In December 2016, we decided to compare the fairs organized in three cities during the Christmas season. So, we visited Sibiu around the national day (December 1st), walked through Cluj city center in the middle of the month and then traveled to Budapest just before Christmas. The weather was about the same everywhere: around zero degrees and no snow. We strolled around muffled in several layers of clothing, but got colds anyway.
Sibiu has the most famous Christmas fair in Romania. Until last year, we only visited Sibiu during summer, especially to attend the Artmania festival, so we were curious to see how the city presents itself in winter. The fair takes place almost only in the Grand Square (Piața Mare), but there are also some stands in the Small Square (Piața Mică) and Nicolae Bălcescu Street (the pedestrian street to/from the Grand Square).
The fair was beautiful, but smaller than we expected. There was so much advertising for it that we thought it would be more spectacular. There are, like everywhere, stands with langoș, kurtos, baked apples and mulled wine, kebabs and pancakes, various kinds of street food and goodies, souvenir stalls, local specialties, handicrafts, traditional clothing and other paraphernalia for tourists.
The atmosphere was very Christmassy, we liked the “pyramid” of lights placed above the market, there were lots of people – this is probably the most visited winter fair in Romania. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t as fine, it was really windy, and we were sick, so the experience was less pleasant than under normal conditions.
The next week, in Cluj, we went to Unirii Square (Piața Unirii), where the Christmas fair is held every year, next to the famous statue of Matei Corvin, the symbol of the city. Here, our expectations were the opposite: we thought it would be smaller and less interesting compared to Sibiu, but it was not. However, the Cluj fair is far less famous, attended mostly by locals and some foreigners.
There isn’t a big difference between Cluj and Sibiu Christmas fairs, you can find about the same types of produce at both places. In Sibiu, there are slightly more stands and the number of visitors doesn’t even compare. In addition, there was also an entertainment area in Sibiu with bumpy cars for kids. And the pedestrian area is larger, which is a attractive for visitors.
However, Cluj seems better decorated for the winter holidays, there are more lights all over the city, while in Sibiu everything is concentrated in the city center. The town on Someş River is not yet a tourist destination for this period, events that abound during the rest of the year are missing before the new year, and many places are closed.
A week later, we arrived in Budapest, just before Christmas. We traveled to the Hungarian Capital City without knowing exactly what to expect concerning the fairs. But we were very pleasantly surprised! Not only is there a big Christmas fair, but there are actually several more in squares and on the pedestrian streets around the city.
The fairs here are much bigger than those in Romania, they compare neither to Sibiu, nor to Bucharest, nor to anything else. There were hundreds of stalls and places specially designed for holidays, and the streets were filled with tourists from all over the world. Decorations are nicer, but prices are somewhat higher.
In addition, there are many stands with cooked traditional Hungarian food and specialties that are attracting visitors from a long distance with their delicious smell, you can buy huge pretzels, many types of sweet gingerbread, various types of hot peppers, big pies, boiled liquor and many more. We liked it very much here!
In conclusion, the fair in Sibiu is very nice, but it’s more famous than it is worth, in Cluj it’s not as bad as it is believed, and in Budapest it’s great and you should go see it. Bonus: In Budapest there are thermal baths, after several hours of walking in the cold on fairs you can linger in hot water in a 19th century palace.