If you follow us diligently 🙂 you will have noticed that we like cities for a while but that our thing is more nature and hiking 😉 . So, after a few days spent walking through Riga‘s alleys looking for the sun, we thought we’d still get a little
fresh pure air (well, you could tell me the air was also fresh in Riga eheh) and leave the Latvian capital for a day.
After having looked for some things to do in Latvia in winter, we decided to go to the small village of Sigulda, located about fifty kms from Riga. As it is not very far from the capital, it was easy to go there for the day and this village is not short of interesting things to see. It is located at the entrance of Gauja National Park and is also an ideal base for visiting the medieval Turaida Castle, one of Latvia’s most visited sites. That’s all it took to convince us to get up early in the morning for a little excursion!
Sigulda village and Gauja National Park
It is still almost dark when we go to Riga bus station to get to Sigulda (ok it must have been 09:00 am but it is late winter 😉 ). But since we decided to make the round trip in one day, we didn’t want to arrive too late to make the most of our trip. 1h15 by bus later, we arrived at Sigulda station. When we got off the bus, we immediately saw a tourist office in front of us and we thought we could as well ask for some information. The girl who welcomed us was very happy to be able to give us some advice… To be honest, in winter she must not see many tourists a day in her office 🙂
After picking up a small map of the area, we head towards the first castle of the day: Sigulda Castle. It should be noted that the village is located south of the valley carved by the Gauja River (you understand where the name of the national park comes from 😉 ) and that this region has the highest concentration of castles in all of Eastern Europe.
In Sigulda there are actually not one but two castles. The oldest is perched on the southern bank of the Gauja Valley while a more recent one is just next door towards the village. What the young woman from the tourist office forgot to tell us was that the new castle was being renovated for the winter and therefore closed to the public… so we will have to content ourselves with the older one).
Relieved of 4 small euros, we enter the castle grounds… or rather what is left of it. Only a few fortifications and a tower have been renovated. But the main interest of the visit is that you can go up to the top of the tower and have a very beautiful view over the Gauja valley. On the other side of the river, we can also see Turaida Castle and its red bricks, which is our main objective for the day.
- To get to Sigulda village from Riga, simply take the bus (2-3€ / person for 1h15 of travel) or the train (1.80€/person) from Riga station. If you want to test both, you can take the bus on the outward journey and the train on the return journey.
- The entrance to the old castle of Sigulda costs 2€… the price is mainly justified by the pretty view from the top of the tower.
Small hike in the Gauja valley
After having had a little glimpse of what was waiting for us, we set off for Turaida Castle. As there must be barely 5-6 km between Sigulda and Turaida Castle, we decide to work out a little and walk there. Well we will admit that as it was supposed to be around -10 degrees, the path was still a little frozen and slippery (even if there is very little snow for the season in Latvia), especially since we had to go down into the valley to go up the other side 😉 .
After going down to the river bank and crossing the bridge, we follow the Gauja river along a small path on the other side. The walk is quite nice and we think that this national park should be really cool in summer or autumn for hiking (especially since camping is allowed and free). Halfway between the two castles, we arrive at another small tourist office and take the opportunity to drink a small coffee and warm up. As you can guess, if there is almost nobody in winter, Turaida is one of the most visited places in Latvia and in summer there are a lot of people passing by (hence the infrastructure).
Not far from the office, you can also visit the Gutman Cave, which is presented as the largest cave in the Baltic States… So even if we didn’t find it that impressive (it’s not the Phong Nha Caves in Vietnam either 😉 ), it’s full of old or not so old inscriptions and is worth a look. We then continue our little path towards Turaida, now going up to the other side of the valley. After a short half an hour following a very well arranged path, we arrive in front of the entrance of the castle.
Visit of Turaida Castle
Compared to Sigulda, Turaida Castle is much more impressive with its red bricks that stand out against the white of the snow. The construction of the castle dates back to the 13th century and the main tower has been completely renovated. This means that it is possible to climb to the top to have a breathtaking view of the castle and the Gauja valley. And just to make us happy, the sun decided to show up one last time when we were at the top of the tower… easily our highlight of the day.
After an hour spent discovering the surroundings of the castle (there is a whole park around the castle with a church and a little walk to do), it starts to snow and we think we might as well get back on the road to Sigulda. And even if we like walking, we still opted for the bus option that connects Turaida to Sigulda for 0.5 euro 🙂
- The entrance to Turaida Castle costs €3 per person in winter (€5 in summer). More information on the castel’s website
- The bus between Sigulda and Turaida costs 50 cents. The easiest way is to ask the tourist office of Sigulda station for bus schedules.
Other activities around Sigulda
We decided to do a daytrip in Sigulda (because it is winter and we had the rented apartment in Riga) but know that there is easily enough to do for 2-3 days.
- The bobsleigh track: For adrenaline fans, there is one of the few bobsleigh tracks open to the public in Sigulda (Latvians are quite good at this sport). Of course you can just look at the track from an observation platform but for about fifty euros, you can also go down the track in a bobsleigh with speed as high as 80km/h. More information here
- Krimulda Manor: We saw it from Sigulda Castle but found that 2 castles in one day was enough for us. It is also located on the other side of the Gauja River at the bridge that crosses the river. More information here
- Hiking in Gauja National Park: So if we would have been here in summer or autumn, we would clearly have done more hiking. It is possible to cross the park in 5-6 days by following more or less the Gauja river while passing by Sigulda, Cesis etc… Camping is allowed and it seems that the trails are perfectly signposted (in addition the landscapes in autumn look incredible). For more information on the hiking trails in Gauja National Park, visit this page.
That’s all for this little nature getaway from Riga. For the next article we will change countries and take you to the surprising Hill of crosses in northern Lithuania.
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