Riga, Latvia is a spunky and quirky capital city that should be added to your next European vacation. Christmas in Riga is particularly special because the tradition of decorating Christmas trees supposedly originated in Riga many, many years ago. Therefore, if you visit during the Christmas season, you’ll find several lovely trees throughout the city. In 2016, Christmas events take place from November 26 until January 6. Don’t hesitate to book a wonderful weekend Christmas getaway!
Origin of the decorated Christmas tree
Decorating of the Christmas tree began in the 15th century in Eastern Europe; both Latvia and the neighboring Estonia claim to have had the first decorated Christmas tree. Although we may never know the exact origin, the first documented use of a decorated tree during winter celebrations was recorded in 1510 in Riga Town Hall Square. This “first” tree was decorated with paper shapes, ribbons, dried flowers, and straw figures. After decoration and enjoyment, the tree was burned (probably to scare away winter).
Huddled around Christmas trees and braced for the snow are numerous Christmas markets and stalls. In these quaint markets, you’ll be able to taste traditional warming treats such as hot wine or beer, warmed Riga Black Balsam (a liquor made of Balsam Fir), roasted nuts, gingerbread, smoked meats, and more. Bring cash (the currency is EUR) and be prepared to purchase gifts for everyone on your list. Expect to see expertly knitted woolen mittens, jars of local honey, wicker products, and other handicrafts.
In all of the markets tucked around the city, you’ll find live music, dancing in the evenings, colorful lights, and happy children (and families) frolicking in the snow.
Enjoy a large Christmas market in Dome Square (next to the Dome Cathedral). Here you’ll find little wooden houses, a riot of colorful decorations, and of course, a large decorated tree. In Livu Square, you’ll also find a Christmas market; this market is composed of little blue and white tents, Christmas trees, and rides for children. Riga’s third Christmas market is set up in Esplanade Park.
Other things to see
Even though the weather will be cold, Riga should be explored more extensively than just visiting its Christmas markets. If you are interested in architecture, I’d suggest a self-guided walking tour of Riga’s Art Nouveau buildings — of which it has the largest collect in the world. You can find Art Nouveau architecture throughout the city although much of it is concentrated on Alberta Street, Elizabetes Street, and Smilsu Street. Keep a lookout for ornate buildings, faces, and figures.
If photography (or spies) is one of your interests, the Latvian Museum of Photography displays a fascinating collection of tiny Minox cameras (which were used by spies), photographs taken with Minox cameras, and the history of the production of Minox cameras, which were first produced in Latvia.
Of course, while in Riga, you should also be sure to wander the old town to see the House of Blackheads, the Church of St. Peter, the Dome Cathedral, and the Three Brothers. Also keep a look out for the Cat House, the Monument of Freedom (which you can’t miss as it is very tall), Riga Castle, and Powder Tower. There is an incredible amount to see in Riga’s large old town.
Preparing for your trip
Latvia is relatively far North; therefore, you’ll want to bundle up and prepare for cold and possibly wet weather. Bring good quality, weather-proof shoes as Riga is best explored on foot.
The schedule of events and performers has not yet been posted; however, keep a lookout for it on the events webpage linked below. You are sure to find something interesting to see during Riga’s beautiful Christmas season — book your trip soon!
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.