Sigulda, Latvia: Medieval Castles Amid Autumn Leaves

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As soon as I announced we were moving to Latvia, I started receiving travel advice for the country. Nearly all of it included an autumn visit to Sigulda, which was described as the “New England of Latvia.” It’s apparently the place to go leaf peeping in this country. Considering the highest point in Latvia is just 312 meters above sea level (about 1,600 meters shorter than the highest peak in New England), the comparison is a bit of a stretch. But Sigulda does have something the U.S. lacks: 800-year-old castle ruins. As stunning as the autumnal colors of the trees are on their own, they become magical when interspersed with crumbling stone walls and watchtowers.

Sigulda Medieval Castle was built in 1207 by the knights of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, and is thought to have been abandoned in the early 18th century after it was damaged by war. Thankfully, the castle remains mostly unrestored. Its broken shell has been fitted out with stairs and wooden walkways, and one of the towers has been made into a lookout point with a spectacular view of the surrounding river valley. There were very few visitors when we were there, and as we walked through the castle’s old stone gate, it felt as though we were the first ones to uncover its existence.

sigulda medieval castle

Sigulda Medieval Castle

Sigulda Medieval Castle

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Sigulda castle

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Sigulda castle

The medieval castle ruins are tucked behind New Sigulda Castle, constructed in 1881 using stones from the rubble. Originally owned by a duke, the New Castle was used as a retreat for journalists and writers between the World Wars, and as a health center during Soviet times. Today, it contains the offices of the Sigulda City Council. The yellow wooden house next door, once the brewery, is now an art gallery and workshop, though it might have been better served in its former capacity.

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New Sigulda Castle

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“Here’s an artist’s residence.” Can we have some beer instead?

Sigulda church

Sigulda Church stands near the gates of the castle, and its ringing bells enhance the already tranquil scene.

I highly recommend taking the cable car near the castle to the other side of the Gauja River. You can also walk or drive across the bridge, but the valley views make the four-euro ride (one-way) worthwhile. You’ll be let out near Krimulda Manor, which has been used as a sanitarium since the 1920s, though it looked completely deserted to us. The surrounding buildings, including the former stables, have been turned into charming homes of indeterminate ownership, but that didn’t stop us from walking around and taking photos of their cats. The skeletal ruins of 13th century Krimulda Castle can be found in the nearby woods.

Gauja National Park

Krimulda Manor

Krimulda Manor

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Krimulda castle ruins

Ruins of 13th century Krimulda Castle.

We hiked from Krimulda Manor through a small section of Gauja National Park, a 92,000-hectare nature preserve and the first of its kind in Latvia. (Note: This involved going down A LOT of stairs. Those with limited mobility should take the public bus.) The hike was peaceful and lovely, and took us through unspoiled forest brimming with golden leaves, myriad mushrooms and the sweet smell of decay. It also took us past Gutmana Ala, the largest erosion cave in the Baltics. Deemed Latvia’s first tourist attraction, it bears the markings of the countless visitors before us who came to see the spot where the legend of “Rose of Turaida – Latvia’s version of Romeo and Juliet” was born.

Hiking in Gauja National Park

Autumn in Gauja National Park

Gauja National Park in Autumn

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Gutmanis Cave

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We walked the last few kilometers to Turaida along the highway.

Turaida Castle was built in 1214 on the orders of the Archbishop of Riga, and wasn’t abandoned until the end of the 18th century. The red-brick stunner has been partially restored, and includes multiple lookout points and interesting historical exhibits. There is also an excellent gift shop in one of the towers. The castle is part of the larger Turaida Museum Reserve, which charmingly recreates feudal village life. Costumed characters demonstrate the labors of the day, from the blacksmith to the wood worker to the sauna attendant. Yes, apparently even medieval knights enjoyed a good sauna.

Turaida castle ruins

Turaida Castle

Turaida castle

Turaida castle

Turaida castle museum

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Turaida Museum Reserve

Turaida museum reserve

Turaida museum resrve

Sigulda is located just an hour and fifteen minutes from Riga by train – the ride costs less than five euros round trip! – making it a popular day-trip destination. But I like to spend more time getting to know a new place, so I booked us two nights at a rustic guest house, Prieka Pietura. It was an easy walk from the train station and proved to be a good base from which to explore the area despite being more distant from the main attractions than the “downtown” hotels.

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Our room at Prieka Pietura was actually a small, private apartment.

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“Downtown” Sigulda

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Sigulda Walking Stick Square – a playful take on the area’s most popular souvenir.

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I’ve got the keys to Sigulda in my hands!

Spending the night also gave us more opportunities to eat. My favorite restaurant was Mr. Biskvits. We “discovered” this place thanks to a flyer in our hotel room and proceeded to enjoy three of our five meals there. Had I the weekend to do again, I might not have eaten anywhere else. That’s not to say our dinner at Hotel Sigulda wasn’t enjoyable – it was, very much so. After a 16-kilometer hike, the cozy dining room was the perfect place to recover with a bottle of wine and bowls of pasta.

Mr Biskvits Sigulda

Mr Biskvits Turaida

A second Mr. Biskvits is conveniently located under the entrance to the Turaida Museum Reserve.

Hotel Sigulda

Dinner at Hotel Sigulda – the cream of asparagus soup and cheesecake with black balsam sauce were particularly delicious.

 Where’s your favorite place to enjoy the autumn leaves?

21 thoughts on “Sigulda, Latvia: Medieval Castles Amid Autumn Leaves

    • There are several other towns and castles further into the national park – I can’t wait to explore them all!

      And the cheesecake was my favorite 🙂

  1. What a great weekend getaway. That new castle looks so beautiful.
    The food looked pretty good too. Great pictures as usual. I’m sorry
    to say, but I think my hiking days are over. I’ll just have to rely on
    your pictures. Glad you had a good time.

  2. 800 year castle ruins?! SO there! Seriously, this looks incredible, what a great way to enjoy the foliage, Heather! I enjoy the changing leaves in Central Park, and also any upstate weekend trips we’re able to get in…the Catskills are gorgeous this time of year!:-)
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    • I do love Central Park in the fall – the avenue of elm trees is breathtaking when the leaves turn! But can you believe that I lived in NYC for 5 whole years and never once made it out of the city to admire the New England foliage? I don’t know what I was thinking!

    • We drove by Bauskas Castle on our way to Rundale Palace (highly recommend!) a few months ago and definitely want to go back and explore it at some point. I’ll be interested to see your photos!

  3. Latvia is such a beautiful and tranquil country, making this a beautiful post! Also, you’ve got a lovely website!

    Regards,
    Vidmantas

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