Ice rises play key roles in buttressing the neighbouring ice shelves and potentially provide palaeoclimate proxies from ice cores drilled near their divides. Little is known, however, about their influence on local climate and surface mass balance (SMB). Here we combine 12 years (2001–12) of regional atmospheric climate model (RACMO2) output at high horizontal resolution (5.5 km) with recent observations from weather stations, ground-penetrating radar and firn cores in coastal Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica, to describe climate and SMB variations around ice rises. We demonstrate strong spatial variability of climate and SMB in the vicinity of ice rises, in contrast to flat ice shelves, where they are relatively homogeneous. Despite their higher elevation, ice rises are characterized by higher winter temperatures compared with the flat ice shelf. Ice rises strongly influence SMB patterns, mainly through orographic uplift of moist air on the upwind slopes. Besides precipitation, drifting snow contributes significantly to the ice-rise SMB. The findings reported here may aid in selecting a representative location for ice coring on ice rises, and allow better constraint of local ice-rise as well as regional ice-shelf mass balance.