Outside of Riga, Latvia has some beautiful countryside castles in the city of Sigulda. One hiking route connects three of these ancient castles of Sigulda, Krimulda, and Turaida, along the Gauja River.
Sigulda Medieval Castle and New Castle
Despite the fact that it’s called the three-castle route, here you can get two for the price of one. The older one, which is basically in ruins, is the Castle of Livonian Order in Sigulda. It was built in 1207, and it’s part castle, part fortress, with accessible stairs that allow you to climb up the north tower and main gate tower. This was originally built to monitor the Gauja, so from the grounds of the Medieval Castle, you can clearly see the river valley and the other castles that are on the hiking route. Though quite desolate when I saw it in April, the castle grounds are actually used for festivals and concerts in the summer time.
In front of the Medieval castle, is the neo-Gothic New Castle of Sigulda and manor center, which was built in the 1800s as a home. It’s changed owners and functions over the years and currently houses the Sigulda District Council. Aside from enjoying the gardens of the manor, you can get the best view of the new castle from the upper tower of the Medieval Castle.
Krimulda Medieval Castle ruins
You can take a cable car from Sigulda up to the Krimulda ruins, which is the easiest way to get up there with a bird’s eye view of the river valley. If you want a little more excitement, you can also bungee jump off the cable car. It runs every 30 minutes every day from 10 am to 6:30 pm and costs 7 euro one-way or 12 euro round-trip.
Without going up by cable car, the only other way to get to Krimulda is on foot. And it’s a motherfucker of a hike. If you’re in good shape, it’s certainly doable, but if you’ve been falling behind on your exercise, it will probably be grueling. From Sigulda Castle, you have to go down to the river, cross along the street and then take endless stairs up to Krimulda. Here, you’ll find the 14th century castle ruins, which are in even worse shape than Sigulda’s.
Aside from the ruins, you’ll also find the Krimulda manor, which was is a neo-classical building and gardens that overlook the valley. There’s also a winery, where wine from the berries in the surrounding forest are made.
This is arguably the most impressive of all the castles in the Gauja valley. The red medieval structure stands imposing, visible from nearly everywhere else. Construction of the castle started in 1214, though it was reconstructed and renovated and restored in the 20th century after a fire in 1776 left it abandoned and in disrepair. It now houses the Turaida Museum Reserve, where for a small fee of 3-5 euros depending on the season, you can enter and visit different parts of the stone castle and estate. You can see the medieval cellar, prison, cannon room, and get a view of the area from the Main Tower.
Before crossing the Gauja River once more to return to Sigulda, you can stop by Gutman’s cave. This is the highest and widest cave in the Baltic countries, but don’t let that fact get you too excited. The cave is fairly small; it’s more like a recess in the rock wall than what I would consider a cave. It’s covered in carved inscriptions from the 17th century.
My favorite part about Gutmanis Cave is the story of the Rose of Turaida. Legend has it that Rose, the most beautiful girl in the valley, was having an affair with the gardener of Sigulda Castle. They would meet in the evenings in this cave. A soldier who wanted to marry her and wouldn’t take no for an answer tricked her into meeting him in Gutman’s cave by sending her a note that looked like it was from her lover. When Rose arrived and realized that he intended to kidnap her, she convinced him to let her go by telling him that she would give him her magic scarf that would protect him from bodily harm if he wore it. To prove to him that it worked, she told him to swing his sword against her neck. He reluctantly did, immediately killing her, because of course, her story was a lie. She just rather die than have to marry him.
If you properly visit each of the sites, this could take almost all day. Though you can cut a considerable amount of hiking time by taking the cable car. If you don’t stop to try the wine or check out the Turaida Museum, the whole hike can take about 3 or 4 hours.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Sigulda guides on GPSmyCity here.