Our 2013 Christmas Markets Tour

Highlights of Our European Christmas Markets

Merry Christmas from Marinette, Wisconsin!

"Santa Claus on Main Street in Marinette, Wisconsin"

Santa Claus in Marinette, Wisconsin

As I write this post, I’m with family in northern Wisconsin in a small town along the border of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan — Marinette. Yesterday, I came across Santa Claus (possibly the real Santa?) on Main Street. He couldn’t tell me any details, but said that he’d be headed overseas today.

Before arriving in Marinette, Mr. TWS and I continued our tradition over the past several years of being in Europe to kick off the holiday season. As soon as the Christmas holidays ended last year, I was already thinking about getting back to Europe to enjoy the Christmas markets and spirit in 2013. For the past several years, we’ve been lucky enough to travel in Europe during the month of December and it’s a tradition I’d like to keep for years to come.

Join me for some highlights of our 2013 Christmas markets tour.

Our recent trip to Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic wasn’t all about Christmas and there will be posts coming about the places we stayed, sites, attractions and food that are most memorable. But for now, here are some highlights that reflect the mood, lights, and festivities that added to the Christmas spirit.

Boldog Karácsonyt from Hungary!

"Christmas market at St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest"

Christmas market at St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest

When we visited Budapest in March of this year, I left determined that I’d return to see more of this city that has become one of my favorite places in Europe. I didn’t expect that I’d be able to come back so quickly, but grabbed the opportunity with gusto. Not only would I get to see more of the city, I was thrilled to be able to see it at Christmas with its famous Christmas markets.

"Vorosmarty Christmas market, Budapest"

Vorosmarty Christmas market, Budapest

The two main Christmas markets were at key locations in Budapest and were only a few short blocks from our hotel, the Four Seasons Gresham Palace. The first was smaller, but in a beautiful location at the square in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica with an inviting ice rink in the center. Here we sampled our first hot wine (“forralt bor” in Hungarian) of the year while browsing the local crafts and food booths. Later at the larger market in Vörösmarty Square we indulged in the first of several chimney cakes (“kürtőskalács“) we would taste during our Christmas market tour and had a chance to see a stage performance of traditional Hungarian folk songs.

"Christmas market in Szentendre, Hungary"

Christmas market in Szentendre, Hungary

For a nice side trip from Budapest, we spent a few hours in Szentendre, a small village less than one hour away from the city on the HEV train. Although it might be considered very touristy in the summer, it was quite pleasant and uncrowded when we were there and had a charming town center and Christmas market.

Veselé Vianoce from Slovakia!

"Festive Christmas tram in Bratislava"

Christmas tram in Bratislava

This was our first time in Slovakia. It was right on our train route from Budapest to Prague, so it seemed a good opportunity to get a glimpse of a city that had been on our radar, but not in our travel plans until now. The markets there on Hviezdoslavovo Square in Old Town were bustling with locals, but less crowded than other markets we’d seen. A pork sausage sandwich and hot wine were on my agenda, but I was surprised to find that several booths also served regular wine, which was a nice break from the sugar of the spiced wines.

"Bratislava Christmas markets 2013"

Bratislava Christmas markets 2013

It was only by accident the following day that we came across the market on Main Square just a few blocks away as we darted around the city taking in a few attractions. If we should get back to Bratislava during the holidays again, we’d love to try this one which we felt exuded even more charm in its quaint surroundings than the larger, more commercialized one.

Veselé Vánoce from the Czech Republic!

"Christmas market at Old Town Square in Prague"

Prague Old Town Square

This wasn’t our first time in Prague at Christmas. We were there in 2011 and felt the magic of the market at Old Town Square so much that it’s been our hope to relive the experience. Prague is a gem with its amazing architecture and prevalent spires and the Christmas markets just add to the fairytale mood.

One of the many things we like about Christmas markets is that they are typically located at picturesque sites in the cities. This one in Old Town was surrounded by prominent and beautiful buildings of Baroque and Gothic design. Horse-drawn carriages and carol singers added to the ambiance.

"Horse-drawn carriages and vendors at Prague's Christmas markets"

Christmas Market, Prague

The second market was at Wenceslas Square, a wide street lined with old buildings housing shops and restaurants with the National Museum at the far end. Although the backdrop wasn’t as spectacular as that in Old Town Square, the Christmas trees and decorations definitely generated the Christmas spirit. It was also here that we found our favorite hot wine of the Christmas market tour — one that wasn’t quite as sweet as the others.

"Wenceslas Square Christmas market, Prague"

Wenceslas Square Christmas market

So now I’m wondering… where shall we kick off the holiday season next year? Suggestions?

Mr. TWS and I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

47 thoughts on “Our 2013 Christmas Markets Tour

  1. Marcia

    OMG, he does look like the real Santa (and now I’m hearing that M&M commercial, “They do exist!”)
    It’s kinda hard to top these stunningly beautiful European Christmas markets, Cathy, but I’m sure you’ll find something next year.
    Hope you have a very Merry Christmas. All the best for 2014.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I’ve been getting some great ideas for next Christmas already, Marcia. But I’m not in a hurry — time is going by too quickly!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      That’s one of my favorite photos from the trip. I loved catching it on a foggy night. I thought it really set a Bratislava mood.

  2. Mike

    Your Slovakia segment really caught my attention, Cathy! Pork sausage sandwich, hot wine, a train ride…yes, yes, yes please! Something interesting caught my eye that immediately gave me this cozy, reflective feeling from childhood. The picture of the market at St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest with the lights and gray, overcast sky. Reminded me immediately of the foggy sky would we would have for weeks on end at Christmas time in Lodi, Calif and the rest of the Central Valley. Merry Christmas to you, Mr TWS and family!! 🙂

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I really liked the market in Bratislava — laid back, mostly locals. I know what you mean about the feeling you get from the St. Stephens Basilica market — it made me feel nostalgic, too.

  3. Mary {The World Is A Book}

    What a great tradition for the two of you. Visiting Christmas markets has been high on our travel list. This was a great tour of these beautiful cities. I fell in love with Prague from this past summer’s visit and would want to see their markets. This is such a wonderful and memorable experience. Santa looks like the real deal. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas with your family.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Crossing my fingers that I can keep the tradition next year. I think that you and family would have a blast at the markets. Happy New Year!

  4. Jackie Smith

    What a beautiful post! I’ve enjoyed following along with the TWS duo on Facebook and Instagram; nice to have the full report here. Belated Merry Christmas wishes to you and wishes for a Happy – and well-traveled-in New Year!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      You really put the idea in my head now about Japan. I’ve never been there in any season. Very interesting suggestion — thanks!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      There were a few other lesser-known markets in Budapest that we’d heard about, but didn’t get to — I guess that’s another reasons to revisit.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Might be a little early for mulled wine, Suzanne. But do try the Hungarian wines (the Pinor Noirs are my favorites) — they’re wonderful!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      He was just what I needed to get that extra touch of Christmas spirit. After visiting the European markets, I thought I’d seen it all!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      In my opinion, the markets should be visited by anyone who loves Europe (and the holidays) — at least once. But take my word for it — it’s addictive.

  5. Leigh

    After spending Christmas in Scottsdale I have decided that I really do need snow to make it feel real. Your experience in Europe sounds magical and gives me food for thought. Jeff”s Viking Cruise to Christmas markets sounds wonderful as well.

    Wishing you a happy 2014 and a year full of exciting travel.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I’ve never spent Christmas anywhere but in wintry climates. Don’t think I want to change that, but I’m game for Scottsdale (or other warm weather places) before and after anytime.

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    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I’ve been craving sausage sandwiches the past few days — served up with some hot wine, of course. I’d also like to try a big slice of ham that I saw being cooked at the Prague markets, but didn’t try. I was too full from everything else.

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  8. Jennifer

    We’ve been to all of these Christmas Markets and these are all great ones! I really want to head up north for Christmas Markets. I hear Estonia has some fabulous ones! And I definitely want to head to more German Christmas Markets. We went for our first time to Germany ones this past December and they were some of my favorites we’ve been to in all of Europe.

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