Four squares of atmosphere, culture, and high-quality gastronomy, Brno’s Christmas markets are perfect if you want something special this festive season
As the days get colder and the nights draw in, across central Europe preparations are being made for the annual Christmas markets. From Vienna to Vilnius, via Berlin, Bruges, Birmingham and more, the air will soon be filled with the smell of mulled wine and the twinkling of lights.
While that’s all very lovely, if you’re looking for something even more special, why not visit the Czech city of Brno and find out why theirs is a little bit different…
Let’s grab a warm drink and see what we can see. As well as the stalls and stages, there’s an outdoor ice-skating rink, a Ferris wheel for views over the center of the city taking in Špilberk castle and the beautiful cathedral on their respective hills, a giant Christmas tree on náměstí Svobody, and even a specially decorated Christmas tram — šalina in the local dialect — to hop on and off as it rumbles merrily between the markets.
“Last year we had around 1.3 million visitors to our four markets,” Adéla Nováková from the Brno Tourist Information Centre (TIC) tells me.
“This year we’re running the markets on Zelný trh and Moravské náměstí from 22 November to 23 December, and the others from the 29th all the way to 5 January, allowing visitors to Brno enjoy their New Year’s Eve celebrations and the days after here as well.”
This is one of the unusual things about Brno. As Adéla mentioned, they have not one Christmas market, but four, and each has a subtly different feel to it. On náměstí Svobody, the main square, you’ll find live music and food and drink stalls, as well as a huge tree.
The tradition of having a tree began after local writer and journalist, Rudolf Těsnohlídek, found an abandoned baby girl while out walking in the forest around the nearby village of Bílovice. Saving the girl, who they named Liduška, inspired Těsnohlídek to begin raising money for a children’s home.
The tree remains a focus for charitable donations and this year, it will come from the same forest in which the child was found.
Elsewhere, the sloping, medieval Zelný trh is home to traders making and selling traditional arts and crafts; Dominikánské náměstí is cozy and calm with plethora of high-quality gastronomy, centered around family activities; and Moravské náměstí is where you’ll find large marquees staging music, plays and events, and stalls to satisfy those at the hipper end of the scale.
“We simply wanted to do something completely different to anywhere else”
The Moravské náměstí market offers a slight alternative to the others. With its unique design and unusual program of events, it’s a place to relax and experience something that’s both festive as well as a slight departure from the norm.
Apart from the focus on quality gastronomy, arts and crafts, and charity, that corresponds with the other locations in the city, there are concerts curated by the famous Brno music venue Stará Pekárna. Moravské náměstí is also home to an animal rescue station with live animals, creating an interactive program for children to learn about nature.
One of the designers, Kryštof Foltýn from Chybik+Kristof Architects & Urban Designers, explains the thinking behind the design and feel of the Moravské náměstí market: “For this area, we simply wanted to do something completely different to anywhere else in Brno.
“Once you get to the center of the market, you will find yourself in a sort of village where everything is accessible. The most important part of the market is the bar in the center with a Christmas tree on its roof, visible all the way from náměstí Svobody, backed by the view of the Ferris wheel.”
Each of its four sides of this bar features different offerings, including Včelovina (homemade mead), Punch, or Turbomošt.
How do you like them apples?
Ah yes, Turbomošt. Wherever you go in Brno at Christmas, be sure to sample this recent local speciality that has quickly become a beloved Christmas tradition. Basically, it’s hot apple juice mixed with spices and apple brandy to give it a bit of a kick, and 2019 marks ten years since its introduction.
In that short time, people have gone crazy for it. But why did something that sounds so simple become so popular? Michael Lapčík from Turbomošt reckons he knows.
“We have always emphasized the quality of our ingredients. Some of the. We use freshly pressed, local apples and combine everything with great care”.
This attitude has had a knock-on effect, with Brno traders placing a particular emphasis on the range and quality of their food and drink. The city is now considered the gastronomic capital of the country, and this is reflected in the offerings at the markets.
“The other important part is a personal approach. Everything is about people. People visiting our stands are greeted by a friendly seller, who smiles, chats for a while, and makes sure to find a drink that will suit each individual customer.” Turbomošt now offers 27 different variations, with different bases of either juice or wine, as well as their own hibiscus wine, so you’re sure to find something you’ll love.
The company also contributed to the ecological aspect of the markets by serving its products in reusable mugs, something the Brno Tourist Information Centre insists on city-wide, making the Brno Christmas markets the first event in the Czech Republic to do so.
To be fair, with over 20,000 liters of Turbomošt consumed every year, those cups get a lot of use! If you want, you can even take your mug home with you as a souvenir.
Variety, quality, and local pride
Talking of souvenirs and Christmas presents, Brno has you covered. At each of the markets, but on Zelný trh in particular, the selection of handicrafts and artisanal products is varied and interesting.
“Brno Christmas markets are amazingly diverse. No other markets have so many items on offer,” says trader Michal Novák, and he’s right.
Whether it’s a hand-knitted scarf, some wooden toys, a jar of local preserves, jewelry, candles, honey, pottery, even metal garden ornaments fashioned there and then by the smith who sets up his forge at the market, there’s ideas for everyone.
In keeping with the spirit of the people who sell their beautiful wares on the stalls, the personal touch is an important aspect of the markets. Many of their common elements are designed by local artists, such as the abstract painter Petr Kvíčala, or renowned graffiti artist Timo.
So much to do, so much to see
To keep the kids entertained, wander up to Dominikánské náměstí in front of the Town Hall. This is where you’ll find a beautiful, hand-carved nativity scene, with the added bonus of real live animals; sheep and goats from the petting area at Brno Zoo make this their home for the season.
There’s a special mailbox where children can post their Christmas present list, and this is also the market with the largest range of stalls selling Czech sweets and cakes, as well as some less traditional offerings such as curries, pho, and special Christmas pizzas!
There’s a lot of music going on as well, be it folk, classical, acoustic, or even the odd bit of rock or electronica, with stages dotted around the city center. It’s not just Czech stuff either; Brno prides itself on its artsy and multicultural side, and uses this as a time to show it off.
Paul Holland, an English musician who has played at the markets over the last few years with his band Ant Attack tells me that “sure, we’re foreigners and we play around the country, but we all live in Brno, so when we play here — especially at Christmas — it feels like a homecoming gig.”
So, no matter where you wander, all of this — the people, the events, the music and dancing, the delicious food and drink and the personal touches everywhere — adds up to a feeling of being welcomed, of belonging, and of being part of something that has heart and spirit, the very values that should be celebrated over the festive season.
So this Christmas, why not come to Brno? On even the coldest winter day, you’ll find the warmest of welcomes.
Article published in association with Tourist Authority South Moravia
Find out more: Brno Christmas | Go To Brno