How To Survive Winter In Latvia

For those in Latvia, it’s been a cold last few weeks but this is nothing out of the ordinary. What’s extraordinary is how long we had to wait for winter to arrive. Usually, temperatures would have slipped to well under 0 by late October to mid November. In 2013/2014 we had to wait until mid January to witness a true winter’s chill.

Still, it’s only a mild – 8 to -15 degrees (Celsius) at the moment. Most winters we do get at least a couple of -25 to -30 days. How does one weather such a cold winter in Latvia?

We’re here to help! Our FAQs should get you all geared up for a chilly Baltic winter, and survive the cold with a smile on your face.

What should I wear in -15 to -30 degrees?

Layers!

It’s hard to pinpoint a specific amount of layers as this will vary from person to person and depend on the chosen fabrics. A quick poll of my friends revealed that the average person wears 3-4 layers in -15 degrees which works out at around 1 extra layer per -5 to -10 degrees.

I would make sure one of the layers is wool. Ask around for Latvian grannies who can knit you a unique handmade jumper!

Animal rights activists beware… You’ll find many people also wear fur to keep warm in Latvia. It’s part tradition, part trend.

Once temperatures hit -1, I’d advise against leaving the house without a hat, a scarf and gloves or mittens. Mittens may be awkward but you’ll find they work better when it gets really cold.

How do I keep my feet warm in winter?

Ladies (and gents if they feel comfortable doing so) should start by putting on a pair of tights or long johns. At least one pair of handmade woollen socks is a must. Since wool is, of course, itchy when worn against naked skin and even tights, wear at least one pair of regular socks underneath. If you still feel like your toes are going to fall off (which I often do), my mother swears by knitted toe warmers that you slip over the front of your sock.

Once your feet are all wrapped up in their sock parcels, tug on a pair of leather boots with a wool or synthetic lining. Make sure the soles have good grip – they should have visible grooves. Flat soles can be killers on ice.

As hard as the sētnieki (street sweepers – caretakers) may try, some parts of the pavement and streets inevitably remain icy. Black ice is the worst.

How can I enjoy the cold weather?

Get your hands on a sled and find your nearest park. No sled to hand? You’ll see some people opting for the trusty plastic bag! Give it a go.

Alternatively, venture outside the city and hit the slopes! Yep, Latvia may be an incredibly flat little land but it does boast an impressive amount of ski resorts. Tiny though they may be, you can still get a good few runs.

Check out Kalniem.lv for a comprehensive list.

For an adventure closer to Riga, visit Jurmala. On sunny days people flock here to show off their fur coats and pedigree pooches in boots. As if people watching weren’t fun enough, the sea can look spectacular in winter, especially if it’s cold enough for it to freeze.

How do I dress my child in winter?

I turned to friend and expert Laura for this one. The Estonian resident of Riga is mum to a 3-year-old son. Her approach is:

“First of all, we go out in any kind of weather AND it does not mean I have like 5 different outfits for him – layering is the key. As long as he is walking (running) there is not a big chance of him getting cold at all. I thought it was going to be much harder when he was no longer an infant who you could just cover in blankets.

However, sitting in a pram or on a sledge you do get very cold. I generally do double layers (t-shirt plus sweater) until -10 or so and add a fleece sweater or do a long sleeved t-shirt and a thicker sweater instead, finished off with a snowsuit.

Limit the outings if not used to the weather – no matter what the weather, if the nose is getting red and wet, better to get inside to warm up a bit and do another tour outside a bit later.

A child should be able to move and run. If there are too many clothes, the immobility will mean that they will eventually get cold. And of course, mittens, hat and scarf – that is so natural that I didn’t even think to mention it!”

What’s a good way to warm up in winter in Latvia?

Ask pretty much any Latvian and the answer is likely to be – hot blackcurrant juice with Riga Black Balsam! Not only is it warming but also a miracle cure for colds. Get it at most cafes, restaurants and bars in Riga and throughout the country. Worth asking for even if it’s not on the menu.

Is it safe to step on a frozen pond/lake/canal/river/sea?

I daren’t answer yes to this question. If you do wish to step on a frozen body of water and potentially partake in the sport of ice fishing, do so at your own peril.

Before taking the plunge (pun fully intended), assess the situation:

  • Has it been colder than 0 degrees Celsius for at least 3 days?
  • When not frozen, is the water stagnant or does it have currents flowing through? 
  • In its liquid state, how deep is the body of water?
  • Are there any ice fishermen in the vicinity?
  • Has a layer of water formed on the surface of the ice?

If you have any more questions, let us know and we’ll try to find your answer.

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