If you’ve planned a trip to the Baltics, or Latvia in particular, during the Christmas season, you are in for a treat. If anyone knows how to do Christmas, it’s the Latvians—after all, legend says that the city of Riga was the first to mark this holiday with a Christmas tree! Christmas markets in Riga reflect this long tradition beautifully.
Riga’s Christmas markets typically start at the beginning of December and run the whole month, giving you plenty of flexibility in your Latvia travel dates and your celebration of Christmas in Latvia. Do note that some markets only work on weekends, however.
Locations of Riga’s Christmas Markets
Doma laukums, or Dome Square, also known as Cathedral Square, is the location of one of the best-known Christmas markets in Riga. This is the city’s largest square and serves as its beating heart. It is so named for the Riga Dome Cathedral, which dominates the square with its presence. You can imagine how pretty Christmas trees look situated in the center of this square. But the square is large and spacious enough for plenty of Christmas market booths and events related to the season.
Santa is a regular visitor to the Cathedral Square Christmas market, and in addition to concerts and other entertainment—even a petting zoo!—this market is great for families.
Livu Square is also home to a Christmas market in Riga. One of the most important buildings here is the Great Guild Hall. This market is a permanent fixture in Riga where craftspeople sell their wares, so you can visit at any time of year. However, it becomes more festive during the Christmas season—you can buy all manner of gifts here and check off your list of people to buy for very quickly!
With Riga’s special “Cat House” nearby, don’t forget to look for cat-themed trinkets or decorations. These make special souvenirs of your trip to Riga or a thoughtful gift to a cat lover in your life.
In the Kalnciems District, a regular market appears. Visiting this market will take you to a new and interesting quarter in Riga—the wooden houses there have been lovingly refurbished, while an atmosphere of the modern pervades the events that go on there and the businesses and organizations that set up shop. Look for an array of tasty treats when you visit this weekend market sourced from local farmers, organic food producers, and bakers.
Art lovers will also appreciate this market because the art of young Latvian artists goes on sale here. All of this is accompanied by entertainment and activities for adults and children alike.
Esplanade Park is situated in front of the Radisson Blu Latvija Conference & Bar Hotel. You’ll find a mixture of experiences here, from seasonal food and drink to Christmas crafts, gifts, and decorations. This Riga Christmas market has also traditionally featured a Ferris wheel and rabbit “village.” In past years, Santa Claus has arrived bearing carrots to feed to these rabbit citizens.
Riga Central Market
The Riga Central Market Christmas Market is another market that turns festive especially for the holidays. While you can visit this institution any time of year, during the holidays, it reflects a special spirit. You’ll be able to sample seasonal food and drink, such as mulled wine, here, and purchase souvenirs and gifts brought out especially for the Christmas season.
Radisson Blu Latvija
The International Charity Bazaar organized by the International Women’s Club of Riga typically takes place one weekend at the beginning of Advent season at the end of November or beginning of December. The organization partners with embassies located in the city to offer up gifts and food items from around the world all for a good cause—to support local charity organizations. In the past, this event has been held at the Radisson Blu Latvija hotel.
What to Buy at Riga’s Christmas Markets
If you have a list of people to buy Christmas presents for, you won’t be disappointed by the array of beautiful, funny, interesting, or wearable items at Christmas markets in Riga. You’ll certainly encounter the following items—and more—when you shop at the various market locations:
- Jewelry, including Baltic amber jewelry
- Ceramics and pottery
- Latvian folk art
- Wooden toys, utensils, and cutting boards
- Linen housewares and linen clothing
- Knitted mittens, hats, socks, and scarves
- Candles and other homewares
- Christmas decorations and ornaments
You will also be able to sample mulled wine, local beer and spirits, and both sweet and savory treats from sausages to gingerbread.
Other Christmas Activities in Riga
Like other Central and Eastern European capital cities, Riga organizes a calendar of events and festivities around the Christmas and New Year’s season. Some of them may coincide with your Christmas market visit to Riga. Start with the following ideas when you plan your trip.
When in Riga for the Christmas season, it’s important to pay a visit to the House of Blackheads. The story goes that the first public Christmas tree was erected here in the early 16th century, and the tradition continues today!
Riga Cathedral hosts the First Advent Concert every year to mark the beginning of the Christmas season. Orchestra Riga, along with soloists, create a memorable night of classical music for audience members.
The Way Through the Christmas Trees is an installation throughout Riga that celebrates the city’s special history with the Christmas tree, reinterpreting the classic evergreen tree in different materials, such as glass, wood, and brick. These art installations are set aglow with seasonal lights, helping to brighten up the dark Latvian winter.
You should also keep your eye out for other events, concerts, and performances around this time of year. You may want to research what’s on and buy tickets in advance of your trip in order to secure your seat. For example, LiveRiga has an events page that lists upcoming exhibitions, shows. You can also search for and buy tickets from Bilesu Paradize.
Tips for Visiting Riga During the Christmas Market Season
If you’re planning a trip to Riga to visit the Christmas markets there, consider the following tips to help make your trip more enjoyable.
- Consider expanding your trip into the three Baltic countries. Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, and Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, also get into the Christmas spirit in a big way. It’s easy to get from each city to the next by bus or plane with only a few hours’ of travel time between them.
- Dress for the winter in the Baltics. Walking around the city in the wintertime or browsing for gifts can be cold work. Pack generously for cold weather. Take clothing that can be layered and items that will cover extremities.
- Use your time in Riga to take in the city’s sights. You can easily dedicate a good part of the day to exploring Riga’s Art Nouveau architecture, but it has plenty of sights in the old town and in other districts close to the center. You may even want to book a tour to make sure that you don’t miss any highlights.
- Plan in advance. While Riga isn’t Europe’s top spot for Christmas markets and tourist numbers are lower than they are in the peak travel season, increasingly more people are discovering Latvia and the Baltics as a travel destination. It pays to plan ahead to secure your flights and accommodation so you have greater choice when it comes time to book.