Liepāja (pronounced lee-ah-pa-yah) is a city on Latvia's Baltic coast. With 75,000 residents, it is Latvia's third largest city, and is arguably the most important city after the capital Riga. Liepaja was the capital during World War I.
Liepaja city consists of two main areas of interest: the city center, and Karosta, the northern part of the city, which used to be a secret Soviet military town. Both the city center and Karosta have great beaches, and you will be surprised how unspoiled and beautiful the central beach is, and how white and soft the sand is! Karosta is essentially another city, because it really has a different history and look from the rest of Liepaja; Karosta is worth a separate visit. In Liepaja there is no "old town", but the center and surroundings are full of beautiful old wooden buildings, little irregular streets, etc. The center also includes the Seaside Park (Jurmala Park) area, which has a fantastic white, soft sand beach; the park itself is great, too, with many nice buildings. Liepaja is known in Latvia as "the city where the wind is born", because of the continual sea breeze.
There are two main roads to Liepaja. From Riga, the A9 runs westward for 220 km (136 mi). From Klaipėda in Lithuania, the A11 runs north for 100 km (62 mi). From Ventspils, on the coast further north, take the P111.
Liepaja is connected by bus service with Riga (many times every day), Ventspils, Kuldiga and other towns and villages in Liepaja region, as well as Klaipeda and Palanga in Lithuania. The bus station is located some distance away from the center. Take the tram to the south to get to the center (take the tram at a tram stop which is on your right side when you quit the bus station building). Do not cross the tram tracks, which is a wrong direction! The Liepaja region bus terminal is in the southern part of the center, at Sienatirgus. But all buses also go to the main bus station. A ticket to Riga costs around €9. Normally the trip from Riga takes about 3 hours 30 minutes, and a bit less than 2 hours from Klaipeda.
A nice and relatively quick train runs every day to and from Riga. It leaves the Liepaja railway station (which is the same building as the bus station) at 6:00, and arrives at Riga railway station at 9:10. The train from Riga leaves at 18:30 and arrives in Liepaja at 21:37. These trains also stop at Skrunda, Saldus, Dobele and Jelgava. On the train one can watch a DVD movie or use a vending machine to have a cup of coffee. Despite the fact that the train actually takes a longer route – about 240 km (149 mi) compared to 220 km (136 mi) if you go by bus – because it goes through Jelgava, it takes a bit less time to go to Riga by train than by bus. As of February 2009, a single one-way normal fare ticket costs around €8.80. The railway station is located some distance away from the town center. Take the tram heading south to get to the center (get on the tram at a tram stop which is on your right side when you exit the railway station building). Do not cross the tram tracks — it will put you in the wrong direction!
A ferry service connects Liepaja with Travemünde (near Lübeck) in Germany. The ferry terminal is in Ziemelu priekspilseta, 15 minutes from the center by bus 10,11 or 15, or minibus 3. However, there is some distance between the terminal building and the street where public transport operates. If you have a yacht, you are welcome to Liepaja yacht harbor, located in the center, in Tirdzniecibas channel.
It is pretty popular to hitch-hike in Latvia and if you want, you should try it for Liepaja, too. To get out of the city to go somewhere else, the tram is extremely good. Go to the north terminus, cross the railway crossing and you are in the hitch-hiking spot to Riga (also Ventspils) direction, or go to the south terminus, walk some 400 meters (1,300 ft) till the city ends completely and you are on the way to Klaipeda!
There are currently no scheduled air services to Liepaja Airport. Palanga airport in Lithuania is 65 km (40 mi) to the south and has scheduled services year round. Riga International airport (the largest airport in the Baltic states with many direct flights to Europe and Asia, including cheap Ryanair, AirBaltic and Easyjet routes) is 220 km east of Liepaja.
There are four types of public transport in Liepaja city - tram, bus, minibus, taxi. Trams, buses and minibuses now have the same tickets, which you can purchase from the driver (about €0.73) or in many shops and small newsagents' boutiques such as Plus Punkts or Narvesen, which can be found throughout the city. There are also passes for one day, week, month etc. A one-day pass costs €2and gives an unlimited number of rides, but you must validate it when you first use it. The ticket is then valid until midnight – the date is printed on your ticket when you validate it.
There is only one tram line, but a new line is being built and will start operating in autumn 2012 – it will go to Ezerkrasts (lakeside) residential district. The current line runs from the southwest, along beaches, through the center, to Jaunliepaja, a place with a flea market, and ends near the metallurgic factory. It operates from 5:00 till midnight and costs €0.57 if ticket is bought in a kiosk, or €0.81 if you buy it from the tram driver. Ticket must be validated in one of three yellow validators in the tram, which will print date and time on the ticket. The ticket is valid for one ride. Tram is the best transport to get to/from the Railway / Bus station to/from the city center. If you are going to catch the morning train to Riga, do so, because trams operate in early morning, but not as frequently. A ride from the center to the station takes approximately 8 minutes. An electronic tram ticket is also available by sending SMS, but this might be complicated for those who don't have local mobile phones.
There are many bus routes, the most important for tourists being 1, 3, 4, 7 and 8 – with these you can get from the city center to Karosta and back. You can get to the southeastern part (Ezerkrasts) to see Meynard's church and Liepaja Lake by 3, 4, 10, 15, 912. Costs €0.81 from the driver or €0.57 in shops and newsagents' boutiques. There are bus stops throughout the city. Tickets can be bought in kiosks or from the driver. Ticket must be validated in the bus by inserting it in an electronic validator as in the trams. Some buses have an audio announcement system for the next stop and a LED screen in front of the bus displaying next stop name. When going to Karosta you will most likely want to go right to the last stop, so don't worry. An exception might be bus number 8, which terminates far north in summer house and garden district Skede near the sea, which is kind of too far for Karosta, however is the best bus to get as far as the Jewish Holocaust memorial or the Northern fortress. Liepaja city is relatively big for Latvian city sizes. For example, to go from the center to Karosta by bus 3, you will need approximately 35 minutes and the distance will be around 10 km.
Number 22 and 23 minibuses serve Karosta, however 23 only goes to Karosta swing bridge and you can end up waiting by a closed bridge for an hour or more. It is therefore recommended to take route 22, which will take you further into Karosta and, if the bridge is closed, will sometimes go around the channel to get there. They cost €0.57 from a shop or €0.81 from the driver. Tickets must be validated just like in trams or buses. To stop a minibus, you have to wave your hand. You can stop it only at bus stops. To stop a minibus when you are in it, you have to ask the driver.
Taxis are relatively expensive compared to other types of transport, but still cheaper than in Western Europe. This is the only public transport available at night (approximately 0:30-5:00). There are some places in the city center and near the Bus/Railway station where taxis assemble, or you can call (+371) 63422222, (+371) 63466666 or (+371) 63488888.
Some Latvian phrases will be admired by locals, such as Paldies (Thank you). Latvian is spoken natively by more than half of Liepaja's population and is the only official language. Written signs and labels are mostly in Latvian. However, you will also hear Russian in the streets of Liepaja, which is by far the most widespread minority language since the Soviet times, when lots of Russians immigrated into Latvia`s main cities, including Liepaja, to work in industries.
In summer there are many German tourists and German can be heard in most touristic areas. Latvians, especially younger generations, speak good English.
The former Secret soviet military town of Karosta (northern Liepaja), the Fortress of Liepaja (its parts are located all around the city, the most spectacular ones are on the Baltic shore in Karosta), Liepaja city center with many old art-nouveau and wooden building and cobblestone streets, and the seaside park with its white sandy beach, as well as Liepaja's lake – fifth largest lake in Latvia – are nice places with lots to see.
- Beaches. What attracts tourists the most is probably the whitest and softest sandy beach. Part of it receives the Blue Flag every summer. This indicates that the beach is really good and safe to swim at. A good thing about Liepaja beach is that it is rarely too crowded. In the evening, night or early morning, or in winter, you can sometimes find yourself all alone on a magnificent beach, stretching as far as you can see. This concerns Vecliepaja and Dienvidrietumi beach, which are located in the central and southwestern part of the city. There are also beaches in Karosta.
- Seaside Park (Jurmala Park). In the center of the city, beside the beach, is the most beautiful park of Liepaja. It has many different tree species, three stadiums, a concert garden, bowling center, minigolf, and in summer – cafeterias and many cultural events. You will find fountains there, and if you are lucky, you will see a squirrel running up the tree.
- Amber clock. Actually a sundial-shaped design object, is on the promenade, and is created from thousands of pieces of amber, donated by anyone who wanted to do so. The sundial shows time every hour on the hour, by a special light performance. The performance can be seen much better, when it is dark outside.
- Craftman's house. See the longest amber necklace in the world (123 meters or 403 ft), weighing almost 20 kg (44 lb). You can also watch weavers working a creating beautiful tablecloths, skirts etc. Usually closed on weekends.
- Liepaja Museum, 16, Kurmajas Avenue, ☎ 63422973.
- Liepaja During Occupational Regimes, 7/9, K.Ukstina Street, ☎ 63420274.
The churches are a pleasant surprise with their variety of architectural styles. This reflects religion in Latvia, which is very mixed. It is mostly Christian of various branches, and this can be seen in Liepaja, where there are Lutheran, Protestant, Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Russian Old Believers and other religious groups' churches. These vary from tiny wooden churches to huge towers and cathedrals. There are about 20 churches in Liepaja.
- Holy Trinity Cathedral. Has a 55 m (180 ft) high tower, which is a perfect sightseeing place. It also has a huge church organ, made of more than 7000 pipes, which was the biggest organ in the world till 1912. It is still the biggest in Latvia and one of the biggest and most beautiful in Europe.
- Saint Anne's Church. Built of red brick and the oldest of Liepaja's churches. The organ is the third biggest in Latvia.
- St. Joseph's Cathedral. The biggest Catholic church in Liepaja. Built of yellow bricks, with many small towers. There is a ship model in the church, which was believed to bring good luck for fishermen.
- St. Meynard's Church. Very different from all the others, because it is much newer. It was a gift from Vatican. It was the Vatican's pavilion at the exposition EXPO2000 in Hannover, Germany. The church is not in the city center.
Many other churches are scattered throughout the city, the most important being St. Nicholas maritime cathedral in Karosta (see Karosta).
Open air markets
They are always something special for western tourists, but part of daily life for local people. There are many markets throughout the city, but the two most important and largest are Peter’s market (Petertirgus) and Anne’s market (Annas tirgus). Petertirgus is in the city center. It has big indoor and outdoor sections. In both you can find food and non-food items. There is a fish market in the basement of the indoor market building. Some craftworks can be bought outside, such as amber bracelets etc. This is the best place to buy local, ecologically clean fruit and vegetables, and July is strawberry time! Everything is relatively cheap. Annas tirgus is located one tram stop closer to the center than the bus/railway station, in Jaunliepaja. It is smaller, but has a big flea market section, where you can find many things from the Soviet era.
Liepaja is surrounded by water. There are the Baltic Sea, two big lakes and some smaller ones, and four channels in the city. The city, is almost an island, especially the southern part (Vecliepāja). Liepaja Lake is the fifth largest lake in Latvia. It is lagoon type, which was part of the sea in ancient days. It is not deep, relatively narrow - up to 3.5 km (2.2 mi) - and long - about 15 km (9.3 mi). Liepaja city is on the north-western coast of the lake. If you go to Ezerkrasts (Lakeside), you can see the best lake views from Tise iela (Tise street). On one side are apartment buildings, and on the other, a meadow; behind the meadow is the lake. The lake, together with surrounding meadows, is a nature protection area, mostly because of some rare plants growing there and many species of birds that live or come across this place regularly. Swimming in the lake is not as nice as in the sea (but warmer), because the bottom is sometimes swampy. There is, however, a special place for swimming at the end of Vainodes street.
There is an interesting, yet very dirty and untouristic, place called Zirgu sala. It is the biggest island in the lake and is very close to city center, where it is connected by bridge. From the island, an approximately 1 km (0.6 mi) long jetty, accessible even by car (a very bad road though), built of metallurgical factory oven-burned metallic stones, goes into the lake, providing nice views. It is sometimes called Golodova dambis or Zirgu salas dambis, and does not appear in any travel guides except this one.
A former secret Soviet military town. If you are in Liepaja, you must go to Karosta. It is the northern part of the city, about 10 km (6 mi) from the center. Karosta translates as War Port (or Navy Harbor) from Latvian. It used to be a secret military town for Russian empire, and later also for the Soviets. Latvia became independent, and some years after that, in 1994, the Soviet militarists had to leave Karosta. The population dropped dramatically from 25000 to 6000, leaving many empty houses behind. Then Karosta experienced something like a war without guns. Many houses where turned into ruins. Everything was taken away. Brick by brick, many historic, beautiful buildings disappeared forever. Now, Karosta has a population of 7000 and a dream of renaissance, which has already started. It is now a popular tourist destination and also home for international artist’s center, called K2. Many places of Karosta still look like after a war. Some places remind the abandoned towns of Chernobyl nuclear disaster area.
- Karosta beach. There is a beach in Karosta. There you will find some pebbles and the sand might not be that soft as in the previous beach. On the seashore of Karosta you can also see a Breakwater, the longest one of Liepaja`s breakwaters, stretching 1.8 km into the sea, and you can go on it by car till approximately half of its length. Just be careful of waves in windy weather. And wind is famous in Liepaja. A Latvian expression says "the city where wind was born". And as any Latvian would tell, it's Liepaja. On the shore you can also see two fortresses. This is a wild beach with steep coasts, unlike the central beach with dunes.
- Eight fortresses. All around the city, but the most scenic and interesting ones are these two on the shores of Karosta. The one closer to breakwater (you can even see a small part of it from the breakwater), is Tuvejie Forti (Nearby Fortress), and it was blasted up shortly after being built. The other one, further to the north, is Ziemelu forti (Northern Fortress). It is not blasted up, so it has much more underground labyrinths and tunnels to explore, but it is not as scenic and dramatic from the outside as the first one. Nearby the Northern fortress you can see nature-friendly energy being made by a huge wind power generator, which can be seen from far in the distance.
- Orthodox cathedral (in the central part of Karosta). It is surrounded by Soviet-style apartment buildings, making it very surreal and contrasting. It was used as a cinema and a gym for soldiers during the soviet occupation years. Now the St. Nicholas maritime cathedral is a church again and the sound of its bells can be heard from afar.
- Submarine Accumulator Fence and Hangar. The remains of a submarine base that was once here. There are also former dormitories, beautiful red brick buildings. All are abandoned and partially demolished.
- Horse Arena (MANEZA). A roofless building, which was once used for soldiers` training to ride horses, as well as for official celebrations for up to 4000 people who could fit there. These days the building is not used, except for one nice event, when Liepaja symphony orchestra made an open-air concert here.
- Twinned town of Chernobyl. Empty Soviet style apartment buildings, left in 1994. Some are already destroyed, some 10 are still there. Many older houses are empty as well.
- Karosta Prison (Karostas cietums). A real military prison until 1997 and now for tourists. You are treated like a prisoner in a reality show and, if you are brave enough, can even stay overnight.
- Castle. Is unfortunately in bad condition.
- Contemporary Art Gallery (gallery k.Maksla), Atmodas bulvaris 6. Modern, a bit weird, but always original and interesting exhibitions. You can also rent bicycles here.
- Other things - Water supply tower, Karosta cemetery with Soviet style monuments, Karosta park, many forests and Beberlini Lake - a nice place to have a barbecue party in summer. There is camping, too.
- Swimming. If you visit in the summer, go to the beach and swim.
- Windsurfing. Windsurfing activities are popular and the city has both the sea and the lake, so there are wide opportunities for this and equipment can be rented in windsurfing club Rietumkrasts in Katedrales street, Karosta.
- Baltic Beach Party. Latvia's biggest music festival held every July at the central beach.
- Organ music festival. September or thereabouts.
Knowledge of Latvian language is essential in most jobs. Some permits are required, depending on your home country. It is easier for EU citizens. The average salary is about €400-500 per month, but it varies greatly depending on the area of activity.
Main shopping centres are located in the centre and in the South of the city and they are - Kurzeme, Ostmala, Rietumu centres, XL Sala, Baata, Ezerkrasts, DEPO etc.
In Liepaja you will find all shops you might want to find, except for expensive brand shops. DEPO is the largest DIY store in Latvia. Rietumu centres has JYSK, interesting and reasonably priced. Ostmala has a RIMI hypermarket and many clothes shops. XL SALA has MAXIMA XX and many other shops. BAATA is probably the trendiest shopping centre - it is not large, but has a nice selection of shops and a very good restaurant Olive. Go there by tram till the last stop in the South. And just 5 minutes from there is a wonderful white sand beach of the Baltic sea.
Amber, craftworks, souvenirs in Petertirgus (central market, the biggest and main one). Go to Annas tirgus - a smaller market in Jaunliepaja (open daily, except Sundays), or better to small markets in Silku/Kalpaka street corner and another one in Karosta for cool soviet-style souvenirs and other interesting stuff.
Visit the tourism information center; they have nice souvenirs, too. A good souvenir from little bays near fortresses in Karosta is little pebbles from the Baltic Sea. It's free and natural. Some tourists take a little jar of Liepaja central beach unbelievably white and soft sand as a souvenir.
Stendera ziepju fabrika produces interesting soaps and soap-related products for bathing, such as Burbuļbumbas - the bubble balls.
Go to Petertirgus (Peter’s market, the main open market, open every day) for fresh, clean local food which is natural and healthy. Especially strawberries in July...
Try Latvian food in a cafeteria, restaurant or just buy a Sklandrausis (carrot pie, typical for Kurzeme, Western Latvia) in Šaras (a local word used for inner pavilion of a market, in this case Petertirgus market, and the official word in Latvian would be skārņi). Black bread is extremely important part of Latvian food. There are many types of black breads and they are believed to be much healthier and better than white bread. Latvia is much richer in milk products than an average Western country. Try Biezpiena sieriņš - a curd snack with sweet taste. Many types are available, the most popular being Karums and Baltais. Try the dessert Maizes zupa (bread soup, made of black bread and fruits). Taste the Biešu zupa (red beetroot soup). Latvian cakes are also nice and the best place to take a cup of good coffee and a cake, such as whipped egg whites `basket` Līga, is definitely Serenade on the corner of Graudu and Pasta streets. Such a cake costs just approximately €0.40.
Any Latvian would tell you that chocolate of Laima (the local sweets factory) is much better than Belgian one. Laima offers not just chocolate, but also konfektes - candies of different types, sold by grams and kilos and the price is about 5 LVL per kilo. The best ones are Rudzupuķe, Lācītis Ķepainītis, Serenāde, Vētras putns, Rīts, Soho, Sarkanā magone, Vāverīte etc. An assortment in a nice box can also be a nice gift to friends who stayed home. Try Zefirs - a soft marshmallow-type sweet. Gotiņa (Little cow - well, not exactly little, but English lacks diminutive) is a famous milk candy. Apart from Laima, there is Emihls Gustavs chocolate factory. It is more exclusive and they make little sculptures of different shapes of chocolate, but it is a bit pricy.
For a western traveler Liepaja`s prices might seem quite cheap. Even top-class restaurants are cheaper than similar ones in Western Europe. This is of course because of the low local average salary, which is about €400 per month. Public transport is also relatively cheap.
It is important to know that in Latvia the whole concept and meaning of words Cafeteria (Kafejnica), Canteen (Ednica) and Restaurant (Restorans) are different than they would be understood in other countries.
A Cafeteria or Kafejnica is not just a coffee shop. Usually you can have all meals that you would probably expect in a restaurant. The difference is that in Kafejnica you sometimes bring your food to your table yourself. However, some Kafejnicas have waiters, but these are then something in between of Kafejnica and Restorans. Restorans is usually a more or less top class place. Ednica is a canteen of schools, universities, factories etc. They are very cheap, but sometimes have limited access.
Some places are very cheap and yet good - for example, Cepeline 5 minutes from the bus and rail stations on the corner of Rigas and 1905. gada streets. For a more soviet kitch experience - go to Chebureki on the corner of Raina and Jelgavas streets. In the center, try Tris Siveni pizza in Rose square, go to Fontaine Delisnack and many, many other places, which are all reasonably priced and offer tasty food.
- Doka Pica, Brivzemnieka Street (just behind the main University building). A restaurant with good and cheap pizzas, meat dishes, fish - everything.
- Karosta Prison Canteen. In Karosta Prison there is an authentic Soviet style canteen, but it does not operate regularly and is used by group requests only.
- Upe (in hotel LIVA.).
- Barons Bumbiers (In shopping centre Kurzeme).
- Medus (in guest house Porins).
- Restaurant Piano (in hotel Promenade).
- Oskars (in hotel Amrita).
- Kolumbs (in hotel Kolumbs).
- Libava (in guest house Libava).
- Fontaine Royal. A very stylish restaurant on the Promenade (not to be confused with the nearby top-class restaurant in hotel Promenade). Everything is in pompous royal style, golden colored chairs and tables etc.
- Pastnieka māja (Postman`s house).
- Vecais kapteinis (Old Captain). Fish restaurant.
Nightlife places, all in the centre, include:
- Fontaine Palace. A hotel's music club in an old warehouse, capacity 600 people, offering live bands from around the globe
In Liepaja you have all you need - choose a cheap and cosy hostel or a five star hotel - Liepaja has it all. Some examples:
- Fontaine Hotel, Juras 24, ☎ (+371) 63420956. Charming hotel in 2 old wooden houses on the same street, dating 1760 and 1890, with a nice backyard. Each room has its own design and charm. The reception is also a shop selling antiques and souvenirs. from €25.
- Beach Hostel (Located between the beach and the centre.). The Liepaja Branch of the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Latvia has a guesthouse for travelers in Liepaja. It is most suited for backpackers and small groups of friends and families. The Liepaja Beach Hostel is becoming popular with the Riga expat community.
- Karosta Military Detention Center, Invalīdu Street 4, ☎ (+371) 26369470, e-mail: email@example.com. The Karosta prison is probably the most inhospitable hotel in the world. There is no hot water, mattresses consist of wooden planks, and prison guards bark at the guests also known as prisoners. The hostel is in a former prison noted for its exceptional brutality during the Soviet era. Price: 5 Ls per person.
- Europa City Amrita, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Four star hotel on the bank of Trade channel in the centre, only 15 minutes walk from unique white sand beach. Hotel is preferred for businessmen and those travelling on leisure, friendly for families. Prices: €17-180.
- Viesnīca Līva, Lielā iela 11, ☎ (+371) 63420102.
- Fontaine Royal Hotel, Stūrmaņu iela 1, ☎ , fax: +371 63489776, e-mail: email@example.com. At the canal front downtown in an old factory building. Fontaine Royal offers swimming pool, health centre, conference hall, restaurant, bar and various shops. The hotel is full of royal furniture, all gold plated standing in contrast with the old factory spirit, you will feel like a king staying at the Fontaine Royal. The hotel offers the biggest conference & banquet facilities in Kurland with 300 seats.
Liepaja is a safe place. Some people think it is not safe at night, but it is all a matter of personal opinion. Avoid walking alone in darkness. Do not leave your belongings unattended in clubs and pubs, or on the streets. Be careful in Karosta - during the 1990s it was a criminal place; however, it is much better now.
Latvia is Nordic in its weather. The temperatures in July can reach 30ºC (86ºF). And they can also fall as low as -30ºC (-22ºF) in January... But both winter and summer have their beauty. Make two visits - one in the summer and one in the winter - and you will have two totally different experiences! And make yet another visit in mid October, when all the trees are colorful.
There is much to see in the city – nature is everywhere, even within the city: those are not just artificially planted city parks. There are also absolutely unspoiled and natural beaches, forests and meadows near the Liepaja lake. There are some swamps, but they are not that accessible.You can visit special swamp trails in Liepaja region, as well as even bigger and denser forests. You might want to go to other towns and villages.
In Liepaja region there are some nice towns, 100km of beautiful Baltic coast, lots of forests and it is worth to visit the Kalvene Zoo park, which is very big and animals have bigger space to live than usually in city zoos. Pape Nature Park is another option, if you want to see wild horses and wild boars. Same animals can be seen in Vitinu meadows, which is just the opposite coast of Liepaja Lake, not far from the airport. This visit must be guided and pre-booked in the tourism info center, because it is a nature protection area. Town of Aizpute has medieval atmosphere with little irregular streets, old wooden buildings and castle ruins, and it is on the way to Kuldiga (about 100 km away), the medieval town with Europe's widest waterfall.