Seda is a town in Northern Latvia, Strenči municipality. It is located by a major highway, just 20km from Valka and the Estonian border and 130km from Riga. Built from scratch in early 1950s to accommodate workers of the nearby Seda peat bog, it is a well-preserved example of a Soviet industrial town. The peat bog, now part of North Vidzeme Biosphere Reserve, offers excellent birdwatching opportunities and features a working industrial narrow gauge railway.
Seda owes its existence to the nearby Seda peat bog, one of the largest in Latvia. Large-scale peat extraction started in 1954, and Seda was built in the middle of a forest as a model town, with further additions in 1960s and 1970s. As such, it survives as a unique example of Soviet urban planning, featuring essentially unchanged Stalinist architecture and looking a great deal like a Soviet-themed open-air museum.
The Seda peat processing plant has always been and still is the main employer. At its highest point, Seda's population reached 4,500 people, featuring an ethnically diverse mix from all around the Soviet Union. As peat reserves and output have both declined, so has the population, which now stands at less than 1,400. It remains a predominantly Russian town, in stark contrast to the surrounding region.
Due to peat extraction, Seda bog has mostly been transformed into a series of shallow, partially overgrown lakes, which serves as an excellent nesting place for waterbirds and wading birds. As such, it has been named a nature reserve, although some small-scale peat extraction remains in the centre of the bog. Connecting roads and a narrow-gauge railway have been built for peat extraction, which allows relatively easy access to the bog, and observation towers have been built for birdwatchers.
Due to its location by the A3 motorway, Seda is well-connected to Riga and Southern Estonia.
Seda train station lies just outside the town. 3 trains a day leave from Riga to Valga, Estonia, stopping in Seda. The train also connects Seda to Sigulda, Cesis, Ligatne and Valmiera. The journey from Riga takes about 3 hours.
Seda bus stop is located right next to the main town square, and buses going from Riga to Valka all stop in Seda. Alternatively, Seda is well connected to Valmiera, with buses up to eight times a day.
The town of Seda is small enough to easily navigate on foot. The Seda bog, however, is much larger, covering 7,240ha.
Seda bog narrow gauge railway, with its 35km of tracks, covers much of the bog. Unfortunately, it is not open to the general public, although tourist rides are sometimes available. It can, however, be used as a footpath.
The Seda bog nature trail is 12km long, with markers and maps posted along the way. It is a mix of footpaths and wide peat extraction roads, with some stretches of the narrow gauge railway. Sturdy and waterproof footwear is a must, at least in spring and autumn.
The town feels a lot like a time machine, taking you back to 1950s Soviet Union.
The main attraction in Seda is the town itself. It can easily be covered in an hour.
The bog is a great place for birdwatching, featuring two observation towers. You can also just go for a hike on the nature trail.
It is safe to say Seda is not a major shopping destination, but it is perfectly adequate for stocking up on supplies before heading out in the bog.
Of course, should you want to purchase a truckload or two of peat, Seda is the right place to do it.
There are no catering options in Seda. You can either grab some food at a grocery or head out for a proper meal, with Strenci being the closest option. If you feel fancy, Valmiera is 25km away and boasts some excellent restaurants.
Walking around the town, you may notice an old sign advertising a "Night Bar", but rest assured it has been closed for a long time. The closest watering holes are in Valka or Valmiera. The Valmiermuiža brewery is 24km from Seda and makes for a great stopover for beer enthusiasts.
The closest accomodation is in Strenči. If you go for a hike in the woods, remember that Seda bog is a nature reserve and camping is not allowed. You may, however, camp in the surrounding woods outside the reserve.
Seda is not a common tourism destination, so you are likely to draw some attention. Most of it, however, will be genuine interest rather than any ill intent.
Be prepared if you head out to the bog. The distances may get long, so carry adequate supplies. If you have little outdoors experience, you may want to stay on the nature trail. It is marked at the turning points, but keep in mind the trail markers can sometimes be destroyed or point in the wrong direction. It is best to double check with a map.
There is still some peat extraction activity during the summer. Use common sense and keep clear of active extraction sites. Some parts of the nature trail cross extraction sites and connecting roads, so use caution.
Seda is unlikely to be a major destination on its own right (unless you head out for the bog), but it makes for a memorable stopover when going from Northern Latvia to Southern Estonia.