Valga-valga boarderSource: Anna Svetlichnaia

Valga and Valka, twin towns on the Estonia-Latvia border

Don’t pass up the chance to stand with one foot in Estonia and the other in Latvia at this quaint border town.

Borders fascinate us. After all, who would turn down the chance to stand with one foot in Estonia and the other in Latvia? This quaint small town spans two states, languages and cultures but shares a common history and future.

Estonia borders Russia to the East and Latvia to the South. Some of Estonia’s most interesting border regions include eastern city Narva and the southwestern Setomaa region, which includes the ‘Saatse Boot’, a small strip of Russian land surrounded by Estonian territory on three sides. While crossing eastern borders involves leaving the European Union, crossing the border between Valga and Valka is a lot simpler and makes for a fun stop during a holiday around South Estonia or a Baltic roadtrip.

Divided and reunited

The town, situated in the heart of Old Livonia, was first mentioned in 1286 by its German name ‘Walk’ and was inhabited by Latvians, Estonians, Germans and Russians throughout history. After World War I, however, both Estonia and Latvia laid claims to the town. The solution was to draw a new border through it in 1920. During the Soviet occupation of both countries beginning in 1940, the border became virtually non-existent again, until independence in 1991, when it was reestablished. Border checks continued until 2007, when both countries joined the Schengen Agreement and made life at the border simpler. It’s still a good idea, however, to carry your passport when crossing back in forth, as it’s technically required for many travellers.

Fun at the border

Estonians and Latvians unveiled a new joint Central Square in 2018 which spans the border. It offers leisure opportunities for residents and visitors, including a bench which allows one person to sit in Estonia and another in Latvia. There is also a child’s swing mounted on the Estonian side but from which you can swing in and out of Latvia. At the end of 2019, the square won the annual award of the Union of Estonian Architects.

What to see and do in Valga

Valga has several quaint churches, including St. John's Church, Saint Isidore’s Main Church, The Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit, and Tõrva Church Chamber Hall. The old Town Hall, built in 1865, is the oldest wooden building in Valga. The beautiful town library was originally built as a manor house in 1902. You can also visit the Valga Museum, which tells about local history, from archeology to Estonia’s re-independence, and the hands-on Valga Military Theme Park and museum.

How to get there

Valga is roughly equal distance from Tartu and Viljandi (80 km), 140 km from Pärnu, 160 km from the Latvian capital Riga, and 235 km from the Estonian capital Tallinn. You can get there easily by car and there are frequent bus connections from both countries. Valga also has the only train station connecting Estonia and Latvia.