A July 2005 trip
to Sigulda by Owen Lipsett
Quote: The gateway to Latvia’s Gauja National Park, Sigulda’s outdoor sports facilities, historic sights, and opera festival draw 1.5 million visitors annually - in a country whose total population is a mere 2.3 million!
After Siegewald and the adjacent merchant town were sacked twice by the Russians, Gotthard Kettler, the knights’ last master, sought the protection of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1561. This attracted the attentions of the Swedes, who devastated Siegewald in the early 17th century, ending its role as an important fortress. Thereafter, it served as a baronial seat, developing its present role as a popular excursion from Riga after the construction of road and rail links in the late 19th century.
South of the Gauja
Siegewald’s evocative ruins, now known as Sigulda Castle, may be visited. There’s a fine view from the top floor of New Sigulda Castle, built in 1881 as a residence for the noble Kropotkin family, which developed Sigulda as a tourist destination. Sigulda Church, originally built in 1225, sits picturesquely by a stream nearby. The Satezele Castle Mound, constructed by the ancient Livs, is approximately 3km north of town, as is Artists’ Hill, which commands an attractive 12km vista.
North of the Gauja
The Gauja today marks the border of the national park that bears its name. The Turaida Museum Reserve contains the eponymous castle, which is more interesting for the superb view from its rebuilt 42 meter high Donjon Tower than the exhibitions inside. The attractive Turaida Church, Daina Hill Song Garden (Latvia’s only sculpture garden), and some exceedingly dull exhibitions on collective farming round out the reserve’s sights.
The ruins of 13th-century Krimulda Castle command a fine view of their counterparts across the valley. Furthering the parallelism, there’s the 19th-century Krimulda Manor (now a hostel) next door. Sigulda’s four most interesting caves are in the river valley below: Viktors and Gutmanis Caves are to the north on the way to the museum reserve, with the Big and Little Devils’ Caves to the south.
Please see the "Quick Tips" section below for information about outdoor sports.
Sigulda’s Opera Festival is held annually in late July.
Before exploring the Gauja National Park, stop in at the very helpful Visitor’s Center to purchase a map, which is essential, as the walking trails are very poorly marked. The office also provides details on outdoor sports in the area and very useful timetables for bus transportation within the park.
Sigulda is the premier winter sports destination in the Baltics. The 1.2km Bobsled Run at Sveices iela 13 was built for the Soviet Olympic team and today is open to tourists from November 1 to March 1, except when it plays host to the European luge championships in January. There are also several small downhill ski slopes around Sigulda.
From May 1 to October 1, the Bobsled Run offers thrill rides on wheel bobs (a bit like racing cars), and for a further adrenalin rush, you can bungee jump from the cable cars, which cross the Gauja. Sigulda offers a multitude of walking trails, but if you prefer alternative modes of personal transportation, it’s possible to rent rollerblades, bicycles, and even horses.
Getting Around Sigulda
It’s possible, and indeed quite enjoyable, to walk between all the sights of interest, but don’t even think about trying to do so without purchasing a map from the tourist office. Guidebook maps, I found, to my chagrin, are insufficiently detailed.
A local bus service provides transportation between the major points of interest. It runs approximately eight times daily, though at rather irregular hours, so you should check its schedule at the tourist office. As the journey from Sigulda to the Turaida Museum Reserve is largely uphill, you may wish to ride the bus over and then walk back.
In summer, a cable car shuttles irregularly between the ruins of Sigulda Castle and Krimulda Manor, providing stunning views over the Gauja River.
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