The Big Reveal: We’re Moving to LATVIA!

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As you may recall, a few months ago I mentioned that we would be heading overseas again later this year. Well, I just can’t keep the secret to myself any longer. We are moving to Riga, Latvia in June!

Riga 1

Image source: Daring Planet


You might be wondering where Latvia is. That’s the first question most people ask when they hear my news. The largest of the three Baltic countries, Latvia sits between Estonia and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. It also shares borders with Russia and Belarus to the east and south, respectively. Ferry service runs between Riga and Stockholm, and cheap Air Baltic flights should make it easy to travel around Europe!

Europe Map

Why move to Latvia?

Though we thoroughly enjoyed our two years in Shanghai and Asia, we were eager to explore another part of the world. Well, it doesn’t get much more different than Latvia! The country’s population is around 2.1 million, which is a drop in the bucket compared to China’s 1.35 billion. Trees will outnumber people and Baltic sea breezes will replace China’s pollution. Blending in with the locals will be a refreshing change. Plus, the Latvian language uses a Latin alphabet and should hopefully be more intelligible than Chinese characters. If that’s not enough, Riga is the European Capital of Culture for 2014 and is hosting hundreds of unique events and festivals this year!

Riga 3

Image source: To Be Continued Magazine

Riga 2

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Latvian blonde parade

Image source: The Beautiful Latvia Project

What am I most excited about?

Old Riga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its well-preserved medieval buildings and large collection of Art Nouveau architecture. I can’t wait to wander the cobblestone streets in search of cool and creepy facades! Riga is also home to a 600-year-old castle, an 800-year-old cathedral, numerous museums and a brand-new public library. The city, which straddles the Daugava River, is dotted with parks and cafe-lined squares.

Riga 5

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Riga 7

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Riga 6

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Riga 4

Image source: Mastering the Art of Travel Photography

One of the things I most enjoy about being an expat is the opportunity to explore the food and culture of my temporary home. In China, this manifested itself as a love for dumplings and fiery Sichuan dishes. I know little about Latvian cuisine, but I’m expecting an array of local treats with some Scandinavian, Russian and German influences.  I hear Latvia has rye breads, salmon, pickles and beets, not to mention pierogi and cheese – music to my ears and a death knell for my waistline!

Popular Latvian activities that I’m keen to try include picking mushrooms and berries, birdwatching and cross-country skiing. An artistic friend has introduced me to Latvian mittens, while my guidebook has extolled the benefits of Latvian saunas. Apparently you get whacked with birch branches (to enhance circulation) while partaking of the traditional steam bath, and then jump into some freezing water to cool down. THAT should make for an interesting blog post!


Image source: Wikipedia

Latvian food

Image source: Share Latvia

Latvian mittens

Image source: FolkCostume & Embroidery blog

Latvian sauna 2

Image source: Medzabaki Hotel and Spa

The resort town of Jurmala is located just 25 kilometers from Riga so white sand beaches are under thirty minutes away! The arctic water may be too cold for me to dip a toe in, but the sound of crashing waves should be relaxing all the same.


Image source: Baltic Beach Hotel

Germany is famous for its extravagant Christmas markets, but I’ve learned that all the Baltic countries have them too! Did you know that Riga is credited with the creation of the Christmas tree? Germany might dispute this, but there’s a plaque in Old Riga marking the spot where the original tree allegedly stood. I’m guessing that means Christmas is a pretty big deal in Latvia. I’m hoping for lots of decorations around town, oven-fresh gingerbread and handmade ornaments to hang on my tree.

Riga Christmas

Image source:

Riga Christmas 2

Image source:

What I’m most apprehensive about:

As much as I’m looking forward to celebrating Christmas in Latvia, thoughts of a long Baltic winter have me a bit worried. With only seven hours of daylight during the winter months, how does everyone not come down with Seasonal Affective Disorder? I’ll just have to nurture a penchant for snow sports and be sure to get outside every single day. Or maybe I’ll sit by the fire and learn to knit while mulling my own wine. Whatever it takes to chase away the winter blues! And, of course, the 16 hours of daily sunshine during the summer should more than make up for any lost vitamin D.

Latvian winter 2

Image source: Live Riga

Latvian winter 3

Image source:

Latvian winter

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Have you been to Riga? Do you have any tips or recommendations on what to do/see/eat? What should I pack to survive the winter?


65 thoughts on “The Big Reveal: We’re Moving to LATVIA!

    • Thanks, Agness! I’m super excited 🙂

      I can’t wait to find out where you’re moving and to start planning our meet up in Europe!

  1. I can’t wait to come visit and cross-country ski with you!

  2. How exciting! It is so amazing that you not only get to see the world, but truly experience the cultures. Can’t wait to read all about your adventures!

    • Thanks, Jackie! I was always fascinated by your early childhood in Germany and love that I now get to experience living overseas. Let me know if you ever want to come visit!

  3. Hurray!! I am super excited for you!! While I’ve never been, Riga has some of the most incredible art and architecture. You get not only the old city but all the modern Art Nouveau style. Enjoy the up and coming food scene that is really impressive.

    You’ll have to get out of the city some this summer. I think there are some “living history” cultural centers in the country that would be great for understanding Latvian history and folkart.
    Christina recently posted…Israel – First ImpressionsMy Profile

    • Thanks, Christina! I really can’t wait to get there and start exploring. It looks absolutely stunning in photos! I’ve read the guidebook pretty much cover to cover and definitely plan to get out into the countryside, to see the villages, coast and national parks. I think I read something about the living history cultural centers so will have to look into that further. I’m sure to have some fascinating adventures! 🙂

  4. Wow, wow, wow! I never would have guessed this (in part because I always forget Latvia is a country, but that’s neither here nor there…). What made you decide on Latvia? What a cool adventure you have ahead of you—definitely different from your stint in China, and I can’t wait to read all about it!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Learning to Let Go in Vang ViengMy Profile

    • Thanks, Steph! To be honest, I’d never heard of Latvia before my husband brought it up as a possibility. We really wanted to live somewhere in Europe and Riga just happened to be the place he was able to get a job. It’s nice that I’m going in without any preconceived notions or expectations so I can just take it as it comes. Let the adventure begin! 🙂

  5. I’m from Lithuania. This year we had first snow on January 12, and it was gone in a couple of months. If this keeps going, you might not need to worry about cold winter spells. But it might get -25’C in February in Lithuania. I suppose Latvia is similar. But mind that in Riga it’s going to be cool and windy even in hot summers (+18 ‘C if you are lucky) because it’s a port.
    Ele recently posted…Ar jau matėt žydinčius narcizus Druskininkuose?My Profile

    • Hi Ele, thanks for commenting! -25’C is quite cold! I’m glad I bought some warm layers to wear under my coat and boots. But it will be such a refreshing change from China (where I lived for two years) that I probably won’t mind it a bit!

      • Hi,
        I’m from Latvia.Winters are dark with little daylight as you mentioned, but the cold is not so bad. Ok, some days it gets down to -25′C but then you just try not to go out much. Other time if dressed properly it is not so bad. Anyway, some winters (like this one) can be even very mild.
        Good luck and welcome to Latvia! I think you will enjoy it.

        • Hi Ieva, thank you for commenting! I’ve heard such wonderful things about your country and I’m very much looking forward to my time there!

  6. How exciting, Heather. I have never been to Latvia nor to any other of the baltic countries, but I have heard a lot how beautiful they must be. I love your description about the Latvian saunas. from what I have heard they do it the same way in Finland and Russia. One young guy who I have met on my most recent China trip went to the sauna in Russia when travelling on the Trans-Siberian and he didn’t know that he would get whacked. Apparently he didn’t like it. I am looking forward to read more about your time in Latvia, about the country, the food et cetera. And if you make it further down southwest, maybe we will cross paths.
    Vanessa @ The Travelling Colognian recently posted…Weekly Photo Challenge: On TopMy Profile

    • Thanks, Vanessa! I haven’t been to any of the Baltic countries and am looking forward to exploring someplace new! I’m not sure I’ll like the sauna experience, either, but it will be a fun thing to say I’ve done 🙂

      Maybe our paths will cross in Europe!

  7. Best of luck with the move! You’ll be arriving at the best time – it’s like a different city in summer. The winters are quite harsh though. They definitely get me down. Luckily, Latvians look depressed most of the time anyway so you probably won’t notice a huge change there 😉 And I’ll be looking forward to your opinion on that cold beetroot soup too!!
    Linda recently posted…My knickers have got me in a twistMy Profile

    • Thanks, Linda! I’ve stocked up on winter clothing so hopefully I’ll make it through. And if not, there’s always Air Baltic flights to Morocco 🙂

  8. Obviously, I’m rather biased, but I am SO excited for you! 🙂 Yes, as Linda mentioned, winters can be rough. I hope you bought a big down coat, long underwear (seriously!), some wool sweaters, etc. Regarding lack of sunlight, vitamin D supplements are a must. A friend of mine who moved to Riga from Wisconsin said those definitely helped her once she began taking them in her 2nd year there. Clearly, I’m not a doctor, but I’d think that 4-5,000 units would be a reasonable amount starting in September. I could go on about Latvia itself, but in Estonia, you’ll definitely want to visit Tallinn, and in Lithuania Vilnius, the Hill of Crosses and Trakai are musts.
    Daina recently posted…More Etsy Finds with Latvian ConnectionsMy Profile

    • Thanks, Daina! We’re pretty excited too 🙂 We stocked up on warm clothing this winter and I’ll be sure to pick up some vitamin D supplements before we leave. Keep the tips and recommendations coming!

  9. Congratulations!

    Riga is a beautiful city and there’s plenty of other places that you can get to cheaply and easily around the region. Tallinn is only a few hours by bus, and as you said you can take the ferries to Stockholm, Helsinki and other places. They are great fun and you can often get tickets really cheaply.

    As for the winters, you will survive them no probs. I moved to Stockholm from Vietnam in the summer of 2010. That winter was the longest and coldest in decades. Snow was on the ground for almost 7 months, and February was around -28 for about 3 weeks. But, it was awesome! I hadn’t seen winter in a few years and I was ready for the novelty. In all honesty, if you are wearing the right gear, there isn’t much difference between -10 and -30, but don’t wash your face in the morning when it is that cold because your skin won’t dry and the extreme cold will damage it. You need a decent pair of merino wall thermals, and base layers. A decent winter coat. I used a merino ‘buff’ this year instead of a woollen scarf and it was really snuggly! You need a hat with a fleecy inner lining and boots with a fleece lining. If it is a cold, snowy winter it will seem very bright and people are active with snow sports, so you won’t feel too SAD. Christmas is absolutely magical.

    This winter, however, was very damp, grey and rainy. We had snow for only about 3 weeks. It was MUCH WORSE than an extremely cold, snowy winter. In January, Stockholm had 14 hours of sunlight the whole month. It was tough and many people felt down. At the worst of it, I was coming home from work and sleeping for three hours, waking to eat, and going back to bed. At weekends I stayed in bed or on the sofa: my body was going into hibernation! You will need to take plenty of extra vitamins through the winter, and have stews on slow cook for when you get home! When I felt at my absolute worst, I visited a sun-bed for 10 mins (I would NEVER use one to tan), and it was just the pick-up that I needed (also cheaper than a SAD lamp).

    As soon as the spring comes, the harsh winter is completely forgotten. Here in Stockholm, the birds are already waking me up around 4am 🙂

    I’m looking forward to hearing all about your new adventure!
    Runaway Brit recently posted…What to do in Skopje When It RainsMy Profile

    • Thanks! I figured you’d have lots of good advice 🙂

      I imagine the novelty of the first winter will make it exciting and fun. I’ll have to remember that tip about the sun-bed – it’s a great idea that I probably wouldn’t have considered. I’ve got some fleece liners for my wellies, a down coat and heavy wool hats and scarves, though I’m hoping to pick up some pretty Latvian woolens once I’m there. And I know that if the winter gets too hard to take, I can always hop a flight south 🙂

  10. Wow! I’ve never been to Latvia but I don’t deny that I’d love to indeed 🙂 It looks very nice and the architecture is most definitely interesting. Congratulations Heather and I look forward to read all about your new life soon 🙂

  11. Wow, what a thorough love letter to Latvia, you make me excited to come down and visit even more than I was before. Lots to absorb and do there.

    Either way, I’m thinking of Bulgaria and Romania so you’ll be sorta close.. we’ll talk more on hanging out!

    it will be an adventure of a lifetime. You must be tingling with anticipation. 🙂
    Jeannie Mark recently posted…The Via Rail Experience & HomeMy Profile

    • Thanks, lady! I didn’t think of this as a love letter to Latvia, but I guess it is. I’m pretty excited about the move 🙂

      Bulgaria and Romania are both places I’d like to visit so I’m sure we’ll be able to work something out. I mean, it’s not like you’ll have to twist my arm to get me to travel around Europe 😉

  12. Wow that sounds awesome! Should be a good base for exploring eastern europe too.

    • Thanks, Steph! With Riga being the Air Baltic hub, it should be super easy to get around. I haven’t seen much of that part of the world so it’s going to be a fun adventure!

  13. Oh wow – super exciting!! Have not been to Latvia but we LOVED Estonia…and this will be a great base for exploring the rest of the region. Be sure to go to Finland in summer!
    Andrea recently posted…Austin Snapshots: Food TrucksMy Profile

    • Thanks, Andrea! I haven’t been anywhere in the Baltic region and am so excited to explore it! I’d like to see Finland in both summer and winter! The hardest part of this move will be deciding how to spend our limited vacation days 🙂

  14. That looks so exciting! I never knew that Latvia was so beautiful! I can’t wait to hear all about what it’s like living there. The winter might be a bit tough, but I bet it will be lovely too! You’ll just have to find lots of ways to still stay active outdoors. Really really awesome!!
    Casey @ A Cruising Couple recently posted…North Face Resolve Insulated Jacket ReviewMy Profile

    • Thanks, Casey! I didn’t know much about Latvia before I started reading my guidebook and researching this post. I’m getting more excited by the minute 🙂

  15. Heather, this is UBER exciting news!!! Congratulations!!!! I’m curious what professions take you from China to Latvia?!?

    I’m so excited to hear your take on the experience, and what you think of the food, people, and of course long winters are fantastic extended summer days!! I’ve done one of those Russian bathhouses here in NYC where you get whacked with twigs and jump in cold water (brrr!), and it really is such a cool experience, I know you’ll love it!:-)
    Jess @UsedYorkCity recently posted…UYC’s Book Club: The Overnight SocialiteMy Profile

    • Thanks so much, Jess! I’m super duper excited to get there and experience EVERYTHING! The Baltics and Scandinavia are totally new to me so every day is sure to be a fun adventure, no matter the weather 🙂

      I’m coming up to NYC next week to see my friends one last time before we leave – maybe we could meet up for coffee and I can give you the full scoop!

  16. How exciting! Haha, yes, the polar opposite to China! I’ve been wanting to visit Latvia for a long time so I will definitely contact you before going!! Love the Baltics, you’re so lucky to have many other countries on your doorstep too – especially Scandinavia 😀

    Looking forward to reading your posts from this part of the world, good luck with the move!
    Shing recently posted…In photos: Arctic Light breaking through Polar NightMy Profile

  17. I’m so excited for you and can’t wait to schedule my first visit! There are so many places in Europe I want to see, as well. Probably won’t get to them all, but seeing a few will sure make me happy 🙂

    • I just couldn’t keep it to myself any longer 🙂 It’s going to be an interesting place, for sure! Less than two months to go now – I can’t wait!

  18. Hi Heather, just came across your post while browsing for something else on the web. Welcome to Latvia in June! We moved here 6 months ago and have enjoyed so far 🙂

    • Thanks, Hai! I’ll be upgrading my camera equipment before the move so it will be even more fun to play around in my new home. I want to capture all the beautiful art deco architecture, which will be hard to do on my little Cannon point-and-shoot 🙂

  19. Hello Heather!

    I’m having Latvia withdrawals since moving back to the states after my two year stay in Riga. I’m using your blog and pics to get by! I know this post is really old but I wanted to speak to your thoughts in this post in particular. I know winter is fast approaching and the days are shrinking so I just wanted to share what helped me most. If you can, maximize your time outside in the daylight hours as much as you can (ski, skate, walk, go to the grocery store!). But keeping your feet warm is the most important. It wont matter how warm your head, hands and torso are. If your feet are cold, you will be miserable! That means buy awesome boots and socks. 🙂 And daylight lamps can work. I had one but honestly my cats monopolized it and I barely got to use it. I highly recommend checking out the beaches this winter. As long as it gets cold enough they will freeze. And they freeze in pretty awesome looking ways (wave-like) that late enough into winter you may be able to walk on. Winter in Latvia is magical, I hope you enjoy it. I can’t wait until we move back.

    • Hi Nicole!

      Thanks so much for your comment! I can understand why you’re having Latvia withdrawals – it’s wonderful here! Even though winter is fast approaching, it’s been interesting to experience the rapid changes in temperature and length of days. It’s really remarkable how accelerated the seasons are! We’ve had one week of frigid weather during which I discovered your point about cold feet to be true. After two hours of walking around outside, my feet were painfully numb with cold while the rest of me was toasty warm. I switched to my Uggs after that, but know I need to invest something waterproof.

      The Christmas stands have been set up in Livu Laikums, complete with gluhwein and gingerbread. Now all we need is some snow! 🙂

      When do you think you’ll get to move back?

      • Ooh gingerbread! Now I need to find a good recipe for piparkukas… 🙂

        We’re planning to stay stateside for a couple years but it’s yet to be determined. Luckily we can always visit and that will probably happen next summer.

        Good luck finding awesome boots! And enjoy the snow!

  20. Congrats! Latvia is a really cool place! People are very friendly and they speak so many languages! Three years ago I went there with friends on the way to Tallinn and we met great people who offered us Riga Balsam… black alcohol with very specific taste! I’d love to go back there for longer! Have a great time there! Thanks for sharing!

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