Vidzeme is the beating heart of Latvia, it’s the largest region and home to the Gauja national park. Vidzeme is a nature lovers paradise, with beaches, rivers, cycling and hiking routes aplenty.
Vidzeme is the region of land including and directly east of the Latvian capital, Riga, which extends to the nation’s border with Estonia on its northern and eastern flank. Vidzeme’s proximity to Riga helps make it the most visited of Latvia’s four regions although much of the reason for its popularity is its extremely attractive unspoilt countryside including the incredible Gauja River Valley and popular tourist towns such as Sigulda and Cesis. This region is full of rivers, lakes, blooming meadows, and endless wild expanses of spruce, pine and birch forests. Gaizins at 310 metres, is the highest point in Latvia.
Once upon a time, Vidzeme was the land of the Latgalians and the Livs, remaining part of Latgale until the 13th century when the south and east came under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Riga and the rest of the region part of the Livonian Order. For a while, Lithuanians ruled and then the Poles. In 1628 it then came under Swedish rule for what would be almost 100 hundred years, with many peasants enjoying their first taste of freedom.
When the Russians came, Livonia was to remain a separate entity until Latvia’s unification during its first independence. With centuries of invasion and rule from tribes and nations coming from all four points of the compass, it is easy to understand that Vidzeme is rich in cultural influences and has a unique identity to the rest of Europe and indeed other regions of modern-day Latvia.
Eating and drinking
Vidzeme is known for its natural home-made foods including baked rye, local cheeses, caraway seeds, honey cake, bacon pies, and hemp products.
The region is also renowned for its locally brewed beers. Valmiermuiza Craft Brewery is one of the best places to try these for yourself. Vidzeme’s unique and curative herbal teas should also not be missed.
Things to see and do
Riga is the obvious place to start off and complete any exploration of Vidzeme and Latvia. The UNESCO-protected medieval World-heritage Old City and the world’s finest and most extensive collection of Art Nouveau buildings are just two of the myriad of incredible things to see and explore in the Latvian capital.
Gauja National Park home to 150 bird species, 50 mammal species including lynx and bear, and an astounding 1000 plant species should definitely be the first item on any Vidzeme list of things to see and do in nature. There are also six medieval castles in the park (Turaida is the most popular of these due to its stunning location) as well as countless manor houses, medieval churches and the attractive tourist towns of Cesis, Sigulda and Ligatne with all the delights they bring.
Outdoor activities include skiing, forest canopy walking, ziplining, husky dog sledding, and even bobsleigh and flying (care of the aerodium)!
Rather more unusual things to do include spending time on an Alpaca farm
As well as the half dozen castles in the Gauja Valley, there are countless manor houses to explore elsewhere including Birini Castle, Cesvaine and Dikli.
The Latvian Ethnographic Museum is one of Europe’s oldest open-air museums. Visitors will discover 120 historical buildings which represent Latvia’s four regions. Some of them date back to the seventeenth century.
Riga is undeniably the pearl of Latvia and arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Aside from this cultural hub, Vidzeme is home to two of the country’s most popular tourist towns – Sigulda and Cesis – as well as the coastal health resort of Saulkrasti. Other lesser-known settlements deserving of a visit include Ligatne, Valka and Aluksne.
Cesis is a lovely medieval town dating back more than 800 years. Pride of place is the gorgeous medieval castle that dominates the centre of the town which is surrounded by well-kept parks and gardens. This is a pretty urban space full of cobbled streets, cosy coffee shops, and lots of listed buildings.
Nearby Sigulda, which is also located in the immaculate Gauja National Park is regarded as Latvia’s outdoor sports capital and has ski and snowboarding runs, forest trails as well as cable car rides and castles to explore among its many pleasures. Ligatne feels like a museum town with its wooden former paper mill worker houses and collection of operating and abandoned paper mill industrial buildings set in one of the most scenic valleys in the Baltic states. It is also home to a former Soviet bunker deep underground that tourists can visit.
Valka (Latvia) and Valga (Estonia) are actually one town divided into two. The split took place in 1920 and it’s worth visiting for the rather unusual experience of witnessing how the same town has transitioned into both Latvian and Estonian life.
Saulkrasti has been a health resort since the 19th century and is a popular summertime escape from the capital city.
Last but certainly not least, Aluksne is arguably one of Latvia’s great secrets. Located 200 kilometres from Riga and just a few kilometres from the Russian border, the nation’s highest city at 217m boasts an idyllic lakeside setting connected to forested islands by pedestrian bridges, making it an attractive escape 12 months of the year
The Gauja Valley and the towns of Cesis, Sigulda and Ligatne are easily reached thanks to several buses and trains per hour from Riga. Many buses serving this route end in Aluksne, on the Latvian-Russian border. Canoeing is popular along the River Gauja while an old fashioned ferry made from two joined boats, covered by a deck of boards crosses the Gauja near Ligatne.
There are also train lines and main roads running north from Riga in the direction of Estonia that make most of the region easily accessible.
Kayaking, canoeing, horse riding, sledging, skiing and cycling are some of the more enjoyable ways to get around this lovely region.
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Let's get lost in untouched nature and stories about holy places and pagan rituals in Latvia. Let's try wines and vermouth made from local berries, fruits, and flowers. Let's experience Latvia- Let's experience unique. This town will impress you …