My most recent Christmas market pilgrimage took me to the Latvian capital of Riga
. The Christmas markets in Riga are a relatively new phenomenon and there are only a few to choose from, but for those looking for something a little bit smaller and not as full on as those in Prague
, this might be the way to go.
There is a nice market in Esplanāde Park next to Nativity Russian Orthodox Cathedral has a few stalls and attractions for kids, including a herd of rabbits hopping around in their own little Christmas village.
The main market is at Līvu Laukums in Old Riga next to Dome Church and the old Stock Exchange building, which is now the Latvian Foreign Museum. All of the markets sell handmade crafts, such as toys and decorations (many of them carved from wood), as well as traditional foods like sauerkraut, smoked meats, and more. There is also the signature drink of warm blackcurrant juice, spiked with a Latvia’s herbal alcoholic drink, Black Balsam. For those who have built up immunity to gluhwien, this is definitely worth a try.
Though the Christmas market has only been in operation for a few years, Riga itself has centuries worth of holiday traditions, most notably decorated trees. Riga has been officially recognized as the home of the first decorated Christmas tree.
Riga’s holiday traditions are as much a celebration of winter – a holdover from its pagan days – as it is of Christmas, thus the markets run from the beginning of December through early January.