Most people who make it to Latvia never escape Riga which is a real shame. Just on its doorstep is Sigulda, a sort of Baltic fairytale alcove, home to Latvia’s Gauja National Park, Latvia’s largest and most impressive.
I jumped on the bus from Riga to Sigulda (70 minutes, 1.5 Euro/$2), they run almost every hour. You can take the train too for the same price and duration, although it’s less frequent.
I was with a Latvia couchsurfing host at the time, so luckily they led the way otherwise I would have been very lost. The major site in Sigulda is the 800 year old Turaida Castle, which is actually not in Sigulda but 4.5km away. I planned to take a bus there but there was the national cycling marathon on so no buses were running, time to hit the road Johnnyboy, and off I walked.
In hindsight walking should be the transport of choice and one which I’d recommend everyone to choose, it takes about 1 hour to walk from Sigulda bus station to Turaida castle but the walk is beautiful, through the national park, over the river, through the forest. Also, on the way you check out one of Sigulda’s other main attractions, Gutmana Cave.
The cave has carvings from former land owners from over 400 years ago and it’s steeped in harrowing legend about a young women choosing to be murdered rather than be raped so she can stay true to her love, grimly beautiful. The cave is free, with a few icecream vendors dotted around allowing you to spend a leisurely 30 minutes sitting on the grass and soaking up the atmosphere.
Another 20 minute walk and you’re at the castle. Pay your entrance (2 Lats, $4) and you’re free to roam around the huge grounds. The castle itself is being repaired to its former glory and is already taking shape. The area is full of sculptures, and inviting grass banks to relax in.
Once you make it back to Sigulda, you can pick up the pace a little with a trip to the Aerodium and the Bobsled track. Aerodium allows you to ‘fly’ in a wind tunnel for $40 per 2 minutes, but you need to book in advance so I missed out, boooo. The bobsled runs in winter and summer, but naturaly in summer you’re on wheels, not skates.
There’s also Sigulda new castle and the old castle ruins in the town centre which are just about worth a visit to finish off your day trip.
By that time I was ready to head back on the 5pm bus, great day and it’s always nice to get away from the big cities, even if they are as beautiful as Riga. Happy travels!