Gauja National Park is a popular day trip destination from Riga. It covers an area of 90,000 hectares and stretches between Sigulda and Cesis east of Riga. From Riga, it is easiest to explore around Sigulda, Krimulda, and Turaida, unless you have your own car. Whether you are looking to do a day trip or planning to explore the area more, here’s a guide to Gauja National Park
Gauja National Park
The majority of the rocks in the area are Devonian Red Sandstone with the landscape forming after the last glacial period 12-14 thousand years ago. Krimulda and Turaida are on one side of the river, with Sigulda on the other.
To learn more about other parts of the national park, see the official site here.
Riga to Sigulda or Krimulda
The MST station, which is north of the train station and NOT the autobus station, is where the local minibus departs. The schedule for the bus can be found here, along with the route map and stops name. I find them to be quite on time, though my bus was late. The one for Sigulda is station 7 (as of November 2019). Tickets are purchased on board with cash or card. The fare is only 2.55 euro, though my luggage incurred at extra 50 cent.
Sigulda is the biggest town in the area and where the train station is located. If your destination is Sigulda, taking a train might be more direct, but it is less frequent than the bus. You can check the train schedule here and it only costs 1.90 euros.
Getting around Gauja National Park
You can use the same website for checking the buses between the towns as well, and finding out where the bus stops; there should also be a schedule on the bus stop. They run fairly sparsely, about two buses per hour with a break between 12-2pm. You can also hike between the three towns, which should take between 1-2 hours depending on your speed.
There are quite a few lovely hiking trails around. Your hotel should give you a map for hiking in the area, but it’s always better to also have an offline map on your phone. I use OSMAnd and it is able to track my location too.
Sigulda is the largest of the three towns on the western side of the Gauja National Park. It was once under the Livonian Order, a stem of the Teutonic Order, who came in the 13th century. Here are the top sights in Sigulda, but do note that they are fairly spread out, although all within 20 minutes walk or so:
Sigulda Medieval Castle
The 13th century castle built by the Livonia Order on arrival is perched on the northern edge of Sigulda on the cliff facing the Gauja River. Hence another name for it is the Livonian Order Castle. You can see across the valley to Krimulda (and Krimulda Manor) on the other side. It became the residence of the Livonian Order land marshal in the 15th century, but then fell into the hands of the Poles who invaded and assimilate the area into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late 16th century.
The castle was damaged during the war with the Swedes, who took over and rebuilt it, adding a sauna. Then came the Great Northern War and the castle passed through many people as a ruin, until it became a tourist attraction it is today.
Address: Pils iela 18, Sigulda, Siguldas pilsēta, LV-2150拉脫維亞
Opening times: 9:00 – 17:00, but vary seasonally so best to check
Admission fee: adult 2 euros, concession 1 euro; Guided tour 22 euros
Sigulda New Castle
Built in front of the medieval castle in the 18th century, the Neo-Gothic castle was built by the Kropotkin family who owned the castle during that time. It is surrounded by smaller buildings also built by the families who owned the estate before it fell back to the state. The castle was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt and is now the seat of Sigulda Region Council.
Opening times: Mon – Fri 8:00 – 18:00 (note that on my visit in November 2019 it was under renovation)
Sigulda to Krimulda Cable Car
Want to get from Sigulda to Krimulda or the other way in style? The cable car take visitors across the Gauja River in 7 minutes, covering 1200m. On a clear day, you can see the Krimulda Manor, Turaida Castle, and Sigulda as you embark on the ride.
The stop is close to the Krimulda Manor but is on the northern edge of town in Sigulda.
Opening times: varies seasonally, check the official website
Cost: adult return 12 euros, single 8 euros; children 3-12 return 8 euros, single 5 euros
Krimulda is just across the valley, a ten minutes drive or about 50 minutes walk from Sigulda across the river valley, or accessible via the cable car at the north end of Sigulda. It was originally the land of the Turaida Livs who lived in the region, but their head was coverted by the Livonian order when they came.
Krimulda Castle ruin
The abandoned Krimulda Castle now only consist of a few walls that’s only a five minutes’ walk from the Manor House. Constructed with boulders, it was built in the 13th century but was burnt down by the Swedes in 1601.
A late Classicism manor house built in the late 19th century, Krimulda Manor is a picturesque two-storey building with a yellow shade. It was commissioned by Prince Johann Georg von Lieven, and remained in the family’s possession until they were forced to emigrate in 1920s.
In 1922, it became a sanatorium, adding a second floor to the building. It also became a school for a while,
Nowadays, it features a rehabilitation center, a hostel and hotel, as well as a winery Cremon.
Laying in the valley between Krimulda and Turaida, Gutmanis Cave had been attracting tourists since the medieval times. The sandstone cave is the widest and highest in Latvia, measuring 10m x 12m. It formed during the Ice Age by meltwater erosion, and the springwater that comes out of the cave is said to increase lifespan of the drinker!
Turaida is east of Krimulda, about an hour’s walk or less and 5 km from Singulda. It is most famous for the Turaida castle, and outside of the estate there is only a smattering of residential buildings and a bus stop.
The estate of Turaida is now a museum reserve that consists of 21 buildings, including the famous Turaida Castle. You’d need a ticket to enter the entire area, which extends to the headland of the valley along the highway.
Aside from the castle, there is the Turaida Church Hill and Church, as well as the grave of the Rose of Turaida.
Grave of the Rose of Turaida
The tragic story of the Rose of Turaida is akin to Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet. It tells the story of Maija, an orphan found in the castle after the Swedish invaded in the 17th century, who grew up to be a beautiful young woman. Her lover is a gardener from Sigulda Castle and they often meet at the Gutmanis Cave.
One evening she was tricked to the cave by a man who seek her hand in marriage, and she decided to die and remain faithful. Her grave is now atop a hill by the wooden church inside the Turaida estate.
Distinctive for its red brick and the tall, round tower, Turaida Castle was built in the early 13th century under the order of Bishop Albert of Riga. This is a classic style of the crusading order and at its height in the 16th century have four guard towers and three gate towers.
It was abandoned in the 17th century after a fire, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that some of the features are reconstructed.
You can climb up the tower for a great view of the Gauja river and you can see across the valley to Sigulda, too.
There are exhibits in some of the buildings as well detailing the history of the Turaida Castle as well as historical finds. If you have time, you can also walk around the perimeter of the castle. There are many information plaques dotted around that provide historical insight.
Admission fee: 3.5 euros
Note: family ticket is only available to those with two children or above
Hiking in Gauja National Park
On my first day, I hiked from Krimulda Manor to the Gutmanis Cave, then up to Turaida Castle, had lunch, then took the bus to Sigulda and hiked back to Krimulda.
On day 2, I hiked west from Krimulda along the river to one of the three bridges within the three-town area, crossing over and headed to Sigulda. This is less scenic than the other route, and can be done on bicycle! The bonus is that enroute I went past a few more buildings belonging to the Krimulda Estates, and it’s a nice, quiet walk.
Where to eat around Gauja National Park
Kungu Rija by Turaida
By far my favourite meal in the whole trip, Kungu Rija is the only restaurant within a 15 minutes walk from Turaida Reserve. I had to walk a little along the main road, but the food is well worth it. While it is in the 20 euros range, the food is absolutely delicious.
It also has a nice ambiance, with a little pond outside and friendly service, which isn’t as common in the Baltic. I got lucky since I was there during Sigulda Restaurant Week, so I got a 3 course meal for 20 Euros.
There is parking on site for those who are arriving by car
Address: Kungu rija, Krimuldas pagasts, LV-2150, Latvia
Opening times: 12:00 – 23:00
A restaurant in Sigulda on the southern end of town, Fazenda bazars has friendly service and reasonable prices. It’s on the main road so be careful when crossing.
It serves mostly Latvian food, hence mostly pork dishes. The waitresses there are lovely and speak great English, translating the daily special for me.
Address: Vidzemes šoseja 14, Sigulda, Siguldas pilsēta, LV-2150, Latvia
Opening times: Mon – Thurs 11:00 – 21:00; Fri – Sun 11:00 – 22:00
A modern central market hall near the Sigulda bus station, Siguldas Tirgus has a collection of grocery, vegetables, bakery, and meat stores.
Some of them also serves light meals and coffee, making it a good place to go if you want to get something quick or a snack. I got some smoked chicken here, a Latvian special, as well as rye bread.
Address: Rūdolfa Blaumaņa iela 2, Sigulda, Siguldas pilsēta, LV-2150, Latvia
Opening times: 8:00 – 15:00
If you are looking for a big supermarket, there’s only really one in the area in Sigulda: Maxima X, which is on the other side of the bus station from Siguldas Tirgus
Address: Leona Paegles iela 3, Sigulda, Siguldas pilsēta, LV-2150, Latvia
Opening times: 8:00 – 22:00
Where to stay in Gauja National Park
Don’t miss the chance to stay in the historic Krimulda Manor. They have both hostel and hotel rooms on offer and at a great price. The rooms are a bit dated but spacious, generally good value for money. There’s free WiFi and many hiking options from the manor. Do note that there is only one restaurant in ‘town’ and there’s no breakfast provided!
Also – you can rent entire cottages that also belong the the estate, like the hunting lodge that I hiked past.
Budget: Rasas is in the middle of Sigulda with free parking available. The budget rooms are basic, a little dated, but great value for money. There’s even a small kitchen the guests can use.