Discovering Latvia: A Day Trip to Daugavpils!
Daugavpils is the second largest city in Latvia, located close to Latvia’s border with Russia, Lithuania, and Belarus. If you ever need a change of scenery or want to learn more about a different part of Latvia, a day trip to Daugavpils would be a great idea! Daugavpils is located in Latgale, a unique region in southeast Latvia. Latgale even has its own dialect of Latvian and many native Russian speakers due to its proximity to Russia and Belarus. A day trip to Daugavpils is ideal for any Russian learner to practice speaking Russian, or be prepared pull out a translation app if needed!
Getting to Daugavpils
Trains run every day from Riga to Daugavpils, with the journey taking about 3.5 hours one way. During the weekends, the first train from Riga to Daugavpils departs at 07.30 and arrives in Daugavpils at 11.00. The last train back from Daugavpils to Riga leaves at 17.30 and arrives in Riga at 21.00. This would give you more than six hours in Daugavpils, which is definitely enough time to see most of the town. Tickets cost either about 6.50 euros if bought online and 8 euros if bought at the station or on the train, which makes this a pretty affordable day trip!
This is the main tourist attraction in Daugavpils. Built back when Latvia was part of the Russian Empire, the fortress complex is famous for being one of the few well-preserved original bastion fortresses in the region. It is a 30-minute walk or a 10-minute bus ride away from the city center. Pick up a free guidebook at the tourist information center housed in the Water-Lifting Tower building and be ready to learn more about the history of the fortress complex, where the Russian Empire defended its borders against Napoleon’s troops. Some of the buildings are still in use (there is also a hotel in the complex if you are staying for more than a day), but most buildings have sadly fallen into disrepair. The fortress complex houses multiple museums, including the Engineers’ Arsenal, the First World War Museum, and a Medical Museum. The Mark Rothko Center is a must-visit for art enthusiasts, as the museum pays tribute to the famous Abstract Expressionist born in Daugavpils. The fortress complex is said to be a ‘town within a town,’ and is definitely worth a visit. I spent about 2 hours in the fortress looking around and visiting the Engineers’ Arsenal museum.
Daugavpils has a history of housing residents of multiple faiths and backgrounds, and Church Hill stands as a proud testament to that. An Orthodox, Lutheran, Catholic, and Old Believers church each stand in close proximity to each other on Church Hill. It is located on the other side of town, but the churches’ distinctive architecture and facades warrant a visit when you are in Daugavpils.
The main street in Daugavpils’ city center is Riga Street, which is the first thing anyone would see stepping out of the train station. There are many shops and restaurants on the street, alongside many attractions. The Unity House sits on this street and houses many important places, such as the Daugavpils Theater, the oldest theater in Latgale, the local tourist information office (which was very helpful!), and the Traditional House, where one can learn more about the local way of life.
You may also get acquainted with the local alcoholic beverage, šmakovka (pronounced shmakovka), in the Shmakovka museum, also located on Rigas street. It is a very strong liquor that was traditionally produced in Latgalian households, which the locals are very proud of. At the museum, you can learn more about the region of Latgale, the history of the beverage itself, and taste some of this infamous liquor for yourself. Spare about 30 to 45 minutes in the Shmakovka museum!
If you are interested in learning more about the history of Daugavpils and Latgale, the Daugavpils Regional Studies and Art Museum is a mere 5-minute walk from the Shmakovka museum. Most descriptions are in Latvian or Russian (also a good opportunity to practice Russian), but English audioguides are available for 2 euros, which is a great deal! The museum is beautifully arranged, and any visitor will be sure to learn more about the history of Daugavpils and appreciate how its location between major powers has shaped the history of the region.
Daugavpils is also famous for its ammunition factory, which is open for visitors to tour or view its exhibition. I unfortunately did not have enough time to visit, but the Shot Factory definitely sounds like a unique educational experience.
Daugavpils is genuinely a hidden gem of Latvia. It represents the best of a region in Latvia that has a unique history and culture. Make sure to consider a visit there when you are in Latvia, as even a day trip to Daugavpils would suffice to show you a different side of Latvia. And while planning your itinerary, check out their official tourism pages here and here for any events that might be taking place!
Yeap, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Riga
(All photo credits to the author)