Riga Travel Guide on Christmas Time
Riga Travel Guide on Christmas Time
Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Do you love beautiful European cities with Christmas markets, historical Old Town, many sights to visit and a great lifestyle? Are you ready to face the cold, but be rewarded by a great city getaway with snowy landscapes and magical Holiday vibes? If you answered yes to those questions, Riga is the right place to visit at this time of the year! So I’m happy to share my Riga Travel Guide on Christmas time.
I’ve been to Riga in the beginning of December and I immediately felt in love with Latvia’s capital. Located along the Baltic Sea at the North of Europe, Riga is a beautiful city with a strong historical and cultural legacy. You should add Riga in Latvia to your bucket list right now! It’s relatively calm compared to other European destinations, you won’t have to face huge crowds and you will have a chance to visit a very interesting city. And hopefully, you can extend your trip to some other great places in Latvia!
Riga is very well connected with other European cities by plane. The international airport is conveniently located at less than 30m from the city centre, which is accessible by public transports or taxi. But you can also combine Riga with other destinations in Latvia or in the other Baltic countries (Estonia and Lithuania) if you have enough time.
If you are only going to Riga, I recommend to stay at least 4 days. Ideally you can spend 2 days visiting the city and 2 additional days exploring some other places in Latvia. The country has so much to offer, so you should take the opportunity to visit something else. The good news is that many places are not far away from Latvia, so you can perfectly do some day trips.
Where to stay in Riga? There are many accommodation options available from luxury boutique hotels to smaller charming guesthouses and local accommodation. Regardless of your preferences and your budget, I suggest that you stay in the Old Town area or nearby to be closer to the main attractions. But the city is not too big and it’s quite easy to walk around – actually that is my preferred way to explore any city, and Riga was no exception.
Let me share now my Riga Travel Time on Christmas time. I hope to inspire you for an upcoming trip to visit this charming city.
Walk Around the Old Town
When in Riga, if there is one place that you cannot absolutely miss, it is the Old Town District. At the heart of the city, the Old Town is full of historical places, architectural gems, cute cobbled stone streets, colorful houses and a great variety of restaurants to try the tasty local Latvian food.
Spend some time walking around and immersing yourself in the lively way of living in Riga. The history of Riga is intrinsically linked to the Old Town, so you will feel sometimes that you are back in time when wandering around the narrow streets and alleyways of this area.
Riga was established in 1201 and it has been highly influenced by many European cultures. It became a member of the Hanseatic League in 1282, reinforcing its importance as a trading city in the Baltic region for many centuries. This is visible in the architecture and the culture of the Old Town with arms wide open to the river. It’s also part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list since 1997.
Some of the landmarks of this area are St. Peter’s Church, The Three Brother Buildings or the House of the Black Heads.
Visit the House of the Black Heads
One of my favorite places in Riga is the House of the Black Heads, located in the Old Town near the Town Hall Square.
Built in 1334 by the Brotherhood of Black Heads, a guild for unmarried merchants, shipowners and foreigners, the building is linked with the city’s trading activities. It was also used to host meetings and events. Later, it was destroyed by bombs during the Second World War, but it was luckily rebuilt in 1999.
It is now an interesting Museum showcasing the history of the city that is worth to visit, and it still hosts some concerts and other events. In the historic cellar, you can walk through an authentic underground of Old Riga.
Finally, there is a very nice Christmas tradition related to this building. According to the legend, the first decorated Christmas tree was placed in the square next to the House of the Black Heads. Another great reason to visit it on Christmas time!
Find The Three Brothers Buildings
Located in the Old Town, the Three Brothers are the oldest medieval dwelling houses in Riga. It is said that they were built by three men of the same family, thus the name The Three Brothers. But in reality the oldest house was built in 1490, the middle one in 1646, and the newest one in the second half of the 17th century.
The house facades are very beautiful and nowadays you can visit the Latvian Museum of Architecture that is located in one of the buildings.
Wander Around Riga Cathedral and Dome Square
At the very heart of the Old Town, you will find Riga’s Cathedral. Built in 1211, it was renovated several times throughout the years, but it acquired its current appearance at the end of the 19th century. It’s now also a cultural stage for concerts and art exhibitions.
The Cathedral is located in the beautiful Dome Square, the largest square in the city convening many activities and seven important streets.It is surrounded by beautiful buildings from the 19th and the 20th centuries.
Embrace the Holiday season in Riga Christmas Markets
If you visit Riga in December, don’t miss the opportunity to embrace the Holiday season vibes in its Christmas Markets. Riga gets particularly magical at this time of the year with Christmas celebrations and decorations across the whole city.
The biggest Christmas Market is located at the Dome Square and it becomes one of the most visited venues in the city at this time of the year. It’s easy to understand why. The Old Town Square looks like a fairytale place with the Christmas market, the beautiful decorations and the big Christmas tree next to the Riga Cathedral. It’s also a great place to try some traditional Latvian food, to have a mulled wine or to buy some typical handicraft and souvenirs.
With the Holiday magical atmosphere and the Christmas carols all day long, this is the place to be when in Riga at Christmas time. And if it snows, you will experience the perfect white Christmas.
Don't miss the Best Riga Views from St. Peter’s Church
Another must visit place in Riga is St. Peter’s Church, with the tallest tower offering the best views of the city. Built initially in 1209, the current basilica was added to the structure during renovations that took place in the 15th century.
It’s worth to visit the church and to go up to the top of the building. Take some time to admire the breathtaking views from the Tower to the Old Town red roofs, Riga Bay and Daugava River.
Shop at the Central Market
Located on the banks of Daugava River near the Central Train Station, Riga’s Central Market is one of the largest markets in Eastern Europe.
It was built in 1920 and it offers visitors the opportunity to get closer to Latvian traditions and culture. It is also the perfect place to find typical Latvian food and products, as well as a diverse range or souvenirs.
Visit Nativity of Christ Cathedral
Located at the Esplanade Park, Nativity Christ Cathedral is an Orthodox church with an impressive golden dome and architecture.
Near the Cathedral in the Esplanade Park, there is another Christmas market.
Admire Art Nouveau in Riga
Did you know that Riga is the city with the highest concentration of Art Nouveau in the world, with more than 800 buildings in this architectural style?
The Art Nouveau movement in Riga dates from the beginning of the 20th century, driven by a period of rapid economic growth and the desire for fashionable houses.
Most of the Art Nouveau buildings are concentrated in the new Centrs district, beyond the Old Town area. Take some time to walk around that district to admire the remarkable architecture. And you will also find many options of modern restaurants, bars and cafes.
Attend a performance at Latvian National Opera and Ballet
This beautiful white Neoclassical theatre from the 19th century, has been operating as the national National Opera and Ballet since 1923.
The official season runs from September until May, and usually hosts six new opera and ballet performances per season.
Cross the River and Admire the architecture of the New National Library
One of the most impressive buildings in Riga is the new National Library, also called the Castle of Light. It is home to thousands of Latvian historical books and folk verse, multi- themed reading rooms and areas for hosting events.
Located at the left side of Daugava river, and easily accessible from the Old Town by crossing a bridge, it’s worth to add it to your Riga bucket list.
Go on a Day Trip to Sigulda
If you have enough time, I recommend you to explore some other places in Latvia outside of Riga. Latvia is a beautiful country and it’s completely worth to spend some time visiting other smaller cities and the beautiful countryside.
There are many options of day tours from Riga like Jurmala, Cesis, Jelgava, Rundale Palace or Kemeri National Park. But I decided to take a day trip to Sigulda, a beautiful small town located at one hour driving from Riga and near Gauja Natural Park.
This ancient town has more than 800 years of history and it has much to offer, from castles to the typical wooden architecture and stunning outdoors with forests and extensive walkways. In my opinion, it’s an ideal day trip from Riga, but you can also spend some more time there and stay for a couple of days exploring the region.
It’s very easy to get to Sigulda from Riga. You can take a train (the cheapest option), rent a car (which is great if you are combining Sigulda with other destinations in Latvia), or do an organized tour.
There are many things to do in Sigulda. Starting with the castles. Yes, you read correctly… the castles. Because Sigulda has not one, not two, but three different castles.
Sigulda’s beautiful Old Castle dating back to the 13th century, is a must visit when in the town. Take some time to walk by the ancient walls and climb up to the tower for the most beautiful view to the surrounding Gauja River valley. It gets especially magical when covered in white snow during the Winter time.
Nearby, you will find the New Castle, built in neo gothical design, and also a lovely white church at the shores of a lake which was frozen in December.
Last but not least, don’t miss Turaida castle only a few kilometres away from Sigulda. It is one of the oldest castles in Latvia and it’s quite unique, built in red stone. Dating back from 1214, it was rebuilt in the second half of the 20th century.
It makes part of the Turaida Musem Reverve, where you can also visit Turaida’s Church (one of the oldest wooden churches in Latvia) and some typical Latvian rural houses.
If you have enough time, you can also spend some time outdoors exploring the beautiful Gauja Natural Park with woods, miles of walkways and hiking trails, and the famous Gutman’s Cave. With historical inscriptions from the 17th century, it is the widest and highest cave in the Baltic countries.
If you visit this area in Winter time, you will find a white scenery that is a true Winter Wonderland. Just be cautious if you plan outdoor activities, because some of the trails might be slippery or icy. If that’s your objective, you might reconsider to visit in another time of the year. I’m sure this is also a great place to explore in Spring and Summer.
For more travel inspiration in Europe at Christmas time, check my blog posts “Slovenia Travel Guide“, “Fairytale Trip to Bavaria on Christmas Time” and “Ultimate Vienna Travel Guide“.