The Christmas markets of Europe sparkle with lights and shine with baubles. These annual holiday displays — held between late November and early January — are like something out of a fairytale.
Discover the charms of these four Central European Christmas markets that welcome visitors with dazzling traditions and free entry.
Perhaps the most popular of the bunch, Budapest is a common river cruise port and a marquee stop during annual Christmas market cruises. It’s been offering visitors to Vorosmarty Square festive stalls featuring local snacks and warm, mulled wine for more than 20 years. Against the majestic backdrop of St. Stephen’s Basilica, shoppers can find gift sets of Hungary’s famous paprika or taste a chimney cake, a local specialty made of sweet, yeasted dough wrapped in a cylinder and coated in butter then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague’s Christmas markets stretch throughout the capital, from Old Town to Wenceslas Square. Handmade wooden trinkets are not an uncommon find, and shopping is made pleasant with stalls selling hot mulled wine and traditional Christmas ornaments. The Old Town festival is the largest and hosts caroling concerts, dance performances, and other live entertainment throughout the season, which kicks off by lighting an 80-foot Christmas tree.
The coastal Baltic city of Gdansk is known for its gorgeous, colorful architecture and amber trade, but Christmastime is when its holiday market shines. Head to the main square, Targ Weglowy, for the best concentration of stalls near the city’s historic Long Market. A defining feature of this Polish market is its large gate, designed to look like an advent calendar. A Venetian-style carousel is complemented by the nearby Angel’s Mill, a windmill topped with figures of saints and angels. Munch on gingerbread cookies, roasted nuts, butterscotch scones, or cured sausages while picking up handmade items like scarves and ornaments for loved ones back home.
Bratislava is also a seasonal stop on Danube River cruises, where the small capital’s festive atmosphere will likely take travelers by surprise. Along the Main Square, there are rows and rows of crafts and local goods under the lights of a stunning Christmas tree. The food and beverage vendors encircle an ice-skating rink in Hviezdoslavovo Square, where you will find variations on sweet and savory pancakes like loose, a thin potato pancake served with jam and honey, or duck liver. Wash it down with medovina, a local spirit made from honey. Here, Christmas markets focus on quality, ecological, and visually attractive experiences with an accompanying cultural program.
River cruising is one of the best ways to visit the Christmas markets. If this sounds like fun, and you’d like more information, call me. I’m here to help you plan your next dream vacation.