A wise man once said “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”. He did not lie. It is the most wonderful time because it is the time of the Christmas markets in Bratislava! For me, this is the highlight of the year. Christmas markets are all about spending quality time with friends and family, lot’s of mulled wine, perhaps a schnapps or two, and lot’s of greasy food. You quickly forget about the cold creeping up from the soles of your feet up your legs and through your entire body, because you’ll simply have a great time, you laugh, you get tipsy on turbo punch, all the while having your hands full with greasy deep-fried potato pancakes.
If you haven’t been yet and the above description is not enough, let me convince you with 3 good reasons why you should visit the Christmas markets in Bratislava!
#1: Christmas markets are all about the people you are with
One thing you can not miss when visiting the Christmas markets in Bratislava is the enormous amount of people. Really, you can not miss it - a Catholic mass at Christmas Eve is nothing compared to the headcount at the markets. But the amazing thing about this, is that no one seems to care about literally stepping on each other’s toes. You know why? Because they are there with the people they care about - everyone is. So if everyone is with the people they care about, everyone cares about everyone in some way…deep right? Think about that!
The atmosphere at the markets is amazing. Everyone has fun with the people around them. Kids are running around the boarded-up fountain on the Main Square or are ice skating on the ice rink on Hviezdoslavovo Namestie. Parents are trying to behave with so much delicious types of mulled wine around them, not wanting to embarrass themselves in front of the kids. People both young and old share plates of great food with each other. It is the good mood that is emanating from the market that makes you want to be there and, even better, want to come back!
#2: The food and drinks are the best
Christmas markets are not just about spending quality time with family and friends. It is about eating a lot and drinking a lot. You need to stay warm, so you need hot wine and heavy food. There are no two ways about it. Christmas markets without hot wine and greasy food is like a birthday party without gifts - it leaves you feel empty inside.
So what grub and hooch should you be looking out for?
Cigánska pečienka: Don’t let the name fool you. Although it translates to “Gipsy liver”, there is no liver (nor any Gipsy for that matter) to be found in this delicious combination of pork/chicken meat, fried onion and a thick layer of mustard, served in a large bun. You might find some variations, stall to stall, but this is the classic recipe.
Zemiakové placky: A true cholesterol killer! This potato pancake is deep-fried and can be served with all kind of toppings. My favourite? Sour cream and fried pieces of bacon, because everything is better with a bit of bacon.
Klobása: Not originally Slovak but nonetheless an evergreen on Christmas markets (or any market for that matter…), this sausage is not for the faint of hearts. Traditionally served with slices of sourdough bread and mustard, it is a favourite of many Slovaks
Lokše: They come in many variations, but the most sought-after of these potato crepes are filled with sauerkraut, liver, lard or cheese. My wife’s favourite is lokše filled with bryndza cheese and a spring onion topping. Most stalls also offer sweet varieties, filled with poppy seeds or chocolate spread, for example.
Trdelník: Not in the mood for something greasy and savoury? Go for the classic trdelník! Basically it is a big dough roll, cooked on a skewer over an open fire. Top it off with a coating of chocolate, coconut, cinnamon or other sugary powders, and you have a feast for your taste buds.
Punč: who needs plain mulled wine, if you can drink punč?! The choice of punč variations are enormous, so choose wisely "(or try them all…). Most of them are combined with fruit and…here comes the kicker…spirits! My personal recommendation? Ruské vino - also known as mulled red wine with a shot of vodka, hence its name: Russian wine. I bet that will keep you warm! Oh, and for the kids and abstinent among us there are things like Detský punč, or “kids punch”, and other non-alcoholic punches.
Medovina: If you are big on honey or sweet drinks, you should definitely try out medovina, or sweet honey wine, usually served hot. Although not traditionally Slovak (there are more countries who have honey wine in their arsenal), it is a classic on the Christmas markets
Varené vino: of course, mulled wine will always be an important part of the Christmas market experience, so it deserves an honourable mention here. You usually have a choice between red or white wine. Some stalls spice them up with some nails, cinnamon and some citrus fruit. No matter how you call it - mulled wine, Glühwein, glögg or vin chaud - a Christmas market is not complete with this hot drink.
#3: Ice-skating with the kids
The Christmas markets in Bratislava are basically divided in two big sections - the market on the Main Square and the market on the Hviezdoslavovo Square. The first is stuffed to the brim with food stalls and Christmas goodies to buy as kitsch gifts for friends and family, while the latter, apart from more food stalls, also has a cool ice-skating rink for some well-deserved family fun. Especially in the evening, with the ring lit up as a Christmas tree, the atmosphere is amazing. Kids can have fun on the ice, while the parents enjoy a much-needed cup of mulled wine or punč. You can bring your own skates, I’m sure, but if Santa did not gift you with a pair of slick blades last year you can easily rent them at the designated booth.
Go and check it out. The kids will love you for it even more. Beware of the kamikaze skaters, though, because we all know there always is one person who has no clue how to skate but nevertheless goes out on the ice like a bull in a china-shop.
Enough choice and reason to go around for anyone to visit the Christmas markets in Bratislava. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. I heartily recommend it and hope to see you there - I’ll get you some Ruské vino!