A short drive from the exciting city of Riga lies the remarkable Gauja National Park. Cool castles, perfect pine trees and soviet history all coexist in Sigulda. If you have time, it is worth sticking around Gauja to experience everything it has to offer. However, if you are only in Riga for a short time, why not make it an epic day trip from Riga?!
Sigulda is a leafy town around an hour northeast of Latvia’s capital Riga. It is a delightful contrast from the busy city being the gateway to the gorgeous green Gauja National Park. The town itself also feels a world away with low buildings set apart from each other along clean streets with plenty of lawns and trees between. You can spot lovely wooden buildings in town and big grey soviet blocks further out. For outdoorsy folks, there are lots of hikes and bike rides that start from here and descend into the stunning river valley. Adventurous types can try a bungee jump from a cable car(!), high rope courses or a zip wire that reaches 60km/h. However, it is the little slices of history woven through the town and valley that we think make Sigulda a really special day trip from Riga.
The Sigulda castle complex actually consists of the New Castle and the older Medieval or Livonian Order Castle. The Livonian Order castle dates back around 800 years to the 1200s You can still see much of the original stonework, standing proudly on the ridge edge.
The highlight of the castle complex is the beautifully restored tower. They have constructed a wooden section inside which emerges at the top, emulating the size of the original tower. It is amazingly accessable with a lift and braille on each floor number. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into this. From the top, you get a beautiful view across the river valley. Above the tree canopy, you can spot Krimulda Manor to one side, and Turaida Castle to the other.
The main castle building is also beautifully restored. In one room there is a mysterious wooden structure, which makes total sense when you descend one more floor and see the portcullis it is attached to.
In front of the Old Castle is the neo-gothic manor house built by prince Dimitri Kropotkin. This is known as the New Castle despite being finished in 1878. Unfortunately, it is the home of the council and so not open to the public. However, in front, around the garden is a row of gorgeous shops displaying the work of local artists, and designers, and a lovely little cafe with tasty ice cream.
Misters Biskvits is an international restaurant with a great reputation. They serve up light slads, classic meat and two veg staples and stir-fries. That’s all very well and good, but not why you would pick this spot. Instead, it is the baked treats they offer. Gorgeous cakes with more-ish icing and unctuous pies filled with sweet fillings abound.
La Pizza Veloce
For the best pizza in Sigulda, La Pizza Veloce is a good bet. The restaurant is casual dining, with a few booths around and outdoor seating for summer. The pizza has a nice thin base and fluffy crusts, ideal for dipping. Plus, the staff are really friendly.
Sigulda Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton Track
Standing high above the low-rise town, the four-storey bobsleigh tower really stands out. Sigulda has actually had an ice track for over 100 years. Prince Kropotkin had a single turn, 900m ice track built at the New Castle but things moved on a little over the next century and in 1986, a Yugoslavian company constructed the track you can try today.
The current track is 1200m long and contains 16 awesome turns. It is world class, hosting the Luge World Championships in 1998, 2003 and 2015. Professionals can reach speeds of 125 kilometres an hour. It is tackled by bobsledders, lugers and even skeleton sliders! Then, every weekend between 12:00 – 17:00, it plays host to adventurous tourists. For €12, you can hop aboard a bob and try it yourself.
Have you ever heard of a summer bob? Well, neither had we. Turns out, a summer bob is a mix between a go-kart and a torpedo. It looks sort of like the ride vehicle of Walt Disney World’s Space Mountain, but with giant wheels and a cage on top. Riders hop in two or three at a time, behind a driver. The bob is moved down to the track and then it is 60 seconds of high octane rolling to the finish. Surprisingly, even being towed back up to the start point is fun. Its like a 241.We asked and were allowed to climb up the very top section of the track, to the starting ramp. The views across the valley were gorgeous.
When the weather turns frosty, it is time to experience the track in all its glory. Of course they won’t let you loose in a proper bobsled, they are worth an awful lot of money. Instead, they use a Vučko soft bob. It is like a giant foamy boat. The ride is a little smoother than the summer bob and riders don’t require a driver so you can sit right at the front of the bob. The ride s between 60 and 70 seconds. You don’t get the fun tow though. It’s all swings and roundabouts.
It is also good to know that not everyone has to take part. Spectators can look around and walk some of the track for just €3pp. Oh, and the whole operation is cash only so bring some euros with you!
Riga to Sigulda
If you want to make this a cool day trip from Riga, the easiest thing is to hop in the car and head 33 miles northeast. The drive takes about an hour along well-maintained roads. You need to follow the A2 until you reach the p!0. This will lead you to Sigulda. If you would prefer the slower, more scenic route through the Gauja river valley, follow the A2 to Ragana and then take the P7 and turn onto the P8 for Sigulda.
If you prefer public transport for your day trip from Riga, it is still perfectly manageable. From Riga’s
Rīga-Pasažieru station, you can take a direct train to Sigulda. It takes about an hour and a quarter. You can then walk 11 minutes to the bobsleigh track, or 19 minutes in the other direction to the castle. (To walk between the two, you need to walk back past the station).
Final Thoughts on This Day Trip from Riga to Sigulda
Sigulda has something for everyone. History, adventure sports, hikes a-plenty and a lovely relaxed vibe. These are just two of the activities we enjoyed so much that we wanted to share! We regret not having longer but agreed that even if you only have a short time, and can only have a day trip in Sigulda, it is still worth a visit.