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 centre 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 classicist 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.
Situated approximately 10 kilometres from the town of Bauska, on the right bank of the River Lielupe, is the Mezotne Palace - a classicism building of remarkable distinction in Latvia. Commissioned by Russian Empress Catherine II and presented to Princess Charlotte von Lieven, governess to the Empress' grandchildren, the palace was constructed at the end of the 18th century, its interior designed in the Neoclassicism style. During the agrarian reform of 1920, Count Anatole Lieven lost the Mezotne estate and the building then housed an agricultural school until 1944, when it was partially destroyed during World War II. Restoration works commenced in 1958 and were completed in 2001, preventing the palace from complete decimation.
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.
Mezotne Palace can currently be seen only from the outside. In the summertime, guests of Mezotne can use a footbridge to walk and bike over the Lielupe, which connects Mezotne 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: Derpeles iela 2, Bauska
Then take a 10-minute drive to the next stop.
Bauska Castle is an example of military architecture dating from the 15th to 17th century, with its oldest part being an artillery fortress of the Livonian Order. Further additions included a residential castle with bastions, protective walls and an earthen rampart, as well as the Kettlers’ residence, the Dukes of Courland, built in the late 16th century. It is the only architectural monument in Latvia that showcases Mannerism castle architecture and decorative artworks of the Duchy of Courland. Restoration works of the castle began in the 1970s and the Duke’s residence was restored in the 1990s. Restoration of the Castle is continuing also these days.
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 lunchtime 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.
Rundale Palace was built in the 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.
Rundale 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.
Rundale's formal garden is a mere 10 hectares in size, however, Rastrelli managed to create a complex maze of pathways, pergolas, and bosquets. The rose garden reflects the evolution of roses in Europe since the 18th century. A "green amphitheatre" was built in one of the bosquets, modelled after Rastrelli's original design and using the existing relief shapes. In the summer of 2004, the opera Rinaldo by Georg Friedrich Handel was performed in the garden. If you have the time, be sure to explore the palace and park, and consider attending the Garden Festival or early music festival in July.
Then continue your travel to the last stop, Mazmezotne the manor house.
Situated at the top of the Lielupe River Valley, this nature-rich destination is ideal for guests looking to unwind and enjoy amenities like overnight accommodation, meals, and event or seminar spaces. For those who enjoy outdoor activities, there are cycling, boating and walking opportunities through the nearby nature trail and pathways. The refurbished manor house is distinct from other such structures in Latvia, having more of a Swiss architectural style.
The restaurant is named among the 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 also has a bar area and an outdoor terrace, which offers charming views of the beautiful natural landscape of the river Lielupe.
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 are Monday to Friday 9 am - 6 pm. Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Open in summer.
3) Rent a car in Riga for the entire trip.
The best days of the week for a visit: are weekdays for less of a crowd in Rundale Palace.
I hope you have a wonderful time in Latvia!
- Updated by Anita on November 26, 2023
Author: Anita Sane
About the author
Anita is a part-time traveller, passionate photographer and a retired career woman from Latvia, travelling mostly solo for more than 15 years. She is a skilled travel planner who plans and executes her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Bloglovin.