The Gauja National Park, established in 1973, was Latvia’s first national park, and it has a wealth of tradition in environmental protection and tourism. Indeed, the GNP is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Latvia. The main “artery” of the park is the ancient Gauja River valley, which was left behind when Ice Age glaciers receded. The valley is 95 kilometres long, with many tributaries that are also in deep ravines with massive sandstone cliffs from the Devonian period. The deepest part of the river valley is at Sigulda, where it is 85 metres deep.
The territory has a great diversity of species – some 900 plant species in all. The Gauja is Latvia’s most popular river for water tourism, and many tourist accommodations are found along its shores. The Gauja National Park is one of the best-appointed protected territories in Latvia in terms of nature trails and tourism routes. Nature trails at Līgatne pass along paddocks of wild animals – the largest and most complete object of its kind in the Baltic States. The park also features cultural monuments of pan-Baltic importance – the Turaida Museum Reserve, the medieval old town of the city of Cēsis with its famous castle ruins and St John’s Church, the lake castle at Āraiši, etc. Visitors centres are found in Sigulda, along the Līgatne nature trails, and at the Zvārte rock. The administration of the GNP is building a new and modern visitors centre in Sigulda.