When visiting the capital of Latvia, Riga, take your time to see what Latvia has to offer outside the city. One of the most popular sightseeing places near Riga is Rundale Palace, located in Zemgale region about 80 kilometres from Riga. Zemgale is the smallest region, and it lies in the center of Latvia. It is well-known for its historical monuments, palaces, manors, and castles. Its nickname is ‘breadbasket’ because in the past most grains were grown here: the soil is fertile and the land is flat. This region has two important cities, Jelgava and Bauska, and some worth-seeing palaces, starting from Jelgava palace which is a university now. Then there is Rundale Palace, an outstanding example of Baroque and Rococo architecture. It was designed in the 18th century by world-famous architect Rastrelli, who was also the architect of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage. Mežotne Palace in classicism style also houses a hotel and Livonian Order Castle in Bauska.
I suggest you do a day trip to see two palaces, a castle and more around Bauska town. Here you go:
A good time to start is 9 a.m. After a one hour drive you arrive at Mežotne Palace.
On the right bank of the River Lielupe, 10 kilometres from the town of Bauska lies one of the most outstanding classicism buildings in Latvia - Mežotne Palace. It was presented by Russian Empress Catherine II to the governess of her grandchildren, Princess Charlotte von Lieven. The palace was built at the end of 18th century. Its interior was designed in Neoclassicism style. During the agrarian reform of 1920, count Anatole Lieven lost the Mežotne estate. From 1921 to 1944, the building accommodated an agricultural school. During World War II, the buildings of the palace were partly destroyed. The restoration works that were initiated in 1958 saved the palace from full devastation. The renovation of the palace was completed in 2001.
The landscape around the palace is harmonious and carefully planned. Its expressive auxiliary buildings, the beautiful park, the Lielupe River, and the picturesque landscape over the river make a unified ensemble. The park has three parts – a parade yard, a summer park and a winter park. In summer you can take a romantic walk there.
Mežotne Palace is home to a hotel, a restaurant, and a pub, and it offers premises for conferences, banquets and weddings.
Guests of Mežotne can use a footbridge to walk and bike over the Lielupe, which connects Mežotne and Rundale Palace located 3 kilometres away.
Our trip continues back to Bauska. When entering the town make a stop at...
Bauska Motor Museum
It is a branch of the well known Riga Motor Museum. Previously these premises were used as Riga Motor Museum’s fund storage. Now the Bauska branch has been transformed into a new high-quality tourism attraction.
The museum displays a great variety of antique vehicles – classic passenger cars from the 1930s and post-war period, farm machinery from the 1920s till 1930s, a real threshing machine and tractors.
The collection of military machinery includes military vehicles from World War II and vehicles used by the Latvian armed forces after Latvia regained its independence in the early 1990s.
For those not interested in a car’s every detail, the exhibition includes a restored artisan workshop and the interior of an early 20th century farmer’s house.
Address: Sarkanmuiža 6, Codes pagasts, Bauskas novads
Then take a 10 minute drive to the next stop.
Bauska Castle represents an example of military architecture built from 15th to 17th century. Its oldest part is the only Livonian Order fortress built especially for the use of firearms, but the newest part is a residential castle fortified with bastions, protective walls and the earthen rampart. A more recent part of the ensemble, built in late 16th century, is the residence of the Kettlers, the Dukes of Courland. It is the only architectural monument in Latvia, illustrating the expressions in art of Mannerism castle architecture and applied and decorative art in the Duchy of Courland. Restoration works began in the 70s. The Dukes’ residence was completely restored in the 90s and acquired its current appearance in 2008.
The castle is surrounded by picturesque scenery. It is located on the land strip between the rivers Mūsa and Mēmele, not far from the place where they meet to form the river Lielupe. In the 70s of the 20th century, the restoration of the castle’s newest part began.
Look at the ruins of the Order Castle, climb the central tower, view the panorama of Bauska, and see the outline of the previous fortification system consisting of bastions and ramparts.See the castle’s interior, and the historical exhibits: “Clothes and Jewellery in the Duchy of Courland, 1562—1620” and “Bauska Castle: A Military Fortress”.
Inspect the medieval fortress’ defence systems and see the collection of the castle’s cannons in the ruins of Livonian Order Castle.
After the castle visit, if you have the time, take a pedestrian path through Pilskalns Park, across a meadow and over a canal bridge to Ķirbaksala, the beginning of the River Lielupe.
As lunch time is approaching, you can have lunch in medieval style Castle Tavern offering Latvian and European cuisine.
Continue your trip for 12 kilometres to Rundāle Palace.
Rundāle Palace was built in early 18th century, according to the design of architect Rastrelli as a summer residence of the Duke of Courland Ernest Johann Biron.
A major part of the interior was made in the middle of the 18th century. Representation rooms in the eastern wing of the palace – the Gilt Hall, the White Hall, and the Great Gallery – are open to the public. The central part accommodates the Duke's suite with reception parlours and private rooms, and the eastern part hosts a fully restored suite of Duchess's rooms.
Rundāle Palace houses a museum which works as a centre for research into Latvia's history, through creating collections, arranging exhibitions and producing publications. The exhibition halls display applied art, fine art and historical expositions; the palace hosts the Early Music Festival and recitals of classical music.
The regular French style park with its rose garden, the Green Theatre, ornamental parterres and the fountain are open to the public. In summer the park becomes a venue for the Garden Festival. The park spreads out to the south of the palace, and Bartolomeo Rastrelli designed it together with the palace building.
Although Rundāle's formal garden size is just 10 hectares, Rastrelli has managed to fill it with an intricate maze of alleys, cross paths, pergolas and bosquets. The rose garden reflects the history of cultivating roses in Europe from the early 18th century to these days. A "green amphitheatre" has been set up in one of the bosquets, following Rastrelli's original design and the still remaining relief shapes. The venue was launched in summer of 2004 with the performance of Georg Friedrich Handel’s opera, Rinaldo.
Take your time to explore the magnificent palace and the beautiful park and maybe decide to come back to Garden Festival or early music festival in July.
Then continue your travel to the last stop, Mazmežotne the manor house.
Located on the hill of the Lielupe river bank valley, it is an excellent nature surrounded place for guests to relax, offering overnight stays, meals, rooms for celebrations, events and seminars. For recreational enthusiasts and nature lovers, there is cycling, boating and walking through the nature trail and the surrounding walkways. The renovated manor house looks quite different from most such kind buildings in Latvia. It’s very much reminiscent of the architecture of buildings in Switzerland.
The restaurant is named among 6 best restaurants located in manor houses and palaces in Latvia, so it’s an opportunity for you to stay for dinner or even stay overnight in the 4 star hotel there.
You’d just better make your reservation in advance. The restaurant's rooms are decorated with oak furnishings and luxurious fabrics, creating an ancient and cosy atmosphere. Besides, the restaurant is also a bar area and an outdoor terrace, which offers charming views of the beautiful natural landscape to the river Lielupe.
Restaurant opening hours:
Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday; noon to 6 p.m.
Friday, Saturday: noon to 9 p.m. Days off: Monday, Tuesday
So your trip is coming to an end and a bit after 6 p.m. you are ready to go back to Riga.
Practical tips for travellers
You can easily reach Bauska town by public bus but other parts of the trip done by public transport are too time consuming to be reasonably practical.
So you are left with three options of how to do this tour:
1) Join an organised tour covering most of this itinerary
2) Come to Bauska by public bus, rent a bicycle and do the rest of the tour by bicycle. The biking tour route is marked.
Address of the bike rental: Kalna iela 12, Bauska. Office hours Monday to Friday 9 am - 1 pm and 1.30 pm - 6 pm. Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
3) Rent a car in Riga for the entire trip.
The best days of the week for a visit: Wednesday to Friday for a dinner opportunity in Mamežotne restaurant and less of a crowd in Rundale Palace. Check the opening hours for the other days of the week and adjust your itinerary accordingly.
I hope you have a wonderful time in Latvia!
- Published by Anita on June 10, 2017
Author: Anita Sāne
About the author
Anita is a part-time traveler, passionate photographer and a mature career woman from Latvia, traveling mostly solo for more than 10 years. She is a skilled travel planner planning and executing her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her also on Instagram and Pinterest.