5 Lesser-known European Christmas Markets to Have on Your Radar Now!
With the winter holidays fast approaching, you may be already planning where to go this year to explore some exciting European Christmas markets. While Germany, France, and Austria offer some of the oldest and most popular fairs, other countries like Hungary, Russia, and Slovenia are home to remarkable yet relatively little-known attractions.
Whether you are planning a quick winter break or dreaming of doing it big this holiday season, why not go off the beaten path and discover these lesser-known European Christmas markets and everything they have to offer.
Festive Fair – Ljubljana, Slovenia (30 November 2018 – 2 January 2019)
Ljubljana’s Festive Fair starts with the lighting of the Christmas lights on November 30 and ends with the fireworks launched from the Castle Hill overlooking the Old Town a minute after midnight and announcing the beginning of the new year.
During this festive season, the streets and squares of the Old Town are adorned with creative Christmas lights displays, lined by food and drink stalls, and host a varied program of free music concerts and other events for adults and children alike. The Christmas Market offers traditional handicrafts and gifts and a chance to taste local mulled wine, brandy, sweets, sausages, and grilled specialties. Street performers, music concerts, and a Grandpa Frost (the Slovenian Santa) procession are all popular events gathering locals and visitors alike. Do not miss the unique hand-made straw Nativity scene with life-size figures.
‘Journey into Christmas’ Festival – Moscow, Russia (21 December 2018 – 13 January 2019)
Russians celebrate their Christmas on January 7th (as per the Julian calendar), but New Year’s is by far the biggest holiday. Each of Moscow’s districts has its own Christmas fair, so there is plenty to see and do – art exhibits, street shows and concerts, gorgeous illuminations, cooking classes and holiday decoration workshops, traditional food, and handcrafted souvenirs.
The Journey into Christmas festival kicks-off on Manezh Square (right next to the Kremlin) with its huge ball decorated with miles of LED lights. Other popular attractions on Manezh Square include an illuminated maze housing exhibits focusing on Russian history and culture as well as a 55-foot-high Christmas tree decorated with sparkling lights. On Red Square, the Christmas market is set around one of the city’s largest ice rinks. Ice-skating in the middle of the iconic Red Square and at the very foot of the Kremlin walls is an experience guaranteed to leave you with some lasting memories!
Just a short walk away, Revolution Square hosts the Christmas Village where local merchants sell crafts, traditional clothing and accessories, festive ornaments, food and drink. If you are there with the kids, take them on a walk along Tverskoy Boulevard where a designated area hosts activities and classes for them including ice skating, snowboarding, and ice hockey— all free – including the gear rental.
Also on Revolution Square, a Magic Ice Theater will host daily performances of the ice ballets like ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘Swan Lake’, and ‘Snow White’ with a cast of professional figure skaters. The Ice Theater will also serve as a public rink with free skate rentals.
More travel tips: 10 BEST THINGS TO SEE AND DO WITH THE KIDS IN MOSCOW!
Christmas Markets in Berlin, Germany (26 November – 30 December 2018, but may vary)
As you may have heard, Germans LOVE their Christmas markets and dozens (around 60) of them pop up each November in and around Berlin.
One of the most popular is the Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt square in front of the Konzerthaus where every year more than 600,000 people stop by to marvel at the handmade goods crafted by artisans, sample traditional Christmas foods, and enjoy live entertainment. In a large tent, you can see wood carvers, belt makers, dressmakers, comb makers, and other craftspeople showing their skills while jugglers, fire-eaters, choirs and live music performance (classical, jazz, and Gospel) provide entertainment on each market day.
Another wonderful Christmas market is at the historic Alexanderplatz. Under the shadow of Berlin’s landmark TV tower, the entire square turns into a festive market with potters, blacksmiths, and glassblowers displaying their work. In the center, a huge Christmas pyramid with some 5,000 lights is a great spot to enjoy a mug of mulled wine and a hearty Christmas meal with panoramic views of the market.
On the second weekend in Advent only (December 8 & 9, 2018), the traditional Christmas market at Richardplatz (in the Neukölln district) welcomes visitors decorated with oil lamps and other historic elements. In the old market square in the former Rixdorf village, vendors offer carefully curated Christmas decorations, handmade toys, dipped candles, as well as traditional specialties like homemade jams, bratwurst, candied apples, candy floss, mulled wine, hot chocolate, and mead.
Advent Market in Zagreb, Croatia (2 December 2018 – 7 January 2019)
Zagreb’s Advent season starts with the switching of the Christmas lights in Zrinjevac Square from where the festive illuminations gradually spread to the other squares and streets around the historic Old Town. Having been voted the best Christmas market in Europe several years in a row, the Advent market in Zagreb impresses with its fascinating lights and decorations, fabulous open-air entertainment, and tons of pop-up shops with just about every gift option you can imagine.
Your first stop should be the main Jelacic square, where a large Advent wreath encircles the Mandusevac fountain and where you can taste mulled wine, candied almonds, and sausages in a small ‘winter village’ of snow-covered trees and wooden cottages. The adjacent Bogoviceva street is the place to buy handmade souvenirs, Christmas ornaments, scarfs, and gloves. Also nearby, make sure to also stop at the city’s Main cathedral and see the live Nativity scene. Looking to burn off some of the calories? Then stop for a swirl at the ice rink in King Tomislav Square.
The market is quite large, spread-out across the city center, so here is a handy map showing the main locations.
Christmas Fair and Winter Festival, Budapest, Hungary (9 November 2018 – 1 January 2019)
Each November, Budapest’s Vorosmarty Square (near the gorgeous St. Stephen’s Cathedral) transforms into the city’s largest Christmas Market where you can browse over 100 stands offering seasonal gifts (like embroidery, traditional fur hats and gloves, and pressed flower jewelry) and enjoy light and music shows, puppet performances, and handicraft classes. Note that the crafts section is open till December 29, 2018. After that, only the food stalls remain open until January 1, 2019.
The aroma of traditional Hungarian delicacies like langos (fried bread with a variety of toppings), kurtoskalacs (chimney cakes), roasted meats, sausages, homemade strudels, and roasted chestnuts wafting in the air is impossible to resist, and keeping warm while strolling among the market’s wooden stalls with a mug of mulled wine shouldn’t be a problem either. With plenty of musical events, craft workshops, and a huge ice skating rink, there is more than enough to indulge in at Budapest’s Christmas festivities.
From Moscow to Zagreb, these little-known European Christmas markets offer handmade crafts, mulled drinks, and tasty holiday specialties. So, go ahead and discover these historic cities, see them in a different (and uniquely festive) light, pick up some cool presents, rub shoulders with the locals, and experience centuries-old traditions.
Want to know more about German Christmas markets? Read on here!