Culture, Travel & Sport

Emerging Europe’s Christmas markets

From Yerevan to Vilnius, emerging Europe is home to some of the best Christmas markets in Europe. Here’s a guide to a few of our favourites.

Albania – Tirana

Christmas in Tirana starts in Skanderbeg Square, where a huge Christmas tree takes pride of place. Then just follow the lights along boulevard Dëshmorët e Kombit and you will find yourself in the middle of Mother Theresa Square, the second largest in Tirana. The Rruga Murat Toptani Christmas Market is a must. It is held along a busy street, where authentic and seasonal food and drink and unique Albanian arts and crafts are all sold. There is a wide choice of food and drinks: mulled wine, hot chocolate, shrimps and baklava. There is also a great ice skating rink.

Armenia – Yerevan

Yerevan’s Christmas market has been a regular feature of the Armenian capital since it was first created 2011 when French repatriates and brothers Pierre and Tigran Baghdanyan saw the opportunity to bring Christmas markets to Armenia, spreading a European tradition where local businesses and artisans display their handicrafts and locally-made products to Christmas shoppers strolling by. Many well-known brands from the community are represented, selling all sorts of cool gifts ranging from handmade Christmas decorations to beautifully-packaged honey made in Armenia’s border village.

Belarus – Minsk

Thanks to the country’s hugely successful policy of allowing 30 days visa-free travel, visiting Belarus has never been easier. It is a special pleasure during winter. With Orthodox Christianity being the predominant religion, Christmas celebrations generally begin in late December with the biggest event taking place on New Year’s Eve, with a huge fireworks display. However, during December, a gastronomic market will be open every weekend in the city centre until January 6.

Croatia – Zagreb

For the third year in a row, advent in Zagreb has been voted the best Christmas market destination by the travel portal European Best Destinations. The most popular and best-known attraction is the ice park in Tomislav Square, which offers a truly romantic experience. Strossmayer Square is filled with Christmas booths and live music in its hotspots where tourists can enjoy sausages, duck, beans, mulled wine and schnapps. This year, there will be concerts from over 60 performers.

Czech Republic – Prague

Together with Budapest, Prague is one of the most popular destinations in Europe for the Christmas holidays. Items on display in the two main markets (the largest one is in the Old Town Square and a smaller market occupies Wenceslas Square) include ceramics, jewellery, embroidered lace, wooden toys, scented candles, Christmas tree ornaments, hats and gloves, and puppets and dolls dressed in traditional costumes. Food is high on the agenda with all the usual Christmas market products plus local blood sausages, gingerbread and grog (hot rum). The Christmas market at the Old Town Square also has an animal stable, where children can play with sheep, goats and a donkey.

Estonia – Tallinn

The star of Tallinn’s Christmas market is the tree, which has been set up in Town Hall Square since 1441, making it the first Christmas tree ever to be put on display in Europe. Heart-shaped decorations were chosen to decorate the Christmas market this year as the heart is a symbol of love, and Christmas is one of the most heartfelt holidays, but also because Tallinn’s Old Town, the venue of Tallinn Christmas market, is heart-shaped when viewed from the air. Santa Claus can be seen every day, distributing sweets in his little house.

Hungary – Budapest

Vorosmarty Square hosts Budapest’s most famous Christmas market in front of the prestigious Gerbeaud Coffee House, although there are several others around the city. A medieval style market is located in front of St Stephen’s Basilica while the district of Óbuda hosts a less known, but much cheaper market. Besides the usual fair delicacies like the kürtös kalács (chimney cake) strudels and Hungarian pancakes, tourists can taste all the traditional Hungarian Christmas dishes like stuffed cabbage served in a bun or roasted goose. The playhouse will host different workshops where participants will learn the ins and outs of candle making, beading, basketry, felting, and baking gingerbread.

Lithuania – Vilnius

In Vilnius, the Christmas tree plays a key role. Conde Nast Traveller included the Vilnius tree in its list of the 15 most beautiful in the world. Alongside street food and good music, the Vilnius market will host local designers and craftspeople who will organise workshops ad hoc explaining all the secrets behind their products. A special holiday tradition in the Lithuanian capital has become the Vilnius Christmas train, which turns festive circles around the centre of the town, and a unique 3D projection of a Christmas fairytale, which is displayed in all its colours on the main exterior wall of Vilnius Cathedral.

Macedonia – Skopje

Skopje organised its first Christmas fair three years ago and the event has quickly become a tradition, each more spectacular than the one before. Santa Claus will entertain children and adults with several performances during the day, followed by all sorts of concerts. In the evening a show with fireworks and acrobats will light up the atmosphere together with wide will offer of beer, mulled wine, brandy, cookies, pastries, chocolates, sausages German way, hot drinks, dairy products and appetisers.

Montenegro – Podgorica

The fifth traditional Christmas Market at the Regent Porto Montenegro arcades is the perfect choice if you are looking for local arts and crafts as well as traditional festive treats. Christmas decorations, natural, local products made in the traditional way and hand made jewellery are only a few of the things you can find in Podgorica. Christmas is also a time of selflessness and the market also makes it possible to donate something for those in need.

Poland – Warsaw

Warsaw transforms itself into a glowing wonderland full of light, ice skating rinks, and Christmas markets. More than 60 wooden chalets await you in the area of the Barbikan, a defensive building from the 16th century right at the entrance to the Old Town. Among the forest-scented Christmas trees, and the aroma of mulled beverages, chocolate and traditional dishes, festive surprises and attractions await both the inhabitants of Warsaw and tourists. In the food court, there will be a traditional barbecue, as well as old-style Polish dishes. There will also be traditional sausage. Among the snacks and cakes, you will find chocolate products, Turkish halva, traditional cakes and cookies, Christmas tea and other aromatic hot drinks.

Romania – Sibiu

Forget the dreadfully kitsch Christmas markets held in the Romanian capital Bucharest which sell Chinese crap masquerading as Romanian handicrafts and head instead for the amazing market held in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu. Here you find everything you ever dreamed Christmas should be, from a huge tree and loads of stalls selling genuine local handicrafts and superb Transylvanian food to a small funfair for kids and an ice rink. And all set to the backdrop of the best-preserved medieval square in the country. Christmas as it should be.