Liepāja

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.

Understand

View from Holy Trinity Cathedral

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.

Get in

By car

There are two main roads to Liepaja. From Riga, the A9 runs westward for 220km. From Klaipėda in Lithuania, the A11 runs north for 100km. From Ventspils, on the coast further north, take the P111.

By bus

Liepaja is connected by bus service with Riga (many times every day, €9, 3.5 hours), Ventspils, Kuldiga and other towns and villages in Liepaja region, as well as Klaipeda (2 hours) and Palanga in Lithuania. To get from the bus station to the center, take the tram at a tram stop which is on your right side when you exit the bus station building. Do not cross the tram tracks, which is the wrong direction! The Liepaja region bus terminal is in the southern part of the center, at Sienatirgus. All buses also go to the main bus station.

By train

The Liepaja railway station is located in the same building as the bus terminal. A nice and relatively quick train runs every day to and from Riga (€8.80). It leaves Liepaja 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, you can watch a movie or buy coffee from a machine. Despite the fact that the train actually takes a longer route – about 240km compared to 220km 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.

By boat

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. If you have a yacht, you are welcome to Liepaja yacht harbor, located in the center, in Tirdzniecibas channel.

By hitch-hiking

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, go to the north tram terminus, cross the railway crossing, and you are in the best spot to hitchhike to Riga or Ventspils, or go to the south terminus, walk some 400 meters until the city ends completely, and you are in a good spot to hitchhike to Klaipeda!

By plane

There are currently no scheduled air services to Liepaja Airport. Palanga airport in Lithuania is 65 km to the south and has scheduled services year round. Riga International airport, which is the largest airport in the Baltic states with many direct flights to Europe and Asia, including cheap Ryanair, AirBaltic and Easyjet routes, is 220km east of Liepaja.

Get around

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.

By tram

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.

By bus

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.

By minibus

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.

By taxi

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.

Talk

Some Latvian phrases will be admired by locals, such as paldies (Thank you) or "labdien" (Hello). 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 Liepāja, which is by far the most widespread minority language since the Soviet time, when lots of Russians immigrated into Latvia`s main cities, including Liepāja, to work in industries. In summer there are many German tourists and German can be heard in most touristic areas. Latvians, especially younger generations, more or less speak English.

See

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.

Playground in Seaside Park

Churches

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity

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.

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 Lake

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.

Karosta

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 the Russian Empire, and later also for the Soviets. Latvia became independent, and some years after that, in 1994, the Russian troops had to leave Karosta. The population dropped dramatically from 25,000 to 6,000, leaving many empty houses behind. Then Karosta experienced something like a war without guns. Many houses were turned into ruins. Everything was taken away. Brick by brick, many historic, beautiful buildings disappeared forever. Now, Karosta has a population of 7,000 and a dream of renaissance, which has already started. It is now a popular tourist destination and also home for an international artist’s center called K2. Many places in Karosta still look like war rubble. Some places are reminiscent of the abandoned towns of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster area.

Ziemeļu forti (Northern Fortress) on the shores of Karosta

Do

Work

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.

Buy

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.

Eat

For more information on typical Latvian food, see Latvia#Eat

Budget

For a western traveler, Liepaja`s food prices might seem quite cheap, even for top-class restaurants. This is because the local average salary is about €400 per month.

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Nightlife places, all in the centre, include:

Sleep

In Liepaja you have all you need - choose a cheap and cosy hostel or a five star hotel - Liepaja has it all. Some examples:

Stay safe

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.

Cope

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.

Go next

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 visiting 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 boar. 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.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, June 29, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.