Budapest, this Hungarian city is famed for its dramatic history, ostentatious architecture, therapeutic hot springs, and nightlife like no other. It isn’t called the “Queen of the Danube” just like that; the city straddles the Danube River in a resplendent natural setting where the hills of western Hungary join the plains stretching to the glorious sides. Lights from illuminated bridges dance at the surface of the river connecting Buda with Pest. The slopes of Buda from the western bank are home to the cobbled medieval quarters with their stunning royal residences and the out-of-the-world, Matthias Church. Over the waterway, sits the great domed Parliament building, with the rich 19th century manors surrounding it, that now contain shops, bars and bistros that give Pest its hype. Budapest is also the focal point of the nation and a lively cultural center.
Having experienced Budapest during Christmas, I can confidently say that it offers a cozy winter atmosphere with endearing architectural creations, reminding you of a classic christmas movie setting. Winter here not only feels like a fairytale, it looks like one too. A variety of seasonal delights like the Christmas markets and outdoor ice skating rinks create a perfect winter wonderland, while the thermal baths cover up for the frosty cold outside.
What I highly praise and suggest here during Christmas (winter):
St. Stephen’s Basilica & the Midnight Mass
The Midnight Mass is one of the most awaited Christmas events by every Hungarian and tourists too, especially if its held in the biggest church of Budapest, St. Stephen’s Basilica. This neoclassical cathedral is the most sacred church in all of Hungary, and is known for its majestic architecture.
Christmas market & Advent Feast on St. Stephen’s Square
Set in the most stunning part of Budapest, St Stephen’s Basilica’s Christmas Market is one not to be missed. With festive lights, christmas carols, the holiday spirit amidst 160 stalls full of cakes, sweets, arts, crafts and traditional Christmas gifts, this season ought to be the best. Just grab a glass of mulled wine, some roasted chestnuts, christmas cookies, and stroll in the merry gala singing along, experiencing the best holiday ever!
Vorosmarty Christmas market
The Vörösmarty Square Christmas market is one of the most illustrious in focal Europe as well as one of the oldest in Hungary. Celebrated for its conventional Hungarian goodies, including lángos, chimney cake and sausages, you’ll have plenty of treats to browse through from 120 stalls. Set around a Christmas tree that is decorated with different colours each year, this market is always buzzing with locals and tourists in the winter.
Christmas light tram
Covered with numerous lights and LED blue strings, the Christmas light tram or Fényvillamos, is an eccentric and sought after attraction. It definitely gets tourists into the Christmas spirit while sightseeing during the winter months.
Szechenyi thermal baths
The best part of my vacation, the Szechenyi thermal spas in the winter is ironically a must! Soaking in the steaming outdoor pool here during this season, especially, is a memorable experience. If you’re freezing in 5 degrees outside, jumping into this bath with healing hot water coming from under the ground, would be the most relaxing experience ever. Szechenyi has indoor and outdoor thermal pools, both recommended for any time of the year. The heavily decorated, stunning façade of Szechenyi Baths promises a luxurious spa treatment year round. The Gellert thermal bath is another recommended one in the city.
A posh yet quirky pedestrian-only street, lined with an array of branded boutiques and stores, fashion street is a great outing. From shopping, to great eateries, this street is the place to be. Whether its designer boutiques, or local merchandise, everything is found here.
West-end mall & Central market hall
Budapest’s biggest mall with over 400 shops, centrally located, is a paradise for every local and tourist. The mall has three levels of shops, restaurants, food courts and cinema made for the entertainment of everyone.
Central market hall is a must-visit containing a variety of local delicacies like freshly produced fruits & vegetables, meat, and also locally handcrafted carpets, scarves and other garments.
Fisherman’s Bastion & Matthias Church
World famous for its turrets, ruins and spires, the Fisherman’s Bastion is the most well-known look-out tower of the Buda Castle providing the most glorious panorama of the city from the Buda side of the city.
Located in front of The Fisherman’s Bastion, the Matthias Church is a Roman Catholic Church known for its neo-gothic confection. The exterior of the church is a perfect picturesque spot, especially in the dazzling sunlight.
Szechenyi Chain Bridge & Elizabeth Bridge
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is a bridge across the River Danube, connecting Buda with Pest. As twilight sets upon, the bridge is illuminated with golden lights, making it the perfect setting for a long walk in a historic city.
The Elizabeth Bridge is the third newest bridge again connecting Buda with Pest. However, this bridge is a more modern-looking one compared to the Chain Bridge, which is situated quite close to it. Personally, after walking both bridges, I realised that a walk across the Chain Bridge was like an old-charm feeling; the kind I really cherish.
Hungarian & other food!
Hungarian food is known for its extravaganza of different flavors, spices and authentic taste. A few of the must-eats are:
Goulash soup– A midway riff between soup and stew, Goulash soup is the national dish. Beef and vegetables cooked in paprika make it an amazing appetizer to have when in the city.
Chicken paprikash- Chicken cooked in cream and paprika along with olive oil and bell peppers give a piquant hotness to the local specialty.
Langos- Though the traditional langos is deep-fried bread topped with sour cream and cheese, there are variations to it that taste delicious. Bread topped with beef and paprika, or chicken and herbs, my favourite is the classic; sour cream and cheese.
Christmas market special:
Mulled wine- The distinct aroma of mulled wine always fills the air during the Christmas season, when the cold kicks in. Nothing beats a mug full of this tasty swallow that warms up both our body and hands.
Chimney cake- One of the traditional Hungarian cakes, the chimney cake is milk bread grilled over an open fire, topped with any sweet like candy or even cinnamon. Just the way we love pretzels for salt, I love chimney cakes for sweet.
Grilled salmon- Charcoal Grilled Salmon cooked on an outdoors market stall is the freshest form of eating salmon, that too in the cold weather.
Strudel/ Beigli- This spiral-shaped roll contains sweet walnut or poppyseed filling and is served in thin slices, making it a yummy dessert to binge on.
Kurtos kalacs- Sweet dough shaped into cylindrical spirals, baked over charcoal and then coated with powdered sugar, cocoa, nuts, coconut or cinnamon, is my personal favourite delicacy of the Christmas market. A must have!
Budapest’s ruin bars set in interesting and unique locations are ideal for grabbing a drink and seeing the city at the same time. Different derelict buildings and monuments have been transformed into bar and restaurant areas serving aromatic food and drinks all year round.
So it’s time you start dreaming about your Hungarian White Christmas…