10 Best Christmas Markets in Eastern Europe
Admire the architecture of enchanting city squares that are frozen in time, warm yourself with mulled wine fortified with local spirits, and wander through the snow to shop for traditional handmade gifts. Eastern Europe's cities transform into magical winter wonderlands during the festive season, making it a perfect time to visit.
Here's our guide to the best Christmas markets in Eastern Europe.
Wroclaw Christmas Market, Poland
The city of Wroclaw has an almost fairytale-like appeal that is taken to the next level during the festive season. Set among the cobbled streets and brightly coloured townhouses of the Old Town, Wroclaw's Christmas market is considered one of Europe's most beautiful, branching out from the Market Square with its gloriously Gothic Town Hall, and spilling into the surrounding streets and adjoining Plac Solny.
As well as the many wooden huts selling all manner of sweet treats and arts and crafts, there's also a towering cabin that makes a top spot for a mulled beverage and an elevated view, and the Fairytale Copse, a Christmas tree forest inhabited by animatronic characters, including Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and Pinocchio. As you explore more of the city, be sure to also keep an eye out for its most cheeky inhabitants: hundreds of statues of dwarfs hiding high and low in public spaces.
Tallinn Christmas Market, Estonia
When the snow falls on the cobblestone streets and rooftops of Tallinn's beautifully preserved Old Town, there can be few better settings for a Christmas market. This UNESCO World Heritage Site at the heart of Estonia's capital is home to passageways, towers, spires, domes, and city walls, as well as Town Hall Square, where the market takes place. Browse the wooden cabins for handicrafts, woollens, and souvenirs, and sample some local fare including black pudding with sour cabbage, as well as Vana Tallinn Glögi — a mulled wine containing a rum-based liqueur. You can't help but notice the square's Christmas tree — legend has it that the city's first Christmas tree was put up in 1441 by a merchants' association called the Brotherhood of the Blackheads. At the end of the festive period, its members would dance around the tree before setting fire to it.
Old Town Square Christmas Market, Prague, Czech Republic
Old Town Square is home to Prague's famous astronomical clock; in the run up to Christmas it also echoes to the sound of carols, while the air becomes full of the smell of festive food. The Christmas market offers you the chance to buy items like ceramics, jewellery, wooden toys, scented candles, woollen hats, and traditional puppets and dolls. You'll never be short of things to eat; food stalls sell local treats including klobása (barbecued sausages), ladké knedlíky (sweet dumplings), trdelník (chimney cake), and perníčky (spicy gingerbread). There are plenty of opportunities to wash it all down with a mug of hot chocolate (horká čokoláda), honey wine (Medovina), or grog — a mixture of rum, water, lemon, and sugar. Kids can visit an animal stable and pet the sheep, goats, and donkeys, while school choirs and folk groups perform on the stage. Look out too for the impressive Christmas tree, which comes from the forests of the Central Bohemian Region.
Budapest Christmas markets, Hungary
Budapest is home to several Christmas markets, where the focus tends to be on authentic Hungarian folk arts and traditions, rather than mass-produced goods. They include the Vörösmarty Square market, which welcomes more than 100 craftspeople, plus there are concerts and puppet shows. Another market takes place outside St Stephen's Basilica, where you'll also find 3D light shows and an ice rink. Meanwhile, the Castle Garden Bazaar market, at the foot of Castle Hill, below Buda Castle, offers stunning views across the Danube to Pest. Whichever market you visit, you’ll find gifts including ceramics, jewellery, and clothing, while festive treats include Kürtöskalács, a cinnamon chimney cake cooked over an open fire, and spicy forralt bor (mulled wine). If you're looking for the perfect way to warm up after your shopping trip, head for a dip in the city's Gellért Thermal Baths.
Riga Christmas markets, Latvia
Latvians celebrate the festive season with vigour, not only due to Christmas itself, but also because their pagan roots mean the winter solstice has great importance. Add to that the fact that the Post Office named Riga the most affordable destination in Europe for a Christmas shopping trip for the third consecutive year in 2019, and it's no wonder the city is a popular destination for visitors in the colder months.
In the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old Town, there are markets on Dome Square, with its handsome architecture including Riga Cathedral, as well as on Livu Square. Other Christmas markets take place in Esplanade Park, where kids can see a miniature village populated by live rabbits, as well as across the Daugava River, where the Kalnciema Quarter arts and crafts market takes place on Saturdays. Look out for gifts including hand-knitted socks, gloves, and shawls; candles; and carved wooden spoons, and chow down on delicacies like grey peas and bacon, as well as the ubiquitous gingerbread and mulled wine.
Zagreb Christmas markets, Croatia
The Croatian capital of Zagreb has more than 25 Christmas markets, each with a unique atmosphere. In Zrinjevac Park, where the trees are lit up by lanterns at night, you'll find artisanal gifts, as well as local festive snacks. European Square has stalls and live music, while outside the nearby cathedral you can visit a live nativity scene, featuring a cast of actors and animals. You can also have a go on the ice rink in King Tomislav Square, then after dark take a stroll along Strossmayer Promenade, past hand-lit gas lamps, to Caffe de Matoš for food stalls, live entertainment, and great views over the city.
Bratislava Christmas markets, Slovakia
Bratislava's Christmas market locations include Hlavné Námestie (Main Square), Hviezdoslavovo Námestie square, Bratislava Castle, outside the Old Town Hall, and at Eurovea. You'll find booths selling traditional handmade Slovak gifts such as wooden toys. Hviezdoslavovo Námestie also has an ice rink and a stage with entertainment, plus there are more food stalls here than the main square, so it's a great place for festive foodie adventures. Dishes to try include lokshe (potato pancakes with various fillings such as duck liver, or something sweet like jam or Nutella), ciganska pecenka (chicken, beef, or pork steak in a roll with mustard and onion), and chlieb s mastou (bread with goose fat and onion). Drinks to warm you up include medovina, a spirit made from honey, and punč, a punch drink made from wine and rum. For one of the best festive views in the city, climb to the top of the Old Town Hall to look down over the stalls in the courtyard below.
Vilnius Christmas Market, Lithuania
Vilnius's main Christmas market takes place in Cathedral Square, outside the city's Neo-Classical cathedral. You'll find booths selling gifts, fried foods, roasted nuts, mulled wine, hemp tea, sweets, and more, all arranged around the Christmas tree, which has a different theme every year. Look out too for the festive video that's projected onto the side of the cathedral.
The 52-metre bell tower, which was originally built as part of the city's defences and was later converted into the cathedral’s belfry, offers great views over the market. Once you've browsed the stalls in Cathedral Square, take a walk along Pilies Street to the city's second, smaller Christmas market, which is front of the Old Town Hall. As it's an Orthodox Christian country, Lithuania's markets align with the Orthodox calendar.
Sibiu Christmas Market, Romania
Transylvania may be known for its Dracula associations, but there are plenty of reasons to visit at Christmas instead of Halloween. The city of Sibiu hosts a large Christmas market in its main square, Piata Mare, that features more than 100 merchants, a Santa's workshop, an ice rink, an open-air stage, and a big wheel among its attractions. Sellers from across Romania offer wooden toys and decorations, leather goods, jewellery, fur hats, gingerbread, chimney cakes, cheese, and charcuterie. Organisers aim to change a third of the merchants each year to keep things fresh, and standards are so high that frequent lab tests are carried out on the mulled wine to ensure it retains sufficient amounts of alcohol while it simmers away for hours on the stalls.
Surrounded by brightly painted houses and with fallen snow on the cobblestones, Piata Mare is certainly an atmospheric setting. Head to the Medieval Council Tower for the best views over the shimmering lights of the market, and to look out across the city's red tile roofs to the snowy Fagaras Mountains beyond.
Ljubljana Christmas markets, Slovenia
There's always lots going on in Ljubljana in the run up to Christmas. Prešeren Square in the Old Town is home to the main market, as well as sparkling lights galore and a beautifully lit Christmas tree in front of the pink façade of the Franciscan church. You can shop for gifts such as woollens, fashion accessories, and local arts and crafts, plus Slovenian delights such as honey and schnapps. Across the city, town squares host countless free concerts and other events, plus smaller markets such as the Christmas Art Market. Another winter attraction in Ljubljana is Land of Ice, an exhibition of unique ice sculptures.
Feeling festive? Visit our other Christmas market blogs: visit the UK's best Christmas markets, our favourite Christmas markets in Austria, the top Christmas markets in the UK, and Germany's favourite Christmas markets.
Nick Elvin, Sara Kriegel, and Adam Potter contributed to this post.