The Baltics may not see winters as deeply cold and icy as even more northern countries such as Finland or Iceland, but the countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia still have winters that can cover the cities and countryside with a deep layer of snow and temperatures that drop into the single digits or below zero.
Furthermore, once that snow starts to melt, it will exude a dampness that makes above-freezing temperatures seem colder than they are, and if this melting snow refreezes, cityscapes can quickly turn into giant ice-skating rinks.
Though climate change has made its mark in recent years in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, with Baltic winters having been warmer, shorter, and less snowy, deep temperature drops, icy conditions, and unpleasant, wet weather still occur, even if to a lesser degree.
Areas near the sea, such as Palanga and Sventoji, Riga and Jurmala, and Tallinn and the Estonian coast will see more wind than inland areas, intensifying the effect of the northern winter. Furthermore, the Baltic region may experience wintry conditions anywhere from late October to April or May. Locals are used to such weather, but if you’re a traveler, you’ll want to be prepared by dressing and packing for the weather.
Tips for Dressing for the Baltic Winter
Probably the most important tip for dressing for Baltic winter travel is to check the weather forecast for your particular destination ahead of your trip so that you can pack appropriately. You’ll likely need a wider range of clothing if your travel plans range over various areas, such as sea, forest, cities, or islands.
The next tip is to consider what type of travel you’re doing. If you plan to take in nature, one type of clothing may be needed, whereas if you’re attending a conference or event or want to check out the food and art scenes in the capital cities, you may be more comfortable packing another type of clothing.
Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians have made an art of dressing fashionably and well even in sub-zero temperatures, so if you don’t want to immediately get caught out as an American or other foreign tourist, you’ll do well to take that into consideration for blending in.
If your footwear wasn’t made to be waterproof and weatherproof, waterproof all your shoes and boots before you travel. Then do it again. This tip will mean your feet stay dry and healthy during your adventures and you won’t have to waste any time waiting for the water from snow- or rain-clogged shoes to evaporate. It’s probably best to pack more than one pair of shoes in the event that the first pair fails you!
Mask wearing has been widely mandated throughout the Baltics during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bring masks to change out even during the day—the condensation that collects under the mask can create chapped skin, so it’s nice to be able to change into a dry mask once in a while. Disposable masks are good for this purpose because you might not be able to throw a cloth mask in the washing mashing during your visit.
Consider reusable hand warmers, but be careful when you use them. If they are best used while your hands are in your pockets, this could cause a hazard on icy walkways. Having your hands in your pockets on slippery surfaces means you can’t catch yourself if you fall, so better to save the hand warmers for when you are walking on paths that are free of snow and ice.
The next tip is one that is easily forgotten about. If your skin isn’t used to cold temperatures or it’s extra sensitive, take care to pack the proper skin care products. These may include your favorite lip balm, a facial moisturizer, deeply hydrating hand cream, and a protective cream for face and hands that you apply before you go out into the cold to help your skin withstand harsh conditions. Hydrating ingredients or those that help your skin retain moisture include shea butter, aloe vera, squalene, and hyaluronic acid.
Cold-weather Gear for the Baltics
Shoes and Boots
Though the proper coat is important, even more important to pack may be footwear. Footwear, as indicated above in the tips section, should be waterproofed prior to winter travel to Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia. It should also:
- Allow your feet to move properly without restriction on toes, heels, or ankles so that the blood can flow properly into your feet, important for keeping them warm.
- Never rub anywhere—break your shoes in before travel by using them at length for the activity you plan to use them for in your destination.
- Allow you to double up on socks if you need to.
- Provide plenty of insulation from the ground—walking on snow or ice will make feet cold all that more quickly, so it’s important that your footwear creates a proper barrier between you and the frozen ground.
- Be appropriate for your activity. If you are hiking, cross-country skiing, or doing some other outdoor activity, consider investing in footwear made for that activity in mind. If you’ll be sticking mostly to metropolitan areas, you will want to opt for footwear that is warm but still fashionable.
- Have good tread that will ensure that you can remain upright even on icy sidewalks.
The proper coat is important for dressing for winter travel to the Baltic region, but less so if you are able to layer well. You’ll want to choose a coat, again, appropriate for the activities you plan to enjoy while in Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia. While a puffer coat may offer versatility, for the city, you can also choose wool and cashmere for elegance, while for outdoor activities, coats with high-tech features may be the better option.
In addition, your coat should:
- Offer protection from the rain with a hood and/or waterproofing. For coats for city wear or evening, you may need to use an umbrella.
- Have pockets that will warm your hands as well as be big enough to store gloves, mask, and tissue in.
- Accommodate a bag or backpack—make sure that the bag you are taking with you will fit properly over the coat you choose to wear.
- Be longer rather than shorter—longer coats are more comfortable for a cold Baltic winter because they’ll shield your upper legs from the wind and help provide fuller coverages from winter conditions.
Layering is one of the smartest options for dressing warm when you visit Latvia, Estonia, or Lithuania in the winter. For example, a shirt under a sweater under a less heavy coat may be most comfortable. Of course, you may also want to double up on gloves (gloves within mittens) or socks, or even invest in some thin long underwear for ultimate mobility and warmth.
Of course, if you’re traveling in winter, you should consider what accessories you will need to protect your extremities.
- Hat or hood: Due to the amount of precipitation that falls in these countries, a head covering is always smart to have.
- Gloves or mittens: If your hands get cold easily, these are important, both for staying warm as well as protecting the skin of the hands from low temperatures and wind.
- Scarf: A scarf will keep the cold air from getting into the collar of your jacket, can work as a head covering if you need to (or, for that matter, a mask), and will pull your outfit together—be sure that your scarf doesn’t scratch or itch and is of a breathable material.
- Socks: Knee-high socks for skiing or other cold-weather activities are good to have for a visit to the Baltics during the winter. High denier tights are great for wearing under skirts and dresses, for example, for going to the opera, dinner, or a show.
Winter doesn’t have to prevent you from traveling to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—in fact, it can be one of the most beautiful times of year to travel. Holidays such as Christmas and New Year mean cities are beautifully lit up, snowfall creates a wonderland scenes perfect for photographs, and restaurants turn cozy and intimate. However, in all cases, it does pay to be dressed properly so you can enjoy your visit to the fullest!