Unless you have a passion for the Baltic States or Latvia, normally no one in Europe has ever heard of Daugavpils. This was the case for me before 2010 when I went for the first time in this city not for tourism but for work!
I have indeed worked at the local university as french teacher for the french embassy. When I went to Daugavpils for the first time, a certain September 1st, accompanied by staff of the embassy, I didn’t found the city very welcoming: soviet architecture, fine rain and soviet local food … I even began to think how I will manage to “survive” in this city more than a month with this special atmosphere: austere, sad, no smiling people (typical soviet behavior actually) and very few things to do !!
Then finally, after living a year in this city, survived the sadness of autumn (very gray) and the intense cold of winter (I had up to -38 ° Celcius !!). I learned to find advantages to this city which certainly does not come easily … That is why I want in this article to share with you what I learned about Daugavpils!
Daugavpils is the second largest city in Latvia. It is special because 90% of people speak russian although Wikipedia tells us that Daugavpils is made up of 52% Russian. This fact makes Daugavpils the only russian city in Europe and that’s why, many people come there to learn russian:
You should therefore bear in mind that there is a slight difference between Daugavpils (and its region) and the rest of Latvia.
Visit Daugavpils: useful informations
How to get to Daugavpils?
If you come from Riga or another regional city, the best way to come to Daugavpils is by train or bus. The journey takes 4 hours and half. My preference goes for the train as there is Wifi in it but the bus is ok also for it will allow you to get a glimpse of the villages. The reference website for bus and train schedules in Latvia is 1188.lv
Possibilities of connections with other cities
Daugavpils is a node of communication and you will access according to the direction you will take to several destinations:
– to the east to Krāslava (the meanders of Daugavpils) and then to Belarus.
-to the south to Lithuania and then Poland (there is a bus from Daugavpils to Kaunas and Vilnius)
– to the north to Rēzekne, Ludza and then either Estonia or Russia (there is a night train from Riga and makes a stop at Rēzekne for Saint Petersburg in Russia).
Excursion to Ludza (oldest village of Latvia according to Latvian people)
How long does it take to visit Daugavpils?
One day is enough to visit most of the city (the fortress and churches) but as the city is large, I recommend you to rent a bike or a car (ask at the front desk of Latgola Hotel).
Where to eat in Daugavpils?
The best place to eat in Daugavpils is the Latgola Hotel. Easy to find, it is the tallest building in town! If you do not want to eat there then I recommend you to have a look of the last floor to enjoy the view (it’s free).
Photos of Latgola Hotel and the Daugavpils Theater:
11 things to do and see in Daugavpils
1- Daugavpils a multicultural city: visit the churches of the 4 cults
If Daugavpils was an object she would be a die! This city has indeed many facets: it has taken several names according to history and invasions: today Daugavpils in Latvian – Даугавпилс (in Russian), Dünaburg during the german empire and Dvinsk during the russian empire. Daugavpils is a relay city at the crossroads of several cultures, languages and civilizations. In Daugavpils most people speak Russian even if many nationalities live together: there are people from Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. After visiting the fortress of Daugavpils, it is important to visit the churches of the four cults (they are all in the same area): Catholic Church, Protestant Lutheran, Orthodox and Orthodox old believers (very rare to see). This is unique in all Baltic States. To see these churches, you will have to go on the Avenue of 18 Novembra iela (10 minutes walk from the center) or with trams 1 or 3.
1st photo: Orthodox church, 2nd photo: Old Believers church, 3rd photo: Protestant Lutheran church, 4th photo: Catholic church.
2- The fortress of Daugavpils
The fortress of Daugavpils is the most interesting place of the city. It is built with Vauban style (see Google Earth) and was built not far from the city center in 1810 (10 minutes by foot) to counter the imperialist impulses of Napoleon. During the German occupation of the Second World War, the fortress of Daugavpils used to be a ghetto for the Jews before being exterminated not far away. During the Soviet occupation, the fortress of Daugavpils became a military base where the Mig pilots were trained. If you are curious you may notice at the entrance of the base on your right a small promontory on which one still guesses the red star of the Soviet army and over which was fixed a Mig plane. Today, the fortress is the poorest place in the city, but in recent years many efforts have been made to renovate the site, including the development of the Mark Rothko Museum (a painter originally from Daugavpils).
Fortress of Daugavpils: Mark Rothko museum
This is the first center of interest to visit in Daugavpils. I strongly recommend you to go there.
Fortress of Daugavpils: Imperatora iela
When the Tsar of Russia moved westward, he took that road that crossed the fortress and then took a bridge that had disappeared and finally passed through the other part of the fortress which now is used as a prison.
Fortress of Daugavpils: discover the ruins of the military school
After the Mark Rothko Museum you will find many abandoned buildings in which the Mig pilots of the Soviet army were trained / lived. Even today, the site is still abandoned:
3- The tanks museum of Sventes
The tanks museum of Sventes (15 km of Daugavpils) will make you discover military vehicles essentially of the second world war. The price of the visit is ok (2 euros /person) so go for it! To get there you will have to take a bus from Daugavpils central station.
4- Daugavpils regional museum
The regional museum of Daugavpils is interesting and has a large collection about the local life during the Soviet era.
5- Take a tram ride
The oldest trams of Daugavpils date from the 70s and they still work! I recommend you to take a ride just for the experience !! A ticket costs only 48 cents …
6- See colorful dachas / wooden houses
If you take the tram 3 until the terminus and continue a little on foot, you will see magnificent dachas:
7- Try the Latvian sauna !!
The sauna is an institution in Latvia and in Daugavpils there are a few to try (see the link but there are not great) But if you have friends as I do there, this is a great experience ! Personally I loved making a sauna in the dacha of my friends: hearing the wind blowing in the trees, eat that burns the skin, the simplicity of the shower. It was perfect !!
8- Visit the lead shot factory of Daugavpils
The lead shot factory of Daugavpils is a factory that dates back to the 19th century and that is still working today (it is the last in Europe). This is there that are made lead bullets for firearms. See also the article on the subject here.
9- Visit the meanders of the Daugava
The Daugava is the only river in Latvia and that is why it gave its name to the city of Daugavpils (the rest of the word “pils” meaning castle). If you are interested in nature I highly recommend you to visit the natural park adjoining Daugavpils between the city of Kraslava and Daugavpils. It is possible to visit by canoe the meanders of the river. It is a 100% nature tour that I highly recommend! See also my other article: “weekend offline 100% nature”.
10- Nature: discover the blue lakes land.
Daugavpils is located in the region of Latgale (one of the four regions of the country) and is also called the region of the blue lakes because it is covered with many beautiful lakes very pleasant in summer!
In order to admire these lakes and spend a good time, you will have to head north from Daugavpils towards Rezekne or east towards Kraslava. If you do not have much time and want to stay in town, there is a beautiful lake (at Stropi) just outside Daugavpils which is accessible at the tramway no. 3: