Valka is a town in northern Latvia, on the border with Estonia. Valka and the Estonian town Valga are twins, separated by the Estonian/Latvian border but using the slogan "One Town, Two Countries". With 6,000 people, it is one of the smallest cities in Latvia, but Valga has another 13,000 residents.
Valka and the Estonian town of Valga are actually one town, with the border running through it. The border was marked out in 1920 by an international jury headed by British Colonel Tallents. After the expansion of Schengen Agreement to Latvia and Estonia in 2007 all the border crossing-points and fences were removed.
The town lies 160 km from Riga, the capital.
The history is essentially identical to that of Valga.
- 1 Bus Station, Rīgas iela 7 (located next to the Estonian border), ☏ . 04:40–19:30. A tiny pavilion with cash desk, waiting room and toilet. Buses from/to Riga go 5 times a day, duration 3½ hours. 7 times a day from/to Valmiera (duration 1-1½ hr). 5 times a day from/to Smiltene (duration 1 hr). Near the bus station there is a Narvesen kiosk, open from early morning. Here, you can buy water, newspapers and Latvian SIM cards.
There are roads from Valmiera (50 km) and Riga (160 km), and also from Smiltene (44 km). The main highway from Riga crosses the border and goes to Estonia's second largest city Tartu (85 km).
There are buses serving the town but the best way is going by foot or bicycle.
- 1 Valka Local History Museum (Local Lore Museum / Valkas novadpētniecības muzejs), Rīgas iela 64, ☏ . Oct–May 15 M–F 10:00–17:00 Sa 10:00–16:00, May 15–Sep Tu–F 11:00–18:00 Sa–Su 10:00–16:00. In the former building of Vidzeme Teachers Seminary, one of the largest educational institutions in Livonia, founded in 1839 in Valmiera and transferred here in 1849. The building was built immediately after that (1850-53), although one cannot tell by the eye – it is completely unimpressive. The museum resamples an educational room and presents an exhibition about the life of the pre-revolutionary city. Be sure to check out the impressive sculptures of the first director of the seminary, Janis Tzimze and another local, installed in front of the museum. €1.50.
- 2 St. Catherine’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (Luterāņu baznīca), Rīgas iela 17. It was first mentioned in 1477, although it is unlikely that the current building is from that time. The wooden belfry refers to a later period. If the church is open, for a small fee, you will be able to enter the bell tower, offering a good view of the city.
- 3 Culture Park with an open-air stage and the sculpture “The Kokle Player”. The Pedele river runs between the stage and the audience.
- 4 Eastern Orthodox Christian Church (Church of the Iberian Mother of God), Ausekla iela 14. Built between 2003-05 on the site of an ordinary house that local residents converted into a church, when in 1991, the border separated the only Orthodox church in the Estonian Valga from the parishioners living in Latvia. The church is made in the traditions of Russian architecture, quite unusual for Latvia.
- 5 The building of former Valka railway station, Poruka iela 4. Beautiful red brick building, now almost in ruins.
- 6 Former military bunkers of USSR army, Talavas iela 23. The 3 bunkers are full of legends but are in poor condition. There is a design under development to make a photo, video and music club in there.
- 7 The War Cemetery Memorial, Rīgas iela, Gaujas iela (the memorial is near Lugaži (city) Cemetery with an access path starting from Rīgas St.). A monumental piece of landscape architecture dedicated to the Soviet soldiers killed in the Second World War. The granite wall of the memorial has 414 names inscribed. The memorial was built by Latvian sculptors in the mid-1980s and in many respects resembles a complex in Salaspils, near Riga. There is also a monument to the oppressed, not to the victorious warriors. It is kept in good condition, although the "eternal fire" is extinguished.
There is nothing much to do in Valka, however, it's a must to visit the Estonian side once you are here. As the local government is consistently trying to develop their town, the new International Studies Centre of University of Latvia will be located in Valka with the aim to attract foreigners. Still a lot of work must be done to make Valka interesting for tourists.
In the centre of Valka, other places than the following cannot be found. It is said that in the northern part of the city there is a couple of cafeterias, but it's easier and safer to go for food to the Estonian side, where the choice is more interesting.
- 1 Bistro "Jumis", Rigas iela 10 / 12a, ☏ . M–F 07:30–18:00, Sa 08:00–15:00. Noisy and uncomfortable dining-cooking. Food is sold by weight, after which it is heated in a microwave oven. Salads and hot dishes look completely unappetizing, but cakes, in principle, you can try.
- Bistro Rozmarīns, Rigas iela 5, ☏ . Canteen-style, looks pretty appetizing, with desserts.
- 1 Māja Valkā, Semināra iela 20, ☏ . Rooms for 2-3 people with shared bathroom and common area. From €10.
- 2 Dormitory at the Gymnasium, Semināra iela 25a, ☏ . 3-4 people dorms. Amenities outside the room on the floor. From €10.
- 3 Guest house "Otra elpa", Zvaigznu iela 5 / 12, ☏ . The only guest house here, which could be considered a hotel, and not just a hostel. Rooms are en suite, include breakfast and Wi-Fi. Single/double room: €26/35.
- Guest house "Jumis", Rigas iela 10 / 12a, ☏ , . Guest house at the restaurant of the same name. They have en suite rooms for 2-3 people including breakfast and Wi-Fi. €25 pp.
- The area code for the town is 47.
- 1 Public library, 22 Rigas Street. Has public internet access.
- Seda - Founded in 1953 in an uninhabited area, it still embodies the pomp of Communist and Stalinist architecture. Nearby a vast peat bog man-made nature area can be found, and is not to be missed. These occurrences are historically tied to each other.
- Smiltene – Features a manor, some castle ruins, and a watch tower over the surrounding area. Not very interesting, but quite cosy and slightly larger than Valka, and not far from the Pskov highway.
- Valmiera – Features the only professional theatre in the region, castle ruins, a medieval church, a famous brewery, and is the start of the Gauja National Park.
- Valga – A stone's throw away and the gateway to South Estonia. The latter inhibits the beautiful Sangaste Castle, the winter sports and nature centre Otepää, the Seto ethnicity in its far southeast, the intellectual hub and university town of Tartu, the picturesque and folk-focused Viljandi, as well as the centre of Estonian wine production, Põltsamaa. Hiking, skiing, fishing, clubbing, folk music, and beaches – South Estonia leaves nothing left to be desired.