Latvia's northern city of Valmiera may have narrowly missed out on being named European Capital of Culture for 2027 (larger Liepāja got the nod from the judges) but even so it has more than enough for a great day out.
Located right on the banks of the River Gauja 100 km from Rīga, it is essentially the capital of the north of the country. There may not be much in the way of stunning architecture (with the exception of a couple of churches and the ruins of a medieval castle) and the blocky shopping mall right in the middle of the city has a face only its architect could love, but Valmiera has large and lovely parks, plus several excellent riverside walks of different lengths.
There are also a few active recreation options that the casual tourist might miss but which are among the best of their kind in the country and all of which, incidentally, are found very close to the River Gauja.
First up is a really excellent skatepark located on Rīgas iela, a kilometer from the city center. Large, modern and safe with soft surfaces, various different pieces of relief, ramps, trees and convenient seats, it is perhaps the most attractive skatepark in the country. Skateboards are usually outnumbered by scooters and cyclists as local kids make large-scale use of it during the day but get there early in the morning and there is a good chance you'll have it to yourself. Adjacent landscaped areas include a play park for younger children and an open space where adult keep fit fans often congregate.
A second hidden gem is located just over a kilometer away on the other side of the river. Latvia has quite a few disc golf courses, but many of them seem somewhat neglected and under-used. That is definitely not the case with the "Pauku Priedes" disc golf course which can be found off Ūdens iela, right next to the pedestrian suspension bridge which itself is often missed by visitors to Valmiera.
Pauku Priedes has a full 18 holes (or should that be baskets?) and is well maintained with regularly cut grass, good signage and marked paths. It's also quite challenging in places, so don't get too ambitious with your disc throwing first time around to avoid spending too much time searching through the undergrowth. Discs can be hired for just 3 euros per day (call the number on the info board), or you can bring your own. Playing the course is free of charge.
After all that activity you probably want to cool down and freshen up, in which case Valmiera's pleasant little riverside beach will be ideal. It is a ten minute walk from the Jaņa Daliņa stadium along the riverside walk and has volleyball courts, portaloos and benches as well as a small car park. The riverbank slopes very gently into the water here, making it popular with children, but if venturing further out, be aware that the current is considerably stronger.
Need to know
- There are numerous public transport options between Riga by rail and road. The coach station is very conveniently situated right by the river and the main road bridge in the center of the city. The rail station is further out and requires a 2 km walk (or a bus or taxi ride) to reach the center.
- There are small car parks at the disc golf and beach locations, but they are a little awkward to access down tracks rather than asphalted roads.
- A better option might be to use one of the large, free car parks near the athletics stadium and go to both locations as part of a circular river walk. The renovated stadium also has a good value cafeteria.
- For the skatepark there is some street parking, but it can get full up during week days. Some large stores nearby have parking.