Thirty minutes outside of Riga is Latvia’s favorite seaside resort, where miles of silica sand finer than powdered sugar sooth the soles and the sultry fragrance of bristly pines boosts the spirits. It’s a place where families, friends, and lovebirds flock to embrace a slower pace of life. This is Jūrmala.
In the early days, this strip of land at the bottom of the Bay of Riga was nothing more than a string of fishing hamlets. Beginning in the 18th century, it became an exclusive playground for Latvia’s German elite, who left their legacy here in the form of glamorous timber-frame villas. The completion of a railway line from Riga in 1877 forever transformed the shores of the sleepy coast. It opened the gates for mass tourism, and the fishing villages gradually came to be known collectively as “Riga’s seaside,” or Rīgas jūrmala.
During the Soviet era, Jūrmala was not just a hotspot for sun-seekers from Riga, but from all over the Union republics. As one of few places with a Western temperament where Russian was also widely understood, it exploded in popularity. A stay by its gorgeous beaches was a luxurious affair which rang with promises of mineral water treatments, medicinal mud therapy, and forest bathing. To accommodate the hundreds of thousands of tourists that would descend upon the spa town every summer, a slew of concrete hotels and hulking sanatoriums were erected.
Today, Jūrmala is quieter, with plenty of space to lay down a towel without bumping elbows. Although the sun and sand still take center stage, there is more to the magic than just Riga’s seaside. Only a few steps away from the murmurs of the waves, behind the curtain of wispy brambles, a web of boardwalks and lightly worn trails wind through a glowing green woodland. Watching the light dance over a rhapsody of fine moss and mountain ash, it’s easy to understand the ancient Latvian’s reverence towards the spirits of nature and see why this region remained one of Europe’s last pagan bastions.
Getting to Jūrmala
Like many seaside resorts, Jūrmala is long. So long, in fact, that it stretches more than thirty kilometers. Due to this, there are no bus stops or train stations bearing the name Jūrmala. Instead, the names of the former fishing villages are still used. Majori and Dubulti are the largest and most developed stretches of the city, and the easiest way to reach Jūrmala’s downtown area is by taking the train to Majori. The journey takes approximately half an hour and a round trip from Riga costs around €3.