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Christmas. The time of year that for many, is exactly what old Andy Williams sang to us for the first time in the 60’s. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Everywhere looks prettier with its twinkling lights. People are nicer, more kind to each other. Families gather to eat together. New traditions are made, and old ones carried out. For so many people, especially Europeans, visiting a Christmas Market has become a tradition. The desire to ignite the feeling of Christmas has us flooding to the festive markets both here in the UK, and further afield. Well, the Hungarian city of Budapest at Christmas, has that feeling sewn up. It got us so excited for Christmas! I know, like I need anything to add to my Christmas excitement…. Anyway…it was also our first experience of an overseas Christmas Market, so let me sprinkle some of its magic over you…
Like many capital cities, Budapest at Christmas time is gorgeous. They go all out to create the magic of the season. The scent of cinnamon and cloves accompanies you on your meanderings through the streets. The fragrance tempting you to warm your selves up with one of the mugs of hot mulled wine the scent is escaping from. Gingerbread men with their chocolate drop buttons are wrapped in cellophane, waiting to be picked. Christmas trees of all sizes add a twinkling welcome to the hotels, streets and restaurants. In a City that is already beautiful, the abundance of sparkling lights only add to its charm.
Budapest has many Christmas markets, that vary in size. Depending on what area of the City you are staying, you can pretty much guarantee to be in walking distance to one. The rows of wooden cabins, festooned with lights, make a postcard worthy picture. There are also some fabulous Christmas Walking tours available this time of year. We were told about this one, but just ran out of time to do it! You will see from my future post on suggested things to do In Budapest, we crammed a whole lotta stuff into our time here! However, these are some of the markets we visited, (and my favourites). They are also all very convenient to wander to, as they are all close enough to each other to walk between.
Let’s start with the one nearest to where we were staying. Nik and I had chosen to stay near the River Danube, on the Pest side of Budapest. You can read my post on where to stay in Budapest if you are looking for inspiration. With St Stephens Basilica just a stones throw away, we had the Basilica Christmas Market right on our door step. This market opens around the first/second week of November, and closes usually New Years Day.
Throughout the evening, a beautiful, cascading snowfall light display is shone onto the Basillica. Children and adults stand around watching. Clutching steaming cups of rich hot chocolate or mulled wine in hand, all delighting in the moving Christmas images.
The Basillica market has stalls, (numbering around 100), selling mainly traditional Hungarian crafts. I adored this! It’s so great to see the Hungarian traditions and crafts being kept alive. I loved seeing one of the stalls actually had a lady working at the loom. The scarfs she was creating were just beautiful. That workmanship! I also watched in awe as a gorgeous, delicate, hand hammered necklace was being made by a talented silversmith. A bespoke item of jewellery to remind you of your trip to Budapest. What a lovely gift to take home. Drifting from stall to stall, we saw each had equally beautiful products of other craftsman, hoping to tempt you.
If you need to re-fuel, but don’t want to interrupt your shopping, they have got you covered. As well as the welcome warmth of the hot beverages on offer, nutella filled chimney cakes were also in abundance. If that is not the cure to your sweet fix, then delicious slices of sweet strudel or Jewish Flodni cake may hit the spot.
Continuing on through the City, you find yourself being beckoned by another swathe of lights and scents. The Vorosmarty Square market is the oldest and most well known Christmas market in Budapest. Just a short walk from the Basillica market, the glittering overhead Christmas lights are a little more subtle, but still just as enchanting. The backdrop to this Budapest market create’s even more nostalgia for times gone by.
The beautiful buildings, mainly 19th century, include the famous Gerbeaud-Haz, (Budapest’s famous coffee house). In more traditional times, the building was decorated as an old fashioned advent calendar. Now however, in this technology age, it has more modern decor. It has been known to delight passers by with a beautiful laser lights projected on to it. This year, cascades of golden lights were its decoration of choice, and they were just stunning.
In the heart of the market, (right by the Instagrammers favourite “Budapest”) sign, is a small stage where musicians play to keep the festive vibe high. Classical, jazz and Hungarian folk music will have you toe tapping and smiling as you wander around the stalls. You cannot help yourself!
By now, perhaps a few mulled wine’s in, you might be in need of food. If you like the idea of trying some Hungarian street food, then now is your chance. Stall after stall has mouth watering dishes on offer, (although not to much on offer for us Vegans)! Traditional dishes delight the senses and lure you over. Nik, my non-vegan husband, of course tried a few of the dishes! All in the name of research of course… He takes his job as blogger husband very seriously. Here are a couple of his suggestions….
Langos – This is a slightly puffy, fried dough like bread, that you then top with your favoured topping. Sour cream, garlic and grated cheese is the traditional topping, but you can have so much more. Gorgeous and comforting, these warm breads were delicious.
Goulash Soup – With a base of paprika and spices, these stew type soups are a well loved tradition in Hungary. Served usually with a big hunk of crusty bread. Warming on the freezing Budapest evenings.
Kurtoskalacs Chimney Cake – You can’t talk about Budapest street food and not include these sweet, cinnamon coated pastries. I fell in love with them in Prague (Prague in Autumn is another fave December destination). That love continued here in Budapest! Filling choices are plentiful, but the traditional choice of nutella will always remain a favourite.
Top tip – The street food is delicious, but be aware of cost! The basic Langos with cheese/sour cream is around 1500 fllorin (around £4). If you add for example grilled sausage, thats another 1200. Add some vegetables, another 1000 ect. Ask for the total price of the one that you have your eye on or you can get very caught out!
Leaving the Vorosmarty Square market, you naturally fall into Fashion Street market. It literally flows into it! The christmas lights here are a reflection on the streets name. Shoes and handbag shapes hang over the street, lit with a thousand twinkly lights! It feels like a fashionable winter wonderland to stroll through.
Although a smaller market, you still have an eclectic mix of food, ceramics, jewellery and Christmas decorations to encourage you to stop. We also saw lots of stalls with all manor of hats for sale, as well as scarfs and shawls.
If you would like to learn more about the history and traditions of the markets, you can take a Christmas Market tour. It also includes visiting the beautiful Basilica and enjoying some wine tasting all in one fairly inexpensive tour. See details here
Of course, no city worth its weight in Christmas baubles is complete without an ice rink. Children wrapped up in bobble hats and mittens tentatively move around the ice. Couples hold hands trying to support each other on the slippery surface. All levels of skaters gliding across the ice creating the picture perfect Christmas scene. Well this huge ice rink in City Park, dating back to the 19th century, is no exception. It is a beauty and I love how big it is. Ideal if you want to have a little space from the other skaters. I am literally like Bambi on ice, so trust me when I say, you would need space away from me!
Situated right near to Hero’s Square and the Szechenyi Bath’s, its a must visit if you are over this side of the City. With the beautiful white building of the “skaters palace” (a building built for the ice rink) on one side, and the magnificent Vajdahunyad Vara Castle to the other, it certainly earns its title as the “prettiest ice rink in Europe”. Prices to skate start at around 1000 Huf, (Huf, or FT is the Hungarian currency Forint). If you’r break in Budapest takes you through weekdays, then schedule a visit to the ice rink in for a week day. It is a lot less expensive and busy, than the weekends. You can also hire skates etc with no problem, for around 2500 Huf. The Ice skating rink stays open all the way through to end of February.
Walk over the gorgeous Chain Bridge that crosses the River Danube, and you are in the Buda side of Budapest. The pace of life on this side is slower, calmer, but still has so much to offer. As well as the Fishermans Bastion, Buda Castle and the old town of Buda itself, you have St Matthias church in the castle. It is a stunning piece of architecture, (you know my obsession with churches and cathedrals, Salzburg had some beauties).
You would be hard pushed to find a better place to give you all the Christmas feels, than with a concert within its walls. The concerts, haunting in their beauty and talent, usually start at 7pm. You can expect to pay around €50-€60 to enjoy the concert, which is around 1.5 hours. You also have an added bonus. St Matthias, Buda Castle and the Fishermans Bastion all look striking lit up of a night, so that in itself is another must see. The views looking down towards the Town and the River Danube are the best! I think a concert here is a beautiful way to end a day in Budapest at Christmas. Check dates and prices just here.
Of course, there are so many other things that you can do in Budapest at Christmas time. Chocolate workshops, river cruises, Christmas Eve and New Years Eve grand dinner’s. The list is endless! The things I have shared here are the things that we experienced. They are also only available at this time of year. This is why I have popped all the Christmas activities in this post all of it’s own. I have a WHOLE further post coming your way of the gazillion other things to do in Budapest! We walked over 40 miles in the four full days we had in the City, so you bet I have lots to tell you still………..
Have you been to any Christmas Markets home or abroad? Do they give you all the Christmas feels? Are there any Christmas markets that you feel I need to add to my list? Let me know…… coz, you know… my list is not long enough anyway….ahem……
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