From late November until Christmas Day, Christmas Markets across Europe bring seasonal cheer and a fun opportunity to spend time outdoors with friends and family. From small towns to large cities, European Christmas Markets vary greatly in size, cultural agendas, and cuisine on offer. Bratislava’s Christmas market is quite different than any other markets in Europe, so if you are lucky enough to be able to make a trip to Slovakia this winter, you will be in for a treat. Here’s our guide to what makes the Bratislava Christmas Market unique, and what not to miss while there!
A glittering castle on a hill
Bratislava’s Castle stands guard on the hill above the Old Town year-round, but during Christmas time, additional lighting is given to the castle’s exterior to make it really shine. During the evenings, the glittering castle adds a nice touch to the atmosphere in the Old Town. As you stroll through the pedestrian-only streets with a warm drink in hand, you will truly feel like you are in a uniquely magical place. Although a few other picturesque cities, such as Salzburg, also have a castle on a hill overlooking the Christmas Market, there is no other city that also has a giant UFO tower standing guard over its historic core. Walk five to ten minutes from the central Old Town square to the Danube Riverfront in order to really appreciate the incredible sight of the historic castle on one side of the river and the modern, futuristic UFO tower standing guard over the other side.
A decorated downtown
Visiting Bratislava’s charming Old Town during December just makes each museum, shop, restaurant, and bar look so much more irresistible, as all are decorated with festive seasonal ornaments, bows, and lights! There’s even a tram decked out in Christmas tinsel and bright lights. The City of Bratislava organizes the logistics for the Christmas Market, but also decorates the Old Town with lights and decorations to make an even more festive environment. More than 100 booths offering food, drinks, and arts and crafts will compete for your attention in the main square, Františkánske Square, Courtyard of the Old Town Hall, Hviezdoslavovo Square, Square of Milana R. Štefánika, and Primacial Square. Each of these squares is located within easy walking distance from each other in the heart of the Old Town, and as you stroll from square to square, make sure to look up and take in all of the beautiful decorations.
Forget mulled wine, bring the punch
Although mulled wine is a Christmas Market staple in many other cities, Slovaks really emphasize the alcoholic punches offered at the Bratislava Christmas Market. Similar to other markets, you can buy a mug for a set price (about 6 euros) and pay (around 3 euros) to refill your mug with wine or punch. The best thing about the punches on offer at Bratislava’s Christmas Market are their unique flavors! Try honey lavender rose punch. Or cinnamon apple! There are many different combinations of fruits and spices waiting for your approval. You would likely need three to four days to sample all of the flavors available, as there is at least fifteen different punch combinations available each year.
Move aside funnel cakes, trdelnik‘s the word
You certainly won’t go hungry at Bratislava’s Christmas Market. After devouring a warm bowl of goulash soup or a grilled sausage in a bun, look for the open fires where trdelniks are being cooked on their skewers. A trdelnik is basically a puffy, donut-like cake with a hollow interior. The dough is baked over an open fire, then the cake is rolled in sugar and cinnamon. The result is a warm, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth creation that you won’t want to share. You will want to enjoy an entire trdelnik by yourself. Even though at first glance they might look large, trust us, you can and will eat every last bite.
In addition to all of the eating, drinking, and strolling you can do in Bratislava’s Old Town during the Christmas Market, there is also a rich cultural agenda including live performances from many different types of musical groups, as well as a robust calendar of theatre, opera, and ballet hosted by the Slovak National Theatre during the month of December. If you visit in December, don’t miss your chance to see the Nutcracker in the historic building of the Slovak National Theatre, which dates back to 1886.
Where to end the evening
The Christmas Market stalls typically begin closing down around 9 or 10pm. Most musical performances that are a part of the official Christmas Market Program begin winding down around 8pm. If you would like to continue celebrating, Bratislava’s Old Town offers many lovely bars and cafés perfect for continuing conversations with friends and families. Most of them also serve mulled wine and hot chocolate during the chilly winter months! For delicious mulled wine, try Prašná Bašta or Urban House. For a lovely, rich, and decadent hot chocolate, visit Mondieu Cafe.