Latvia is a country that surprised me and I quickly fell in love with it. Originally I landed at Riga airport, jumped straight on a train and headed for Sigulda and the bobsled track. On the way home, I had some spare time to kill before my flight home so used it to check out the Riga Christmas Markets. They aren’t huge but they definitely make up for it in personality and setting!
Riga Christmas Markets
The Old Town Christmas Market is located in Dome Square (Doma Laukums) right in front of Riga Cathedral. The market is absolutely adorable, with a large Christmas tree in the centre and the stalls dotted around it all have red and white striped roofs!
For me, a Christmas market MUST have is food and drink (Barcelona Christmas market I’m looking at you with no food!) and I was happily satisfied at the Riga Cathedral market! A classic Christmas snack is roasted nuts (almonds) which you’ll find here offered in different flavours, I had cinnamon and they are roasted right there in a large pan, filling the market with a lovely smell!
Of course another tradition is mulled wine (Gluhwein) but for the first time ever, I saw HOT BEER being sold at the Riga Christmas market! Of course I was intrigued and had to try it! It tasted a little like real ale, more like a stout, that was as it says on the tin, hot. It was actually quite nice! They also had hot apple juice too (I’ve found ‘warm apple cider’ (non alcoholic) to be very popular around Christmas in the USA).
Related Reading: Expat Life: How to Have a British Christmas in America
The market sell various ‘homemade’ style crafts and items. Gingerbread cookies were very popular, sold in all different sizes, from small to GIANT, with lots of different shapes and designs decorated with brightly coloured icing. Some stalls sold knitted items and clothing, such as hats and mittens. When I visited at the very beginning of December, the temperature was around 0c/32f, so not awful, but cold enough! I had to pull myself away from buying a brightly coloured hat that looked a little like a Teletubby aerial…
Gifts made from clay were also popular. From 3D mugs to figurines to Christmas decorations. I bought a little Latvia tree decoration that was like a bell. Wooden gifts were also for sale. I bought a set of Harry Potter Russian nesting dolls, which are possibly one of my favourite travel souvenirs that I’ve ever bought. Although Russian dolls were sold at the Riga Cathedral market, I picked up the Harry Potter set at a stall outside St. Peter’s Church.
Related Reading: Childhood Memories: British Christmas Traditions
I visited this Christmas market both during the day and then again at night as I wanted to see it lit up, which was definitely worth seeing.
The Riga Cathedral Christmas Market is open between 10am – 8pm (until 10pm Friday and Saturday) from 30th November to 6th January. Various activities are held at the market throughout the day.
We stumbled across a second Christmas Market located at Livu Laukums, just a 4 minute walk from Dome Square. Riga is such a great city for walking, everything in the Old Town is quite close together and there are plenty of cute side streets that are worth wandering down!
During my visit, the Livu Laukums market seemed like the bigger and busiest market out of the two, however the Cathedral market felt like the more traditional Christmas market! The market at Livu Laukums stayed with the striped theme but was blue and white rather than red! There weren’t really any ‘Christmas’ snacks at this one as it was more like a craft market selling gifts, clothes and jewellery. The square in which it’s located is surrounded by really cool buildings, some of which were covered in Christmas decorations.
Related Reading: Christmas in America Rocking Out to the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
Other Christmassy places in Riga
‘Bastejkalna Parks’ is a really nice riverside park. It’s right opposite the main bus and train station in Riga and you can follow the ‘Pilseta Kanals’ for the full length of the Old Town district. During my visit, the park was decorated with giant snowflake sculptures! It was also home to several photo frames. These were also in other places around the city (such as Ratslaukums Square with the House of Blackheads) so were a fun way to try and capture some of the unique architecture of the city!
There was also a giant Christmas tree located in front of the Central train station, well didn’t exactly have a ‘tree’ as such, it was all just lights, and it was blue with ‘snowflakes’ made from white lights! It seemed funny to have something with such a modern design in a place with an Old Town that’s just steps away, but it worked well!
Related Reading: Christmas in America Reflections in the Park: Drive Thru Christmas Light Display!
Tips for visiting Riga, Latvia
As I mentioned, everything is very close together but still be prepared to do a lot of walking! As I was only passing through Riga, I had all my luggage with me…well just a normal backpack (fully loaded it weighs around 9kg), but after a day of walking my backpack was killing my shoulders. If you’re visiting with a suitcase, some of the streets are cobbled so keep this is mind too.
Personally I’m useless at dressing during the winter. I started off with my furry hat and thick gloves on but then I ended up getting really hot after all the walking and hot beer from the Christmas market!
Speaking of drinking lots of hot beer, I struggled to find any ‘free’ toilets in Riga. They were all ‘pay to pee’ as I like to call them (“Free the pee!!” for anyone who has watched the Bridge to Terabithia” movie!). I ended up going to one near the Freedom Monument. Like some European toilets, the individual toilets don’t have toilet paper in them, you are given a couple of sheets when you pay. When I remember, I like to keep extra tissues in my bag, just in case it’s not enough…there’s nothing worse than toilet paper that’s pretty much see through…eugh or toilet paper that’s like greaseproof paper (wax paper in USA)…I hate public toilets if you couldn’t guess!
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