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Cesis is one of Latvia’s most beautiful towns and one that you shouldn’t miss out on. Indeed, it’s so pretty that you should put it on your travel itinerary right away.
And you don’t even need to have a lot of time because it’s easy to visit Cesis as a day trip from Riga. Of course, it’s nicer to stay for the night, because then you’ll have enough time to explore the whole area. But if you’re short on time (or visiting in winter, when it’s cold and gloomy), just come for the day. It takes about two hours to come here and you have the choice between going by bus or by train.
While Cesis is small, it has enough attractions to keep you occupied for at least a day. If the weather is nice, you could even consider going into the Gauja National Park, which surrounds Cesis. We skipped it because, as you can see from our pictures below, the weather wasn’t the best, but it’s worth it in summer.
Besides the national park, here is a list of the things that you shouldn’t miss out on. We apologize in advance for the gloomy pictures (sometimes, the weather just isn’t right), but we promise that even in winter, Cesis is a lot of fun.
#1 Visit Cesis Medieval Castle
Cesis Castle was built at the beginning of the 13th century by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. Unfortunately, so little remains of that fortress that we don’t even know how it looked like. Just a few years later, the Teutonic Order took over and rebuilt everything, fortifying the castle and making it much larger over the next centuries. It reached its prime during the 16th century until it got besieged during the Livonian War. In 1577, during that siege, around 300 people living inside the castle evaded capture through the enemy by blowing themselves up with gunpowder.
Despite that grim story, Cesis Castle was our favourite place in this town. We bought our tickets and then received lanterns. At first, we didn’t know what they would be used for as most of the castle is in ruins. We explored the courtyard for a while, awkwardly balancing the lanterns while taking pictures. But then we went inside into the Western Tower and that’s when we understood. It was so dark inside that we wouldn’t have been able to see anything without the lanterns.
Walking through a medieval castle while carrying a candle is a really cool experience. If there’s only one thing you see in Cesis, make sure it’s this castle.
#2 Visit the New Castle
If you go into Cesis’ medieval castle, make sure to also visit the New Castle. You can find it just next to the old one and it’s possible to buy a joint ticket for both of them. Inside the New Castle (which is not that new, by the way, as it was built at the end of the 18th century), you will find the Cesis History and Art Museum. Here, you can see a permanent exhibition about the history of Cesis as well as various temporary exhibitions.
Make sure to climb to the top of the tower to enjoy the view. Not only can you see the Old Town from here, but you also get to appreciate the Medieval Castle from a fresh perspective.
#3 Walk Through the Old Town
While the historic centre of Cesis is not very big, it is very pretty. We suggest that you take some time to stroll through the centre and take it in. Along the main road, you will find a few nice restaurants and cafes where you can stop to take a break.
As you walk through the Old Town, you’ll be surprised to hear that after countless wars and sieges, no buildings from the Middle Ages remain. The Old Town still retains its medieval layout and countless beautiful houses. Make sure to pay special attention to the Merchants’ House as well as the House of Harmony, which both date back to the 18th century.
#4 Take a look at the Old Man of Time
While walking through the city centre, don’t forget to stop by the Old Man of Time. Located just behind St John’s Church, this statue is one of the symbols of Cesis. According to the legend, the Old Man of Time used to walk through the streets with his lantern, which he used to light up other lanterns along the way. That way, he could keep the inhabitants of Cesis safe at night.
#5 Stroll through the Castle Park
Carl Gustav von Sievers, the same guy who used to own Cesis New Castle, built the Castle Park in the 19th century. His goal was to enjoy the outdoors with his family. You should do the same and go for a walk through the park. It might look a bit gloomy on our photo, but that’s because we visited on a very cloudy and rainy day in the middle of February. And to make matters worse, it was an exceptionally warm winter so we didn’t have any snow. If you go on a day when the weather is nicer, you’ll have a great experience.
When looking at a map of the park, watch out for the names of the different parts. They were named after the family of Count von Sievers. Mindoras Hill, for example, was named after his daughter Mindoras. Inside the park, you can find various other sights, like the brewery and a church, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
#6 See the Oldest Brewery in Northern Europe
Did you know that the oldest brewery of Northern Europe is located in Cesis? These days, you can find it on the outskirts of Cesis, in a new and modern building. But don’t worry, you can still see the old building, located right on the edge of Castle Park.
Cesus Alus, the name of the company, has a long and turbulent history. The first time it was mentioned was in 1590. Back at that time, you could still find it inside Cesis Castle. But after the Swedes won the Swedish-Polish war, they got interested in the beer and moved the brewery to the third forecastle, where it had more space and they could increase its brewing capacity. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Count von Sievers built the brewery building that you can see today.
Cesus Alus, by the way, also produces various non-alcoholic drinks, including lemonade and kvass.
#7 Admire the Transfiguration of Christ Orthodox Church of Cesis
Yeah, we know. That name is very long. We’re talking about that beautiful blue church located inside Castle Park. You should totally walk up to it and take a closer look because the building is stunning. As I already said, we were in Cesis in winter so many things were closed. That included this beautiful church. But if you’re here at a different time of the year, try to go inside and then let us know how it looks. And if it’s still closed, you should at least take a look at its outsides.
Fun fact: like so many other things in Cesis, this church was built by Count von Sievers. The original church was built during the 14th century but left in ruins after the Great Northern War. It really makes you wonder how Cesis would look today if it hadn’t been for that count, right?
#8 Look at the Monument of Victory
This monument is impossible to miss, as you will walk right past it on your way from the bus or train station to the city centre. The first version of this monument was built in 1924, to honour those who fell in the Latvian Independence battles. Less than 30 years later, in 1952, the Soviet Union replaced the monument with a statue of Lenin. That statue stayed there until 1990, when it got dismantled (you can see the remains in the Castle Yard). In 1998, the Monument of Victory finally returned to its former state.
#9 Visit Saint John’s Church
Unfortunately, when we visited, Saint John’s Church was still under renovation and closed. If you come in summer, though, the church should be open and ready for you to visit. We’d love to hear from you about how you liked it! The woman at the tourist information told us that there’s a tower from which you can enjoy a nice view of the city.
Getting there and away
You can easily reach Cesis by bus or by train from Riga. Ask at the tourist information in Riga, where they have both schedules, and then compare. The trip takes about two hours one-way. Going by train is a bit faster, but trains go less often. When we visited, we took the bus because coming by train would have meant either getting up insanely early or arriving very late. But we took the train on our way back, which was a bit faster, a bit cheaper and a bit more comfortable than the bus.
In Riga, buses leave from the central bus station and trains from the central train station, just north of the bus terminal. In Cesis, buses leave from in front of the train station.
Cesis is so small you can easily get around on foot. From the train station, it takes about 10 minutes of walking to reach the castle. Once you’re there, the Old Town is close by. Everything is compact enough that it’ll never take you more than a few minutes to get from one place to another.
When to go
You can visit Cesis all year round. As we mentioned, we came here in winter and we had a wonderful time. Nevertheless, the best time is probably summer, when all attractions, restaurants and cafes are open and you can go hiking in the nearby Gaujas National Park. The downside to visiting in summer is that you’ll see far more tourists than we did. We only ran into one other couple while we walked through the Medieval Castle!
If you want the best of both worlds, aim for spring or autumn, when the weather is decent and you won’t run into as many tourists.
There you have it, a selection of nine things to do in Cesis. If you come in summer, you should look into visiting the Gauja National Park. Ask at the tourist information in Cesis to find out about the many walks and hikes in the area. They have great maps that will help you explore.
From Cesis or Riga, you can easily travel on to Estonia. We recommend you start in Tartu, a cute university town with lots of things to do and explore.
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