24 Jan Latvia: 2 Days of Adventure in Gauja National Park and Sigulda
During my November visit to Latvia, my first order of business consisted of a two-day adventure in Gauja National Park and Sigulda. It was a whirlwind tour to explore the outdoors and a couple of adorable towns outside the capital region of Riga.
Micah was on a film project in Italy, so I was traveling solo this time around. I planned my visit to Latvia to attend the first European edition of the Women In Travel Summit (WITS). WITS is a conference for women in the travel space. Creatives, influencers, and travel brands come together for the event to learn, network, and collaborate with one another, and it’s an absolutely amazing experience. The conference lasts 3 days, but they also offer tours before and after the conference. My trip to Gauja National Park and Sigulda happened to be one of the pre-tours that was offered, and I was accepted as one of the participants to join. The other fabulous ladies joining the trip were Brittany, Claire, Inma, Kathryn, Jenna, and Nora.
Image by Kathryn from Kathryn Anywhere
Our trip consisted of two full days of activities, but you can also take easy day trips to the region if you are short on time. Sigulda is about an hour from Riga by car, so you can still pack a lot of adventures into a one-day trip!
I was so excited for all of the adventures on our itinerary and couldn’t wait to explore the beautiful nature in Latvia. Our schedule included hiking, a traditional Latvian sauna ritual, a cable car, castle tours, smart bikes, a cave, bobsledding, wine tasting, and delicious restaurants. Read on for more details about my two-day adventure in Gauja National Park and Sigulda.
Overnight at Spa Hotel Ezeri
As I mentioned, the trip to Gauja National Park and Sigulda can be done in a day, but I was excited to stay overnight so we could see even more of the region. Our hotel for the evening was Spa Hotel Ezeri and it was the perfect base for our trip.
There are 30 rooms at the property, and I had a king room with a small balcony located on the third floor. The entire hotel was decorated in a peaceful, calming, and natural aesthetic. While we were at the hotel, our group experienced a traditional Latvian sauna (more on that below), and we also had dinner and breakfast at the onsite restaurant.
Breakfast was buffet style and consisted of pastries, yogurt, granola, eggs, and more. Our dinner was served from a set menu with two options for each course. My dinner selections were tomato cream soup with basil pesto and a toasted baguette, Caesar salad with tiger prawn, and creme brulee. Every bite of my dinner was fantastic, flavorful and fresh—it was easily one of my top 3 meals of the trip.
Hiking in Gauja National Park
Gauja National Park is the largest national park in Latvia. It is a wonderful place to explore nature and get some fresh air. Our first adventure on our two-day agenda was a morning of hiking through the woods. We met up with Sigita, our hiking guide from Cesis Inside, and we had a blast hiking a couple of different trails in and around Gauja National Park. We started with the Cecili Nature Trail and then made our way to the Amata Hiking Trail.
The trails led us along rivers, over wooden bridges, past saunas and huts, along towering sandstone cliffs, and up stairs made out of a carved log. One of my favorite sights we passed by was a tiny little house with a picnic table outside. I would love to head back to Gauja National Park and camp in the woods sometime–it would be so much fun!
To finish up our morning of hiking, we were fed a gigantic lunch. Normally, the lunch would be served as a picnic outside, but due to the rain, we moved inside to the Zvarte Rock Visitor Center. Lunch consisted of soup, salads, potatoes, pork, dessert, and much more. It was so delicious and the perfect way to end a hike!
Traditional Sauna Ritual
One of the most interesting evenings during my trip to Latvia was definitely the traditional Latvian sauna ritual! Let’s just say the experience left no stone unturned with a couple of new friends and two sauna masters.
After checking into the Spa Hotel Ezeri, we made our way down to the little sauna huts by the pond. We were instructed to shower, put on robes, and head next door to the sauna when we were ready. The ritual consisted of sauna time, salt scrubs, cold pond jumps, rests on a sack of hay, and whips with a leaf brush…all while naked except for the tiny little hats they gave us to wear on our heads. It was quite the experience to say the least.
It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it ended up being amazing and oh so relaxing! So much so that I would have to say I’d do it all again!
Sigulda Cable Car
The next morning, our first adventure consisted of a ride on the Sigulda cable car. The cable car crosses the Gauja Old Valley and travels the width of 1025 meters (3363 feet) from one side of the riverbank to the other.
We rode the cable car from one side of the valley to the other and back again. Our ride took place on a foggy morning, but the views were still gorgeous, nonetheless. The fog added a layer of mystery to the valley of trees below and the three castles in the distance.
Image by Inma from A World To Travel
If you happen to visit in the summer and want to get really crazy, you can also go bungee jumping from the cable car. Jumping from the 43 meter (141 foot) high cable car, sounds like quite the adventure. I might just have to head back with Micah to give it a try one day!
Riding Smart Bikes to Sigulda Castle
After the cable car ride, we checked out Smart Bikes from the nearby Sigulda Adventures. There are plenty of bike trails to ride in the Sigulda region, but we didn’t go too far. We ended up riding our bikes across town to the Sigulda Castle. The ride through town was quick and easy—we rode past parks, ponds filled with ducks, and pretty churches and buildings. The bikes were so much fun to zip around on, and I loved how simple they were to ride!
When we arrived at Sigulda Castle, we hopped off our bikes to explore the castle ruins on foot. The castle was originally built in the early 1200’s and it was destroyed in the 18th century during the Northern War. The castle has not been restored, but visitors can walk through the ruins and the stone walls to learn about the sites history from placards placed around the property.
Crafting at a Walking Stick Workshop
While we were at the castle, we also stopped at a walking stick workshop to make a souvenir. Walking sticks have a long history in Sigulda that dates back to more than 200 years ago. Due to the vast amount of hiking trails in the region, 19th century guidebooks suggested that a walking stick could be convenient when hiking around the valley. Over the years, demand for the walking sticks grew and now they are the area’s most popular souvenir.
To get started with our mini walking stick craft, we received instructions and set off to work. We carved the bark off of our sticks and then our teacher helped us bend the wood into a candy cane shape. Then she etched our names in the stick with a wood burning tool. Once the sticks were dry (1-2 days later I believe), we could paint, decorate, and varnish our creations to complete our Sigulda walking sticks.
Going for a Ride at the Bobsleigh and Luge Track
Our next adventure of the day was flying down the luge track at the Bobsleigh and Luge Track in Sigulda! I was super excited for this activity and I wasn’t let down. This track opened in 1986 and it is open for visitors and as a training facility for professional athletes. The total length of the track is 1200 meters (3937 feet) and riders can reach speeds of up to 125 km/h (77 mph).
Since our visit was in the winter, we were able to race down the track in a soft bob. The soft bob is essentially a padded box large enough to fit four people. When we were at the starting point of the track, our guide wasted no time and got us suited up and ready for our ride. We donned helmets and then climbed into the soft bob. I ended up in the front (from what I gathered because I was the shortest), and I was told to hold down on the rope the entire ride. Then after a quick photo, we were pushed down the track.
The ride to the bottom was insane! We flew around one corner after the next at what felt like breakneck speeds. I couldn’t help but squeal the entire way down—at times it felt as though we were going to flip over and roll our sled when taking a sharp corner. Thankfully, we didn’t need to do anything other than sit and enjoy the ride. The soft bob takes all the guesswork out of riding the track. It was a blast and after one ride, I was already itching to head back and go again!
Lunch at Jāna Market
There were so many fun and delicious places to eat all over Latvia, and the Jāņa Market in Sigulda was no exception. Inside the market you will find several shops, restaurants, and bakeries all under one roof. After our luge adventure, we stopped at this market for lunch. There were several restaurant options, and most of our group ended up at Osvalds Pupa located right in the center of the market.
I ordered the lunch set which came with soup or salad, choice of meat, and a side. I ended up with salad, chicken, and rice with a sauce on top. The best part was that the entire meal cost less than 5 EUR!
Another one of our stops in Sigulda was Gutman’s Cave. The cave is the oldest tourist attraction in the country, as it started to form from meltwater over 10,000 years ago. Gutman’s Cave is easily accessible from the nearby parking area. The trails to the cave are paved and easy to walk.
When we arrived at the cave, I was surprised to see that it was quite tall and wide, but not very deep. Even though the cave doesn’t go very far back into the hill, it is the widest and highest cave in all of the Baltic countries. Another cool feature about the cave is all the signatures engraved in the rock. The entire surface of the rock is covered in engravings, and it is quite stunning to see. Many of the carvings date all the way back to the 17th century!
Turaida Museum Reserve Tour
A guided tour of the Turaida Museum Reserve was next up on our itinerary. The museum reserve showcases historical events dating all the way back to the 11th century. During our tour of the property, we learned the romantic legend of the Rose of Turaida Memorial, we walked around some of the sculptures at Folk Song Garden, we stopped outside the Church on Church Hill, and we wandered around the Turaida Stone Castle.
There is a museum inside the Turaida Stone Castle, so we explored the museum and learned all about the history of the property, as well.
Then, we climbed the stairs of the castle’s tower. The views from the top of the tower were enveloped in fog. It felt as though we were floating high up in the clouds when looking out the windows, but once the fog parted, we were able to catch a glimpse of the gorgeous castle and landscapes below.
Wine Tasting at Krimulda Manor
To end our whirlwind two-day adventure in Gauja National Park and Sigulda, we stopped at Krimulda Manor. The Krimulda Manor house was constructed in the 19th century, and one of the buildings in the historic center is home to a winery. So, of course, a winery tour was in order.
When we arrived at the winery, we learned a bit about the history of the winery and how they make their wine. Then, it was time to do some tasting. Most of their wine is made from berries such as cranberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and lingonberries, to name a few. But they also create wine from dandelion and lilac flowers. One of my favorites ended up being the dandelion wine—I’d never tasted anything like it!
I can’t think of a better way to kick off a trip to Latvia than this two-day adventure in Gauja National Park. It was an absolute blast and so much fun to explore the beautiful nature that Latvia has to offer. Stay tuned for more about Riga and the rest of my adventures in Latvia!
Special thanks to Magnetic Latvia, Sigulda Aizrauj, Enter Gauja,Women in Travel Summit, and their partners for hosting me on this two-day adventure in Gauja National Park and Sigulda. As always, all opinions are my own.