It’s the Holiday Season and in Europe that means Christmas Markets. Google “Christmas Markets” and amongst the usual suspects you’ll find lesser-known, yet wonderfully charming, Christmas Markets like the one in Riga.
Christmas Market + Riga = let’s go!
Riga, home of the first Christmas tree
It was serendipitous that the first Christmas Market we visited, in Riga, was also the home of the first Christmas tree (1510). We arrived in the Latvian capital on the opening day of the market. Our hotel, the Grand Palace Riga, was perfectly situated a half-block from the Market. Our room was comfortable, stylishly-appointed and the bathroom had in-floor heating. In-floor heating ~ if you’ve never experienced it, you are missing out.
After checking in, we, of course, went to the Market. It’s located in the Dome Square, the largest square in the Old Town, and adjacent to the Dome Cathedral, which dates back to 1211. In addition to the huge Christmas tree, the Market had about 30 different vendors, selling hats, scarfs, souvenirs, mulled wine, food, Balsam liqueur and Baltic amber jewelry.
Balsam: Latvia’s homegrown liqueur
Originally crafted in 1752 and, according to legend, cured an ill Catherine the Great, Riga Black Balsam “is a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur made with many different natural ingredients mixed in pure vodka, giving a 45% abv (90 proof) drink.1” It’s available throughout the Old Town and tourists are encouraged to try some; so we did. We found it had an herbal, minerally, slightly bitter taste. Interesting, but certainly no substitute for bourbon.
Since it was so close to our hotel, we went through the Market just about every time we went out, morning, day and night. While it’s charming anytime, our favorite time to visit was at night when the Christmas tree was lit and the aroma of the mulled wine seemed to linger longer.
Art Nouveau architecture, Zeppelin hangers and delicious food
Of course, there’s much more to Riga than the Christmas Market. During our five-day visit, we barely scratched the surface of Riga’s history, Art Nouveau architecture, great dining, repurposed Zeppelin hangers and great food market. Riga is such a charming city that we hope to visit again, in the summertime, when the days are long and the parks are in full bloom.
More about charming Riga
If you’ve enjoyed this quick glimpse of Riga’s Christmas Market and are curious about other aspects of Riga, please check out these posts:
Riga, part 2: What is Riga famous for?
Riga, part 3: Riga Fine Dining and a Locavore’s Shopping Paradise