One of the biggest draws in the town of Cesis is the beautiful castle in the centre of the town. Foundations to this castle were built around 800 years ago. It hides within it a fascinating story of a seige during the time of Ivan the Terrible.
The inhabitants of the castle were so resistant to being conquered that they decided to blow up the castle rather than face capture, even though it was suicide for all that lived there. Part of the old castle remains and on the site of the gunpowder explosion, is a new castle that tells the story of the rich history.
When you buy a ticket, you can choose if you want to explore both the new and the old.
The new part of the castle tells a story of its construction and fate. With its fancy rooms and deep history it makes a visit worthwhile. The kids were too young to appreciate the history of the castle but they did love having a nose around and an impromptu dance in the ballroom.
The old part of the castle, a partial ruin is still worthy of a wander. The Western tower can be climbed for a lovely view of the town. A tradition, started a long time ago that those that climbed the stairs would take a candle to light the way. This tradition still goes on to this day. They give out the candles at the base of the tower and you’ll need them to ascend the steps.
Austin who was three, sat this one out as the steps are quite steep, whereas Millie was desperate to attempt the climb.
When we visited in the summer, the grounds were a hive of activity. There was a medieval fayre complete with knights in full costume. The kids were able to hold real swords and watch some combat. They found it so interesting to wander round the the stalls, watching the blacksmiths, woodturner and other craftspeople show them their skills. You can even try stilt walking and some other medieval games.
We weren’t quite sure whether to make the trip to the Bunker, even though it was high on our to do list. I mean, taking the kids underground on a guided tour is a bit of a gamble right? We decided that we’d go for it and we were so glad we did. It was so interesting and most of all, the kids loved it!
The history behind the place is fascinating. It was a rare thing, a secret that was kept a secret. Built as what the locals thought was a rehabilitation centre for the Communist elite but hiding a huge facility to keep the same people safe in the event of a nuclear attack.
The tour is available in English and the tour guide offers a valuable insight to what living in Latvia was like under Communist rule. You get to explore all of the rooms and imagine what it might have been like if they would have had to be used.
So, how did the kids survive? After the initial boredom at the introduction speech from the tour guide, once we’d descended the steps and entered the bunker, they were fascinated. You see some of the rooms are furnished with old communications equipment and the kids were allowed to play with it all. They were in their element!
The other important element in keeping the kids happy is making sure they are well fed. This was also a win as you get to visit the canteen and get to try some local soup, rye bread and fruit juice.
Would we recommend it?
I would highly recommend a visit. Our kids were 3 and 5 at the age of the visit and would also say the same. You will want to book ahead to ensure a place in the tour and you can do this by filling out a form on this site.
There are also some lovely walks to enjoy with sculptures next to the river should you wish to prolong your stay in the area. Just look for the signs when you exit the building on your left.
The Gauja river banks are worthy of an explore just to see the gorgeous colours produced by the beautiful Sandstone cliffs. There are many places for you to stop the car to see these sights if you’re short on time. We love a little hike. So if you have the time, I’d recommend a walk too and make the time to take in the surroundings.
We stopped the car on the road out of Ligatne (from coming to see the bunker) . Park up on the first car park across the bridge. From there, we were able to catch our first glimpse of the cliffs whilst the kids took great delight in hurling nearby stones into the fast moving river.
The second place we stopped required a five minute walk through the pine forests. You’ll come across a beach complete with picnic tables. On a sunny day, this would be a lovely place to spend some time with the kids as they could have a paddle and watch the kayaks sail past. There you can see the Kuku cliffs, the biggest sandstone outcrop in Latvia.
Its a little hard to describe how to get there as we came upon it by chance and decided to follow some signs for Kuku Clintis not knowing what that meant. You can find the sign for a little forest road on the road going from Ligatne to Karli. The sign is a brown tourist one. You just need to follow it, park in the car park and head on the path down to the beach.
Fancy a stroll by the river?
The last place we went was more of a walk. If you’re planning to do this, you’ll need at least an hour or two but you’ll almost certainly get a piece of this bliss to yourself.
This place is nearer to Sigulda and allows you to cross the bridge across the river. To find it, drive the road from Turaida to Krimalda. This map, taken from www.entergauja.com which has loads of handy walking routes, shows the car park. Look at the left hand side of the map for the symbol of the church. This is the location of the pedestrian bridge. If you then look to the right of it and see two symbols with an oak leaf, you’ll see the carpark just above the points.
The path starts towards the cliffs and you descend a number of steps. This isn’t a pram friendly route so take a carrier if you have little ones. You’ll descend to the pedestrian bridge and once crossing, turn left and follow the path to the clearing which has a BBQ and picnic area. From here, you can see the cave and the cliffs. We completed this route in August and we had the whole place to ourselves. You can re-trace your steps to get back to the car or go on to explore more of the route shown in the map.
I’m going to put it out there. This was something we pondered about doing as the price to make the crossing is quite high compared to other activities and we thought it extremely touristy. However, you do get the best view of the national park, castles and the river and so we did it. Luckily, we managed to swing having the cable car to ourselves for one of the journeys. The kids were pointing out absolutely everything they could see. I bet it must be amazing to take this trip during Autumn when the leaves of all the trees in the valley would make a multicolored spectacle.
For the more adventurous of you, you can even choose to do a bungee jump from the cable car if the mood takes you. Quite a nice place to do it I imagine but I’ve never fancied it!
If you want to make the trip, you can find information about the costs here. Enter Gauja do a great interactive map of the area if you need to work out how to get there.
Turaida castle is a gorgeous red medieval castle with a scenic setting overlooking the river Gauja. It’s also surrounded in myth and legend with it being the setting of the memorial about a girl who sacrificed herself for love.
We didn’t have time to explore the full site of the castle (and there is quite a lot to explore). So make sure you set enough time aside. We just went to see the castle structures and the memorial stone. Also on offer is the folk song garden complete with sculptures, a church and a manor house all set among very picturesque grounds.
You can climb the the tallest tower in Turaida and take in some resplendent views across the valley. The steps are quite steep in places but the kids managed them well. Whilst we were there, in the courtyard of the castle, you could pay a small amount to have a go with some bows and arrows so any Robin Hood wannabe’s will have a great time!
There are plenty of rooms to explore around the castle and part of the fun for the kids was exploring what lay behind all the doorways. Their absolute favourite? Without a doubt it was the dungeon. Set down a few steps and blocked from entry by steel bars, they peered in to see what was going on. There is a recreation of some mannequins being shackled and this sparked a number of questions and even more return visits.
If you’re looking for culture and history, you’ll find it all here too, with exhibits in every space and in English too.
Find out more about visiting here where you can also explore the events page to see what is on offer whilst you’re visiting.
An experience to try your own version of ‘Cool Running’ anyone? Sigulda is home to a 1200m long bobsleigh track. Built originally by a Prince (non-the less,) this track is open to the public. In the winter, you too can ride a bobsleigh down the track. In the summer you can ride the bobsleigh on wheels.
We missed the chance to try out the track ourselves but we did head up to the viewing platform. It probably is the best view you’re going to get across the river and valley. We were allowed to run down the track so the kids pretended to be bobsleigh athletes and tried and tested every turn. A nice bit of fun for a low admittance fee.
If you want to have a go yourself, head over to their page to have a look at opening times and costs.
The largest cave in the Baltics where you can see 17th century inscriptions sounds pretty impressive doesn’t it? I’ve got to admit, we weren’t blown away by this particular tourist attraction. Bus load of coaches were pulling up to the paid car -park and we joined a line of people walking up to the cave. We were expecting something a lot bigger (having previously explored the Slovenian caves and the ones back home in Wales). We found this positively minute in comparison.
There was a rather loud saxophone playing busker at the entrance of the cave. My daughter found it too noisy and wanted to retreat back to the car. If you are going to take a peek, try and hang around until there isn’t a queue of tourists. You’ll only need a short amount of time to explore the site itself.
You can find all the details about the cave here.
The Gauja River is so scenic and beautiful. What better way to enjoy it than taking a ride on it yourself?
We hadn’t taken the kids kayaking before so wondered if they would be OK. The river is a calm one with only one place having the tiniest bit of rapids. We hired one kayak to fit the four of us from the campsite called Makars. The staff there were brilliant. They spent a while making sure the life jackets fitted well and showing us the map of the route.
Off we went in the car with the kayak strapped to the trailer. After a short while, it was time to get in the water. We had chosen a two hour paddle down stream as we thought the kids would tolerate that as first timers. Luckily, we had the river to ourselves. The only company we had were the many birds and the kids loved watching them. About halfway, we pulled the boat up and had a picnic without another soul in sight. We all really enjoyed the experience and the kids can’t wait to do something similar again.
I’ve got to admit, this one isn’t in the Gauja national park. But I’m squeezing it in as we visited this beach on the way from the park back to Riga.
The blue flag beach is 17km long. It was definitely a good way to end our nature stint before getting back to the city. The sand was golden, clean and warm and the sea chilly but crystal clear.
Like the beach in Ventspils, it was not short of facilities. From a playground on the beach, changing cubicles and a cafe. You were also able to hire Stand Up Paddle boards, jet skis, surf boards or kite surf boards. They also allow horse riding on the beach and there is a nearby stables.
For us, it was nice to soak up a bit of sun. It’s a beautiful part of the world, one we didn’t realise existed. Here is some more information if you want to do the same.
So which reason is going to be the one to take you there?
So there is is, eleven reasons you have to visit Gauja National Park in Latvia. Which of those reasons takes your fancy?
Most of the pictures are taken from the blog page mentioned above!