Discovering Kuldiga: The Cutest Town in Latvia

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My latest effort to see as much of Latvia as possible took me to charming little Kuldiga, a perfectly preserved medieval town in the western part of the country. Kuldiga’s castle might be long gone, but the rest of the city is virtually unchanged, from its street layout to its centuries-old wooden buildings with red clay roofs. The town is so special, in fact, that it’s on a tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status. If it weren’t for the cars and satellite dishes, you’d swear you’d been transported back to the 17th century. Kuldiga is a living time capsule!

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Built in 1670, this is one of the oldest wooden houses in Kuldiga.

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This rare German half-timber home was built in 1622.

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Affectionately known as the “Venice of Latvia,” Kuldiga’s central feature is the Aleksupite River that gently wends its way through the old town. The Aleksupite, which drops steeply before running into the larger Venta River, once powered a paper mill. Today, the river provides a scenic home for the local ducks.

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The Venta River, which flows from Lithuania all the way to the Baltic Sea, is a spanned by the Ventas Rumba, the widest waterfall in Europe. It may be only two meters high, but it’s impressive all the same. Be sure to get up in time to watch the sun rise over the waterfall – this is much easier to do on shorter winter days. In the summer, pack your swimsuit and take a dip with the locals.

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The “old brick bridge” was built wide enough for two carriages to pass each other.

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Morning dawns over the Ventas Rumba.

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Another can’t-miss attraction is the Kuldiga District Museum which reopened in 2014 after extensive restorations. Housed in a pretty wooden building with views of the Ventas Rumba, the Museum is spread over three floors, though it’s the second that’s the star. It’s been set up as a fully furnished home, giving visitors a glimpse into the life a wealthy family from the early 20th century. As my friend and I were the only two visitors at the time, the costumed staff took us on a personal tour! The ground and second floors feature rotating exhibits – when I visited, the subjects were tea and the Belgian army’s role in WWII.

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Kuldiga is arranged around three main public squares, with a pedestrian street running through the center. Though for all the cars I saw during my stay, every street might as well be pedestrian-only. Kuldiga might be best described as “sleepy.”

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There were more cats than people.

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Kuldiga has several historic churches, with the oldest dating to the 13th century.

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I stayed at the Hotel Metropole, arguably the best digs in town.

Dining options in Kuldiga are somewhat limited, especially during the winter season. The most highly recommended restaurant was closed for renovations so I opted for Goldingen Room, a classy brick-oven pizzeria named after the town’s original German moniker.

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Kuldiga is located about 100 kilometers from Riga, though it took about 3.5 hours to get there on the local bus. A Riga taxi driver offered to take me to Kuldiga for 100 euros, but the bus cost just six euros and provided a pleasant glimpse of tiny villages and pastoral countryside.

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Is Kuldiga, Latvia a place you’d like to visit?

40 thoughts on “Discovering Kuldiga: The Cutest Town in Latvia

  1. Looks like you got a nice couple of days for it – Kuldiga was probably my favourite place outside Riga as well 🙂 Depressing to see so few people around though!
    Linda recently posted…Battle of the bagsMy Profile

    • The weather was great, only starting to rain as we left. It was sad to see such a charming place so empty, though there were a handful of other tourists out and about. If only it were on a train line!

  2. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Latvia from 1997 to 1999. I’ve been back several times, most recently in June of 2014. It is an extraordinary city and I’m so VERY pleased that you have written this article to spotlight it. Thank you.

    • Wow, Monica, that must have been a very interesting time to have been in Latvia! I bet the country has changed a lot since then! Though the bus driver did hand deliver a package from someone in Riga to someone in Sabile 🙂

  3. Great pictures as usual. What a quaint place to visit.
    Wonder if it gets more tourists in the summer? The sunrise
    over the falls was spectacular. Hard to believe all those
    wooden houses are still standing. I loved the second floor
    of the museum. I love seeing how people lived in the past.
    Great blog!!!!!!

    • It does get busy in summer, it get’s overrun with artists as well. The town does at times looks very, very sleepy, and even though small places struggle for workplaces (and this town used to have some factories) – the picturesque qualities of town atract a different kind of people – creatives, that can work from home, or people with families, who can run their business and not be all the time in Riga. Town council seems to have good people that care too.
      As for eating ou – I somewhat don’t like ROOM, but recommend Bangert’s near Ventas rumba, Pie Daigas Bakery and Kafenīte on the Liepājas street (haven’t been since september though)).

      • That’s good to know about the town council, the place certainly seemed well cared for. I’d love to return and delve more into the artist culture! I’ve been very impressed with the artwork and handicrafts in Latvia. And thanks for the restaurant recommendations. I saw Bangert’s, but for some reason had the impression that it was a nightclub. LOL!

        • )). And I forgot Pagrabiņš on the Alekšupīte! (on www it says they are closed for renovation til June 1st.) . And if you go by car, I always have a pitstop in Kandava (100km from Rīga), the town is uphill from road (to the other side is Abava river).
          Kuldīga is 158km by the way…
          Ah, I love that place…

          • I saw Pagrabins and wanted to try it, but workers were putting on a new roof. Kandava is on my list!

            Sounds like it’s time for you to make a return visit 😉

  4. Heather,

    It’s really nice to see such a well-written, sensitive text about this lovely town. I had myself the chance to visit Kuldīga last June and it was definitely the highlight of my and my girlfriend’s days in Latvia. The atmosphere is really unique. I wish I could have a few millions of dollars to invest in this town and restore some of its beautiful buildings. At the same time I feel it has a great potential for tourism, maybe the fact Kuldīga has more cats than people (locals + tourists) should be kept.

    Greetings from southern Brazil,
    Bruno

    • Hi Bruno, thanks for your comment! There is something very special about Kuldiga, isn’t there? Full UNESCO status will certainly provide the funds to fix the place up, but it might lose some of its charm as a result. Definitely a double-edged sword!

  5. Hi!
    What a nice article and great pictures!
    I’ve been to Kuldiga many times since my girlfriend is Latvian and her family lives there. I would recommend going there in the summer and combine it with a roadtrip exploring Kurzeme and the coastline. Kuldiga in the summertime is a very special and relaxing place to visit with its flower gardens and historical buildings. We rented a cabin just across the bridge next to the river Venta where we had a bbq evening with several other tourists! Loti labi!! (Very nice)

    • Thanks Stefan! Kuldiga sounds quite lovely in the summer, I will definitley have to visit there again! I’ve been to Liepaja, but do need to explore more of the coast – and the whole country for that matter! Ventspils and Cesis are on the short list. Visu labu! 🙂

  6. Kuldiga is much more lively during summer – crowds of tourists and visitors are coming. If you want to stay there during summer you have to book a room several months before arrival. Some if my relatives live in Kuldiga, so I’ve been there plenty of times and I know that this town doesn’t loose its charm even in winter. Though I love most how Kuldiga looks like in autumn when the red and yellow leaves of trees add extra colour to the beauty of this town.

    • Ooh, I bet it is beautiful in autumn! I will definitely have to make another trip to Kuldiga, if not several!

    • Thanks, Katie! I’d never heard of Kuldiga before I moved to Latvia and everyone started telling me I had to visit there. I just love hidden gems like that 🙂

    • We saw cats around every corner! It got to the point where we really did feel there were more cats than people 🙂

    • Lack of cars was definitely part of the charm, Franca! You know you’ve been out of Asia for a while when cities like Riga start to seem crowded in comparison to towns like this 🙂

  7. Hi Heather,

    My name is Judy and I’m from Shanghai, China. I now live in Arlington Virginia 🙂

    I’m traveling to Riga in April and I’m so glad I found your posts. I have printed your tips and I’m sure I’ll have lots of fun in Riga.

    Best,
    Judy

  8. Looks like I need to go back and explore more parts of Latvia. I loved Riga and this looks like a town I would love to visit and photograph. Your photos are gorgeous, as always 😀
    Vlad recently posted…Is Helsinki A Boring Destination?My Profile

    • Latvia is chock full of cute little towns like this, Vlad! I highly recommend renting a car and driving around the countryside.

  9. I have been there in the friend’s marriage…….its so splendorous city……I loved so much
    I mean back there again.

    JURANDIR AND EVITA

    • Thanks for your comment, Jurandir and Evita! I also mean to go back to Kuldiga – it’s such a charming little place!

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