Christmas is the perfect time to travel to shining cities, with spectacular decorations and dreamy landscapes. During this period, most of those who choose to spend their holidays in Europe visit central European countries such as Germany, Austria, or Switzerland. There are, however, countries not far from the ones I mentioned that have ideal destinations for the Christmas holidays.
The countries belonging to the Balkans are, perhaps, slightly underrated and less advertised, and yet, they have a beauty that, combined with their not-so-many visitors, make them an ideal destination for the Christmas holidays. So let’s take a look at 10 of the best destinations in the Balkans for Christmas!
Best Destinations in the Balkans for Christmas
Craiova, a city of almost 300,000 inhabitants in Romania, is one of the most beautifully decorated cities in the country during the Christmas season. Themed Christmas parks, activities for young and old and local delicacies are some of the features that make up the city’s magical image.
In four central places of Craiova (Mihai Viteazul Square, Old Center [Piața Frații Buzești], William Shakespeare Square, and Doljana Fountain area) decorated with millions of lights, you can listen to live music, taste local products, while there are creative Christmas workshops that children will love!
It’s no coincidence that Craiova, according to European Best Destinations, is among the 3 most beautiful Christmas markets in Europe this year!
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It’s true that Sofia is not the number one destination that comes to mind when you hear “Christmas in the Balkans”. It has no particular tradition of celebrating Christmas.
Of course, the capital of Bulgaria has a unique character with awesome, interesting, and picturesque landscapes, which combines the old with the modern. Impressive modern buildings and large squares become one with old historical shops and mansion houses.
In recent years, however, apart from the traditional German Christmas market “The Deutsche Weihnachtsmarkt” that has been taking place in the City Garden at the Batenberg Square for many years, Sofia has started to change its Christmas image with new markets and festivals all over the city! Christmas Park at Slaveykov Square, Christmas Bazaar in “Vazrazhdane” Park, Christmas Food Fest on Saborna street and Sofia Ice Park at Knyazheska Garden are just some of this year’s events in Bulgaria’s capital!
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Croatia‘s capital is a medieval city with picturesque squares and stately streets. The truth is that if you ask people who have visited Zagreb, most will tell you that there is not much to see. The Christmas season, however, can disprove these claims.
Every corner of its historic centre and surrounding streets is flooded with lights, events such as ice skating (in King Tomislav Square), music concerts, Christmas theme parks, and local delicacies that create a magical destination for all ages.
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It is possible that when you read Greece as a suggestion you would expect to read about Athens or Thessaloniki. Both are very nice at Christmas and have countless options for sightseeing during this period.
The city I’m going to recommend, however, is less well known to the foreign public but uniquely beautiful, especially during the Christmas season.
Volos, a city of about 100,000 in central Greece, is an ideal destination for Christmas. The city is decorated from end to end and hosts a series of events that enchant young and old alike. The “Volos Enchants Us” program of festive events includes the Christmas Village and the Ice Rink, at Riga Feraiou Square, the Christmas Theme Park for children and many more activities. Oh, and don’t forget: if you find yourself in Volos at Christmas (or any other time of the year) visit one of its hundreds “tsipouradika” (Greek tavernas that focus on tsipouro, a traditional Greek drink) and you’ll thank me later!
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Albania‘s capital at Christmas time is magical. The Christmas village, with its wooden houses and decorated trees, set up in the impressive Skanderbeg square can offer an ideal option for those who want to avoid the crowds of the big central European cities and enjoy the festivities in Balkan style.
If you find yourself in Tirana for Christmas, be sure to stop by the Castle of Tirana and enjoy a hot chocolate, a traditional coffee or a traditional dish. You can also visit the Christmas market on Toptani Street, a bustling pedestrian street where you can pick up traditional souvenirs for your loved ones.
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Brasov is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Romania. The columnist can vouch for that. He can also vouch for the spectacular decoration of the city during the Christmas season and the impressive central square of Brasov.
During the Christmas season, the main square (Piața Sfatului) is transformed into a Christmas village, with activities for all ages. From music concerts, children’s choirs, and an ice skating rink to… Santa Claus himself in Santa’s house! Of course, local delicacies also have their place in Brasov with a variety of cheeses, meats, and local sweets just… waiting to be sampled!
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Novi Sad, Serbia
In the heart of the Balkans, Novi Sad, a Serbian city of about 300,000 inhabitants, creates a spectacular Christmas market every Christmas that has nothing to envy from the markets of major European cities.
The market, which is known as “Novosadski Zimzolend” is located in the city’s main square, Liberty square, and is a winter festival that culminates during the Christmas season with various events for all ages: musical choirs and carousels for children, wine tasting of traditional wines and beer varieties for adults, local food and dozens of other options offered to visitors from the 30 wooden themed houses located in the square.
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It’s true that when you hear of possible Christmas destinations, Dubrovnik is not one of the first cities that come to mind. And yet, this Croatian town of about 50 thousand inhabitants can offer an ideal Christmas holiday, even though it is located by the sea.
The decorated old town of Dubrovnik, which has been declared a UNESCO monument, as well as the city walls illuminate the entire coastline of the region and create a unique Christmas atmosphere. If you choose Dubrovnik for your holiday, be sure to sample local Croatian dishes like kontonjata (Quince cheese) and fritule (miniature doughnuts that are traditional along the Dalmatian coast).
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Many might not have expected Belgrade to be on this list, and yet for the Christmas season, it is an ideal Balkan destination.
The capital of Serbia is a city with a lot of history and many attractions worth visiting whenever you are there. Kalemegdan Fortress, Church of St Sava and National Museum are some of them. During the Christmas holidays, of course, the city’s signature spot where it all happens is Knez Mihailova street and Republic Square. Thousands of lights, decorated trees and shops create a unique festive atmosphere that, combined with the traditional Serbian delicacies and local wines to sample, make Belgrade a must-visit Balkan destination for Christmas.
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Last but not least: the magnificent capital of Slovenia. If I had to choose one of the ten cities I recommend in this article, it would definitely be Ljubljana. It is beautiful all year round but during the Christmas season it turns into a “magical wonderland”. Clearly influenced by the neighboring central European countries, Ljubljana combines its Balkan style with more German-Austrian characteristics. Impressive building decorations, colorful lights around the city center, and the central Christmas market in the main Prešeren Square on the river make up a magical picture that impresses young and old alike.
Of course, there are plenty of activities to do, and I highly recommend trying the famous mulled wine and tasting Jabolčni Štrudelj (apple strudel) and Potica (rolled and filled festive holiday cake).
Find information about this year’s festivities in Ljubliana here:
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These were the ten cities I would recommend as the best destinations in the Balkans for Christmas. Do your research and you too will understand that there are beautiful places worth visiting beyond the mainstream major European Christmas markets. Write me below the article if you have visited any of them, which ones you liked and which ones you would live in permanently!