What to do in and Around Riga this Winter
FEEL LIKE AN OLYMPIAN IN LATVIA
Ever wondered what it might feel like to whoosh down a slick icy track like an Olympic bobsled team? Or slide head first like the slightly insane competitors who do Skeleton? You can experience it for yourself and you should when in Latvia. Step right up and hurtle yourself down the Latvian Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton Track in Sigulda.
Just an hour outside the Latvian capital of Riga, you can take a turn or two in a real Olympic bobsled reaching speeds up to 100km/hr. Not for the faint of heart. Or those under 18, pregnant or with any back issues. Rule you out? Us too. At least more than half of us. But no worries – we can all ride together in the slightly slower, but still thrilling “soft-bob.” On Saturdays and Sundays all winter, you and your friends or family can step into a plush sled and get pushed down the track, hitting speeds of 70-80 km/hr. It felt plenty fast enough for me.
RIGA TO SIGULDA BY TRAIN
We made our way from Riga to Sigulda via a very retro looking train from Central Station. While not the fastest way to wild winter fun, it was cheap and comfortable and had free wifi! What?! Yes, WIFI. With teens in tow, this was worth the slightly longer travel time. No roaming charges. No login, credit cards or emails required. That is decidedly civilized and much appreciated. But don’t get distracted by your Instagram feed and misunderstand the train announcement in Latvian regarding the next stop. Which we may or may not have done.
ONLY GET OFF AT SIGULDA STATION
Most likely the end of your line will be Sigulda itself. You can’t miss it. It’s a fairly big station. But, I may have exited my family a stop too soon. It sounded like Sigulda. Seriously, it did. Having only heard Latvian for the previous 24 hours, it did to me. A rookie move for certain. Suddenly we were on the side of the track in the snow at a stop that nary a soul in February would dare step off. The train honked it’s imminent departure, before rolling away leaving us there. I’m sure everyone was wondering why the heck we got off. Thank our lucky stars we had cellular service. After my mild freakout over my mistake, we made a detour through a chilly but scenic stretch of uninhabited Latvian forest, before finding the freeway and flagging down a passing bus. Phew. Crisis averted and only forty-five minutes behind our regularly scheduled arrival, we have a story to tell and amusing memories. My mistake may live on in family infamy forever. Alas. It was all my fault. But, all’s well that ends well.
STUNNING WINTER STOP SIGULDA
Some say Sigulda is the Switzerland of Latvia. Personally, I wonder if those people have ever been to Switzerland. Despite the lack of anything looking like mountains, Sigulda does have lots to offer the visitor in winter. And it is truly lovely. This town is home to Latvia’s Olympic Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton Federation track and is proud of their resident athletes currently competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Back in Latvia, you can feel like an athlete yourself, with bobsled, skeleton and Nordic skiing opportunities. We came for the track. It’s an easy walk from the Sigulda train station and allows just about anyone to go for a slide on Saturdays and Sundays from November to March.
BOBSLEIGH AND LUGE TRACK SIGULDA
This way to the track and wild winter fun. With no line, we timed our arrival perfectly (says the same mom who mistakenly escorted her children through the woods earlier). Built in 1986, before the Sochi Russia Olympics in 2014, this was the only track of its kind in Eastern Europe. You want to do the soft-bob? Yes please. Pick a helmet, pay the man and wait your turn. Which happened to be immediately for us. Get in! How cool that all five us could fit into one sled. A sled that looked and felt a bit like gym mats that have been fashioned into a rectangular box and affixed with ropes to hold on to. Get in! Our wee lass sat up front, then Dad, then biggest brother, then mom, then middle son at the rear. Sandwiched between my taller-than-me teens, we were given a very brief safety briefing. Basically, hold on to this, don’t put arms or any other body parts outside the sled and your camera is your own responsibility. Any questions? Yes? Oh well. Here you go! Pushed down the track with a kick we tried to watch where we were headed, but you pick up speed quickly. And then it becomes just trying to brace our heads and not knock helmets.
ONE MINUTE OF MANIACAL SLIDING
After all of 60-70 seconds or so, we swished to a stop at the bottom of the track and were assisted quickly out of our sled. I’m sure we won no medals, but it was a blast. So worth it. Serious family fun. And it truly felt longer than it is. At the bottom of the track, your sled is loaded onto a truck and you climb in alongside it for an escort back up to the top of the hill. Hold on tight. These guys are efficient if not necessarily concerned for your safety.
TRY THE TRACK HEAD FIRST IN THE SKELETON
Depending on the demand, you can try to beat your record and do the track again. For an additional fee of course. Or try the “frog.” A makeshift soft green “skeleton” for two of your team to attempt. Head first. Sans helmets. Yes. You heard me. If it seems counterintuitive, it’s because it is. Head first. Sans helmets. I guess you have a greater risk to bump heads with your fellow passengers in the soft bob than the skeleton. Or so we were told. My almost birthday son convinced his Dad to do it. A little faster, a little wilder and definitely rides a little higher up on the curves. Instructions this time? Don’t do anything. Like you are lying on the couch. And don’t breathe. It will fog up the plastic cover and you won’t be able to see out the front. Ha! Ready? Set.. GO! Lucky for the rest of the team, there was an indoor room to wait for your late entry lugers.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Sigulda Bobsleigh and Luge Track
Šveices iela 13, LV-2150, Sigulda
HOURS FOR SLEDDING: 12:00 – 17:00 Saturday and Sunday, Nov – March
TRACK VISIT: 08:00-20:00 every day
Soft-bob | €10 for adults 14+, €7 children up 6-14
Skeleton frog | €10 for adults 14+, €7 children up 6-14
Olympic sled | €50 per person aged 18+
Top of track viewpoint | €0.60 for adults, €0.30 children up to 14
HOW TO GET THERE BY TRAIN:
Riga – Sigulda, Latvia
1 hour 15 minutes
€1.90 each one-way
Find current train schedules online here.
It is an easy 900-meter walk from the train station to the track.
TAKE A TOUR:
Too much to navigate there yourself? Take a tour. Many tour operators around Riga will pick up at your accommodation and drive you right to the Bobsleigh track in Sigulda. Contact companies directly to discuss options, there is more to explore and they can work out the perfect day out from Riga for your group. I can recommend Red Fox Tours who were quick to respond, easy to work with and super friendly. Tell Janis I said hej from Copenhagen!
WHERE TO EAT:
Ausekļa iela 9, Sigulda, LV-2150, Latvia
Need a pick me up or something to warm your bellies once finished? Head to cute and cozy little Mr. Biskvits across the street from the station for delicious pastries, sweets, soup, light dishes and coffee.
NOTE: The Bobsleigh track offers summer versions of the ride down between May to September if you find yourself in Sigulda outside of winter.
We loved Latvia. In Winter. I’ve got more to share. Stay tuned. Heading there soon? Pin it for later!