Hungary’s capital city Budapest, with its centuries-old history, baths & spas, stunning architecture, and thriving arts, culture, design and culinary scenes, is wonderful to visit any time of the year. However, from November through to the New Year Budapest, located at the heart of Europe, reveals itself as a fairytale winter wonderland ready to captivate all that visit.
Fully opened to Middle East visitors, here are the Top 12 Reasons to make Budapest your destination of choice this winter:
1. Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market
Winter in Budapest would not be complete without visits to its numerous and famous Christmas Markets located around the city. The Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market is the city’s largest. Bathed in twinkle lights and decorated in Christmas ornaments to the hilt, this year the Christmas market will remain open from the 4th November right through to the 31st December 2022. Taste the traditional Christmas dishes of Hungary on offer including such favourites as stuffed cabbage, fish soup, chimney cake, or buy beautiful handcrafted gifts for your loved ones from the many vendors, craftsmen and women. There are lots of festive puppet shows held throughout the day and evenings with a Bethlehem scene created for the small ones guaranteeing every visitor is suitably invigorated with the Christmas spirit!
2. Basilica Christmas Market
One Christmas Market is never enough, and fortunately just next to Vörösmarty Square is another Christmas market to explore, located at the foot of Budapest’s second tallest building, the Basilica. With the Basilica as a backdrop, be prepared to take Instagramable-perfect snaps. In addition to the food vendors, and merchants offering a lot of festive arts and crafts, an ice-skating rink has also been created adding perfectly to the winter-wonderland scene.
3. Ice Skating Rinks around Budapest
Ice skating is a Christmas tradition for Budapest locals with ice rinks located throughout the city. The most famous is the skating rink in front of Vajdahunyad Castle in the City Park, which is best experienced at night. The castle is beautifully lit up, and the air is fully fragranced with the smell of roasted chestnuts steaming by the rink. Skates are easily rented at the site, so you can celebrate Christmas like a local!
Pro tip #1: Walk along the beautifully lit Andrássy Avenue, which ends at Heroes’ Square and the skating rink in the City Park.
Pro tip #2: If you’d like to try out other skating rinks, there are also festive skating rinks in the main squares in Óbuda and in Újpest.
4. Walk around in the major cities around Budapest (Szentendre, Gödöllő)
Festive celebrations are not just limited to the capital, with Budapest’s nearby satellite cities also providing a great opportunity for new discoveries and festive cheer especially in Szentendre or Gödöllő!
Szentendre’s charm captivates all, with its cozy cafés and restaurants. The city hosts a Christmas market and is home to a Christmas Museum.
Gödöllő is also close to Budapest, and is proudly home to Sissi Castle and the unique Christmas House which are both great attractions to visit with the whole family. https://karacsonyhaz.hu/
5. Budapest Thermal Baths
After a day of walking the city and Christmas markets, it is always great to know that relaxation and rejuvenation are never far away in Budapest thanks to its many world-famous spas.
Széchenyi Spa is the largest thermal spa in Budapest and is unique for its large outdoor settings. Rudas Spa at the foot of Gellért Hill, has a rooftop hot pool offering stunning panorama views of the city. Also at the foot of Gellért Hill is the Gellért Baths, one of Budapest’s oldest and most famous baths. There are more than 1,500 thermal springs found throughout Hungary, each with its own unique properties and settings to enliven the soul.
6. Sledding in Normafa
Normafa, located on the Buda side of the city, is a popular hiking spot offering one of the most beautiful snowy winter landscapes. In addition to enjoying a refreshing stroll, if you are lucky enough to visit Hungary when it is snowing, you can also go sledging, eat homemade strudel and even go up to the lookout tower on János Hill, where delicious roasted chestnuts tempt visitors. For children there’s a playground, and for couples and those with a sweet tooth, the nearby Szamos Szepkilátás Patisserie makes the perfect end to any Normafa excursion.
7. Christmas Trams with Twinkle Lights
Christmas Trams are a Budapest institution and a favorite of Budapest residents. Covered in twinkle lights and running throughout the city, they only make their appearance in the lead-up to Christmas and make for a great Instagram moment.
8. Snowy, frosty walk around Buda Castle
There are few things more beautiful than to walk around Budapest Castle at this time of year. Strolling through the snow-covered cobbled streets, taking in the sights of Buda Castle, Matthias Church, as well as the recently renovated Riding Hall and St Stephen’s Hall, a morning or afternoon out is best capped off with a visit to Hungary’s oldest confectionery house, Ruszwurm Confectionery, for a decadent cake and hot cup of tea or coffee.
Pro tip: Although the Chain Bridge is closed, you can still enjoy a beautiful view of the winter landscape from the funicular from the Chain Bridge to Buda Castle.
9. Christmas Shopping in Budapest
Christmas is a time for spoiling loved ones (and yourself!), with surprise gifts and presents. Shopping in Budapest is always great, but during Christmas, there is even more on offer. At the fairs, you can buy expertly handcrafted goods, bags, and products from Hungarian craftsmen and women. At Vörösmarty Square there is Fashion Street and Váci Street, where high-street fashion brands and boutiques line up one after the other. For those looking for high-end luxury brands, Andrássy Street is the place to go. Here the latest collections and selections from brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, and Burberry can be found. Adding to the excitement and charm Andrássy Avenue is especially beautifully lit during the festive season, so one can enjoy the illuminated surroundings between shop visits.
10. Christmas in the Opera House
Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker has for decades been an essential part of celebrating Christmas at the Hungarian State Opera House. The fairy-tale ballet continues to enchant and mesmerize audiences year after year. However, with the Opera House has recently undergone extensive renovations, this year, more than ever is expected to bedazzle and be a spectacular experience not to be missed.
11. Spectacular Cafés
Budapest’s café houses are world-famous – and rightly so! Whether it be between visits to Christmas markets, shopping sprees, or even city walks, the day can always be broken up with visits to a Budapest café, which truly are an experience unto themselves. Delicious cakes, light bites, coffees, teas and hot chocolates are all on the menu, served in the most elaborate and gorgeous settings. If your time is limited, be sure to at least include New York Café, arguably one of the most beautiful restaurants in Budapest.
12. Dinner Cruise on the River Danube
The best way to experience Budapest’s many architectural wonders is from the River Danube that runs right through it. And the best way to do that is as a dinner cruise aboard a luxury catamaran. With Budapest’s landmarks all decorated and lit up for the season, and live piano music providing a musical serenade, Budapest is ready to spellbound visitors as they enjoy a sumptuous festive dinner, one to be remembered for many Christmas’ to come.