War never touched Kuldiga.
There exists no pre-fab high rises or modern design, the tiny tangle of chocolate-box streets perfectly preserved relics of ‘old Latvia’. A town set in the past, and more than deserving of its UNESCO candidacy. It is quite unlike any place we have visited in the country, and an absolute must for those wanting to explore Latvia beyond Riga.
And yet, with the sun still high in the sky, the summer ending but not yet gone, this wonderful little red roof community was surprisingly empty. The streets wandered more by cats than curious tourists, a beautiful town that felt at times, ours, and ours alone to discover.
Please, go discover it too.
Things to do in Kuldiga
As one would expect from a sleepy town such as Kuldiga, there isn’t really a huge amount of things to do. Instead, this is a place that should be explored slowly, with walks along pretty cobblestone streets, lazy afternoons along the river, and cooling dips in the frigid waters of the Venta waterfall. However, it was the perfect first stop on our Latvia summer road trip.
Here are our favourite ways to past the time…
| Explore the charming streets
Arriving late in the day, our first few hours in the town were spent exploring under a low and languid golden sun. Colourful houses lined with windows offering glimpses into local lives, flowers wild and cherished proudly hung from every door, shadows and light calling us to explore each and every street that we passed.
This town requires no route (you’ll turn a familiar corner before you ever really get lost), and just a couple of hours to explore.
| Old Textiles
We stumbled upon the entrance to a wonderful room filled with old handlooms and thick blankets and fabrics in colourful patterns (some reminding us a lot of those we saw in Guatemala), all created in the traditional way. The patterns, time, and skill put into making these is remarkable (we were lucky enough to be there whilst a lady was working the weave), and they are available to purchase. A Latvian friend let us know that the craft of weaving is still taught in schools, and it’s great that this is being kept alive.
It’s just to the left of the Tourism Information Centre (on Baznīcas iela 5).
| Take a dip in the rapids
What we didn’t realise before embarking on this trip however was that Europe’s widest (a mighty 270m across) can actually be found in the centre of this tiny Latvian town. At only around 2 metres tall, the ‘Ventas rumba’ it may not be quite what we had envisioned but on an uncharacteristically warm morning, we discovered that its height is actually what provides its most rewarding feature - a chance to cool off in its rapids.
If you’re fortunate to be in Latvia during spring, we’d absolutely encourage you to visit Kuldiga for salmon spawning season when you can see the hardiest fish in the world swimming upstream and leaping up and over the waterfall.
Note that the easiest way to access this part of Kuldiga is by crossing the brick bridge and taking the path from the car park, which will take you over a small wooden bridge laden down with lover’s padlocks, and down to the river.
| Find peace along the river
Summer memories of my youth always involve days spent along the river. Bikes laden with blankets and treats, quick dips in cool waters and hours passed basking in the sun. A little Enid Blyton, yes, but perfect none the less. Life, adulthood and city living have made this childhood utopia increasingly difficult to find, but a few hours along the banks of the Venta River came pretty close.
For those seeking a similar experience, after a dip in the waterfall rapids, you need only follow the path to the left and head further along the river until you spot a wooden jetty, bobbing in the water. We weren’t quite brave enough to take a swim this time (the passing of youth often takes with it your ambivalence to very cold water), but it is the most perfect spot to sit in the sun, watch the friendly ducks that call this place home and remember what it was like to be a kid.
| Enjoy the local festivals
Built in 1874, the two carriage wide ‘Old Brick Bridge’ is the longest of its kind in Europe, and whilst it forms a picture postcard backdrop (particularly on a summer’s day, edged by the green grass and with a clear blue sky as its backdrop), crossing it becomes an entirely different experience on Midsummer’s Eve when the annual ‘Nude Race’ takes place!
For those interested in learning a little more about Latvian culture, without any nudity required, you should time your visit to Kuldiga with the annual Kuldiga Festival.
| Visit the Kuldiga Sand Caves
Located just a few kilometres outside of Kuldiga, are the Riežupe Sand Caves, a labyrynthine network of manmade tunnels created in the 18th century. Covering more than 2 kms (although only 460m are open to the public), this cave system is the largest in Latvia and the perfect place to explore if grey skies replace the blue.
Only accessible with a private tour and guide, at a cost of €6 per person.
Where to eat in Kuldiga
For a town so small, Kuldiga punches well above its weight in terms of places to eat with a mixture of local and more international cuisine on offer. Here our a few places we absolutely recommend.
Goldingen Room | Probably the coolest spot in town, Goldingen Room has got its hipster credentials down pat. Exposed brick, distressed wood and cool accents - its menu is also top notch. Artisan pizzas, pasta dishes and modern takes on traditional favourites. It’s also got a wonderful outdoor seating area in the main square for those warmer days.
Bangert’s Restaurant | Fine dining at a really good price. The menu is pretty meat and fish heavy, but they can cater to vegetarians on request. Lovely setting at the edge of the river.
Residence Kafe | Fantastic coffee, great craft beer and a lovely beer across the waterfalls. This is a must-visit for an afternoon pick me up (the cakes looked dreamy) or to watch the sunset over the river.
The Marmalade | Light bites, delicious treats and good coffee, The Marmalade is such a cosy spot. During the colder months, we couldn’t think of a better place in town to warm up after a few hours sightseeing.
Where to Stay in Kuldiga
The standard of accommodation on offer in town is excellent, with guest houses and hotels within minutes of the main square.
2 Baloži | This is where we stayed, and if you don’t get upset by the calming sound of pigeons cooing (this place has the name ‘2 pigeons’ for a reason), we’d highly recommend it. A small guesthouse with good-sized rooms, nice furnishings and buffet breakfast served in Goldingen Restaurant across the road. To find out more and check availability, click here.
Kuldigas Metropole | If you prefer more of a standard hotel-setup, then consider the Metropole. Open since 1910 and located on the main street, it has modern rooms and facilities (it was recently renovated) and lots of space, and continues to be very popular choice amongst visitors. To find out more and check availability, click here.