♪♫♬ It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Or is it? For some people Christmas time it’s the time they’ve been waiting for the whole year. Well, this is not true for me, to be honest. I do not especially like winter, due to the freezing temperatures, ice on the sidewalks and streets, all the extra heavy clothing, gloves and hats (try putting it on with only one hand and you will understand my problem with winter clothes). Putting all this aside, I still appreciate all the fuss about Christmas; I do enjoy Christmas lights, festive spirit, mulled wine … It is magical, I’ll admit that.

For last wintertime, I’ve decided to explore three capitals that are connected by the majestic Danube River. Though summer weather is nicer to walk around, winter time offers great visits of the famous Christmas markets near Slovenia and gives you the view of the thousands lights that decorates the streets.

Last year we started our journey in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital. Check my guide to a perfect weekend gateway in Bratislava. for recommendations about this lovely city. On the way home to passed the impressive Austria’s Vienna and next weekend drove all the way to always mesmerizing Budapest in Hungary. Click if you’re Hung(a)ry for more.

All cities lie along the Danube River, but provide a different story to discover. Though in late November/early December the wide river is not the only common point. In all three capitals you can indulge in mulled wine, since the cities hold inviting Christmas markets. Here you can find a quick guide to the Christmas markets in Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest, which I’ve visited last December. This winter I was finding magic in Graz and Zagreb.

If you’re looking for smaller, cozier Christmas market, visit the one in Bratislava. When the sweet fragrance of cinnamon wafts through the air, when you warm up your frozen hands on a cup of punch, mulled wine, hot cocoa or hot chocolate and warm your bellies with Cinnamon trdelnik, poppy seed strudel, you know Christmas has come to Bratislava. Beautiful lights illuminate Christmas trees and streets. The biggest Christmas market takes place on the main square in Bratislava (Hlavne Namestie) and on the square of the Franciscans (Františkanske namestie). Smaller markets can also be found on Courtyard of the Old Town Hall, Hviezdoslavovo square, Square of Milana R. Štefánika, and Primacial square. Markets are perfect places to find gifts for your love ones. On wooden stall, you can find many ideas for gifts, such as items made of wood, glass, Slovak handicrafts, sweets … Holiday atmosphere in Bratislava started on 24. November and lasted until December 22.

Hungary’s Budapest is another popular destination when it comes to Christmas spirit. Budapest has smaller and bigger Christmas markets. They usually open around mid-November and end on December 31st. The most popular and most spectacular markets are the one on Vorosmarty Square and the one by Basilica. On the stands you’ll find everything from food, souvenirs, Christmas decorations … It’s easy to buy presents there.

The biggest of the three cities near Danube and the most popular market is in Vienna. You’ll be amazed by impressive Christmas decoration. Flashing lights on majestic buildings, on narrow and wider streets light up the city. Add the sound of Christmas bells, the smell of ginger, vanilla, mulled wine (Glühwein in German), cloves, chestnuts and punch. You get a perfect Christmas town. Vienna’s Christmas market has a long tradition, first market during advent was in 1928. There are many locations where you can find Christmas spirit and warm yourself with tea (tee), punch (punch), hot chocolate (heiβe Schokolade) or mulled wine (glühwein). Market in front of the Citty Hall (Rathaus), Christmas village at Belvedere Palace, Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien Platz, Christmas market at Schönbrunn Palace, lovely Christmas market at Spittelberg just to name the most popular ones. The biggest and the most glorious one is the Christmas village at Rathaus. In my opinion, visiting Vienna during festive season must be on your bucket list. You can cross that of your list until Christmas, when markets end.

Not as impressive as in Austria’s capital, Christmas market in Graz is still quite popular for visitors. Perhaps big, crowded cities like Vienna are not for everyone. If you prefer smaller, intimate Christmas markets, head to Graz. Its streets are nicely decorated; the Schlossberg shines on the top of the hill. You can find stands on various locations: Hauptplatz, at Eisernes Tor, at Färberplatz, at Mehlplatz, at Glockenspielplatz, at Mariahilferplatz, at Schlossberg just to name a few. At Wonderland on Mariahilferplatz, you can take a ride on big ferries wheel, there is a nativity trail in Stempfergass, go and check the ice nativity scene in the Landhaus courtyard. You can enjoy Christmas in Graz until 24th of December.

Zagreb was voted the best Christmas market in Europe by European Best Destinations’ online poll. Moreover, this title went to Zagreb three years in a row since 2016. Being only an hour drive away from my home in Slovenia, it was obvious I have to experience Advent in Zagreb. The city sparkles brightly with thousands of lights. You can find markets on various locations in the city. Start on Ban Jelačić Square. This is a main square where you can find a tall Christmas tree, stands with food and gifts and an open-air stage for concerts. A short walk up the hill to Zagreb’s Upper Town to Advent on Stross. Strossmarket is a small town on its own. However, you’ll spend most of time at one of the most popular and beautiful symbols of Zagreb – Zrinjevac Park. Lanterns light up the avenues of trees, the old music pavilion creates a magical fairytale like atmosphere. Here you can buy Christmas ornaments and handmade souvenirs. Stroll further and you’ll stumble across Ice Park on King Tomislav Square. Christmas fairytale there offers ice skating rink, food, beverages and music events. Advent in Zagreb will last until seventh of January 2018.

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