Get into Latvia’s Valka leap-frogging on the swings on the border!

  • 2023-07-14
  • Linas Jegelevicius

Valka, a Latvian town and municipality in northern Latvia, on the border with Estonia along both banks of the River Pedele, is unique – it is a place, where one can literally leap from one country into the other on the swings that are erected on the very Latvia-Estonia border. Now, perhaps only historians know that the town was a major bone of contention of the two fledgling states, Latvia and Estonia, back in 1920. Today, Valka offers a variety of sightseeing spots, groovy restaurants and bars, lush recreational parks and is definitely a great place to do some business. The Baltic Times Magazine spoke to Ivo Leitis, Public Relations Specialist of the Valka municipality, to find out more about the town and the municipality.

What is the origin of the name of the town and the municipality, Valka?

It is believed that the city name Valka is related to Latvian verbs "vilkt" and "valkāt" or the noun "valks", which in the early days was used as a description for wetland areas or swamps.

 The noun "valks" originally described a place where people dragged their boats or cargo from the basin of the River Gauja to the River Pedele. Then they travelled to the basin of the River Emajegi and after that to Estonian lakes and Russian lands.

What are the most interesting facts about Valka? In terms of its history, culture, population and economic activities? I’ve read that the decision of the Latvian Provisional National Council to proclaim in 1917 the independent Republic of Latvia was made namely in Valka. And also that the town was a subject of a dispute between the newly born Latvian and Estonian states then? Very interesting!

On November 15, 1917, the decision to proclaim the independence of the Republic of Latvia was made in Valka. The board of the Latvian Provisional National Council operated independently in Valka and created a structure that covered all areas of the emerging country.

Valka was divided on July 1, 1920, when the border was set between the newly independent states of Latvia and Estonia. As the members of the International Commission (Great Britain, Latvia, Estonia) couldn’t decide about the location of the border, the final decision was made by the chairman of the court of arbitration, the British colonel S.G. Tallents. The main part of the city was given to Estonia, but the suburban part – to Latvia.

On December 21, 2007, when Latvia and Estonia joined the Schengen visa-free travel zone, the Riga and Raja Street border post was officially opened. The border significantly interfered with the development of both cities, so joining the Schengen area was a real celebration in Valka and Valga. 

What are the main places of sightseeing in Valka?

The newly built Valga – Valka Twin Town Centre is a place with a unique opportunity to be inside a city centre that’s located right on the border of both countries. Here you can literally swing from one country into the other on swings that go across the Latvia-Estonia border. 

Valka-Lugazi Evangelical Lutheran Church is located right next to the centre. The first written record of the church dates from 1477. Different historical styles can be seen on the exterior of the church due to it having been rebuilt and repaired after frequent wars. The church tower can be accessed as a viewing platform that offers a splendid view of Valka/Valga - one city, two states.

Both cities also have numerous monuments that honour the history of both sides of the twin city as well as multiple parks and recreational areas.

Is Valka attractive for doing business?

We are located on the A3 state road, along which the flow of transit and tourists grows every year. We have a railway and Valka / Valga is home to about 20,000 people. Valka has become a popular destination for shopping and services among Estonians, Finns, and other tourists.

Valka has ready-made premises of various sizes for manufacturing (owned by both the municipality and the private sector), we are also ready to develop joint projects and get involved in the development of new production areas. We can promise maximum municipal support and speedy decision making.

Rents for premises and land, property prices are still much lower than in other cities of similar size.

Yet Valka/Valga lacks a hotel with at least 50 rooms. It interferes both when organizing events and when working with large tourism companies. For this purpose, we offer both historical buildings and plots of land. We are sure that a hotel and SPA would be a successful business project.

 What are the main economic activities in Valka? Are there any distinguished companies in Valka?

Valka is a place with a favourable environment for the development of multi-disciplinary businesses. 58.57% of the rural territory of the county is occupied by forests, which is the basis for the development of forestry and woodworking in the county. The second most developed industry is agriculture, mainly dairy farming, grain farming and potato cultivation, but here, next to traditional industries, wild cows are also bred in the county, and there is a deer garden.

One of the most distinguished companies in Valka is “PEPI RER” with 25 years of experience in manufacturing of polyethylene foam and the air bubble film field. The company exports their products to more than 40 countries worldwide. The export rate has reached 90% of the company's sales.

What are the culture events worth attending in Valka in 2023?

Every year the Twin Cities Valga/Valka Festival is held in celebration of and dedicated to the anniversary of granting city rights. This year the celebrations will take place from the 7th to the 11th of June. The festivities will include art exhibitions, multiple concerts, a dance performance show, a joint disco party on the border as well as an exciting auto sprint rally across the border through the twin city centre. This year we will also continue our established tradition - the joint Valka/Valga festival parade which will end in Putraskalns near Pedele where an impressive multimedia fountain show will take place.

Every year during the first week of May, the Great Charity Border Market takes place in Valka/Valga. The event takes place for two days and is filled with various cultural and sport events as well as contests such as “BBQ Without Borders”.

A newly established tradition is common New Year’s celebrations. Latvians and Estonians meet on the border to celebrate the New Year together with various festivities.

A notable event is the International Valga Military History Festival. Every year many history re-enactment clubs travel to the Festival. The event holds re-enactment battles from different time periods, has a military parade through the city with historical uniforms, and holds a big fair.

Who are the most prominent people of Valka?

A lot of noteworthy people have been active in Valka throughout history, but arguably the most prominent is Janis Cimze, a Latvian pedagogue, collector and harmoniser of folk songs, organist, and founder of Latvian choral music and initiator of professional Latvian music.  He was the first prominent Latvian figure in music, whose example inspired extensive collection, publishing, arrangement and research of folk music. Thanks to the activities of Cimze and his students, the first All-Estonian (1869) and All-Latvian (1873) Song Festivals were held. 

Upon returning from Germany, from 1839 and to the end of his life, Cimze headed Vidzeme Teachers' Seminary in Valka where he taught future teachers the conducting of choirs and harmonisation of folk songs.

Now Valka Local History Museum is located in the very same building which housed the Vidzeme Teachers' Seminary. Many of the educational establishments in Valka bear his name. Janis Cimze was buried in Lugazi Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery which was later renamed Cimze Cemetery. 

Can you tell any funny stories related to Valka? Do some Valka residents also speak Estonian due to proximity of Estonia?

Before Latvia and Estonia joined the Schengen visa-free travel zone, residents who travelled across the country border were subject to regular border control checks. As a result the residents, particularly those who lived in one country but worked in the other, had to change passports far more often due to them being filled up with country entry stamps.

There is a unique structure in Stoķu Cemetery located in Valka parish. You can enter the cemetery chapel from Latvia, but leave it in Estonia and vice versa. It is the only structure with such peculiarity in the entire country.

Despite the close proximity and everyday shopping habits across the border, not as many people in Valka/Valga speak both languages as one might assume. Perhaps it is because Latvian and Estonian languages are part of different language families. Estonian is a Finno-Ugric language, while Latvian belongs to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European languages.

Is Valka easily reachable from Riga? What websites do you recommend to get better acquainted with Valka?

The distance from the Latvian capital city Riga is 160km and from Tartu (Estonia) - 90km. A convenient way to travel to Valka/Valga is by train.

You can find more information about objects of interest, attractions, places of accommodation and catering in our websites: websites, and