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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 

Cēsis could be peacefully snoozing in the heart of a national park, lazily attracting tourists with its mediaeval ruins. But that's not the case: Cēsis is modern, flavoursome, and generous with experiences and adventures. It combines centuries-old history and modern trends, cosiness and privacy, great ambition and a measured pace of life. It's also a city of rapid development. In this guide, we tell you why everyone loves Cēsis—and why you should go there ASAP.

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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The small city of Cēsis is nestled in the Gauja National Park, on the banks of the river by the same name. Eight centuries – that’s how long it’s been since the town was founded—seem to have barely changed its appearance. Cobblestone streets, slightly faded cream, salmon and coral sides of low houses (with tiled roofs, of course), apple orchards, which in autumn are full of bright red fruits, mediaeval statues darkened by time and rain, ponds covered with duckweeds, and, of course, the Wenden Castle towering above everything. 

It was with this castle—now called Cēsis Castle—that the history of the town began back in 1206. 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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The castle is drenched in stories and legends surrounding it. It is not clear who exactly built it, but there is no doubt that it was once ruled by the Knights of the Livonian Order. Another interesting fact: in 1577 the inhabitants who took refuge in the castle from Ivan the Terrible’s siege blew up a part of it. A century later, during the Great Northern War, the castle was seriously damaged again. It was never fully restored. So today, the mediaeval ruins of Cēsis Castle are only a small part of the former impregnable fortress. However, it is to them that Cēsis owes the title of one of the oldest towns in Latvia. 

Medieval castle ruins, church and art: what to see in the city

Cēsis is good in any weather—even a fine autumn rain or a snowstorm at the end of winter does not spoil this city, but adds a certain charm.

Cēsis Medieval Castle and Park

Much has already been said about this dilapidated mediaeval beauty. Except, perhaps, for the fact that it is surrounded by an incredibly beautiful park with huge trees and an ancient wide staircase with steps descending to the edge of a small pond. And along the edges are statues, in slightly blurred contours from which one can still pick out the chiselled lines of human silhouettes.

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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The streets of the old town

What mediaeval city is complete without the classic Old Town? In Cēsis, it’s particularly pleasant to meander through the winding streets and see the well-preserved craft workshops, market stalls and stone barns. Riga Street can serve as ground zero for the old town—here you’ll find most of the architecturally significant and attractive buildings, such as the Cēsis Town Hall, the house of the master painter Faber, and the Princes’ House.

And to get a sense of what this place was like in the 14th-15th century, you can find in the old town part of the foundation and fragments of the elevated part of the gate of the city wall—this is a reconstruction, but the scale will be immediately clear to you. 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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St John’s Church

It’s pretty simple here: if there’s a mediaeval fortress and an Old Town, it means there’s an ancient church somewhere. St John’s Church was built in the 13th century—it is considered one of the oldest churches in Latvia and was the church of the Livonian Order—the church contains the burial places of the masters, spiritual leaders and knights of the Order. To reach it, look for the orange spire that crowns the snow-white tower—you can see it from almost anywhere in the city. Note the organ—the sixth largest in the country. 

Rožu, Vienības and Līvu squares 

An itinerary of the Old Town can be built around these three squares. Līvu Square was once the only market square in Cēsis (it now has a small fountain into which coins are occasionally thrown). Rožu square was also once home to a market until it became too small for the town. And Vienības Square, the newest of the bunch, is now considered the main one in town. You have every chance of catching a fun fair in one of them—it’s quite common here. 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis Exhibition House

Today, Cēsis is also an important cultural centre—for example, it hosts the Cēsis Arts Festival, which aims to bring together a variety of visual arts, theatre, music, film and dance events in the city’s cultural and historical buildings and venues. 

If you can’t make it to the festival, check out the Cēsis Exhibition House, which regularly hosts exhibitions, concerts and lectures. The house itself is situated in a former carriage stable. 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
Cēsu Izstāžu Nams 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
Cēsu Izstāžu Nams 
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Галерея INSIGNIA

Another place to discover both Latvian and foreign artists. The gallery is located on the premises of the Cēsis Concert Hall. You can not only appreciate the works here, but also purchase them.

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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World Latvian Art Centre

The main aim of this centre is to preserve and return to Latvia the works of artists who operated abroad during the Soviet occupation. Here you can see several exhibitions in parallel, as well as get intimately acquainted with the names and works of those you’ve hardly heard of before. 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Nature trails, cliffs and manor houses: what to see outside of Cēsis

Ērgļu Rocks

Walk around town, have a coffee in one of the cute local coffee shops, buy a bag of herbs to brew, pick an apple or two  in one of the orchards, and when you’re done, venture outside of Cēsis—there’s plenty to see there too. 

For example, the Ērgļu Rocks, a giant natural wall rising straight out of the Gauja River. It is said that the echoes coming off these rocks sound like an organ (hence why they were once known as the Organ Rocks). 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cīrulīšu trails

The Cīrulīšu Nature Trails lead along the banks of the Gauja. There are three trails: 2.7 kilometres, 3.5 kilometres and 6.2 kilometres long. Along the way you can see the Mirror Rocks, the Dzidravots spring and the Cīrulišu cave. 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Turaida Castle

Turaida Castle is located on the grounds of a gigantic museum-reserve near Cēsis. The main tower of this ancient castle can be climbed up and offers a beautiful view of the winding Gauja River, which is buried in forests.

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
Turaida Castle
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Ungurmuiža Manor

This is the place to go if you’re crazy about stove tiles, massive lion-legged chairs, moss-covered roofs and centuries-old oak and lime trees. 

Ungurmuiža Manor is considered to be one of the most important cultural monuments of 18th century Latvia. Here you can listen to a guided tour, attend a classical music concert, and look at the works of Latvian artists. Or just stroll along the endless alleys, breathing in the honeyed smell of blossoming linden trees. 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
Ungurmuiza Manor
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Coffee, cocktails and fine cuisine: where to go in Cēsis if you want something appetising

Cēsis—as well as the entire Cēsis region—could be called the gastronomic capital of Latvia. There are many truly delicious and noteworthy restaurants here, some of which have even been awarded MICHELIN awards. We’ve already told you about Cēsis’ best cafés and restaurants in detail before, so we’ll go over some of our favourites here.  

Rūsa café

First place in the ranking of the most atmospheric and must-visit places in Cēsis goes to the small Rūsa café, located on one of the city’s central streets. 

The cafe is small, stylish and very welcoming. Floor-to-ceiling windows, a few tables, a bar counter, vintage light fittings and a giant pink neon lamp leaning against the wall. They make good coffee, cocktails as well as serve sweet pastries and delicious sourdough bread with a variety of spreads and toppings. 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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KEST

KEST’ s head chef Maris Jansons is something of a celebrity in Latvia. This alone makes it worth a visit. At KEST they urge you to treat the culinary experience on offer here as a proper adventure, where familiar flavours collide with the unknown—and possibly untried. 

To get an idea of what’s in store, here is a quote straight from the menu: raspberry-coconut cake with mirror glaze and tarragon ice cream. And that’s one dish!

KEST received the MICHELIN award for outstanding service. 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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H.E.Vanadziņš

This is another MICHELIN award-winner—it’s included in the guide of favourite restaurants in this rating. 
H.E.Vanadziņš is located in the very centre of Cēsis, in one of its most colourful wooden houses. The menu features dishes of northern and traditional Latvian cuisine.

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Villa Santa

The restaurant and bar Villa Santa can be found in the hotel of the same name. Chef Juris Pētersons developed the dishes, and Armands Mednieks took charge of the drinks list.  

The menu includes Mediterranean dishes, into which the familiar tastes of Latvian classics are intimately woven.

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Pavāru māja Līgatnē

Pavāru māja is located between Cēsis and Sigulda, in the small town of Līgatne. It is the first restaurant in Latvia to receive the MICHELIN Green Star for its commitment to sustainability.

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
instagram.com/pavarumaja
Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
instagram.com/pavarumaja

Here they cook with vegetables, fruits and herbs lovingly grown in their own garden, which is why the food at Pavāru māja is very seasonal. Also, taking care of national culinary traditions, the restaurant’s creators have added sklandrausis to the menu—known as the Kurzeme pie, which is considered one of Latvia’s national treasures. Try it—you’ll regret it if you don’t! 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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What else? Festival of Communication and Festival of Arts

Cēsis Art Festival

Every summer Cēsis hosts an arts festival. You can watch, listen, feel and attend a wide variety of visual arts, music, theatre, film and dance events at multiple venues. 

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
facebook.com/ArtFestivalCESIS
Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
facebook.com/ArtFestivalCESIS

Lampa Festival of Communication 

A festival for those who have something to say. For several days during the festival, participants discuss issues of importance to Latvia, Europe and the world. LAMPA is a platform for a free and open exchange of opinions, and anyone can apply to voice their opinions.

Cēsis: the mediaeval capital of modern trends 
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Author : editor nbhd
Date: 29.03.24
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