It’s not going to be a love at first sight. Instead, like in many great love stories, the affection will grow slowly. There will be some gloomy days, but they will be eked out with a plethora of magical moments, like walking in snow-covered stillness in one of the city’s parks, taking a window seat at a café and huddling over a hot drink while it’s snowing outside and revelling in all the fun outdoor activities the winter weather has to offer.
Get into the holiday mood
There’s no better place to experience the holiday mood than the city’s central Christmas market (November 30 – January 8). Taking place at the Dome Square, the market gathers merry stallholders of all kinds. Here you can sample such traditional gifts as hand-knitted socks, candles, wooden homeware, linen and leather goods from the craftsmen themselves. As for toothsome buys, there’s such international classics as gingerbreads, roasted almonds and mulled wine sitting next to local staples like sauteed sauerkraut and grey peas with bacon. There’s also a number of street food vendors doling out khachapuri, churrros, bao buns, you name it! The mood is enhanced by frequent concerts, the fairytale backdrop and occasional snowing.
A night at the Opera
Spend the dark long winter evenings under the majestic chandelier of the Opera hall. The Latvian National Opera and Ballet presents an exciting repertoire including such holiday classics as The Nutcracker as well as cutting-edge productions like the ballet Hamlet. Tell Me (No) Tales. Each year LNOB also host the New Year Gala concerts at the Latvian National Opera gathering world-renowned Latvian opera stars.
- Aspazijas bulvāris 3
During the cold months taking extra care for your well-being is mandatory. Luckily Riga has a handful of urban sanctuaries to rewind and recharge. For a dose of luxury head to Hedonic SPA housed in Grand Poet Hotel, for something more homey check day spa Taka Spa. As for serious pampering, there’s no better place than the five star ESPA Riga, spread across six floors on the rights side of Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija.
Relish the hearty Latvian cuisine
Meat-centred, full of root vegetables and salubrious, fermented goods – the hearty and warming local cuisine is perfect for winter. Latvian cuisine inspired meals doesn’t come much better than at Valtera restaurant where the chef Valters Zirdziņš has refreshed traditional Latvian dishes with modern touches. Each ingredient is chosen by its seasonality, provenance and top-quality. The picture is similar in Valmiermuiža Beer Kitchen where the dishes are inspired by the Latvian nature bounty and accompanied by Valmiermuiža beer.
Admire the Christmas trees
While Estonia and Latvia still bicker over the question where the first Christmas tree was decorated, Riga ratifies its title with an annual spectacle The way through the Christmas Trees festival. From December 6 till January 12 for the 10th time, the Kronvalda park and Old Town will be filled with artistic interpretations of Christmas tree made by acknowledged artists as well as students from Art Academy of Latvia.
Warm up with a hot Latvian tipple
Red nose and feet as cold as the water in Daugava river? Skip the mulled wine and instead opt for a hot mug of Riga Black Balsam Currant. This herbal bitter enriched with blackcurrant juice will instantly give you a warm kick and a treat for the taste buds. Get it mixed with black currant juice and some bits of fruit – favorited by the locals, this cocktail spreads from laid back hangouts to fine dining venues. Even if it’s not on the menu, just ask it – they’ll make it!
Sharpen your blades
Practice your jumps and twirls and go show them off at one of the well-appointed ice rinks set up around the city. Welcoming skating fans of every age, here you can also rent a pair of skates. The most central ice rink is located in front of Riga Congress Centre and is free of charge.
Porridge for breakfast
Do as the locals do and kick-off a cold winter day with a steaming bowl of porridge. The breakfast staple is available in a raft of cafés and comes in all kinds of varieties, such as savoury buckwheat with some cheese and veggies, or sweet oatmeal with jam and fresh berries. Unlike grab-and-go sandwiches and pastries, porridge is something that forces you to sit down and enjoy the first meal of the day unhurriedly.
Spend an evening with Beethoven
The annual festival European Christmas fills the most stunning city’s venues (Great Guild, Riga Cathedral, Spikeri Concert Hall) with festive melodies of Beethoven, Bach, Handel, Mozart, some traditional Christmas carols and even jazz improvisations. The festival gathers the finest of the local musicians, such as counter tenor Sergejs Jēgers, jazz wizard Matīss Čudars, soprano Elīna Šimkus, Latvian Radio Choir and the orchestra Sinfonietta Rīga.
Put on skis
While Latvia’s landscape is as flat as a pancake, in winter there’s usually a considerable blanket of snow, which makes it fit for cross-country skiing. And you don’t even need to go to the countryside as there are several skiing tracks within Riga and most of them – free of charge. The most central one, located on the left side of Daugava river, in Victory Park (Uzvaras parks) is easily accessible with tram No 1, 2 and 5. Don’t have your own equipment? Rent it on site.