Latvia Stories and Tips


Jelgava Photo, Latvia, Europe

Although it's less than an hour from Riga by spruced-up electric train (padded seats, flowers daubed on the windows and EU stars above the doors), there aren't many reasons to spend time in Jelgava. Smashed about in both world wars, scrapped over by Baltic Germans and bombed by the Soviets, it's now little more than a commuter town for Riga, the kind of place that guidebooks dismiss in half a paragraph or less.

Arriving by train, it's a ten-minute walk to the little town centre and the bus station (straight ahead out of the station and take a left at the Orthodox Cathedral). There isn't much to see: the red-brick Church of the Holy Trinity, a statue of inter-war Latvia's first president and a mildly diverting Museum of History and Art occupying the spaces between supermarkets and an indoor shopping mall with half a floor of shoe shops.

Across the road from the bus station, and directly opposite the shopping mall on Driskas iela, Silvu is a point-and-order restaurant with basic food and cheap beer on tap. The tourist information office is right around the corner, diagonally across from the bus station, though for some reason it's closed at weekends.

Jelgava's biggest attraction is the 300-room baroque palace built on the banks of the River Lielupe by Rastrelli, architect of St Petersburg's Winter Palace and the Mariynsky Palace in Kiev, ceremonial home to the Ukrainian president. It looks pretty forlorn nowadays, stuck by the side of a main road and used as lecture halls for students at Latvia's Agricultural University. If the main gate's open, there's a small museum and a crypt inside the courtyard, which could be enough to justify a couple of hours if you desperately need a change of scenery from Riga. Otherwise, these days Jelgava's best left to the commuters.

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