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From my personal experience, here is how to spend a weekend trip to Riga, Latvia in the middle of a bleak winter.
On a whim, I booked a round-trip flight from London to Riga, the capital city of Latvia.
I was on school holidays and had no plans. Photos of Riga intrigued me, though I didn’t know much about Latvia.
It’s not a popular tourist destination, especially for American students in Europe who tend to stick to the famous cities like Rome, Paris, Prague, Barcelona, etc. (Nothing against these popular touristy cities; I’ve been to all of them and loved every single one).
But I found Latvia so intriguing because I knew nothing about it, and I was interested in venturing to an area of Europe that I’ve never been to.
So I randomly decided to visit Riga on a weekend trip, mainly because I found RyanAir plane tickets for about $15.
However, it didn’t cross my mind that maybe the flights were so incredibly cheap because no one wants to visit Latvia in the winter!
It was the middle of January. Latvia is located in the Baltic region of Europe, which is in the northeast near Russia. So winter means snow, rain, ice, sleet, bitter cold temperatures, and around 9 hours of daylight.
To be honest, I didn’t think this through when I bought my flights. But I couldn’t back out on my plans, so I went.
Here is a recap of my experience and some corresponding advice on how to spend a weekend in Riga, Latvia in the winter.
How To Spend A Weekend In Riga, Latvia In The Winter
There are a few things I wish I had known before my trip to Riga.
Hopefully they help anyone else traveling to Latvia in the winter!
Before You Travel To Riga, Latvia In The Winter:
1. Pack Warm Clothes
Duh. Winter in northern Europe is freezing, so have plenty of warm, cozy layers. That includes a hat, gloves, scarf, fuzzy socks, all of it.
Also pack a waterproof coat and boots in case there is snow or rain. I did not do this and I regretted it instantly.
I walked around Riga in my sneakers in the middle of a snowstorm and spent most of the weekend with soggy, freezing feet.
SO when considering how to spend a weekend in Riga Latvia in winter, this point is CRUCIAL!
2. Download Maps.Me or Google Maps
Most people know this nowadays, but have some sort of navigation app to help you get around Riga.
Maps.Me can be used offline if you download the city map before you leave Wifi which is handy.
I also did not do this. My hostel gave me a paper map, which was awesome because I love the old school ways.
However, fumbling with a big paper map in freezing temperature and vicious winds is not ideal, so have an app.
3. Get Travel Insurance
I also did not do this. Clearly I was a novice traveler back then. (I have updated this article in 2020, hence why I’m so self-deprecating. It’s all in good fun).
Anyway, travel insurance is always a smart thing to have, especially when traveling to Latvia in the winter.
Where To Stay In Riga, Latvia In The Winter
Now that you’ve done all the basic preparations, you need somewhere to stay in Riga.
A good hostel is pivotal when considering how to spend a weekend in Riga Latvia.
The one thing that I did do right in my preparations for a weekend in Riga was book an amazing hostel.
Cinnamon Sally Backpackers Hostel
Cinnamon Sally Backpackers Hostel felt like a safe haven from the winter storm I was in.
This hostel was affordable, centrally-located, highly-rated, and insanely cozy.
They had comfy couches and beanbags, a kitchen equipped with tea and coffee, and an overall heartwarming atmosphere.
How To Spend A Weekend In Riga Latvia: Things To Do!
Alright, so you’ve booked a place to stay and packed all your warm clothes. The beauty of Riga awaits!
Despite all my complaining about the cold, I had an amazing weekend in Riga.
This city is incredibly charming and beautiful, and I can only imagine how magical it is in the summertime.
But the snowstorm actually made Riga look magical, like a winter wonderland straight out of a fairy tale.
Here are the best things to do in Riga that should have a spot on your weekend itinerary.
1. Explore The Old Town
This should take up a good chunk of your weekend in Riga, Latvia.
The Old Town is where all the magic is. Here you’ll find colorful buildings, ornate architecture, cozy pubs, adorable shops, and more.
A guided walking tour is a great way to see the best parts of the Old Town.
Most of them are only 2 hours maximum, which is perfect for winter because you won’t want to stroll around in a snowstorm for much longer than that.
I could have explored the Old Town for hours. But I had to take a break every time my body temperature dropped so low that I could no longer take pictures because my cell phone didn’t register my finger hitting the camera button.
Which brings me to my next point…
2. Eat Heartwarming Food
You’re going to need lots of cafe breaks while exploring Riga in the winter.
The warmth of a heated restaurant plus the warmth of a good meal can give you the energy you need to keep sightseeing!
There are lots of great restaurants in Riga and it doesn’t take much to find them.
I was on a health kick while visiting Riga, and I ate at two wonderful vegan restaurants in the city that I recommend.
The Fat Pumpkin: I got a heaping bowl of lentil and veggie stew that warmed me right up.
Raw Garden: I ALSO got soup here. What else would you eat in a snowstorm? The pumpkin ginger soup here was to die for.
3. Visit The Central Market
Speaking of food, Riga’s Central Market is the best place to shop for local food.
I was amazing at how cheap some things were here, like nuts and dried fruit!
Also, this is a great place to buy some classic dark rye bread, which is a staple food in Northern Europe and Scandinavia.
If you’re a real foodie, you can book a food tasting tour of the Central Market.
- Address: Nēģu iela 7, Latgales priekšpilsēta, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia (Copy and paste that into Google Maps because who knows what it actually says??)
- Hours: 7 am to 6 pm, closes at 5 pm on Sundays.
4. Explore The Parks (Briefly)
Riga has some lovely parks.
Unfortunately, winter is not great for picnics and leisurely strolls.
So you don’t need to spend too much time outside in nature.
However, just cruising through a park on your way to the Old Town is a nice way to just see how the town is set up.
The parks are still beautiful when they are dusted with snow and there’s icicles clinging to the tree branches.
5. See The Freedom Monument
This is one of the most influential and symbolic Riga attractions.
The Freedom Monument symbolizes freedom, of course, and commemorates the soliders who died during the Latvian War of Independence in the early 1900s.
It’s a pretty cool structure, towering high above a public square and celebrating the country’s soverignty.
6. Admire The Art-Nouveau Architecture
I definitley don’t know much about architecture.
But it doesn’t take an expert to recognize how impressive the buildings are in Riga.
This city is famous for its Art-Nouveau architecture.
You can find the elaborate designs covered in statues, faces, and animal figures all throughout the city.
But the best place to see this architecture is Albert Street.
When you’re visiting Riga in winter, you won’t want to spend hours looking for all the best buildings, so just come here to see it all.
Albert Street is packed on both sides with tall, gorgeous buildings that are so elegnant and intricately decorated that I had to walk up and down the street twice just to take it all in.
7. Attend The Christmas Markets
Another example of my poor planning for this weekend in Riga: I visited January when the Christmas Markets had already ended! SHAME ON ME!
If you’re going to visit Riga, Latvia in the winter, try to go in December so you can catch the magic of the Christmas Markets.
With endless wooden stalls of adorable holiday trinkets, mulled wine and other heartwarming treats, I’d imagine the cold weather seems much more bearable.
And the Christmas trees and twinkling lights around town probably make the city look even more like a scene from a snow globe.
The Most Important Tip For Visiting Riga, Latvia In Winter:
Seriously, keeping a positive attitude is key during a trip to Riga, Latvia in winter.
I’ve spent a lot of this post bitching about the cold, but I just want to verify how much I actually did love this visit to Riga.
Yes, the weather sucked and I only had 9 hours of daylight to explore each day.
But Riga impressed me with its amazing food, friendly people, stunning monuments, and jaw-dropping architecture.
If you keep a positive attitude throughout the winter, I’m sure you’ll fall in love with Riga as well.
And the best part about visiting Riga in winter: flights are super cheap!
Although I can now cross Riga, Latvia off my travel bucket list, I have added another item to my list: Riga, Latvia in the summertime.
☼ ☼ ☼
For a narrative form of my weekend in Riga, check out this article I wrote for In The Know Traveler: Discovering Hope In The Bleakness Of Winter.
For more travel stories and tips around eastern Europe, check out these articles!