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Valga is a town in southern Estonia, on the border with Latvia. Valga and Valka in Latvia are actually one town, Valga making up the larger part with around 12,000 inhabitants in 2021, almost three times the population of Valka.

Understand[edit]

Valga Railway Station

The city has the only railway station through which one can get from Estonia to Latvia. The city is rather dull, but curious about its position on the invisible state border. It has a military museum with a rich exposition dedicated to the Estonian War of Independence.

The border (in the literal sense of the word) location is, perhaps, the most interesting feature of Valga. In the city there are neither medieval monuments nor interesting wooden buildings, so Valga is deprived of the charm and comfort inherent in many other Estonian cities. The population of Valga is mixed, 35% Russians, and most other people speak Russian, because it was and is the language of interethnic communication between residents of Estonia and Latvia. The city has a light industry (furniture, clothes and footwear, woodworking). Life along the railway station is convenient, but the overall economic situation is rather bleak, and this is evident to the unaided eye: Valga is one of the poorest county-level cities in Estonia.

History[edit]

Valga was first mentioned in 1286 under the German name Valga (literally walk). In the 14th-16th centuries, it was a small unfortified settlement, which was regularly destroyed due to numerous wars between the Livonian Order, Russian princes, Lithuanians and Poles. Finally, in 1584 the Polish King Stefan Batory gave Valga the rights of the city. However, the status of a city and the joy of receiving it were short-lived, since already in 1626 Valga belonged to Sweden. Then, after the Northern War, to Russia, which did not acknowledge the city status of the Polish king. Only in 1764, the city status was returned to Valga, after which it started the stone construction. By the beginning of World War I, Valga became a central junction with routes to Riga, Tartu, Pärnu, and Pechora. In 1919, in the vicinity of Valga, the battle for Paju Manor took place - one of the important battles of the War of Independence - after which the Estonian army seized the whole of Southern Estonia and began its offensive into Latvia.

Since its inception, Valga has been multinational in nature: Estonians and Latvians lived here, together with Germans and Russians. Estonians and Latvians did get along very well, because both of them experienced harassment from the Germans. With independence, the situation changed, as both Estonia and Latvia declared their territorial rights of the city. In 1920, after lengthy negotiations with the participation of England, the border was put directly through the city, along the small creek Konnaoja, flowing through the centre of Valga. The big northern part was moved to Estonia, and the smaller southern part to Latvia. The division turned out to be disproportionate, as Estonia demanded compensation for the participation of its army in combat operations in Latvia, and especially for the defeat of the rebellious army of General Bermont-Avalov, who attempted to capture Riga in 1919.

Unlike the by the river divided Narva and Ivangorod, Valga and Valka are a rare example of cities created entirely artificially. During Soviet times the border did essentially not exist. But after the disintegration of the USSR the situation became problematic again due to Latvian burial places appearing in the territory of Estonia. However, after the ratification of the Baltic countries to the Schengen agreement, only striped columns remained from the border, and the transition from one country to another began to occur completely unnoticed.

Get in[edit]

Bus and train schedules are easily available online—read more under Estonia#Get around.

By train[edit]

There are 3 trains per day from/to Tallinn (3½–4 hr, from Tartu 1 hr 15 min). In addition, there are 3 trains from/to Riga (Latvia) via Sigulda, Cēsis, Valmiera, and Strenči directly into Valga (the Latvian part doesn't have a railway station). 3 hr 15 min, €5–6. Current Estonian railway schedules and tickets are available at ELRON's website, Latvian schedules and tickets at the Pasažieru Vilciens website.

  • 1 Railway station and bus station (Valga raudteejaam) (about 1 km southeast of the centre). Daily 06–20:00; Ticket desk: M–F 09:00–18:00, off 13:00–14:00. Built in 1949, the building has a ripped rectangular tower, which is of architectural interest and the most distinct in Estonia. The inside is reconstructed and accessible with shops, toilets, and a ticket desk. Valga railway station (Q3741770) on Wikidata

By bus[edit]

  • There several buses a day from Tallinn (4 hr).
  • Almost hourly (6–8 per day) from Tartu (1½–2 hr) and Viljandi (1½ hr).
  • In addition, there direct buses from Narva, Pärnu, and Kuressaare. However, it might be easier and faster to transfer half-way, going there—see Peatus.ee for connecting journeys.
  • Buses from Latvia go via the Valka bus station, except for the Riga-Saint Petersburg route, which used the Valga station.

By car[edit]

  • From Tartu (85 km) highway #3, from Viljandi (80 km) and Pärnu (141 km) highway #6 lead into Valga. From Tallinn it is 235 km (via Viljandi).
  • Take the Latvian A3 from Riga (160 km).

By foot[edit]

From Valka you can walk across the border.

Get around[edit]

Map
Map of Valga

On foot[edit]

Most of Valga's attractions are within walking distance. The border is one block west of the town hall.

Kesk (lit. "middle" or "central") is the main street. It has a boulevard in the middle and in the west it becomes Riia (i.e. Riga street), which goes across the border. In the east it becomes the streets of Vabaduse and Kuperjanovi. The city is limited by the railway in the south and a set of ponds in the north. Beyond these the town is residential and industrial, meaning it's of little interest unless you're visiting a home or company.

By bus[edit]

The town is served by 2 bus routes, connecting the centre of Valga with its outskirts—frequency 1½ hr, price €0.60 at a kiosk, €1 from the bus driver.

No buses go into Valka.

By bicycle[edit]

New bicycle tracks were built in 2009.

See[edit]

St.John's church, built in 1787–1816.
Catholic Chapel

Religious buildings[edit]

  • 1 St. John's Church (Valga Jaani kirik), Kesk väljak (in front of the tourist information centre). An oval-shaped church dating from 1816. It took 30 years to build from 1787. The building exhibits the features of classicism as well as baroque. Also, the oval shape of the church is unusual, as is the location of the bell tower, which is not at the end, but on the side of the building. From the distance, the church might easily be mistaken for a concert hall or a theatre. On the northern wall of the church, there is a memorial plate in memory of the Finnish who volunteered in the battle for the Paju Manor. Guides proudly point out that there is no comparable church in Estonia, which is true. St. John's Church (Q12378091) on Wikidata
  • 2 Catholic Chapel (Katoliku kabel), Riia 16. This small building next to the parking of the supermarket Rimi was a Catholic chapel and is the oldest building in Valga. Although, there has not been any dome or cross on it for a long time. Also, the shutters on the windows are very much like a village shop. The building is especially remembered for its four-slope roof.
  • 3 Orthodox Church (Õigeusu kirik / Issidori Peakirik), Pargi 2. Equally beautiful as St. John's Church, featuring towers of a similar shape as the Saint Basil's Cathedral at the Red Square in Moscow. It was built between 1897-98. From an architectural point of view, it is decidedly uninteresting, although the interior is pretty and quite spacious. The church has two altars consecrated in honour of the Mother of God and Isidore of Yuryevsky, a priest from St. George's (Tartu), who was killed for refusing to convert to Catholicism.
  • 4 The Church of the Holy Spirit (Pühavaimu kirik), Maleva 8. A beautiful neo-Gothic church from 1907, built of large stones with layers of brick. This technique was common to the entire Baltic region, but generally not for churches. It was built by the local Catholics, including Poles and Lithuanians that worked on the railway. Rumour has it that the church does not have a bell tower due to a ban of the tsarist government back then.

Museums[edit]

  • 5 Valga museum, Vabaduse 8, +372 7668863. W-F 11:00–18:00, Sa Su 10:00–15:00. An ordinary local history museum, starting with archaeology and ending with the proclamation of independence. The exhibition of Valga's life at the beginning of the 20th century is interesting—Valga is proud of the fact that here was the first mayor of a city which was Estonian, and not German. In addition, there is an exhibition devoted to the railway. Adult €4, Pensioner, school student €2, Family ticket €8. Valga Museum (Q12378090) on Wikidata
  • 6 Military Theme Park (Museum of Patriotic Education / Valga Militaarteemapark-Muuseum / Valga Isamaalise Kasvatuse Püsiekspositsioon SA), Pikk 16, +372 7671127, . Tu-Su 09:00-17:00. They offer a museum, live-action, but also a guest house and regular restaurant. Check out the website (not in English), in case you are up for such things.
    The military museum has two foundations—military and patriotism. The military is represented by a collection of weapons and uniforms, and the patriotism by the work of Estonian fire-fighters and the police on the example of the "Bronze Night" events in Tallinn. Somewhere between these two extremes is an extensive exhibition dedicated to the Estonian army of the times of the first republic and especially to the war for independence. There is a lot of information on outfits, insignia, biographies of heroes—immortalized in the names of Estonian streets—and numerous photographs. The texts are only in Estonian, so history lovers will have to pre-book an excursion in Russian, English or German (€9.60). However, it is even interesting without an excursion, at least from ethnographic considerations, since the museum is created on pure enthusiasm, which is the curious thing about it already. Also there are monuments of modern history: a wooden cannon, created by Estonian volunteers in 1989 due to lack of a normal weapons (looks like a 17th-century object); a hut, which was used by Estonian border guards in the early years of independence; a T-34 tank installed in Soviet times in the bloom of Valga and exploded in 1990 by Estonian nationalists. The hut and the tank are part of the outdoor exposition, which can be partially seen from behind the fence, without going to the museum. Finally, have a look in the museum/souvenir store, where helmets, jars and other war items are sold.
    Museum €5, Accommodation €10, etc..

Other architecture[edit]

  • 7 Old Town Hall (Raekoda), Kesk 11. Built in 1865, the Town Hall is the oldest wooden building in Valga. It is interesting, but not very beautiful. It is an example of early Estonian architecture—from a period when no one thought of national style.
Valga Library, park and pond
  • 8 Library and pond (Keskraamatukogu), Aia 12. The building of the library was constructed in 1902 as a manor house. Therefore it also includes a park and a small pond. The style of the building is difficult to determine: it is quite an original.

Monuments and memorials[edit]

  • 9 German cemetery and memorial (at the end of Roheline street). From 1941 to 1944 there was a German concentration camp (Stalag 351) on the northern outskirts, which, after the liberation of Estonia, became a camp for German war prisoners. In the late 1940s the Soviet NKVD began using it for punishment purposes. A sad place, located, as it often happens in the Baltic states, in the middle of the purest pine forest. There is a laconic Soviet memorial with the figure of a weeping woman and the inscription "People, be vigilant!" (in Estonian and Russian). And 100 m further, a beautiful German cemetery.
  • 10 Train Monument. A green locomotive with a tender. On the latter there's a painted text stating the Valga-Tartu railway celebrated its 110 year anniversary in 1997.

Minor attractions[edit]

  • The urban development of Valga is mostly mediocre. Unusual are the ceremonial stone buildings, built on the central streets in the early 20th century, during the bloom of the city. Take notice of the 11 neoclassical building of the new town hall (Kesk 12) from 1912—also the present board of the county of Valgamaa—the 12 building of the museum of local lore (Vabaduse 6-8) from 1911 with the sparse signs of Art Nouveau, and the much more charming 13 building of gymnasium (Vabaduse 13)—also in Art Nouveau style. The probably most interesting construction of the Valga is hidden in Kuperjanovi street, an 14 abandoned mansion (Kuperjanovi 12) and reference example of Riga modern style, accidentally found in this remote Estonian province. With the exception of a few houses around the old town hall, the wooden architecture of Valga is uninteresting, and actually the five-story concrete building blocks are more numerous than wooden houses here. In the eastern part of the city you can find a rather interesting building, the 15 Pentecostal Church (Kungla 34) in Art Deco style and, close-by, several pre-revolutionary factory buildings (Maleva 5).

Go hunting for remaining infrastructure of the Latvian border. After both countries joined the Schengen Area in 2007, border controls were abolished and nowadays there are generally just signs stating you've entered Estonia or Latvia. Some buildings that one can clearly see that has been used for border controls still exist, for example at Sõpruse street.

Nearby[edit]

War memorial just north of Paju manor
  • 16 Paju Manor (Paju Mõis) (7 km north of Valga, take a bus towards Tartu or Otepää). The unattractive Paju (Estonian for willow) manor entered Estonian history as the site of one of the most important battles of the War of Independence. On January 30-31, 1919, Estonian troops led by Lieutenant Kuperyanov, who later gave his name to more than a dozen Estonian streets, broke up parts of the Red Army fortified in the manor house and on the surrounding heights. After this, the Red Army had to retreat.
    There is no point in going to the manor. It's enough to slow down on the way to Tartu, where a 17 simple memorial is located—a small granite obelisk on top of a three-tier artificial hill. Here it becomes immediately clear why the unknown manor had such an important strategic importance: the hill is well visible to the valleys near the borders of Valga. Beyond, there is the only railway that connects Estonia with Latvia.
    Paju manor (Q18623235) on Wikidata
Hummuli Manor
  • 18 Hummuli Manor (Hummuli mõis) (7 km north of Valga, take a bus towards Tõrva or Tallinn). The two-storey manor house was built around 1860 in the neo-Gothic style, which is not typical for Estonia. Now there is a school in the house, and behind it a beautiful park. Here, you will also find a memorial stone in memory of the battle between Russian and Swedish troops during the Northern War in 1702. Hummuli manor (Q21819972) on Wikidata
Sangaste Castle
  • 19 Sangaste Castle (Sangaste loss). 10:00-18:00. Built in the 19th century as a project by Otto Pius Hippus, who also constructed the Alexander Church in Narva, for his financier and originator Friedrich Goerg Magnus Berg. Erected at the site of a former manor house of FGM's uncle, who adopted FGM from his brother and placed him as a heir for the manor. FGM was inspired when seeing Windsor and Baltimore Castle in England, even though his uncle and then father did not allow to spend new money on the manor. However, after the elder's death, he decided to go forward with the project. The construction consumed 7 years and 1.45 million bricks, which were produced on site. The necessary granite was brought from Finland. The rooms of the castle were intended to be spacious and every window supposed to differ, as from his experience with the castles in England. Also, the entrance hall features interesting acoustics; speaking or even whispering in one corner, you can hear it in the other corner. FGM went on being a botanist, from his studies at the Sorbonne, and in England and Scotland, producing and breeding plants and animals, including the famous Sangaste rye. The rye was valued high, also in the Russian empire. He had known and been friends with members of the Russian Tsar family, Otto von Bismark and Napoleon III. Born in 1845, he died in 1938, after which the castle was abandoned. It has been restored. €5 (incl. the tower). Sangaste Rural Municipality (Q570013) on Wikidata Sangaste Parish on Wikipedia

Do[edit]

  • 1 Pedele river recreation zone. In summer you can even have a nice swim in the Pedele river.
  • 2 Beercan Boards, Vabaduse 32, +372 5520649. M-Sa 10:00-17:00. Rent a long board and explore the town, both sides of it. €5 per day.

Buy[edit]

You know you're in the Baltics when there are both a Rimi and a Maxima in town
  • 1 Kaubakeskus, Vabaduse 2/4. M-F 09:00-18:00, Sa 09:00-16:00, Su 09:00-15:00. Department store, mainly selling clothes.
  • 2 Kukemarket, Kuperjanovi 62. daily 09:00-21:00. Small supermarket on the way to the memorial.
  • 3 Maxima, Jaama pst. 2b. daily 08:00-22:00. A big supermarket.
  • 4 Rimi, Riia 18. daily 08:00-22:00. Small shopping center at the border made up of a Rimi supermarket and some smaller stores. The Hesburger burger joint is the only eatery in town open on weekend mornings.
  • 5 Selver, Raja 5. daily 9-22. Another supermarket at the border.

Eat[edit]

Budget[edit]

  • 1 Korean bar Horan, Kesk 16 (right next to St. John's Church), +372 7641655. Su-Th 12:00–21:00, F Sa 12:00–22:00. In case you are looking for something different. But they also feature Latvian dishes. €3–5.
  • 2 Hesburger, Riia 18, . Daily 09:00–22:00. Finnish hamburger chain.
  • 3 Riia kohvik, Riia 14, +372 7663874, . M–Sa 09:00–18:00. A simple but nice cafeteria on Latvian border. They have more than a dozen types of pizza, as many pancakes, and slightly less hot dishes. Also, a large selection of cakes is available. Pizza €3-5, pancakes €2, hot dishes €3.

Mid-range[edit]

  • 4 Restoran Lilli, J. Kuperjanovi 6, +372 7663509, . Su–Th 12:00–19:00, F Sa 12:00–21:00. By all accounts it is a restaurant, the only one in the city. However, the opening hours are more like a café or even a cafeteria. Pasta €4.50, hot dishes €6-9 (2013).
  • 5 Conspirator Baar, Vabaduse 29, +372 7679715. Su–Th 12:00–22:00, F Sa 12:00–00:00. More like a restaurant, not a bar. No special alcoholic drinks or cocktails can be expected here, but the list of hot dishes occupies two pages in small print. Cozy and inexpensive. Hot dishes: €5-7.
  • 6 Voorimehi Pubi, Kuperjanovi 57, +372 7679627. Su-Tu 12:00–00:00, W 12:00–02:00, Th 12:00–00:00, F Sa 12:00–03:00. The choice of hot dishes leaves much to be desired, but late in the evening this pub becomes one of the few places where you can eat. Discotheque on the weekends. FB. Main courses: €6-8 (2014).

Splurge[edit]

  • Metsis, Kuperjanovi 63 (see hotel below), +372 7666050, +372 56230110. M-F 11:00–23:00, Sa 12:00–23:00. The restaurant at the hotel of the same name, decorated for a hunting castle, hides and reindeer horns are hung on the walls. The food is cooked in French style, so here is the only opportunity in Valga to eat elegantly. Main courses €9–13 (2014).

Drink[edit]

  • 1 Yes!, Tolli 1, +372 5235515. F Sa 22–04:00. The nightclub adjoins the Tolli Hostel.

Sleep[edit]

Hotel Metsis

Budget[edit]

  • The Military Theme Park offers cheap accommodation in case you come with a group of friends and are up for a different experience.
  • At Aare Majutus (see Mid-range below) you can pitch a tent in the yard for €8, this includes access to toilets and showers.
  • 1 Helge Guest House, +372 55599994. A friendly place with 4 beautifully furnished guest rooms. Also features a sauna for colder days—ask ahead if it's available. From €16 single.
  • 2 Maria Hostel, Mesipuu 1, +372 5042392, . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Hostel with rooms for 1-4 people. Shared bathroom and toilet. Nevertheless, the hostel is rarely filled, so not that bad. There is a kitchen. They also prepare breakfast for €3. The front door is usually closed, so call ahead. Dorm €15, single €20, double €25, triple €45, quad €60.
  • 3 Tolli Hostel, Tolli 1 (northern edge of town), +372 76 4-08-53. Rooms for 2-4 people, they are reportedly decent though not always clean. The hostel has a free gym. Tolli is also the center for Valga's nightlife as the only nightclub in town, Yes!, is in the same building. €20/person (2014).
  • 4 Kalda talu, Iigaste, +372 7670512, . A nature accommodation for scouts, but also regular customers. Tent site, dorm, doubles. Decent online rating and not overly expensive. Dorm from €16.

Mid-range[edit]

  • 5 Säde Hotel, Jaama pst 1, +372 7641650. Double €40.
  • 6 Aare Majutus, Kungla 46, +372 76 6-11-61. Guesthouse at the western edge of town. Not too many amenities, but it has a nice atmosphere, free Wi-Fi and breakfast is included in the room rate. double room: €44, tenting: €8 (2014).

Splurge[edit]

Connect[edit]

  • 1 Post office, Kesk 10. M-F 09:00-18:00, Sa 10:00-13:00.

Cafés and lodgings often have Wi-Fi. Furthermore the library and the tourist information in the town hall building have computers with Internet access. All Estonian mobile operators - Telia, Elisa and Tele2 have 4G coverage in town.

Go next[edit]

View into Valga from the Latvian side

Estonia[edit]

  • Karula National Park – The hilly landscapes of Southern Estonia. Estonian’s smallest national park on the way to/from Võru.
  • Võru – A picturesque town not far from the highest hill in the Baltic states, Suur Munamägi. The birthplace of the writer Kreutzwald and the dialect of the Estonian language.
  • Sangaste and the nearby Sangaste Castle, just 30 km north.
  • Otepää – A small town set in the hills of south Estonia and best known winter sports centre in the Baltics, and the Winter Capital of Estonia. Surrounded by lakes, hills and ski jump towers.
  • Tartu – 85 km northeast from Valga. Museum-rich and hanseatic city on the banks of the Emajõgi River. Also, Estonia's second-largest and oldest city, intellectual hub famous for its universities, and a lively student city.
  • Viljandi – A beautiful, ancient and hilly city, known for its annual Viljandi Folk Music Festival, beautiful old town and overwhelming and picturesque park around the old castle.
  • Tõrva – The second largest city of Valga County after Valga. Popular for its caves, the ruins of a medieval castle, several interesting manors, and the fully authentic mausoleum of Barclay de Tolly.

Latvia[edit]

  • Valka, obviously.
  • The twin town is the gateway to Latvia with its beautiful capital Riga, the Baltic sea resorts Jūrmala and Ventspils, as well as the Vidzeme region next to Valga with the picturesque Sigulda (Latvian Switzerland) and Cēsis, and Valmiera with the only professional theatre in this region of Latvia, castle ruins, a medieval church, a famous brewery and the start of the Gauja National Park. Valmiera and Cēsis even allow for day trips from Valga.


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