city-itis. As Americans, we would never want our country to be judged solely by Washington, DC, or even New York City for that matter. Even as adopted Brits, we wouldn’t want the UK to be judged solely by London. Even in smaller countries like Latvia, as visitors, we don’t feel comfortable experiencing a place only through its capital city. That’s why we spent a large chunk of one of our three days in Latvia visiting Cēsis, a sleepy town of 18,000 two hours outside of Riga by bus. Cheap and comfortable buses leave from Riga’s central bus station heading in just about every direction, and you can buy your tickets with little fuss online prior to your journey.
The rain was coming down pretty hard on arrival, so we ducked into Vinetas un Allas Kārumlāde for a snack of pastries and hot chocolate. The travel gods were with us that day, because within 15 minutes the rain had cleared up and we could see the sun doing its best to poke through the clouds overhead. Not wanting to waste any sunshine, we set off to explore the old town, looping down Rīgas iela, through the maze of streets immediately north of Līvu laukums, and up toward the remarkably blue Cēsu Kristus Apskaidrošanas pareizticīgo baznīca. From there we walked through the grounds outside of the town’s main attraction: its two castles. We really enjoyed wandering the grounds, with its undulating hills, winding paths and picturesque bridges.
Once through the grounds, we bought a ticket to check out the castles. The first castle, built in medieval times, is partially ruined, but there are some portions that are in good shape. Each visitor is given a candlelit lantern to navigate the darkest passages and staircases. We only briefly saw one other couple during our time here, but otherwise, it was just us and our lantern wandering the castle. Cēsis’s new castle is just next door. Exploring it wasn’t as adventurous, but there are some beautiful rooms in the interior and also a nice lookout spot at the top of one of the towers.
Once back in the town, we walked through the area around St. John’s Church and ended up at Kafe PRIEDE for a delicious lunch. Satisfied, we took one last stroll along the main drag and then made our way to the bus station for our ride back to Riga. Exploring the medieval castle was our favorite part of the three-day weekend. It’s moments like those that remind us why it’s important to step outside of capital cities and highly touristed attractions for another view into the places that we visit.