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Best Christmas Markets In The Balkans

Best Christmas Markets In The Balkans

Guide To What’s Inside

Christmas is a great time to visit Europe. Most people immediately jump at the chance to visit Germany or Switzerland to experience a Christmas market, and for this reason, they can be extremely over crowded and unenjoyable.

Balkan countries like Croatia, Slovenia and even Bosnia and Herzegovina offer some truly remarkable Christmas activities and markets for visitors to plan their trips around.

In fact, one of the oldest Christmas traditions comes from the Balkans! The custom of badjnak or the yule log actually originated in the Balkans. Traditionally, this is when the patriarch of the family has to go out and find a Yule Log and on Christmas Eve the log is then used to start the fire that will burn through Christmas Day.

With Christmas fast approaching, we wanted to bring you some of our favorite Christmas markets in the Balkans for you to help plan your trip around.

Most of these markets will open at the end of November or early December at the latest and will stay open through Christmas and some even into January.

From mulled wines to beautiful, handmade gifts, Christmas markets are a great way to get outside, get in the mood for the holidays, and to experience something a little different.

These markets are worth a place in your travel plans! The most important question, which Christmas Markets in the Balkans will you be visiting this Christmas season?

Celebrate The Winter Holidays At These Balkan Christmas Markets

Ljubljana, Slovenia

ljubljana-christmas-markets | Croatia Travel Blog
Photo Credit: Erin Johnson

The Ljubljana Christmas Market isn’t going to astound you with it’s size, but it is arguably the prettiest market in all of Europe. Recently voted Europe’s Green Destination, Ljubljana is a beautiful destination for those looking to explore Slovenia this winter!

The main market takes place in Preseren Square and is full of stalls with gifts, trinkets, food and plenty of drinks! After you take in the square, enjoy a walk along the Ljubljanica River and shop the stalls that have set themselves up with this beautiful backdrop.

Stick around the area until nightfall as the entire city famously lights up in the weeks leading up to Christmas including the Ljubljana Castle and the famous Triple Bridge.

Athens, Greece

Athens beautifully transforms at Christmas time into a Christmas wonderland. From ice skating, to towering Christmas trees, Santas and magically-lit boulevards, Athens is a wonderful destination to celebrate the holidays.

The city comes together in the Syntagma Square to host a beautiful market featuring demonstrations, celebrations and plenty of activities for all ages.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina offers vistors the chance to visit a wonderful Christmas market, but the Sarajevo Holiday Market is a great place for families to experience the holidays.

With a Santa’s Village and Children’s playground set up just for the market, this is a great place to bring children to experience the holidays. Visitors can also take in local crafts, organic food, and plenty of beverages!

Sofia, Bulgaria

Get a taste of a German Christmas market without going to Germany at the Deutscher Weihnachtsmarkt in Sofia. Visitors can enjoy traditional German sausages, mulled wine, and plenty of decorations. The market sets up in the City Garden at Batenberg Square and is over 700 years running! This Berlin style market offers visitors plenty of Christmas toys, decorations and handmade jewelry for the purchasing.

Sibiu, Romania

The Sibiu Christmas Market is a popular festival located in the center of the city in the Greater Square of Sibiu and has been running for over 10 years. Over 70 merchants from 20 countries set up stalls within the square to sell unique gifts and trinkets for Christmas market goers to purchase.

To fully make it a Christmas market, visitors can sip on mulled wine and munch on roasted chestnuts while exploring the handstands and stalls. Children visiting the market will also have a great experience. Bring them to the Little Gifts Factory where they can make their own Christmas gifts to take home!

Zagreb, Croatia

Advent in Zagreb | Christmas in Europe | Balkans Travel Blog
Advent in Zagreb: Photo Credit: Zagreb TZ

Winner of the esteemed award for “Best Christmas Market”, Zagreb’s market may not be the first one you think of, but it is well worth a trip to experience! The market is more than the typical shops and stalls offering handicrafts and snacks.

There are demonstrations ranging from pastry making to children’s arts workshops. Enjoy a wonderful stroll around the city after a visit to the market to take in all of the beautiful decorations that the people put forth as well.

Here is a full guide to Advent in Zagreb

Dubrovnik, Croatia

This seaside city may not be the first place that comes to mind when considering where to go for a Christmas market, but the market that takes place in the city’s walls is well worth a visit. The most stunning part of the market, however, are the lights and decorations that light up the architecture of this UNESCO site.

The market is a great place to sample local Croatian dishes like fritule and kontonjata as well as pick up some handcrafted goods!

Fascinating Christmas Traditions In Croatia And The Balkans

Although the Balkans is a distinct geographical region, it’s still home to various different peoples, cultures, religions and customs. There are even differences in how people celebrated Christmas in between regions in the same country. These are some interesting Christmas traditions in Croatia and some other Balkan countries.

  • Wheat grains are planted in early-December and will have grown by the time Christmas rolls around. The wheat symbolizes the force of life and hope.
  • Homes are typically decorated with wreaths, where a candle is lit on the four Sundays of Advent. They’re a symbol of light, which leads up to the birth of Christ.
  • Advent Sunday is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This is when the first Advent wreath candle is lit.
  • In many local villages and towns, no large events or even weddings take place in the weeks leading up to Christmas (except for maybe Christmas markets).
  • Traditionally, the Christmas tree isn’t decorated until Christmas Eve.
  • After Christmas Eve dinner, families traditionally go the Midnight Mass, after which the Christmas Day celebrations really kick off.
  • Orthodox churches in the Balkans still follow the old Julian Calendar, which means that they celebrate Christmas on January 7. Serbia is a famous country where people generally celebrate Christmas in January. The same applies to certain places in Bosnia, North Macedonia and Montenegro.
  • Traditional Christmas food in the Balkans varies greatly from one region to the other, but there are some noticeable parallels. Usually, fish and meat are an important part of the Christmas meal, while typically desserts like fritule, strudels, and walnut and other cakes are essential, too.