Liepaja, Latvia’s third-largest city, doesn’t see nearly the amount of foreign tourism that it deserves. Situated along the Baltic coast about 60 kilometres north of the Lithuanian border, Liepaja is a charming city boasting an interesting history, numerous lush parks and open-air markets, and one of the best beaches the Baltic States have to offer.
Because if it’s seaside position and laid-back atmosphere, Liepaja is a popular spot for locals to visit in the summer months, however, its presence for international tourism is definitively lacking. With more and more people flocking to the Latvian capital of Riga each year, very few of them venture far outside of the city to see what more the country has to offer. We think this is a huge mistake, as there are many things to do in Liepaja and Latvia in general!
Getting to and Around Liepaja
As one of Latvia’s largest cities, Liepaja is well-connected with other major metropolitan areas in the vicinity and it is therefore quite easy to reach. There are multiple daily bus connections from Riga, which takes about 3.5 hours, along with many direct routes from Klaipeda in Lithuania, while is only about 1.5 hours away.
There is a train from Riga, however, it only runs once per week and will take longer and be less comfortable than the bus. Generally speaking, the bus is often the better transport option throughout the Baltic countries.
If you are interested in visiting Liepaja as an off-beat city break destination, there is a possibility to fly into Liepaja International Airport as well. This small airport serves a number of European cities along with the Latvian capital of Riga. Palanga airport in Lithuania, which is close to Klaipeda is also an option to fly into. From there you can take a bus to Liepaja. The airport serves a handful of European capitals, including London, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Warsaw.
It is also possible to arrive in Liepaja via ferry from Lübeck, Germany.
While in Liepaja, it is fairly easy to get around the city centre and to the main beach on foot, however, if you wish to travel outside of this area, it is best to rely on public transport or personal vehicle. There is an extensive bus and tram network throughout the city which will take you anywhere you need to go. Tickets can be purchased from the driver and cost €1 per journey. You can also purchase tickets, including day and multi-day passes from various newsstands throughout the city.
If you have hired a car and are exploring Liepaja as a longer Baltic road trip itinerary, driving in the city is easy and straightforward. There is also free street parking in most areas, but make sure to check in advance to avoid a hefty fine.
Things to do in Liepaja
Though its main appeal is the pristine beach, there are a surprising amount of things to do in Liepaja that don’t include basking in the (albeit shortlived) Baltic sunshine. Visiting a city like Liepaja can also give traveller’s insight into typical Latvian life that they just can’t get when visiting Riga. There isn’t much of a tourism infrastructure for international visitors, so it is the perfect place to get off the beaten path in an already under-visited country. This is what we think is the best way to spend two days in Liepaja:
Day One: Explore Central Liepaja
On your first day in Liepaja, take the time to explore the charming city centre. While there is no official old town in Liepaja, the central area is filled with traditional wooden houses, charming cobbled streets, and a smattering of beautiful Art Nouveau architecture.
The first stop on this Liepaja itinerary is Peter’s Market, the largest market in Liepaja and second-largest in Latvia (just behind Riga’s Central Market). Situated in the centre of the city, it is comprised of an open-air area selling fresh fruits, vegetables, and local produce and an indoor pavilion, which offers such items like baked goods, traditional Latvian cheese, fish, and meat.
This is a great place to stop by for a light breakfast and also pick up some items for lunch. Also, unlike many open-air markets in Europe, there is a distinct lack of tourists here. Peter’s Market is a common place for Liepaja locals to do their daily or weekly shops, so it is a great area to get in tune with daily life.
Because of its size, you can easily spend upwards of an hour browsing all of the stalls in the market. Make sure to sample some more traditional Latvian fare while you are shopping, such as pelmeni (dumplings) or kvass — a non-alcoholic drink made from black bread starter.
After browsing through Peter’s Market, it’s time to make your way closer to the coast and enjoy the massive seaside park. Located between the city and the beach, the park is massive and is a great place to stroll through.
There are many benches and walking paths and, in the summer, many cultural and musical events take place here. There is a concert venue, a few cafes, and even a mini-golf centre for kids or the young at heart! It is also easily the most beautiful park in Liepaja and, due to its size, you can feel as if you are lost in nature even though you are in the city centre.
The Seaside Park is also a great place to have a picnic with all of the goodies you picked up at the open air market.
Hit the Beach
Definitely the biggest appeal of a trip to this Latvian city, no visit to Liepaja is complete without spending a good amount of time on one of the best beaches in the Baltic countries. Liepaja’s beach is not only huge, spanning many kilometres, but it also has some of the softest, whitest sand in the world. While pristine beaches might not be the first thing that jumps to your mind when visiting the Baltics, you will find that the quality of the seaside here excels in comparison to some other, more popular, European coastal destinations.
Because of its sheer size and lack of tourist crowds, the beach in Liepaja is rarely packed and you can find your own stretch of sand without much trouble. It is also possible to hire lounge chairs for an affordable price — in the summer of 2018, it was €2 for three hours and €3 for 6 hours.
There are also a few bars along the beach that can offer a nice escape from the summer heat. At these, you can purchase beer, wine, cocktail, and soft drinks and even some light snacks and ice cream. You can either get these things take-away and return to your spot on the sand or drink at the bar itself.
The water is quite shallow and calm, making it a great place for swimming, especially for kids. There are also toilets and changing areas about every 150 metres along the entirety of the beach. All in all, you could easily spend a whole day at Liepaja beach without getting bored.
Day Two: Explore Karosta
After spending your first day in Liepaja exploring the city centre and enjoying the beach, it is time to venture to the northern part of the city: Karosta. Once its own city entirely, Karosta was incorporated into Liepaja after the fall of the USSR. The suburb, which used to be a secret Soviet military town, soon fell to disrepair.
Today, however, the area is seeing a resurgence, thanks to the growing economy and increased tourism in Latvia. While it isn’t the most beautiful or idyllic part of Liepaja, a visit to Karosta can be a great insight into how the city and country functioned while under Soviet occupation.
Karosta, which translates to “war port” in Latvian, was originally constructed as a base for the Russian Navy in the late 19th Century by Tsar Alexander III before becoming a base for the Baltic Soviet Fleet when Latvia was under occupation by the USSR. Filled with an interesting, dark history, and lots of Soviet-style architecture in varying states of disrepair, a visit to Karosta is inarguably one of the best things to do in Liepaja.
The main attraction in Karosta is undeniably the Karosta Prison. This military prison was in operation until 1997, but it is now a tourist site. A hotspot for the “dark tourism” trend, it is actually possible to stay the night at the prison and be treated just as a prisoner would have been not all that long ago.
For those who are not so bold, Karosta Prison is still an incredibly interesting, albeit harrowing, place to visit. They offer tours of the facilities that aren’t nearly as full-on as the “prison experience” while still offering insight into the history and conditions of the prison. There is also a film about the history of Karosta and the opportunity to book a guided bike tour around the entirety of the area.
There is also an escape room, an airsoft game, and a gift shop/cafe at the prison.
Though it doesn’t have the facilities or the fine swimming waters of Liepaja’s main beach, heading to the beach in Karosta is still a great idea when you are visiting this neighbourhood. Along the shore, you can see former Soviet structures that have washed into the water, which is truly bizarre. It is also possible to see the 1.8-kilometre long breakwater, which is one of the longest in the region.
Where to Eat in Liepaja
Liepaja is a thriving city even in the winter months and that, therefore, means there is no shortage of great places to eat. While we did recommend grabbing some things for a picnic at the open air market for lunch, there are some fantastic restaurants to pop into for dinner! Here are our top picks:
One of the top rated restaurants in the city, Restorans Upe is one of the best places to eat in Liepaja. A hip eatery serving up innovative cuisine while using local ingredients, this is a fantastic place to get a good taste of Liepaja. While the quality of food is top notch, the prices remain affordable and the ambience is casual and laid back.
Another hip restaurant located a bit south of Liepaja’s city centre, Olive is a favourite haunt amongst locals and tourists alike. They have a wide menu featuring both traditional Lativan fare and some international options, along with an extensive sushi menu using freshly caught local seafood.
A chic and cosy restaurant in the centre of Liepaja, Cafe Antikvariats is one to the highest-rated eateries in the city. Offering a French-inspired menu but using local produce, the food choices are great and they also have an extensive wine and drinks list.
Where to Stay in Liepaja
While Liepaja is still coming into its own on the international tourism scale, it is still quite a popular place for Latvians on summer holidays. Because of this, there are a number of great places to stay in the city, from private apartments to cool boutique hotels. These are our top recommendations:
Seaside Park Apartment — this private apartment, located only about five minutes from the beach and close to the city centre, has everything you might need to feel at home while visiting Liepaja. The owners are incredibly kind and helpful and will ensure that your stay is as perfect as possible. Click here to see the latest prices on Booking.com!
Boutique Hotel Roze — Also centrally located and very close to the beach, this small hotel is perfect for a romantic getaway in Liepaja. They have a range of rooms on offer, have a restaurant on site, and also you can add a breakfast option to the room rate. Click here to see the latest prices on Booking.com!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other accommodation options in Liepaja!
Liepaja is a lovely city with many interesting and fun things to do. If you take the time to get off the beaten path in Latvia and explore the beautiful coastline, markets, and historical sites of Liepaja, it is sure not to disappoint!
Are you planning a visit to Liepaja? Have you been? Let us know in the comments!