Something Old, Something New
Regular visitors to this blog will know that I’ve had an article about the Brno Christmas market for a few years now. In the time that I’ve been living in Brno, the Christmas market has grown and evolved from a small and unremarkable assemblage of market stalls to a well managed and respectable event quite comparable to the better Christmas markets you might find in the neighboring countries.
The opening of the market for the 2016 Christmas season brought with it some significant changes to both the format, focus and overall atmosphere of the event. The changes are of a degree, that I’ve decided to write a whole new piece on the event to replace the previous one.
At that, let’s take a look at the 2016 edition of the Brno Christmas market:
A Christmas Walk Through the Centre
Brno’s Christmas market is spread across four squares in the city centre and gives one a good opportunity to get to know that section of the city while taking in the event. Each square has a bit of a different feel, so let’s take a look at them individually:
Zelný Trh – Vegetable Market
If you’re entering the city centre on Masarykova street from the area of the main train station, the first section of the Christmas market you’ll find is on Vegetable Market square; turning left onto Květinářská or Orlí streets from Masarykova will put you directly into this section of the market.
Traditionally, this part of the Christmas market is more geared to craft products that are of a more authentic nature. Woodwork, blacksmithing, glasswork, ceramics and several other craft products can be found here.
With the Baroque fountain in the centre of the square, the nearby cathedral’s spires in plain view and the historic buildings lining the square, this part has a distinctly historic feel to it.
From the Vegetable Market you can move along Radnická street, past the old town hall and the city tourist information centre located there, to Panská street. Turning right will put you back on Masarykova street and onto the Freedom square section of the market while turning left will put you on Mečová street and the new market section on Dominican square.
Svobody Náměstí – Freedom Square
Freedom square really is the heart of the Christmas market; it’s the largest section and where most of the larger events take place. Freedom square is also where the market’s largest nativity scene is located.
Freedom square is typically focussed more on food and drink than other items. You can find a wide range of grilled foods, including the wildly popular trdelník tunnel cake. You can also find many alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages on offer such as hot wine and the quite popular turbomošt.
On an everyday basis, Freedom square presents an eclectic mix of the historical and modern; historical buildings mingle with more modern ones and the ground floor space of most of them is taken up by contemporary retailers. As a result, this section of the Christmas market does carry a bit more commercial feel to it than the Vegetable Market.
Dominíkánské Náměstí – Dominican Square
This is a new section of the market with a focus strictly on food and called “Gurmánské Vánoce” (Gourmet Christmas).
The stalls here are operated by local Brno restaurants and cafés and so you get a good idea of what they offer if you choose to pay a visit to their main locations.
I have to concede that I have mixed feelings on this new section of the market:
On one hand, it’s good to see the city’s Christmas market doing so well that it can evolve a bit and put some fresh content in.
On the other hand, Dominican square doesn’t have much atmosphere; it’s a parking lot and there’s no hiding that fact. Also, food festivals are a regular thing in Brno year round so this new section doesn’t really bring anything special that the city wouldn’t see at another time of year.
Perhaps, if it proves popular, future editions of the market will present a more developed form of it.
Leaving Dominican square on Zámečnická street will take you directly into Freedom square. From Freedom square, you can follow Rašínova street to the final market segment on Moravian square.
Moravské Náměstí – Moravian Square
The Moravian square section of the market received a complete makeover for 2016 and I must say the change is most welcome and works well.
In years past, this part of the market felt like an afterthought to the rest and was largely taken up by a kitschy childrens’ amusement park and had little atmosphere to speak of.
As of 2016, the amusement park is gone and in it’s place is a series of tents housing a covered marketplace. Both food and non-food items are on sale here.
The tents are of a high quality, spacious and have some heating and raised wood floors to give some relief in colder weather. Overall, the atmosphere here is rather rustic and quite distinct from the rest of the market.
So, What’s on Offer?
A couple of years after I arrived in the Czech Republic, Brno’s Christmas market instituted some tighter regulations regarding what could be sold. This was to ensure that most of what was available there had some authenticity to it or was at least a bit closer to locally produced.
Happily, the market has kept to this format and most of what you can buy there is representative of local product or authentic crafts that have been practiced in the Czech lands for centuries.
Locally produced toiletries such as bath salts and hand-made soap are quite common at the market as are hand-made glassware, woodwork, leather goods and ceramics among others.
A long standing staple of the market is the blacksmithing stall which is usually located at the Vegetable Market.
Not only can you purchase many examples of the blacksmith’s wares, you can also watch has he demonstrates his craft right in front of you with a small on-site forge.
Another long term participant in the market is a merchant selling lavender based items. They are typically at the Vegetable Market and sell a wide range of lavender goods covering everything from toiletries to wine and much more.
You can aslo expect to find a wide range of bee products available for purchase as beekeeping and honey production is typical from the South Moravian region where Brno is located. Honey, mead, beeswax candles and many more bee related products can be found here.
What’s to Eat?
Certainly all that walking around across four squares will generate an appetite. Not to worry! There’s plenty of food to go around. From Sweets and savouries to snacks and full meals; there’s plenty on offer to satisfy any level of appetite plus a variety of drinks to wash it down with available in all sections of the market.
Much of what’s on offer is intended to be consumed on the spot while there’s also a lot on offer that you can take home with you.
You could buy a trdelník, a sweet grilled tunnel cake that has become something of a rite of passage for visitors to the country to indulge in. However, if you want something authentic to Czech cuisine, the trdelník is not it; Any Czech over 30 years old will not likely have known the trdelník in their childhood.
Much more authentic would be the frgály: a flat cake available with a variety of toppings that you can buy as a complete round, half or quarter. It’s a very tasty but filling treat from the eastern part of the country.
If you’re not in the mood for something fully sweet and not hungry enough for a full meal, I would recommend trying a piece of Slovak oštiepok cheese. It’s not authentically Czech, but I won’t say “no” when the neighbors come over with good food.
Oštiepok is a smoked sheep milk cheese that is traditionally served grilled on a piece of bread with a dollop of bluberry or cranberry sauce on it. It’s a lovely snack that’s a good balance of sweet and savoury.
There’s also no shortage of drinks available to go with the food. Hot wine and mead are staples of the market, though punch and non-alcoholic drinks can also be bought.
Any drink you buy will come in a reusable plastic or ceramic cup that you can either return and recover your deposit or keep as a souvenir of the event.
Let Us Entertain You!
There’s more to Brno’s Christmas market than just shopping and eating, there’s also nightly live music performances on stages at Vegetable Market, Freedom and Moravian squares throughout the duration of the event.
It’s not just Christmas music that you’ll hear. A variety of performers covering rock, jazz, folk, choral, bluegrass and many other musical genres will be taking their turns on the various stages to give some added mood and ambience wherever you may find yourself in the market.
Take Your Time
Whether you come for the food or shopping, remember this is a market. There will likely be more than one vendor selling similar products so there’s no need to impulse buy at all.
Take a walk, one end to the other taking note of what you see and save your buying for the walk back.
The market usually gets busier at night, so if you want the possibility of a bit more elbow room and time to examine something a bit more closely, a daytime trip would serve that purpose much better. If you want to experience the more romantic lit up atmosphere of the market at night, you can always go back after your daytime buying is done.
The Brno Christmas market traditionally runs from the last week of November and stays open daily, usually 09:00 to 21:45, until December 23.
For more information, including a map of the market area, pay a visit to the market website. Many sections of it are multilingual between Czech, German and English: