Known as the “Versailles of Latvia,” the Rundāle Palace is one which visitors would never have expected to exist in the small Baltic country itself. From its ornate, Baroque architecture to detailed, flourishing gardens, it’s a gorgeous gem worth spending a half-day visiting while in Latvia.
Getting there from Riga required some time, but it wasn’t tricky. There were no direct trains or buses to reach Rundāle, so I first had to take a bus to Bauska before transferring to another for Pilsrundāle, where the palace was located. It would be about a 90-minute ride total (not including transfer time) just to make it over. I enjoyed the challenge, however, and soon, I was on my merry way.
I caught the 8:30 bus from Riga to Bauskas. It was a comfortable, 75-minute ride through the Latvian countryside (full of trees and flat fields– all green, though!). After a short time puttering inside the empty Bauskas bus station, I took the 10:20 bus to Pilsrundāle, and it was only a five-minute walk to Rundāle Palace from the stop.
No joke that Rundāle is nicknamed “Versailles of Latvia:” I was getting serious déjà-vu as I strolled through its massive, adorned gates into the courtyard. Brilliant in yellow despite the partly-cloudy skies, the palace was a splendid sight– only difference was that there was no line to enter! Beautiful as the “actual” Versailles is, I admit it can be a pain to wait one to three hours to get in…not the case in Latvia!
I entered the palace and paid 8€, which included the “Long Route” palace tour and the French gardens. I’d used my student card for the discounted price (as compared to 11€ for the full price) and, ticket and English brochure guide in hand, I set off to tour the various rooms inside Rundāle.
While there’s no Hall of Mirrors like in Versailles, the Rundāle Palace does have its “main” hall, known as the “Gold Hall” that served as the throne room for the Dukes of Courland (who’d ruled the Polish-Lithuanian-Latvian area between the 16th and 18th centuries). Although it was just an empty hall, I still found it quite breathtaking, with its elegant fresco and chandeliers which captured the natural lighting of the room quite well.
There were perhaps a dozen to two dozen rooms on the Long Route, as I visited both the Dukes and Duchesses’ staterooms. Each were painted in different solid colors, from rose to sea-green to turquoise. I didn’t expect them to be so colorful, but they were. It was like visiting a rainbow while inside the palace!
Following my visit inside Rundāle, I headed outside to the gardens. As it was May when I visited, the flowers were in full bloom, and it was lovely strolling through the small beds of red, yellow, and white flowers, all with the backdrop of the palace in the distance. Even walking along the paved, dirt paths between well-maintained trees and hedges made me feel somewhat like royalty!
I stopped to sit down at one of the benches and have a light lunch that I’d brought, all the while enjoying views of the palace and gardens right in front of me. Soon after, I had seen all of the palace and gardens, and I caught the next bus back to Bauska, then the next bus back to Riga, for the afternoon.
Unlike Versailles, where you can spend two days covering the estate, Rundāle doesn’t need any more than two or three hours to see everything. It’s the miniature version of Versailles, but just as splendid and elegant. Despite the long ride to-and-from the palace, I enjoyed visiting the palace and seeing more of Latvia outside Riga, the capital itself.
More of my adventures in Eastern Europe coming soon. I’ll be recapping next my week in Georgia– the country, not US state!