There used to be a time when winter in Latvia was not the most appealing combination of the words for travelers. Not anymore. We continue breaking the prejudices and helping people to change the old views about the world.
Most of Latvians are not fans of the winter indeed. Yet this is mostly because of the short days, increasing house heating costs, slippery roads and finally because winter is almost twice longer than summer here. We’ve just enough of it.
It is not surprising that it is hard for us to advertise winter in Latvia as something special worth experiencing. These are very local issues though. In no way it means that winter in Latvia is a bad time for a travel to come to Latvia. On the contrary, winter in Latvia might surprise you with some experiences you won’t get anywhere else.
Sure, the late spring, summer and early autumn might be more appealing due to the long days, beautiful greenery, warm weather and more activities to do outdoors. Yet winter in Latvia has something special about it that you will not get in any other season. Here is why.
- #1: Ever-Changing Weather
- #2: Winter In Latvia Always Comes “Unexpected”
- #3: Christmas In Riga And New Year’s Celebration
- #4: Try Some Winter Sports
- #5: There Is No Winter In Latvia Without Cross-Country Skiing
- #6: Mountain Skiing And Snowboarding In Latvia
- #7: Hiking In Winter
- #8: Husky Dog Sledding And Horseback Riding in Latvia
- #9: Ice Fishing
- #10: Try Unique Latvian Sauna Ritual
#1: Ever-Changing Weather
Latvia is a Northern country. Hence, we are very well adapted for ever-changing weather of our four distinctive seasons.
Winter in Latvia is neither winter in Canada nor winter in Russia though. Extreme colds are very rare here. Yet don’t expect the usually mild winters of Western and Central Europe, not to speak about Southern countries. We are somewhere in the middle.
Latvia stands at the Baltic Sea. This means that the weather during the winter in Latvia is not continental. It is ever-changing. The cold Arctic air masses often bring minuses and deep snow here. While the warm Golf Stream from Atlantic fights back with the winds from South-West with temperatures a bit over zero (Celsius). Then again the freezing Arctic takes over and so it continues until the middle or end of March and sometimes even until April when the spring decides to stop this fight.
Overall you can expect snowy whites here starting from December but the most “stable” and coldest winter in Latvia is in January and February.
#2: Winter In Latvia Always Comes “Unexpected”
We have a saying that winter in Latvia always comes “unexpected”. This saying has more of a sarcastic taste because the institutions responsible for cleaning the snow and ice from the roads seem to be never ready for what they are supposed to do.
In reality, of course, sometimes the snowfalls can be massive. One day you have greyish autumn and the next morning everything is white.
Unlike in Western Europe, life does not stop here after the first snowfall though. This is not the end of the world. We drive, we go to the work, schools etc. We just blame a bit about the slippery roads, stupid government and continue our daily routines with a bit of delay. The snow eventually stops and all the main roads get cleaned anyway (well, at least mostly). This is the moment an average Latvian may start enjoying a bit the positive sides of the winter like the brightness that comes along with the snow. Being a Nordic nation we are never too excited about anything though (that would not be polite). So let’s say our attitude towards winter becomes a bit more positive.
Yes, we change tires twice a year
Unlike in Western and Central Europe, the winter tires are obligatory in Latvia and in other countries of Northern Europe. This rule is applicable for the time period starting from 1st of December until the 31st of March. Yet it is wise to change the tires earlier.
It would be just honest to mention that a lot of delays and some mess after the first snow (which often arrives in November and sometimes even in October) is caused by the fact that people have not yet equipped their cars with winter tires. It is in the nature of people to do everything at the very last moment. The first snow and broken bumpers remind Latvians that it is not the summer out there anymore and it is time to get used to it for the next five months or so.
After the first couple of days of “unexpected shock” about the fact that nothing has changed, and we are still living in the Northern Europe with a high possibility of snow and ice in the winter, Latvians accept the reality and everything goes back into normal every day’s routine. Most of us are turning into pretty good drivers in the winter by the way. People are very adaptive being after all.
#3: Christmas In Riga And New Year’s Celebration
Riga is the well-known capital city and the heart of Latvia. Many travelers come to Latvia just because of Riga and its surroundings. Being an outdoor enthusiast and nature lover I would highly recommend not to limit yourself and stick with Riga only. Yet Latvia without Riga is not Latvia and vice versa. Hence it is good to know what to do in Riga when you come here in winter.
Christmas in Riga is a great idea. Why? Well, probably because Riga is the home of the first ever public Christmas tree in the world that had been set up and decorated here more than 500 years ago. You will find this place marked with a memory stone and near the beautiful Blackheads house today.
Whether this fact alone is a legend or not Christmas in Riga is an unforgettable experience. Its old town looks magic in the lights of Christmas decorations and the Christmas market in Dome Square is very cozy and appealing. Christmas spirit is not yet that commercial here in Latvia.
We still have a lot of ancient pagan traditions alive in Latvia. Hence Christmas in Riga and everywhere else in Latvia has special appeal being combined with ancient Latvian winter solstice traditions.
You can combine Christmas in Riga with the celebration of New Year’s celebration too. In recent years Riga has become an increasingly popular destination for New Year’s celebrations says InYourPocket City Essential Guide. You will have plenty of chances to soak up the city’s life and combine it with some outdoors’ activities in Latvia.
Keep reading about the things to do here to enjoy winter in Latvia at its fullest.
#4: Try Some Winter Sports
Latvia is good at many winter sports. Winter in Latvia is cold and snowy enough to develop some good skills on ice and snow (I am not speaking about driving here).
Most Latvians love ice hockey since childhood and not less than Canadians, Russians, Swedes, and Finns. We might not be as strong as these ice hockey giants. Yet we are pretty good playing against them in the world’s Elite Ligue.
Ice hockey goes hand in hand in hand with ice skating. You’ll get plenty of chances to try it in Latvia. There are several public ice-skating places in Riga both municipal and private. The biggest one is a private one in Lido Leisure Center on Krasta Street. The added value of this place is that you can combine ice-skating with some typical and good Latvian food here.
If you want to try ice-skating on a frozen lake go to Kisezers – the biggest lake in Riga in its most famous green area Mezaparks. If skating and ice are not for you, rent skis and try cross-country skiing on this lake! Read more about cross-country skiing in the point 5 below.
Bobsled, luge & skeleton
Latvians have great results in bob led, luge and skeleton. This is mostly thanks to the artificial track in Sigulda. It was built during the Soviet times and is still used for international competitions. This track is also included in Swedish pitch for 2026 Winter Olympics.
You can actually try riding this track both in winter and summer. In winter (from November until the middle of March) you can try so-called Soft bob or “Vučko”. In summer (from May to September) you can go for a ride in a summer bob that is even faster. Before you go note that this attraction is available only on Saturdays to Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
#5: There Is No Winter In Latvia Without Cross-Country Skiing
You have not experienced real winter in Latvia if you haven’t tried cross-country skiing. It is a great alternative for hiking and running. Besides, it is even healthier. This activity involves not only your legs but also hands and the whole body. There is also less pressure on the joints. Besides, it’s quite fun (especially for those who see you being the first time on the skis).
Cross-country skiing used to lose its popularity in Latvia a bit. Yet now it recovers very fast thanks to the availability of new tracks and because people are more interested in a healthy lifestyle.
You can ski even in Riga City
You can go cross-country skiing almost everywhere if you have rented (or bought) skis and skiing boots, of course. If you are a novice you might prefer starting on a cross-country skiing track. The closest ones are in Riga city. Look for the locations Lucavsala, Bikernieku Forest, Uzvaras Park, and some others. You can rent skis and boots here for as little as 4,5 EUR for an hour. An hour is also usually enough for the first time.
Or go outside the city to enjoy pristine Latvian nature
If you feel more adventurous and want to combine this activity with going to a pristine forest there are plenty of options to go outside yet not that far from Riga.
Nature Park “Ogres Zilie kalni” is a great choice. It is just some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Riga and you can get there by car, bus or train. There are distances of various difficulty in a gorgeous pine-spruce forest.
Another option is to go to Sigulda Town and combine cross-country skiing with a visit to the amazing and beautiful Gauja National Park. This will be a day trip some 50 km (30 miles) from Riga.
In addition, almost all the mountain skiing tracks have cross-country skiing tracks nearby too. You can combine these two activities in one day trip if you want (check out point 6 below).
All the tracks mentioned above are illuminated when it gets darker. So, you can also go there in late afternoon and evening.
#6: Mountain Skiing And Snowboarding In Latvia
Mountains might be the last thing that you expect when traveling to Latvia. The highest “peak” in Latvia is Gaizinkalns and it is only 311 meters (1,020 feet) tall. Nevertheless, Latvia has more hills than you may guess and definitely than let’s say in the Netherlands. Some areas offer stunning landscape views and even locally popular tracks for mountain skiing and snowboarding.
The most popular tracks are Riekstukalns, Zagarkalns, Milzkalns, Ozolkalns, Gaizinkalns and some tracks in Sigulda town (like Kakiskalns). The word “kalns” means mountain in Latvian (well, I mean Latvian mountain). All these tracks are equipped with “snow guns” ensuring that they are good enough for skiing and snowboarding even on the winter days that are not that snowy.
Keep in mind that the drifts are quite short and the places can be pretty crowded during the weekends. Still, all the above-mentioned places are located outside Riga in beautiful natural spots. Thus, for the guests that do not see snow that often and for the skiing/snowboarding beginners these are nice options for a day of a half-day trip from Riga.
#7: Hiking In Winter
Hiking is the activity that can be done in all the seasons. You just need a pair of comfortable and waterproof hiking boots and convenient (water and windproof) clothing to go out in winter.
Winter in Latvia is a great time for hiking. The amazing pristine nature of Latvia provides plenty of opportunities for this activity. You can choose a guided hiking adventure with a professional guide or go hiking on your own.
Coastal hiking, hiking in the snowy forests and bogs and even hiking on the frozen lakes are all amazing experiences. Just be sure the ice is thick enough in the case you choose the latest.
Some hiking trails in Gauja and Kemeri National Parks are the most beautiful in snowy winter.
#8: Husky Dog Sledding And Horseback Riding in Latvia
Dog sledding is not that typical and traditional for Latvia. It is just because winter in Latvia is not that cold as it is can be in Northern Scandinavia, Russia or Canada and historically we have always used horses both in summer and winter.
Yet you can go for husky dog sledding and the activity is quite popular especially among the guests visiting Latvia in winter. Be aware though that it is very much dependent on the weather and the presence of snow.
Just Google husky dog sledding in Latvia and will get some decent offers.
Horseback riding, on the contrary, is not dependent on the weather almost at all. Falling fro ma horse in the snow can be even a softer experience if we put it so. Hence surely you can choose to explore some tranquil forest paths on a horseback here regardless of the season.
#9: Ice Fishing
Winter in Latvia also comes with a very popular and a bit crazy activity: ice fishing. That said you shouldn’t be surprised seeing lots of people (mostly men) sitting on the ice and patiently waiting for their winter catch.
Real ice fishing fans do this on almost every water body that is covered with at least a fraction of ice. Hence, you’ll meet them on frozen lakes, rivers and even in the Gulf of Riga when and if it gets covered with the ice. Also, Daugava River in the center of Riga, Lielupe River in Jurmala city and all the lakes in Riga are popular places for ice fishing.
It is hard to say what makes this static activity in below zero temperatures so appealing but there is something about it for sure. Otherwise, it would not attract so many followers. Ice fishers get so passionate about their hobby that some of them even risk stepping on the very thin ice when it melts in the spring or in warm winter. I would lie if I’d say this “bravery” (or whatever we call it) always has a happy end.
#10: Try Unique Latvian Sauna Ritual
Finally, winter in Latvia is the best time to try Latvian Sauna Ritual. After all the outdoor activities mentioned above, there is nothing better than heating up in Latvian sauna. Hence it goes very well with everything that you decide to do outdoors during the winter (and not only in winter).
Latvian Sauna Ritual is very different to the ones you probably know. It is neither like Finnish nor like Turkish sauna. You go to Latvian sauna to clean your physical body, mind, and spirit.
Latvian Sauna Ritual helps you get fully relaxed, forget about daily worries and soak up the power of pristine Latvian nature. It is an amazing experience. Try it here!
All in all, winter in Latvia will surprise most of the guests who haven’t visited Latvia so far or have been here in summer months only. You will definitely get unique experiences. And, no, it is not about surviving during the cold winter months as the people used to think about Latvia. It is about enjoying this time at its utmost. When I was a kid, I liked winter much more than I liked summer. Why? Because of the snow, fresh air in our pine forests and all the great activities you can do only in winter.
Plan your holidays to Latvia in winter and you’ll have a chance to have different experiences and see Latvia from a different perspective.
Go for ice-skating and skiing in Riga city! Try cross-country skiing both in Riga and in snowy Latvian forests! Check-out mountain skiing and snowboarding in the country without mountains! Get a crazy ride down the Sigulda bobsled track! Try playing some ice hockey! Do amazing winter hiking in the snowy forests, bogland and along the frozen sea! Wander around fairytale alike narrow streets of the Riga old town and see the place where probably the very first public Christmas tree in the world was set up some 500 years ago! Enjoy authentic Christmas spirit and ancient Latvian winter solstice traditions at the same time! Try also husky dog sledding and horseback riding in the forest! Finally, heat up, get cleaned and relax during the unique Latvian Sauna Ritual!
What do you think about winter in Latvia? Have you visited Latvia in winter? Share your experiences and do not hesitate ask any questions in the comments section or writing to [email protected]