A week and a half of European Christmas Markets

11 Dec

Christmas Market in Old City, Warsaw

These past 2 weeks have brought me on a veritable tour of the Christmas markets of Europe. I travelled to Budapest, Bratislava, Brno, Prague and Warsaw. With the exception of Prague, all were cities I visited for the first time. Sadly my schedule prevented me from seeing much (OK, any) of the local sights. But I found much solace in wandering the streets of each beautiful city; following the trails of sparkling lights to find the Christmas markets scattered throughout.

There are many compelling reasons to visit the Christmas markets in this area of Europe, but personally my favorite is wandering in the cold while sipping hot mulled wine. Variably called “varene vino” (Slovakia), “forralt bor” (Hungary), “grzaniec” (Poland), or “svařák” (Czech)…

Bratislava Christmas Market

I guarantee you will not need to know how to pronounce it and you will have no problem finding many stalls offering it at very cheap prices (1 Euro in Bratislava), and many friendly locals drinking it at this time of year! Warm wine sweetened and spiced with lemon rind, cardamon, cloves and more is a sublime treat on a cold night. The local foods are another fantastic reason to spend time at these markets, and you can spend many hours wandering, nibbling and sipping under the lights and stars.

At the end of November, Budapest’s Christmas market stalls (map: Vörösmarty Square) seemed as though they were barely getting started with only a few lonely shops in the midst of a boisterous central eatery. A shame too, as the few stalls that were open looked like they had the best array of unique local products, and not just the stuff you’d find in the tourist traps.

Bratislava has not one but 2 Christmas markets in Old Town, one complete with a skating rink at Hviezdoslavovo Námestie – well done, Bratislava! They are within easy walking distance, your varene vinowould not even get cold walking from one market to the other. I noticed that shops selling toys and non consumables closed down early, before 8 PM. But for me the market in Bratislava was to marvel at the foods of my Slovak ancestors.

Meat, and more meat in Bratislava

I am surprised with all the Slovak foods I was raised on (Halušky, kapustnica, rosky) that I was never initiated into the delights of varene vino. And I am also surprised with all the fried meat that my grandparents were healthy enough to embark on their trip to Canada.

Learning how to order mulled wine at the Prague Christmas Market, with the aptly named Noelle

Prague seemed full of Christmas markets and vendors selling outdoors in its atmospheric squares. But the main event can be found in the Old Town Square where again mulled wine and hearty quantities of meat were the order of the day. I feel that Prague is one of the most astounding cities of the world, and its whimsical architecture makes the perfect fantasy Christmas backdrop.

Finally, in the Christmas markets of Warsaw, in the Old Town Square and in the shadow of the uber communist relic Palace of Culture & Science, I discovered the most important rule of Chrismas markets – they are romantic! So bring someone to stroll with, even if he does not share your passion of varene vino.
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So, christmas markets in Europe, to sum up: shop early, bring your appetite and above all, get into the Christmas mood with some mulled wine.

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