Heading to Hungary’s capital at any time of year is exciting, but if you choose to visit Budapest at Christmas time, then you’re in for a real treat. If you love all things festive, then you’ll be pleased to hear that this city does not do Christmas by halves – in fact, it’s home to one of Europe’s biggest Christmas markets!
From twinkling lights and delicious sweet treats to quaint market stalls and plenty of merry entertainment, across the festive season, these city streets really do have it all.
Not sure where to start in this magical city? Here’s everything you need to know about Budapest’s Christmas markets.
The giant one…
Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market
This festive market has been taking over the vast public square of Vörösmarty for more than 20 years. You can expect rows upon rows of wooden market stalls, all blanketed with festive decorations. Even the trees are entwined with fairy lights and giant bauble decorations – it doesn’t get more Christmassy than this!
It runs from around the second week in November until the end of December and is sometimes even extended until after the New Year. Food and craft stalls are open from 10:00 and the entertainment usually kicks off around 16:00.
As you’re strolling the markets, you’ll notice the delightful smells of fresh cinnamon pastries and spiced mulled wine in the air. You can sample everything from freshly grilled sausages and fried langos to squidgy dödölles – a traditional Hungarian dumpling.
There are also lots of free concerts to enjoy too. These take place in the late afternoons and evenings, featuring folk, jazz, blues and indie music. Why not wrap your hands around a steaming mug of mulled wine and enjoy a good old singalong?
The traditional one…
St. Stephen’s Basilica Christmas market
For all things local and traditional, head to this charming setup in the shadows of St. Stephen’s Basilica – one of the tallest buildings on the Pest side of the city. The market is locally referred to as the Advent Fair and has been running for nearly ten years. It’s organised by the National Association of Folk Artists, so you can expect to see some of the highest quality gifts, decorations and souvenirs.
It’s open from the final week in November, right through until 1 January. Through the giant Advent gateway, you’ll step into a Christmas wonderland, where a huge Christmas tree glows in the centre. It’s surrounded by plenty of benches and open-air seating, so you can mingle with other festive fans and enjoy some of the delicious food and drink.
A special highlight of this market are the light projections that cover the basilica’s façade. In fact, they’re the largest light paintings across the whole of Central Europe. The moving pictures tell Christmas stories and some of them can even be enjoyed in 3D – don’t forget to pick up some 3D glasses! The light projections take place every 30 minutes between 16:30 and 22:00. In the centre of St Stephen’s Square, you’ll also a find an artificial ice rink that’s totally free for kids aged four to 14.
The stylish one…
Deák Ferenc Christmas market
If you’re a shopaholic, then this one’s definitely for you. Running along the city’s top shopping street, Deák Ferenc utca (also known as Fashion Street), this market gives you the best of both worlds. Among the hustle and bustle of last-minute Christmas shoppers, why not grab a creamy hot chocolate to keep you feeling warm and toasty?
A giant tree marks the start of the market as wooden stalls line the street. You can sample everything from oven-baked flatbreads and roasted chestnuts to sweet strudel and sekler cake, traditional Hungarian pastries shaped like a chimney and covered in cinnamon sugar. It’s also a great place to pick up hand-painted pottery and ceramics alongside embroidered textiles.
It’s right by Vörösmarty Square and St Stephen’s Basilica too, so when you’re done browsing the shops, you can pop by to the city’s two largest Christmas markets.
The quirky one…
Gozsdu Udvar Christmas Fair
This buzzy courtyard in the city’s 7th District consists of café-bars, restaurants, shops and karaoke rooms. It’s a hip hangout where locals catch up over coffee and tourists get a taste of the local nightlife. During the festive period, its usual festival atmosphere just ramps up even more!
Market stalls line the walkways selling traditional gifts, handicrafts and some one-of-a-kind vintage and retro clothing. Bars here also transform into mini winter wonderlands, decorated with giant paper stars and twinkling trees.
The best of the rest…
When you’re not browsing stalls, there’s so much other stuff going on across the city over Christmas that’s not to be missed. Here’s what else you should check out…
Ice skating at Varosligeti
This huge open-air ice rink at City Park is the perfect spot to put on your skates and enjoy gliding across the ice. With Vajdahunyad Castle lit up in the background, you’ll feel more festive than ever. There’s a space where you can get changed, rent skates and grab a hot drink. It only costs around four pounds to rent skates for two hours!
Christmas cruising down the Danube
Sail along the waters between Buda and Pest and admire the city’s dazzling Christmas lights from a different angle. Sip a mulled wine as you see cityscapes passing by or brave the chill and head to the top deck for a view like no other.
Join the locals at a spa
Thermal baths have long been a tradition in Budapest, and just because the weather has turned a little colder, that doesn’t mean they’re any less popular. The pools at Szechenyi Baths reach up to around 38C, so bathing in these toasty waters are the perfect activity for a wintry day. Renowned spa parties, a.k.a ‘sparties’, also take place at night which feature live DJs, club-style lighting and great crowds.
Feeling festive and want to check out Hungary’s capital?
Posted: 20th Nov 2019.