Latvia in winter: the ultimate travel guide

This post is about the best things to do in Latvia in winter. Latvia is in between Estonia and Lithuania. It is a small country, but it has lots to offer. While summer is the most popular time, people should not underestimate the beauty of Latvia in winter. 

If you are looking for a budget friendly winter holiday, Latvia is definitely a destination worth considering. 

Why visit Latvia in winter

Visiting Latvia in winter can offer a unique and picturesque experience. The country is covered in a blanket of snow, providing the perfect setting for winter sports such as snowboarding, and ice skating. 

Additionally, Latvia’s cities, such as Riga, are decorated with festive lights and markets, adding to the charm of the winter season. 

The country also offers opportunities to experience traditional Latvian winter activities and customs, such as ice fishing and sauna culture. Overall, Latvia in winter is a great destination for those looking for a winter vacation filled with outdoor activities and cultural experiences.

Things to do in Latvia in winter

Riga’s old town

Riga, the capital of Latvia, is a charming and historic city that offers a unique experience during the winter months.

Riga’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is particularly beautiful during the winter months when there is snow.

Riga is famous for its festive atmosphere during the holiday season, with many Christmas markets and events taking place throughout the city.

Latvia in winter: Riga old town
Riga’s old town in winter

Visiting Latvia’s bogs

Riga is surrounded by forests and bogs. One of the more popular bogs is the Kemeri bog in Kemeri National Park. Although the visitors center is closed and you can only hike the short boardwalk trail, it is a unique experience to visit the bogs in winter. 

The park’s wetland landscapes and habitats are transformed by the snow and frost, providing a beautiful and serene setting for winter hiking and bird watching.

Latvia's bogs in winter
Latvia’s bogs in winter

Winter sports at Sigulda

Sigulda is a small town located in the Gauja River valley in Latvia, known for its picturesque landscapes and outdoor activities. 

It is a popular destination for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding, with several ski resorts and cross-country ski trails in the area.Furthermore, it is home to one of the only natural bobsleigh and luge tracks in the world.

Winter sports are not the only reason to visit Sigulda. Sigulda also has several medieval castles and lots of natural beauty. The town is surrounded by the forested Gauja River valley, which is particularly beautiful during the winter months when the trees are covered in snow.

Gauja river valley
Gauja river valley

Hiking through the snow

Estonia is a great place for hiking, with a diverse landscape of forests, lakes, rivers, and coastal areas that offer a variety of hiking trails. Some trails are still open in winter and hiking through the snow is a wonderful experience. 

Some of the trails that are still safe and easy during the winter include the Kemeri bog trail or the trails in the Gauja valley around Sigulda and Cesis. Most National parks have a few short hiking trails that are good to go in winter. 

Hiking in Latvia in winter
Hiking in Latvia in winter

Castles and manors

Latvia has a rich history, and many castles and fortified structures are scattered throughout the country. Most of them are from the 13th century and are surprisingly well preserved. 

Latvia’s castles are open to visitors year-round, including in the winter months. Visiting a castle in the winter can be a unique experience, as the castles are often decorated with festive lights and the surrounding landscapes can be picturesque when covered in snow. 

Some castles also offer special events and activities during the winter season, such as Christmas markets, guided tours, and historical reenactments. Do keep in mind that castles may have limited indoor heating, so it’s best to dress warmly and wear appropriate footwear.

Best castles: Cesis castle and Turaida castle

Cesis castle

Latvia’s sauna experience

Saunas have played an important role in Latvian culture for centuries. Traditionally they were used for both hygiene and socializing.

Latvians have a traditional sauna, which is called “peldbaseins” in Latvian. It is usually a small, wooden building with a stove or furnace that is heated with wood, and a small room where people sit and sweat.

Saunas are also in many hotels, spas, and public swimming pools. In addition to the traditional sauna, many modern saunas also offer a variety of additional features such as steam rooms, hot tubs, and massage services.

Visiting a sauna is a great way to relax and unwind, and it is an important part of Latvian culture. Also, it’s worth noting that saunas are a popular way of warming up after a cold day of winter activities, such as skiing, ice skating, and ice fishing.

Latvia’s frozen beach

The sea in Latvia, the Baltic Sea, can freeze during the winter months, especially in the northeastern part of the country, where the sea is shallower and the temperature can drop to very low levels. The frozen sea is an impressive sight. 

It’s worth noting that the sea in the western part of Latvia, around the city of Liepaja, is influenced by the Gulf Stream and usually doesn’t freeze over.

Jurmala beach

Traditional wooden homes

Winter is also a great time to visit Latvia’s traditional wooden homes. You can see them throughout Latvia, especially in rural areas. The homes are often referred to as “Latvian log houses” or “Latvian folk houses”. 

Latvia’s traditional wooden homes are characterized by their steeply pitched roofs, which are covered with thatch or shingles, and by their wooden walls, which are often decorated with carvings or painted in bright colors. The interiors of these homes are usually simple, with traditional furnishings and decorations.

The traditional wooden homes were built by farmers, and they were often passed down through generations. Some of these houses have been preserved and are now open to visitors as museums, and some of them have been converted into guesthouses, providing visitors with the opportunity to experience the traditional way of living.

It’s worth noting that these traditional wooden homes are becoming increasingly rare, due to the construction of modern houses. However, the Latvian government and local communities have been working to preserve and restore these homes, as they are an important part of the country’s cultural heritage.

Traditional wooden homes in Latvia

Try Latvian food

Latvian cuisine is a blend of traditional and modern dishes. It is influenced by the country’s location at the crossroads of different cultures. 

Latvian food in winter is known for its hearty and comforting dishes, and for its use of seasonal ingredients. In winter people also eat a variety of smoked and pickled fish and meats. The food is often served with potatoes, root vegetables, and a variety of sauces and gravies.

For dinner the combination of pork, potatoes and cabbage is very popular and you will find different ways it is prepared. Pork chops, pork ribs or roasted pork with cabbage stew. Potatoes can be boiled, roasted or mashed. Potato pancakes are also very popular and often served with salmon.

Riga is a great place to try Latvian specialities, but you can find good restaurants throughout the country.

Latvian food

Latvia’s museums

Latvia offers a variety of museums that are open year-round. They can be a great way to experience the country’s culture and history during the winter months. The best museums are in Riga and they are a great way to warm up after strolling through the city. 

Museum in Riga

Latvia in winter travel tips

How cold is Latvia in winter

Latvia’s climate is classified as a humid continental climate, with cold winters and relatively mild summers. The average temperature in Latvia during the winter months (December-February) is around -5°C (23°F) to -2°C (28°F). It can drop to as low as -20°C (-4°F) or even lower in some areas, especially in the inland and northern parts of the country.

The country also receives a significant amount of snowfall during the winter. It is important to wear warm clothing when visiting Latvia in winter.

Safety of Latvia in winter

In general, Latvia is a safe country for travellers, including solo female travellers. Like everwhere in the world the biggest thing to look out for is pickpocketing and petty theft. If you use your common sense it will be easy to prevent any problems.

In winter though, ice becomes another danger. As amazed as I was by the beauty of Latvia and Riga I was as well by the people who walk through the streets as if nothing is wrong. Meanwhile I am carefully navigating the ice below and above me. 

Coming from Holland, real cold winters are something from the past. I am obviously not used to ice and I sometimes had a hard time walking on the sidewalks that can be very slippery. The most tricky is when there is fresh snow and you can’t see the ice underneath. But trust me, it is there.  

Watching the sidewalks carefully for slippery parts is important, but it is also a good idea to look up once in a while. Icicles hanging from the roofs of buildings occasionally fall down.

In Latvia weather conditions can be harsh, with cold temperatures, snow, and ice. When I visited in February temperatures were between -1 and +3 degrees celsius. On a windy day it can feel much colder though.

My biggest advice is to dress warm and bring enough warm clothes. At least a good windproof jacket, a woollen hat and warm gloves.

At last, keep in mind that days are short. To make the most out of daylight hours requires a bit of planning.

Latvia in winter
Latvia in winter

How to get around

Bus: Traveling by bus in Latvia is a convenient and affordable way to get around the country. I can also recommend Lux express. Lux express has very comfortable buses that I have used on a number of occasions. They have buses between Tallinn and Riga as well as Vilnius.

Train: Train travel in Latvia is very reliable, although it can be somewhat slower than traveling by bus. The trains in Latvia are from the Latvian national railway company, “Latvijas dzelzceļš” (LDz).

Car: You can also rent a car in Latvia. This gives you more freedom to visit more off the beaten path places that are difficult to reach. Generally, the main roads and highways in Latvia are clear of snow and ice in winter. That said, some smaller roads in rural areas can be slippery and dangerous. It is important to drive carefully and at a slower speed.

Sustainable Travel in Latvia

Like in many Scandinavian countries, such as Swedish Lapland, there is free access to nature. The beautiful national parks in Latvia do not charge any entrance fees. You are free to wander in nature and pick berries and mushrooms as you like.

The northern ecosystems are fragile though. Traveling sustainably to Latvia is essential to minimize your environmental impact and preserve the area’s natural beauty for future generations.

Support the community: You can support the community by purchasing goods and services from local markets and restaurants. It is better to try Baltic cuisine that uses local ingredients rather than imported foreign foods.

Stay in small scale sustainable hotels: It is also better to stay in small-scale guesthouses or homestays to support the local economy directly. These accommodations often have a more positive impact on the environment compared to large hotels. You can also look for hotels that prioritizes sustainable practices.

Use public transport: Latvia has a well-developed public transportation system. Opt for public transport, whenever possible, instead of taxis or private cars to reduce carbon emissions.

Leave no trace principle: When hiking in Latvia, stick to designated trails to protect nature. Straying off the marked paths can cause soil erosion and damage to plant life. If you are lucky enough to spot wildlife, observe quietly from a distance to prevent disruption to their habitats and help maintain their natural behaviors.

I encourage you to take all your trash back with you and dispose of it responsibly. In other words, leave no trace of your visit. Even better is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.

To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter. At last, use biodegradable and eco-friendly personal care products to minimize pollution of water sources.

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