The Christmas markets of Europe sparkle with lights and shine with baubles, smelling like warm winter spices and fresh air. These annual holiday displays — held between late November and early January — are like something out of a fairytale throughout historic markets in the cities of Central Europe.
Discover the charms of these four Central European Christmas markets that welcome the season of advent 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 a well-deserved accolade, providing visitors to Vorosmarty Square with festive stalls proffering 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 all the more pleasant with stalls selling hot mulled wine and traditional Christmas ornaments until late hours. 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 feast day of St. Nicholas is observed here on December 6th but celebrated on the eve of December 5th with costumed angels and devils and special events for children.
The coastal Baltic city of Gdansk is known for gorgeous, colorful architecture and its amber trade, but Christmastime is when its holiday market also shines. Head to the main square, known as 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 precious 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 is likely to take travelers by surprise. Along the Main Square, rows and rows of stalls sell crafts and local goods under the lights of a stunning Christmas tree. Encircling an ice-skating rink over in Hviezdoslavovo Square are the food and beverage vendors, where you will find variations on sweet and savory pancakes like lokse, a thin potato pancake served with jam and honey or duck liver, if you're feeling adventurous. Wash it down with medovina, a local spirit made from honey. The concept of Christmas markets focuses on quality, ecological, safe, but also visually attractive experiences with an accompanying cultural programme that takes into account the pleasant Christmas atmosphere in the city as much as possible."
From The Sponsor
Fairytale castles, dramatic landscapes, centuries-old history, iconic architecture, and rich cuisine. When it comes to the best of Europe, there can be no more dynamic a region than Central Europe. Made up of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, known as the Visegrad Four, the region is exactly what makes the heart of Europe beat strongly.
These four countries hold their own ground as destinations in their own right, but their unique location and joint historical roots make them perfect add-on destinations to each other for a more impactive, cultural experience. On their own, each has its own distinctive architecture, art, religion, folklore, tradition, and nature, with impressive UNESCO monuments, world famous spas, authentically preserved historical towns, and places of natural beauty.
With easy connections from the United States or other major European hubs, you're never too far away from discovering your own version of Central Europe.