This under-visited Baltic state is probably one of those best-kept secrets of Europe and winter adventures in Latvia are cheap and cheerful. While the winter temperatures are quite low, you don’t need to let this stop you from visiting in winter. The harsh winter beauty of its vast forest wilderness and quaintly charming snow veiled towns are just some of the reasons to visit in the colder months. With plenty of outdoor and adventure activities on offer, this Baltic nation may surprise you and makes for a budget-friendly alternative winter getaway to the Alps or Pyrenees.
Photo: Jevgenijs Slihto License: CC
Untouched forests cover a massive 45 percent of the country. Critters who call the Latvian woods home include lynx, several hundred of which roam the forests, beavers, wolves, birds of prey and magnificent European Red deer. Many consider Latvia’s wilderness to be reminiscent of nearby Scandinavian states.
You can take a winter hike through the woods in Kemeri National Park, which is a large terrain of forest and bogland located near Jūrmala, and you can also hike in Gauja National Park, to the northeast of the capital. Gauja alone features more than 500 cultural and historical monuments. For a more thrilling forest excursion, you can take part in a timed rally driving stage through the woods as part of the Baltic Run, a driving adventure leaving from Krakow on December 28, 2018 and crossing several of the underrated Baltic countries, including Latvia. If there is snow, renting snowmobiles is one of the most popular winter activities. It can be tricky to know if the tour will take place until the last minute, so the best option is to book when you arrive in the country. This extreme winter activity promises a lot of adrenaline-fuelled fun.
Photo: Modris Frikmanis License: CC
While Latvia’s land is quite flat and not mountainous, with the highest elevation at just a bit over 1000m above sea level, its opportunities for ski and snowboarding are not too shabby. Apart from cross-country skiing, each city and town in Latvia has its own ski and snowboard area. The facilities are modern and well-lit allowing you to keep shredding those slopes well after the sun goes down.
The best place for skiing is Sigulda Valley and it’s easily reachable at 30 minutes from Riga. This is home to the most popular ski slopes in the country. There are also bobsleigh slopes, for a more extreme mountain adventure at Kamaninu. This is a really unique opportunity for winter sports lovers and offers stunning views of the river Gauja as you zip down the track. The Pilsētas trase is considered the best place to snowboard in Latvia, with a 90-metre ramp, while Kordes trase is considered the most extreme skiing destination in the country, boasting an 84-metre ramp in a 247-metre long slope. Kakiskalns is suited to skiers with prior experience.
Rīga in winter
Photo: Kārlis Dambrāns License: CC
The Latvian capital is renowned for its eye-catching art nouveau architecture and in the winter months it does a striking impression of a scene from a Christmas card. Riga is also renowned for its eye-catching art nouveau architecture. The 800 or so art nouveau buildings can be sighted by walking around the city alone or as part of a guided tour. This UNESCO town during Advent has a wonderfully warm festive atmosphere and it’s no wonder as the city claims to have decorated the first Christmas tree. When there, make sure to warm yourself up by trying the nation’s favorite winter cocktail, hot blackcurrant juice with Balsam, a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur.