Bratislava transforms into a completely different city during Christmas time. Streets twinkle with thousands of lights and the squares in the city centre fill with stands selling local specialties and hand-crafted products.
Sample traditional (and delicious) roasted goose, warm up with hot mulled wine, and shop for unusual Christmas presents. In recent years, Bratislava’s Christmas market has received international acclaim and has even been named as one of the top five European Christmas markets.
Christmas markets are held annually on the Main Square and Hviezdoslavovo Square. This year, under a new name and new concept, the Christmas market on the main square is focusing on quality, ecology, safety as well as the all important wow-factor. Together with the accompanying cultural programme, it aims to encourage a magical Christmas atmosphere in the city. In addition, the event will endeavour to help both people and nature. One major new addition is the possibility of cashless and mobile payments.
The fun doesn't end there. Christmas Markets can also be found at Bratislava Castle, Eurovea shopping centre and in other parts of the city.
Expect dozens of stands offering handmade Christmas decorations made of wood or glass, jewellery, scented candles, knitted hats, wooden toys, and colourfully decorated enamelware dishes.
At refreshment stands, order the ‘Slovak hamburger’, known locally as cigánska. This popular street food is made from pork or chicken with onion and mustard in a bun. Lokša, a potato pancake is also worth a try. Stands offer them with all the sweet and savoury fillings imaginable, the most popular of which are made with liver or plum jam mixed with poppy seeds. Bread with lard and onion is another local speciality. When it comes to drinks, raise a cup of warm mulled wine or punch. Feeling brave? Try the Slovak specialty – hriatô, which is made from hot slivovitz (fruit brandy), caramel and cracklings.
“It’s really good and warms me up. The combination of sweet and salty is very interesting,” said Jana Kubíčková, who dared to taste this specialty this year.
Make sure you leave room for dessert. Try the famous Bratislava rolls, which have been baked in Bratislava for over four centuries. The rolls with poppy-seed filling are horse-shoe shaped, while those with a walnut filling resemble the letter C.
In addition to the Christmas market and stages with local singers and dancers performing, you can expect a special treat this year in the form of a swing orchestra and dance school as well as the Advent concert. Look forward to Christmas songs, opera arias, Slovak and world Christmas carols performed by the leading Slovak soloist and the choir Lúčnica.
Meanwhile, the Nutcracker ballet returns to the Slovak National Theater.
The magical atmosphere is complemented by a special lit-up tram. The interior is decorated in red and green colours, with a fireplace and carols bringing festive cheer. The tram runs free of charge in the city centre.
More active visitors can opt for the fairy-lit skating rink on Hviezdoslavovo Square. No skates? No worries. You can rent a pair for a small fee from the booth.
“Surrounded by Christmas stands and spectacularly illuminated buildings, I feel like I’m in a Hollywood movie. You’ll never experience that kind of atmosphere at a traditional stadium,” said Martina Stoklasová after a perfectly-performed pirouette.
Other open-air skating rinks can also be found at the Eurovea shopping centre.
During the last night of the year, the city centre turns into one big party. Have fun in some of the local pubs and restaurants offering special New Year’s Eve menus and events. Celebrations to mark the year’s end also take place outside in the streets. The night begins with performances by DJs and popular bands. Shortly before midnight, the festive atmosphere culminates in a joint countdown of the last seconds of the year. At the stroke of midnight, magnificent fireworks combine with a unique laser-light show illuminating the sky.