Christmas Markets have become the highlight of festive celebrations across Europe, first appearing in the German-speaking world in the 14th century. Today, their rustic wooden stalls are a much-loved tradition, bringing bright lights, ruddy cheeks and festive cheer, offering everything from steaming local dishes to intricately crafted Christmas decorations and gifts.
There is nowhere better to enjoy this tradition than Eastern Europe, where cities like Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Krakow appear even more charming in the depths of a chill winter, glittering with frost and adorned with snow.
Poland’s capital, Warsaw, hosts many Christmas markets, but perhaps the best is held in the Old Town, close to the Barbican. Here, you’ll find more than 60 stalls selling items from vintage toys to delicious local bread. Running from the end of November to the beginning of January, this lavishly-decorated fair has an ice rink at the centre of the celebrations.
Krakow is home to Poland’s most well-known Christmas market, held in the Rynek, the city’s magnificent central square, from the end of November until late December. Here there’s a huge variety of excellent food on offer, from Kielbasa sausages to more adventurous fare like Pajda Ze Smalcem — a rich and tasty pork lard spread on toast, served with onions and pickles. Don’t miss the Szopki, traditional handmade structures depicting the nativity scene, using local buildings as the backdrop.
Then there’s Prague, where the Christmas market takes over Wenceslas and Old Town Squares from the start of December for one month. The centrepiece of a hugely festive scene is a huge, richly-decorated Christmas Tree in the heart of Old Town Square; 2017’s was a remarkable 22 metres tall.
In Budapest, meanwhile, locals flock to the annual Christmas market in Vorosmarty Square to dine on goulash to stave off the winter chill. This market is open for almost two months (from the beginning of November through to the new year), offering handmade items in glass, wood and more, plus wonderful gingerbread. It’s the perfect place to end a Christmas tour through Eastern Europe.
It’s possible to enjoy four of the best Christmas markets on a single trip to Eastern Europe. Starting in Poland, you can stay at a Hilton hotel close by markets in Warsaw, Krakow, Prague and Budapest. It’s a trip that will live with you for a lifetime.