At first glance, Budapest was nothing like I’d imagined it would be. The streets were calm, quiet, and, well… pretty much empty. To be fair, it was also barely 5 am.
We had just arrived on an overnight bus from Poland, and were groggily making our way from the bus station to the city center. We checked into our hostel, took a much needed nap, and headed out to explore Budapest’s Christmas scene on the Merry Markets and Mulled Wine tour that afternoon.
Post-nap, Budapest looked much more like the lively winter wonderland I had imagined, and it definitely didn’t disappoint as far as its holiday markets were concerned.
If you’re heading to the Hungarian capital this winter, here are the festive foods, drinks, and Christmas market squares you’ll want to check off your list.
If you only do one thing while visiting Budapest during the holidays, let it be this – eat, drink, and be merry… (Okay, so… three things).
No trip to the city’s Christmas markets is complete without getting your fill of festive treats, and, to be honest, you won’t have much of a choice. The delicious smells wafting from the holiday huts are downright irresistible. With so many tasty dishes to choose from, you (like me) might (i.e. will) find your senses feeling a bit overwhelmed. When in doubt, do as the locals do.
For something savory, try a warm gulyás (goulash soup), or, my personal favorite, töltött káposzta (Hungarian stuffed cabbage). Our Urban Adventures guide Judit described this traditional dish in mouth-watering detail while we were en route to our first stop on our Christmas market tour. Shortly after arriving, my taste buds happily confirmed that stuffed cabbage does in fact live up to its appetizing description.
For dessert, have some traditional bejgli (pastries stuffed with poppy seeds or walnuts) or a Kürtőskalács (chimney cake) to satisfy your sweet tooth, and, of course, something nice and warm to wash it all down. Once again, you’ve got options. Go for a classic spiced mulled wine, Krampampuli (Hungarian rum punch), or a shot of Pálinka (traditional fruit brandy), if you’re feelin’ feisty.
Now that you know what foods to keep an eye out for, you’re ready to take on the markets.
Located in the heart of the city, the Christmas fair at Vörösmarty Square is said to be the oldest and most spectacular of Budapest’s Christmas markets. It’s also one of the most popular, so prepare for a plaza teeming with wooden huts… and lines of people queuing up beside them. Despite the crowds, it’s well worth a visit and a great starting point for a walk around the nearby holiday markets. At Vörösmarty Square, you can enjoy live music, eat traditional foods, and browse the city’s best selection of gifts and souvenirs.
Fashion Street Advent
After visiting Vörösmarty Square, take a stroll down Deák Ferenc, Budapest’s Fashion Street, where the holiday decorations are just as lavish and dazzling as you’d imagine they’d be. On both sides of the pedestrian lane, shop buildings are covered in strands of glittering lights, and twinkling purses, high heels, and other fashion themed decorations sparkle overhead. Stop in to one of Fashion Street’s many shops to buy those last minute holiday gifts, or grab a mulled wine to go and enjoy the view as you sip and stroll along through the bustling lane.
Advent Feast at the Basilica
From Deák Ferenc, head towards Szent István Square for the Advent Feast at the Basilica… and they’re not kidding when they call it a feast. Like the market at Vörösmarty, it’s filled with lots of traditional holiday food options, but you’ll also find a wide selection of international favourites served up by some of Budapest’s best street food vendors. Not only is your belly in for a feast, this Christmas fair is a feast for your eyes, too… especially at nighttime. When the sun goes down, and the canopy of twinkling lights draped across the square turns on, the scene becomes that much more magical. If you visit in the evening, don’t miss the 3-D light show on St. Stephen’s Basilica impressive façade. It takes place every half hour between 4:30pm and 10pm.
For a truly authentic Hungarian holiday experience head to Budapest’s most traditional Christmas market, Advent Óbudán. Located across the Danube River in the Buda side of Budapest, this holiday market is far off the well-beaten tourist track. This square and its decorations might seem quite small and modest when compared to the larger markets in Pest, but stay a while and you’ll find that Óbudán’s quaint, simplistic charm is exactly what makes it so captivating. Advent Óbudán is also the site of a very special Christmas tree called The Charity Tree. Made entirely of wood, the Charity Tree has a hollowed out inner-space that is a bit like a chapel where people can walk through or quietly sit for a while. Each evening during the Christmas fair, it is beautifully lit on the outside and in with multicolored spotlights, but it’s not until after the holidays that the Charity Tree serves its most significant purpose. When the decorations are taken down, the wood from the Charity tree is donated to families in need. According to the designers, “The installation represents the importance of the community and social awareness, not only because people traditionally gather around Christmas trees to celebrate together, but also because at Christmas, it is particularly important to think of the thousands of Hungarian families who have daily problems with heating during wintertime.”
The simple, yet meaningful display was a welcome and refreshing reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, and made Advent Óbudán my favorite Christmas market I experienced in Budapest (and all of Europe). If that’s not enough to sell you on a trip over the river to the outskirts of Pest (or just to Budapest in general), you (and your bank account) might also be keen to know that, because this Christmas market isn’t jam packed with tourists, prices here are considerably cheaper. Sold now? Good. If that didn’t satiate your thirst for Budapest Christmas market information, check out our Local’s Guide to Budapest’s Christmas Markets.
To experience the best of Budapest’s holiday flavors, sights, and festivities, explore the city’s Christmas scene with a local on Urban Adventures’ Merry Markets & Mulled Wine Tour! The holiday markets typically run from early November until the end of December. Boldog Karácsonyt (Merry Christmas)!