European Christmas Markets
When we first got to London, all of our other ex-pat friends raved about the Christmas markets all over Europe. We decided to split the weekend between Bratislava and Vienna, since Bratislava is much more affordable and the cities are so close to one another. The split worked out well, and we were able to sample mulled wine and apple strudels in both places.
Day by Day
Friday 27 November
We arrived late Friday night and took a quick (and cheap, around €7) Uber from the airport to our hotel.
Dvořákovo nábrežie 7528/6, 811 02 Bratislava, Slovakia
The hotel, overlooking the Danube River, was beautifully decorated for the holiday season. We got a really cheap rate on points, which included a delicious breakfast spread. The location was convenient—about a 20-minute walk to the Old City and short, cheap Uber rides to anywhere in the city.
Saturday 28 November
Daily at 11am and 3pm and lasts 2.5 hours.*
Hviezdoslavovo namestie by the Statue of Hviezdoslav outside the U.S. Embassy. Look for the orange “Free Tour” sign with our logo.
The tour dragged on a little longer than we would have liked, and by the end our feet were frozen and ready to be done. Our guide shared the sad and interesting history of Bratislava, and brought us to some buildings that were preserved in their pre-Soviet architecture.
Bratislava Christmas Markets
Hviezdoslavovo Square, Main Square and Frantiskanske Square
Bratislava has two main Christmas Markets, both of which are located within the old city. Most stalls featured festive food and drink, so we took this opportunity to have our first taste of mulled wine.
We went back to the hotel to relax and enjoy tea in the lounge before dinner. Bratislava Mestiansky Pivovar is a microbrewery serving traditional Bratislavan food. After a bit of confusion with the wait-staff, we were finally seated up on the third floor of this giant restaurant and ordered entirely too much food. We ate the most delicious traditional creamy garlic soup in a breadbowl here. The goulash and dumplings were pretty good too, and the beer was cheaper than water.
Sunday 29 November
Ride to Vienna
Bus and train both run hourly and take between an hour and seventy-five minutes.
After another indulgent hotel breakfast overlooking the Danube, we set off for Vienna. We opted for the bus, but there’s a train option as well. The bus was cheaper than our Uber ride to the station (€5 and €8 respectively). It was a pretty drive through the countryside, and the border crossing was so uneventful that we didn’t even know when we had left Slovakia.
Opernring 13, 1010 Wien, Austria
Our hotel was conveniently located within walking distance of everything we wanted to do in Vienna. Our room had an art installation, with sketches on the windows of the city buildings we faced, which included the Hofburg Palace and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
The concierge warned us that many shops are closed on Sunday, but fortunately our priority was Vienna’s dozens of Christmas markets, which were all open. We used this guide to map out the various markets across the city, and wandered around, taking in Vienna’s beautiful architecture, stopping at every market we could, and sampling the local delicacies.
Michaelerkuppel, 1010 Wien, Austria
We opted for the audio-guide, however guided tours are available as well. The tour is quite long—it starts in the royal service section of the museum, moves on to the Sisi Musuem and finally gets to the residential apartments, which for us was the most interesting part. We wish we had skipped some of the earlier stops to save energy for the actual palace tour.
Wiener Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz
Nov 13th till Dec 26th 2015, daily 10am to 10pm
1010, Rathausplatz near U2 Rathaus Vienna’s largest Christmas market is at the Rathauplatz, in the large town square between city hall and Burgtheatre. There’s an ice skating rink, massive decorations, and endless apfel strudel options. Even if you have no interest in yuletide cheer, this market is a must!
Monday 30 November
As if we didn’t get to enough markets already, we needed our obligatory food market visit. The Naschmarket is a long stretch of permanent stalls with both grab-and-go street food and sit-down restaurants. We weren’t too hungry, so we focused our efforts on souvenir shopping instead and made a mental note to come back on our next trip with an empty stomach.
Vienna Ring Tram 10:00-5:30 daily, runs every 30 minutes and lasts 25 minutes
This is a regular city tram that runs the loop of the ring boulevard and passes by some of Vienna’s most important sites, such as the State Opera, Parliament and City Hall. We were disappointed with the mimimalist audio guide but enjoyed the views.
Jewish Vienna in the Maelstrom of History Monday’s at 1:30pm, lasts 1.5 hours
Meets at the corner of Schwedenplatz and Rotenturmstrasse
Vienna doesn’t permit free walking tours, and our friends were disappointed in the regular city tour they paid for. We opted for a Jewish tour of Vienna and were incredibly disappointed. The tour was mostly in German with minimal English translation, and our guide was all over the place with her content.
Rose- Vienna’s architecture and my apfel strudel (Becca), suite upgrades at both hotels (Josh)
Thorn- feeling so sick (Becca), waiting for the Ring Tram on a day it wasn't running (Josh)
Bud- feeling better (Becca), Barcelona (Josh)
If you go…
How long should you stay? One day was plenty in Bratislava, and it could easily be a day trip from Vienna. There are supposed to be beautiful hikes and skiing outside of the city if you want to make it a longer trip. You could spend days taking in Vienna’s museums and culture, so long as it’s not cost prohibitive for you.
Walkability. Both cities were very walkable, so be prepared with warm and study shoes for the cobblestone streets.
When to go? We thought December was the perfect time, since the Christmas markets add so much fun and charm to these cities. Both would make great year-round destinations, depending on the goal of your trip.
*Opening times and meeting points are subject to change -- double check before you go!
Have you been to Christmas markets in Europe? Which ones are your favorites? We would love to hear your comments in the space below!