Latvian awaydays: Bolderāja

Rīga Old Town, Jūrmala beach and Rundāle Palace are all great, but there's a lot more to discover in Latvia if you're prepared to venture off the usual tourist routes. In the second of this series, we'll tell you about some more less-well-known attractions. 

In the minds of many Rīga residents, Bolderāja is a cesspool of derelict factories, crumbing apartment blocks and shady natives best left undisturbed. But the town and its environs actually host some fascinating attractions well worth the 20-kilometer journey north of the capital.

For one thing, the sprawling district is criss-crossed by waterways, which have been drawing visitors for centuries. Just over the bridge north of the town is the Daugavgrīvas Cietoksnis, a star-shaped fortress which was once of European strategic importance. In 1624, Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus ordered its construction near the mouth of the Daugava River to protect his newly conquered eastern Baltic territories (not least because Rīga’s port was the kingdom’s biggest taxpayer.)

The vast facility was one of the engineering marvels of its day, hosting a garrison of 500 men, 100 cannons, a church, warehouses, barracks and officers’ apartments. Unfortunately, during the Soviet era and the wild 1990s, the fortress’s interior was stripped of anything valuable. But a guided tour can conjure up the old glory, and during summer music festivals are held in the atmospheric venue.

Keep driving north through Daugavgrīva and you come to a pleasant, forested zone, which eventually ends at the Gulf of Rīga coast. Much less developed than Jūrmala, it offers some seven kilometres of sand and sea to frolic in. The main parking lot can get a bit crowded, so just drive further down, then stroll through the woods to find a secluded haven.

At the southern end of the strand, the timeless fishing village of Vakarbuļļi nestles on the banks of the Buļļupe River. In this bucolic setting, sculptor Pauls Jaunzems has created an awe-inspiring alfresco art gallery which some call “the Latvian Stonehenge.”

Pauls Jaunzems sculptures in Bolderāja

Some of the two dozen granite monoliths have a social message to impart, like the ecologically themed gasmask, while others including a gigantic spinning top are just lots of fun. Pauls has created the ensemble over four decades entirely with his own resouces, and entry is generously free of charge (though there is a donations box if you feel so inclined.)

Back in Bolderāja proper is another labor of love worth checking out. Also on the banks of the Buļļupe (though on the opposite bank from the sculpture park), the charming timber Lutheran church has served local fisherman and workers since the mid-19th century. Damaged by arsonists in the 1970s, it is now being gradually restored by its congregation and other enthusiasts. Once a month, “sunset concerts” are held here followed by tea in the pleasant church garden. Entry is by donation to the restoration works. For details, see the church’s Facebook page.

Need to know

  • Take bus no. 3 from central Riga to Bolderāja town and the fortress (“Daugavgrivas cietoksnis” stop). From there, connect with bus no. 36 to the beach (“Pludmale” stop) and the sculpture park (the final stop “Vakarbuļļi”).

  • There’s no dedicated cycle path and the road from Riga is a bit industrial, but two wheels are an ideal way to get between the various sights. And if you can get hold of a boat, even better.

  • Bolderāja is not a culinary mecca, but many rate the kebabs at the tiny Azerbaijani-run store at Stūrmaņu iela 29 as the tastiest in all of Latvia.

 

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