Thanks to the unique way that Ryanair flights are scheduled (ie when no-one else wants to fly), on my recent trip to Riga I arrived 3 hours before the rest of my group and left 7 hours after them. This equated to a whole day on my own in Latvia. The first 3 hours I spent finding a health food shop in Riga, and generally getting lost in various parts of the city. The 7 hours I had spare on the last day I used to explore outside of the city.
During our walking tour of the old town with our excellent guide Tom, he’d told us about Júrmala. About 25 kilometres (16 miles) west of Riga, Júrmala is a resort town that stretches 32 kilometres (20 miles) between the Gulf of Riga and the Lielupe river. The sea side of Júrmala has beautiful sandy beaches stretching along it’s whole length.
Only about a 30 minute train journey from Riga city centre depending on where you get off in Júrmala (I’d recommend Majori), the resort is very easy to access. And if you’ve been wondering why Riga is fairly quiet for a city on the weekends, it’s because this is where all the inhabitants are hanging out. On the Sunday I visited I think it was particularly busy in Júrmala as we were experiencing a heatwave. The beach was the place to be. As with a lot of things in Latvia, it’s also very cheap. I’m not sure whether I bought a single or return ticket (I asked for a return but the lady at the ticket desk wasn’t the most communicative person I’ve ever met), but I paid less than 4 euros. Back home in Cardiff, 4 euros would barely get me to the train station on the bus.
Júrmala is also known for it’s buildings. All the guidebooks describe the architecture as romantic and classical, to me they just looked like something out of an American movie. Immaculate, pristine hotels that have been preserved in their original style stand next to abandoned houses that would be a renovator’s dream. Both are beautiful and intriguing, and I could have spent a whole day taking photos of the buildings alone.
Away from the beach, the main shopping street is buzzing with tourists and Latvians. As I walked along eating my sorbet (I could have hugged the guy when he said he sold dairy-free), I could have been back in Skagway, Alaska mixing with the cruise ship passengers.
As much as Júrmala felt comfortingly familiar, there is also a definite uniqueness about the place. I might not have known much about Latvia before I went there, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to find a beach resort with such character only a short train journey from the capital city. Purely by chance, I happened to walk past a derelict plot that was boarded up at 4pm. There was a group of people stood by the temporary wall, singing beautifully. A sign on the wall explained that a church once stood on the site, and even though it’s no longer there the congregation still gather at 4pm every Sunday to worship.
If you find yourself in Riga and you have a spare afternoon, I would definitely recommend an excursion out to Júrmala. And if it’s a hot day, the dairy-free sorbet is a must too.