When my colleagues approached me about a possible trip to see the Bratislava Christmas market, I was ecstatic. Not only I’d always been very curious about experiencing Christmas in Slovakia, but being… slightly obsessed with everything holiday-themed, it was basically like asking me if I wanted dessert. How can you expect me to say no? Besides, I still had to buy Christmas gift for everyone and that was the perfect excuse!
Bratislava is a quaint little town in Slovakia, in Central Europe. We left the sunny Naples
to land in a snowy place. You’d guess one might be disappointed, but the sight of the Bratislava Castle looking down at us, the streets all lit up, the merry decorations and the scent of mulled wine filled our heart with happiness: Christmas in Bratislava was going to be epic. Besides, we had learned how to pack light for our winter trips
, so we also saved on the flight tickets. A huge bonus if you consider that we planned to spend the money we saved at the Christmas markets!
Some of you asked me if Bratislava is a safe place for a lone traveller, especially female ones. The answer is yes. Bratislava felt like a very safe place to be. I visited without my husband, and while I was with a group of colleagues, I still liked to explore on my own, also in the evening. A lone traveller here can find so many entertaining things to do that don’t only involve some shopping at the Bratislava Christmas market. Keep reading and don’t hesitate to ask me if you have more questions!
Christmas markets in Slovakia are a long-standing tradition. Large or small, each one reflects the culture of the Country – music, drink, food, scents. That’s probably why Europe is a pretty popular destination in December
: every region has a different take on Christmas. You can taste elaborate pastries straight out of a Medieval cookbook, attend midnight masses in Gothic churches, listen to Christmas carols under a beautiful Christmas tree and so much more: Europeans take it very seriously!
If you have never been to Bratislava
, you should consider visiting during the last weeks of the year. The capital of Slovakia in fact lits up with a big Christmas market, split in several areas of the city. That way it looks like Bratislava is one big Christmas village. There’s absolutely no reason to rent a car, either. Bratislava Christmas market can be explored on a self guided walking tour
. Taxis aren’t as expensive as I thought, but I strongly suggest you rely on the official ones. At the Bratislava Airport
you will find several people offering you a cheaper rate to bring you to your hotel. No need to say that it isn’t safe at all to accept: wheter you are a lone traveler or not. Being street smart is a must wherever you go
Bratislava is also the perfect starting point for a trip that covers Slovakia
, Czech Republic and Austria. You can in fact reach Vienna and Prague quite easily, they’re just a train ticket away. Bratislava is more or less in the middle. With just a few Euros you can reach Vienna in a little more than 1 hour and Prague in about 2 hours from the Bratislava train station. We used Bratislava as our “home base” to visit these European capitals, so you can visit more Christmas markets in one trip. Which is also a great way to save money: if you can spare a few more days, it’s cheaper to find a room in Bratislava than to lodge in Vienna, for example.
Read more about Vienna’s Christmas markets and go through this beautiful photo essay on Prague if you are looking for more information for your trip!
Hlavne Namestie (Main Square)
This is the biggest market area in Bratislava: there are more than 100 stalls with items made with wood, glass, leather, beeswax and so on. It can get packed up pretty soon in the evening, and yet it never feels overwhelming. If you climb up the tower of the Old Town Hall
you’ll be able to see all the red and white stalls: with all the lights on and all the people, it’s a truly impressive view!
We were staying at a nearby hotel and what led us to the market was the delicious scent of food. No need to ask for directions, we just had to follow our nose!
December is a pretty cold month and the locals get warmed up by drinking mead or mulled wine at the food stands. We noticed that one of their favorite snacks was a slice of warm bread topped with caramelized onions and melted lard, served burning hot. You can also buy sausages and roasted meat, cabbage soup, potato pancakes and many kinds of sweets.
Food yet isn’t the only reason why this part of the Bratislava Christmas market is so crowded. Every year the city has a very rich program with concerts and shows
: from jazz to pop music, from a cappella concerts to Christmas carols, every night there’s a different show you can attend.
Old Town Hall’s Court
If you are visiting the Bratislava Christmas Market at Hlavne Namestie, check out the Old Town’s Hall court, too. Here you can buy a ticket for 5€ to visit the Museum of the city history, and while it has nothing to do with food stands or Christmas concerts, it’s still a very interesting activity that you can add to your itinerary if you want to learn the history of this beautiful city. The Museum of the city in fact shows the events that shaped Bratislava and the way people have been living in this area since the Neolitic era. Before you leave the Old Town Hall you will be invited to watch a very interesting documentary named “People and the city” (included in your ticket).
This square is only a short walk away from Hlavne Namestie. While the portion of the Bratislava Christmas Market here is smaller, the square is much bigger and you will find many vendors selling delicious local street food. Here I managed to buy a bunch of wool scarves for just a few Euros: it’s by far the area where I’ve found the best deals for Christmas shopping. If you are going to shop for Christmas presents, then have a look here. Chances are that you will buy everything you need for half the budget you intended to spend. Tourists and locals alike love the ice skating rink here. Because the square is surrounded by beautiful historical buildings, ice skating here feels like being in a fairytale. The air is filled with the scent of cinnamon and caramelized onions, the laughter of children and the chatter of happy people.
In Winter you can ice skate here, in Primate’s Square, at River Park, and in many other places. Here you can find all the information you need.
If you are spending Christmas in Bratislava, consider staying also for the New Years eve
. Every year in fact in the old town of Bratislava the celebrations start in the late afternoon and last until the following day. In the main squares there are live music performances, fireworks and lots of fun events. The best place to view the city from above is the UFO Bridge Observation deck
. Here there’s a Casino too, where you can enjoy a delicious 10 course dinner, with live music and gifts. Book as soon as you can to reserve a seat!
Street food at the Bratislava Christmas market
As you might have guessed, it’s always better to visit the Bratislava Christmas Markets on an empty stomach. While I always suggest people to taste everything when they are abroad, there are a few treat that you can’t miss. Since most of the times the signs are written in Slovak, here’s a little guide to know what you’re ordering.
LOKŠE: Potato pancakes. They can be sweet or not, as they fill them with cabbage and sausage, or with Nutella and nuts.
CIGÁNSKA PEČIENKA: It’s a roll filled with chicken or pork, mustard and grilled onions.
KLOBÁSA: It means sausage. You will find a lot of different grilled sausages at the food stands. They are generally served with mustard and bread, with onions on the side, if you prefer.
CHLEBA S MASŤOU A CIBUĽOU: A slice of bread with lard and onions. The onions in this one are raw and the scent can be pretty strong if you aren’t used to it. Some locals also like to add some Slovak cheese on the top, letting it melt before to eat their sandwitch to go.
STRUDEL: There’s a number of them you can try. Nuts and cherries, cheese and cherries, poppy seeds and apple. You can enjoy your strudel with home made fruit spirits, often sold in the same stands.
TRDELNÍK: Sweet pastry. It’s pretty large (in case you are hungry) and you can choose between cinnamon, cocoa, vanilla or nuts.
MEDOVNÍK: Ginger bread. You will find it decorated with Christmas wishes or pictures, baked in all sorts of different shapes. There are really many stands that sell it, just like in Vienna and Prague.
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