5 Best Christmas Markets in Eastern Europe
As we approach end of the year, Europe becomes a tapestry of enchanting traditions, twinkling lights, and the air is filled with the aromatic allure of festive goodies.
Christmas markets litter the continent, each one a gateway to a world of holiday wonder. It’s the perfect time for families to embark on a magical adventure through the lesser-explored yet incredibly charming Christmas markets of Eastern Europe.
From the historical streets of Prague to the snowy landscapes of Estonia, each market in this region has its own story to tell, and a unique way of weaving that familiar Christmas holiday spirit into its very own cultural fabric.
In this blog, we invite you on a heartwarming journey to explore the 53 Best Christmas Markets in Eastern Europe. This is where time-honoured traditions, the best artisanal craftsmanship, and cultural culinary delights unite to create an unforgettable experience for you and your loved ones.
So make sure you pack those winter scarves and mittens, and let’s begin our exploration down the hidden cobblestone streets steeped in Yuletide atmosphere and the warmth of family togetherness.
Christmas Markets in Tallinn, Estonia
Dates: 1 Dec 2023 to 7 Jan 2024
What to Expect: The world-famous Tallinn Christmas Market, named one of Europe’s best Christmas markets to visit last year, is held in their mediaeval Town Hall Square, which gets a generous sprinkling of fairy tale dust come December, offering an undeniably festive atmosphere — possibly enhanced by snow-dusted rooftops and cobblestones, if you’re lucky.
The glowing Christmas tree towering over the Square was apparently the very first Christmas tree ever to be displayed in Europe back in 1441, and the festive tradition continues more than 580 years later!
Here’s where you can discover handmade wreaths, sheepskin rugs, brass bands, bell ringers, dance troupes, and a mini tourist train. Even Santa Claus himself brings his own cottage down to Tallinn’s Square every Christmas!
Must Try: Estonian specialties such as seapraad (roast pork), verivorst (blood sausage), pirukas (pastry with minced and spiced filling), piroshki (stuffed buns), sõir (fried cheese), küpsetatud õunad (baked apple dessert), kirju koer (cookie dessert), piparkoogid (gingerbread), glögi (mulled wine).
Check Out: While you’re in Tallinn, check out the Seaplane Harbour, an exciting maritime museum with interactive exhibits and simulators. The highlight of your visit will be boarding and exploring a real World War II submarine that was built by the British for Estonia back in the 1930s.
Christmas Markets in Prague, Czech Republic
Dates: 2 Dec 2023 to 6 Jan 2024
What to Expect: Between the 14th century twin spires of Our Lady Before Tyn, and the 15th century astronomical clock, you’ll find Prague’s biggest Christmas market in the Old Town Square, bathed in a glistening swirl of seasonal cheer.
Take in the spectacular view from the observation bridge, discover hand-blown glass baubles, and enjoy live theatre, school choirs, and traditional costumed performances that take place in this mediaeval square.
Your little ones will be fascinated by the animal stable in the middle of the square, where they can pet sheep, goats and donkeys. There are also kids workshops on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 11am, where kids can learn how to paint and decorate traditional Czech Christmas ornaments.
The daily Christmas tree lighting ceremony with rousing music and illumination starts at 4.30pm and is then repeated every hour until 9.30pm.
Must Try: Traditional Czech favourites like medovina (honey wine), Pražská šunka (Prague ham), trdelník (rolled cinnamon pastry), svarak (citrusy mulled wine), klobása sausages, Hungarian lángos (deep fried dough snacks), knedlíky dumplings, Pilsner beer.
Check Out: While in Prague, check out the amazing 4D shows at the Black Light Theatre. These silent stories are enacted through a mix of UV lights and fluorescent colours that will utterly mesmerise your children and keep them immersed for 50-80 whole minutes!
Christmas Markets in Budapest, Hungary
Dates: 17 Nov 2023 to 1 Jan 2024
What to Expect: Budapest is known for its impressive architecture, and the Christmas market in front of the St. Stephen’s Basilica will not disappoint. Known as the Advent Feast of the Basilica, it was voted the number one Best Christmas Market in Europe 2020.
Relatively new to Budapest (it started in 2011), it makes up for its lack of historical significance with a fantastic evening light show projected against the facade of the neo-classical masterpiece of a cathedral.
With a quaint ice skating rink centrepiece that’s completely surrounded by beautiful illuminations on all sides, the Christmas market truly delivers on an enchanting festive atmosphere. Considering the average temperature in Budapest in December is about 0-1 degree celsius, it won’t be surprising if you’ll actually be transported to a true winter wonderland with falling snow here!
Just within walkable distance is the popular Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market, which features tables and benches where you can enjoy a huge community festive picnic amongst locals, and a free Christmas train that ferries the little ones around the market.
Must Try: Hungarian Christmastime treats like kürtőskalács (chimney cake or funnel cake), almás rétes (apple strudel), tócsi (potato pancakes), lángos (local deep fried dough snacks), gulyásleves (bread bowl goulash), hurka (Hungarian sausage), töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage), forralt bor (mulled wine).
Check Out: You can’t visit Hungary or Budapest without experiencing their famous and popular thermal baths. If you’re travelling with kids, head to either Gellért Thermal Bath or Széchenyi Thermal Bath where (potty-trained) kids are welcome.
Christmas Markets in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Dates: 1 Dec 2023 to 2 Jan 2024
What to Expect: Slovenia’s delightful capital and fairytale-esque city of Ljubljana sparkles extra brightly during Christmas time! There are many Christmas markets spread across the city, but a good place to start is Prešeren Square, in the heart of Ljubljana’s Old Town and along the Ljubljanica River embankment. You won’t miss the 17th-century salmon-pink Franciscan Church, which dominates the square.
This modern Christmas market offers locally-sourced and sustainably-produced festive treats and eco-friendly gifts to take home. You’ll also be entertained by the variety of free programming going on, including children’s choirs, concerts, street theatre performances, and kids workshops to make Slovenian Christmas decorations.
On December 5th, Miklavž or St. Nicholas and his angels parade through the city distributing biscuits and sweets to well-behaved children, while the Parklji (devil-like beings) follow after to scare naughty children!
In the days leading up to the New Year, Grandfather Frost, the Slovenian version of Santa Claus, also rides through Ljubljana on a carriage pulled by white horses, with a merry band of snowmen, bear, rabbits, and other fairytale characters.
Must Try: Mouthwatering Slovenian fare like kranjska klobasa (sausage), jagnječa obara (lamb stew), štruklji (dough with sweet or savoury filling), posmodulja (sour cream pizza snack), jabolčni štrudelj (apple strudel), šmorn (shredded pancake), potica (festive sweet bread), kuhano vino (mulled wine), honey schnapps.
Check Out: In the city, you can take the funicular to Ljubljana Castle, or enjoy a boat cruise along the River Ljubljanica. Then take a day trip to visit the fairytale landscape of the shimmering turquoise Lake Bled set against the dramatic backdrop of the lofty Julian Alps. The Bled Winter Fairytale along the Lakeside Promenade offers handmade gifts and local treats as well during Christmastime. For a true taste of Lake Bled, try its famous ‘kremšnita’ (vanilla-custard-and-cream cake).
Christmas Markets in Kraków, Poland
Dates: 24 Nov to 26 Dec 2023
What to Expect: While not its capital, Kraków is Poland’s second largest city, and the Kraków Christmas Market is probably the most famous in Poland. It’s located on Rynek Główny, the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town square featuring the famous Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) and the gorgeous twin towers of St. Mary’s Basilica.
One of the largest mediaeval squares in Europe, this place goes through a magical Christmas transformation in December. With its castle skyline, beautiful cobbled streets lined with timber huts, and horse-drawn carriages, it’s a real-life Christmas postcard, Cinderella style!
Amidst the festive illuminations, music, carollers, and live performances, you’ll be able to shop for Polish crafts, such as amber jewellery, and the famous Kraków Christmas baubles, beautiful hand-painted glass art.
While there is no ice rink within the market, you can find one on the square adjacent to the main train station. The city also celebrates a traditional nativity contest called Szopki, where shops display nativity illustrations by local artisans.
Snow is never guaranteed, of course, but considering that Kraków is not far from the Tatra mountains, if it’s going to snow anywhere in Poland then Kraków is always a good bet.
Must Try: Traditional Polish delicacies like pierogi (Polish stuffed dumplings), golonka (pork knuckle), oscypek (smoked sheep’s cheese), Kielbasa sausage, pajda (open grilled sandwich), obwarzanek (Polish bagel), grzane wino (mulled wine), miód pitny (Polish mead), many flavours of Polish vodka.
Check Out: The Wieliczka Salt Mine is an absolute must visit when in Kraków. Dating back to the mediaeval ages, this salt mine supported much of the Polish economy then. Today you can tour the artistic subterranean chambers, which feature amazing salt sculptures, and even an entire chapel with religious murals cut into the salt walls, and chandeliers meticulously crafted from rock salt.
Whether it’s the mediaeval charm of Tallinn or the Old World allure of Krakow that draws you to Eastern Europe, we know that you’ll enjoy the best Christmas markets they have to offer.
As you’re planning your winter adventure, don’t forget to purchase your travel insurance in advance. Not only will it safeguard your family, but it’ll also offer you peace of mind against unforeseen circumstances, letting you focus on creating unforgettable memories amidst the twinkling lights and festive cheer. So, bundle up, dive into the holiday spirit, and let the enchantment of Eastern Europe’s Christmas markets create the perfect backdrop for your December family vacation. Safe travels and happy holidays!