Turaida Castle lies on the opposite side of the Gauja river from Sigulda, where we had been previously. It is a medieval castle that has been recently reconstructed, making it look quite striking but maybe a little “too new”. It dates originally from 1214, and was expanded upon and improved over the following centuries, built largely in the typical red bricks of this region. In the 17th century it began to lose its strategic importance and following a fire in the 18th was left in ruins. By the start of the 20th century only a few fragments remained, but from the 1970s onwards, archaeological excavations were carried out here and based on their findings, the castle rebuilt. As I mentioned in my Sigulda tip, my own preference is for a ruined castle to be saved but perhaps not so thoroughly rebuilt, as it loses some of its sense of the past, but others may disagree, and this is certainly an impressive setting for this castle. You can climb the tower for views of the surrounding countryside but I opted out of this, preferring to sit for a while at its base, chatting with friends and soaking up the peaceful atmosphere - not what the castle was intended for!
The castle is set in attractive parkland dotted with some interesting sculptural pieces which I rather liked (see photos three and four). It reminded me a little of Hakone’s Open Air Museum which we visited last year in Japan, though on a much less extensive scale, naturally. This area is known as the Folk Song Hill and Folk Song Garden and was where, in the 1980s, the Latvian Singing Revolution emerged and continued until the restoration of Latvia’s independence in 1991. It became a site where Latvians could express themselves through song, music and dance, and it helped to strengthen the nation’s identity. The idea behind the sculptures is that “stone breathes and has ideas which become part of the surrounding environment”.
There are several other buildings in the grounds – I liked the pretty church in photo five, which is, I have since learned, one of the oldest wooden churches in Latvia, built in 1750. It would have been interesting to see inside but I didn’t try to see if it was open. And nearby you can see the grave of Maija, the Rose of Turaida, whose story I have told in my previous tip about Gutmanis Cave.
The website linked below has a lot more interesting information not only about the castle but also its surroundings. There is also a map and driving instructions, as well as for public transport (bus or train to Sigulda, then another bus or taxi). The castle is open every day 10.00-17.00 in the winter (November-April), 10.00-19.00 in October, and 9.00-20.00 from May-September, although indoor exhibitions (e.g. about the history of the castle) are open only 10.00-18.00. Pricing is among the most complicated I have seen, depending on which parts you want to see (castle alone, exhibitions etc), whether you need to park a car or motorbike, time of year (winter is cheaper than summer), size of the family for a family ticket and so on. So check the relevant page of the website before going.
Next tip: a typical Latvian evening with friends
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
- Castles and Palaces
Lido Atputas centrs is one of the largest corner-jointed buildings in Europe, hosting up to 1000 guests, presenting a unique type of wooden building. Latvian and European kitchen, 3 kinds of LIDO home-made unfiltered beer. Live Latvian folk music every evening 19.00 - 23.00 in the Beer Cellar. Children and their parents can enjoy special attractions and entertainment, open-air dancing, concerts, fairs and presentations. On Sat and Sun children can attend the "Family Days" where they can dance, sing, draw or just have fun together with their favourite fairytales heroes. To get to this family restaurant take bus No.A17 from central post or tram No.7 or 9 up to "Dzervju iela" or "Krasta masivs".
Phone: Tel. 750 44 20
Alberta Street carries the name of the man who founded Riga. Now it is one of the most beautiful and splendid streets in the city, representing all tat Jugendstil can offer. The construction of this street took place in a rather short period of time - from 1901 till 1908. The authors of the magnificent buildings are M.Eisenstein, N.Mandelstam and K.Pekshens.
These buildings are rich in picturesque details, free composition and perfect performance. You will find astonished faces, masks, large number of different animal sculptures etc.
While on our excursion we made a brief but interesting stop at Gutmanis Cave. Leaving our coach we strolled for five minutes or so through a pretty landscape, part of the Gauja National Park. The path brought us to the cave, set in a rocky hillside. It is a fair size - 18.8 metres deep, 12 metres wide and 10 metres high. It is also over 10,000 years old and is considered “the oldest tourist attraction in Latvia”. Those tourists of the past were not as respectful as we would hope present-day ones to be, for they carved their names and other messages all over the cave. They did so very thoroughly too, with ornate writing and ornamentation in places. It struck me that yesterday’s vandalism (for so it is, when you think about it) has become today’s history lesson.
This is a place of ancient worship and of many tales. One tells that the spring flowing here is water from the tears of the wife of a Liv chief, Rindaugs. When she was unfaithful to him, he buried her near this spot on the sandy banks of the Gauja river. She was distressed by her guilty conscience and she cried so hard that her tears flowed out of the cave. This is why, to this day, that the spring’s waters are said to have healing properties. Some of us put this to the test by kneeling to splash our faces in its waters but I have not yet heard any reports of miracle cures!
Another story explains how the cave got its name. A long time ago there was a man living in the cave who used the spring water to heal people. For this reason he was called "Gut Mann" which in German means "good man".
But the most famous story is that of the Rose of Turaida. This is a classic story of ill-fated lovers. I have adapted my version below from that told on the Turaida Castle website:
”In 1601 Swedish troops captured Turaida Castle. After the battle a clerk of the castle, Mr Greif, found among the dead a small girl. He undertook to bring up the orphan and named her Maija.
The years passed by and Maija grew up so beautiful, that people named her the Rose of Turaida. She met and fell in love with a gardener from Sigulda Castle, Victor Heil, and they became engaged to marry.
But someone else wanted to marry Maija - Adam Jakubovsky, who then was in service in Turaida castle. Maija rejected him and Jakubovsky decided to get her by deceit. He wrote a note, as if it were from Victor, and invited her to meet at Gūtmanis cave. When Maija arrived, she understood that she was deceived. The girl decided better to die and remain faithful to her fiancé than succumb to Jakubovsky’s advances. She had a red silk scarf around her neck and she told Jakubovsky that it would protect her from any sword cut and asked him to test it. Jakubovsky tried and Maija fell down lifeless at his feet.
Victor Heil found the murdered girl and he rushed in despair to Turaida for help. At the cave there was found a gardener’s axe, lost in a hurry, and therefore suspicion about Maija`s murder fell on Victor. He was arrested and tried. Skudritz, a comrade-in-arms of Jakubovsky, came to the court and told the truth, so Victor was cleared. Maija was buried at the edge of Turaida graveyard, where Victor planted a linden tree on her grave.”
You can still see her grave when you visit Turaida Castle, as we did next.
Next tip: Turaida Castle
- Historical Travel
- National/State Park
Our other “organised excursion” from Riga took us north, to visit a couple of castles and other sights. Our first stop on this trip was here at Sigulda Castle. In fact, there are two castles here – the ruins of an old 13th century one and “new” Sigulda castle which was built in 1881. This latter building si today occupied by the local town council (what a fabulous council office this is!) so it was the ruins of the old castle that we had come to see. These consist of the main gate tower and the south western portion, plus a few odd fragments. It was built originally in 1207 by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, officially known as The Militia of Christ of Livonia, a military order comprised of German "warrior monks”. The castle’s main purpose was to monitor and control the waterways of the Gauja River and to deter invasion attempts from the nearby castle in Turaida which was located on the river’s west bank. You can get great views of Turaida from here so it is clear that it would have been a very strategic location.
Of course the castle changed over the centuries, with destruction in battle and rebuilding going in cycles. You can read a full history on the website if interested. Since the 16th century it seems to have been largely left as a ruin, but this has been somewhat restored in recent years. I’m not sure that I agree with this, by the way, as it creates a somewhat artificial structure, neither useful building nor genuinely historical structure, but it seems to be the norm in some countries and does offer the visitor perhaps a greater sense of the past.
You can climb the towers if you want (although the views even at ground level are great) and poke around the ruins, but for most of the time there isn’t a huge amount to do here. That must all change during the summer festival season, when Sigulda is host to a renowned opera festival as well as blues and jazz ones. It’s a great setting for what must be rather special evenings.
Next tip: Gutmanis Cave
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
On one of the afternoons of our meeting a group of VTers boarded a coach and set off out of Riga to visit the Laci bread factory. Although this was an organised excursion it is perfectly possible to visit the factory independently so I include a review here.
Our tour, like several of those available, included both learning about the bread-making and participating in some activities. First, we were introduced to the company and its ethos through a short film. We learned that Laci means “bear” and the name comes from an old farmhouse belonging to the founder’s father, where he first learned the skills of baking traditional bread. Then we donned appropriate clothing – thin white paper coats, hats into which every strand of hair must be tucked, and plastic “slippers” pulled over our shoes. The factory must be kept immaculately clean, of course.
In the factory we saw the bread ovens and watched bakers shaping loaves and feeding them into these ovens on large wooden paddles. We learned about the different loaf sizes, about cooking times and temperatures, and the importance of quality control to ensure that no loaf leaves the factory if not up to the required standard. All of this was very interesting. But the most fun was making our own giant sweet pretzel! We were divided into two teams, given some dough already made to stretch and flatten, shown how to fill it with sweet things (coloured sugar crystals, dried apricots etc), to roll and plait it, and finally to cover it with beaten egg and sweet crumble. Our efforts were then taken away for baking while we saw more of the factory and were given samples to taste as we went – four different sorts of bread (I liked the traditional and the fruit loaves best), and also some delicious so-called toasts – little strips of bread deep-fried and dusted with cheese or rubbed with garlic – yummy!
Then it was time to head for the café, having first removed all our baking attire. We were given delicious herbal tea to drink, and to eat – our own pretzels! We were amazed at how well these had turned out, with some even suspecting that others had been substituted for our efforts, but I was sure that these were ours, based on size and shape. We also received vouchers for a small discount in the attached shop, although only for bread and not for the other products they sell (a wide selection of those toasts (I bought a pack of herb-flavoured ones), sweets and chocolates, jam and other goodies).
If you visit privately you can choose between a variety of tours, although it’s not clear (to me at least) whether you need to book in advance. Certainly there would be no need to book to visit the café to try the bread and to buy some in the shop. As this is, despite the presence of a factory, still very much a traditional operation, and the bread definitely better than that I tasted elsewhere in Riga, this is well worth doing. I think though that you would need to have your own car to do so. Failing that, you can buy Laci bread in the Central Market in Riga.
By the way, it is not permitted to take any photos that show the faces of those working in the factory.
Next tip: Sigulda Castle
The 19th century Russian Orthodox cathedral on Brivibas iela was converted to an astronomical observatory during the anti-religious Soviet era. Since independence it's been restored to it's proper use, though locals still refer to it as the 'Planetarijs'.
Location: Brîvîbas 23
The Bastion hill is one of city's largest hills, which also previously was called as cockleshell hill, but personally I know anyone, who would say so. The hill was made artificially in the 19th century, taking down city's banks. In the green park, there are many pathways, where one can enjoy nice views, city canal and also small waterfall.
From it's beginning there aren't survived pavilion, which was located on the top of Bastion hill. But there is restored swans' house, which one can see on the bank of city canal.
In the park there are five stone memorial sites for victims, who suffered from guns in 1991.
Bastion hill is situated near Monument of Freedom and also closely to Old city.
- Adventure Travel
Old Latvian countryside buildings grouped like small villages. Perfect place to visit if the weather is nice and you want to get out of town a bit. Open daily from 10 to 17 all year round.
It's located about 13 km outside of Riga. Take bus nr 1 from Brivibas street to Brivdabas Muzejs (there's a big signpost). The trip takes about 30 mins and the fare is 0,20 lats.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
- Road Trip
In the middle of 19th century the park was formed by German rifleman union, and it was closed for other people, only later opened. Nowadays together with the sculptures of park you can see interesting glass pyramids, which are exit from underground parking, and also see colorful fountain.
Kronvalda park is located near Bastion hill.
- Arts and Culture
- Adventure Travel
Vermane's garden or simply just Vermanitis was opened in 1817, and was named by Vermane - merchant widow's name. In that time she invested a lot in new park's development. There you can see many sculptures and also pedestal in honor of madam Vermane, which is guarded by two lions. In the park many things haven't survived from past times. During summer you can refresh and relax here from city. You can also take with you some meal and take a rest here looking to the nice fountain.
- Adventure Travel
When I was second time in Riga (April 2006), I decided to make day - half days trips into Sigulda and Jurmala. Sigulda is about 50 km from Riga and it takes a bit more than 1 hour to get there by train from Riga Train station. It is nice small town surrounded by Gaujas National Park and few medieval castles.
Jurmala is Latvian seaside, about 30 km from Riga, can be reached by train too. Very nice atmosphere walking the streets full of wooden houses, bars, restaurants, relaxing walk along Baltic sea.
One good way to see Riga from a different perspective is by river... there are many boat trips going nearly hourly on the river Daugava - with some longer ones going as far as the baltic sea.
Basic river trips are very cheap (a few lahti) and go as far as the TV tower island and back.... not exactly a spectacular trip but interesting to glimpse on parts of town that as a tourist one would never visit.
For schedules and exact prices it's better to enquire at the tourist office - and bear in mind that very few trips run on Monday... for a wider choice, save your river trip for another day of the week.
This impressive radio and TV tower is the third tallest tower in Europe and eleventh in the world (today :). It is located on an island called Zakusala in the middle of the River Daugava.
Even if the observation platform is far from the top (97 meters from the 368.5 meters total) you can have the highest view of Riga (Hotel Latvija is 95 meters total but view is at 27th floor, and Hansabanka building is 121 meters total but view is also at 27th floor, approx. 94 meters). Nice view anyway.
You can arrive taking tram number 7 and getting off at Elijas iela stop (as far as I remember). After you should find the way to cross the bridge by the pedestrian way under it. Access to the tower observatory cost 2 Lats.
Phone: +371 7108643
Sigulda is not off the beeten path but it is outside Riga. I visited Sigulda on a daytrip from Riga. It was in December and the weather was the worst, it was grey, there was some rain and on the ground there was wet snow mud. Sights are quite spread out around Sigulda so I went by bus and on foot (and got very wet feet).
The small town Sigulda is situated 53 km northeast of Riga, by the Gauja River Valley. The landscape is beautiful with rolling hills. There are many activities to do for the visitors. In the area there are many caves and medieval castles and ruins. Between the sights there are often good walking trails.
Sigulda is the Latvian centre for sports and outdoor activities. Besides walking you can in summer do horse riding, cycling, ballooning, bungee jumping and much more. If it is enough snow in winter you can go skiing and there is also bobsleigh run open on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Castles and Palaces
- Hiking and Walking