Twas’ two months before Christmas. Christmas lights were beginning to twinkle, the shops were full of presents and I had to decide where to spend my first winter Christmas.
This was a big decision. Coming from the land of beach barbecues, pavlova and sunshine, my first winter Christmas would be one to remember. Naturally, my Christmas destination had several criteria it had to meet. It had to have epic Christmas markets, there had to be great food (always), and there had to be something special I could do on Christmas day.
Budapest ticked all the boxes. Christmas markets? Budapest is filled with charming markets complete with food stands, ice skating rinks and light shows. Food? Um, yes. If feasting on chimney cake and langos isn’t your thing (sorry, we can’t be friends), Budapest is bursting with great restaurants. Something special to do on Christmas day? Read on.
If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas destination, Budapest is it. Feeling the Christmas spirit? Dive straight into this guide to discover how to spend a perfect Christmas in Budapest.
How to Spend a Perfect Christmas in Budapest
Get a Little Merry at the Christmas Markets
Would it even be a European Christmas without a visit to a Christmas markets?
With more than ten Christmas markets to choose from you know your Christmas in Budapest is going to be an epic one. The two main markets are Vörösmarty Square and St Stephen’s Basilica and each is worth a visit. (Though you could equally make time to check out the smaller, local markets).
The longest-running and largest Budapest Christmas market takes place in Vörösmarty Square. Located in the heart of the city, the Vörösmarty Square Market is home to over 100 stalls selling a range of crafts, souvenirs and contemporary artworks.
Oh, and let’s not forget the food! A word of advice; go hungry. The market stands sell everything from goulash and blood sausages to chimney cake and langos. (You’ll defs wish you bought your stretchy pants). After you’ve finished feasting grab a cup of gluhwein and contemplate how this is (already) the perfect winter Christmas.
Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market is open from early November until the 1st of January.
St Stephen’s Basilica
The Christmas market at St Stephen’s Basilica is a little smaller but even more charming than Vörösmarty Square Market. Yup, I said it.
Positioned outside the picturesque Basilica and complete with Christmas tree and ice skating rink, St Stephen’s Basilica Christmas Market is the stuff of festive dreams. Every 30 minutes a free light show is projected onto the Basilica and it’s worth pausing for a moment to admire the technicolour lights.
The Advent Bazilika offers a similar range of stalls and street food vendors as Vörösmarty Square. Make sure to try langos, a kind of fried bread traditionally topped with sour cream and cheese. How. Good. Chimney cake is another Christmas market fave, and as chimney cakes originate in Hungary it’d almost be rude not to.
St Stephen’s Basilica Christmas Market is open from the end of November until the 1st of January.
Soak in a Thermal Bath
With temperatures hovering between -1°C and 4°C Christmas in Budapest can be a chilly affair. What better way to warm up (other than a mug of gluhwein) than with a visit to one of the city’s thermal baths?
Sometimes called the “City of Baths”, Budapest is home to an impressive selection of thermal baths, some dating back to the 16th century. The baths are naturally supplied by 120 hot springs and the waters are said to contain healing properties.
Széchenyi Baths is the most famous thermal baths in Budapest. Housed in a neo-Baroque palace in Budapest’s City Park, this large complex gives you a choice of 15 indoor pools and 3 outdoors pools. The baths are open year round, rain or shine, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot locals playing chess on floating chess boards at the sides of the pools. Bring a map. seriously; it’s a bit of a maze.
Gellért Thermal Baths
Gellért Thermal Baths is another great option for a mid-winter soak in Budapest. The art nouveau baths are almost as pretty as Széchenyi, and soaking in the high-ceilinged indoor pool has been likened to bathing in a cathedral. A most Christmas appropriate experience, I’m sure.
For any thermal baths in Budapest make sure to bring appropriate swimwear and flip flops. If swimming in the lane pools you will need a swim cap.
Ice Skate Outside An Actual Castle
Growing up with warm Christmases I never felt like I was missing out, but there’s something about snow, Christmas sweaters and hot chocolate that just makes the festive season a little more festive.
For the perfect Christmas in Budapest take to the ice at the City Park Ice Rink. In winter the lake is transformed into Europe’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink where people from Budapest and around the world come to skate. Oh, and did I mention it’s outside a castle?! Seriously, it doesn’t get any more romantic than this. (Ok, it was raining and windy when we went and that did slightly ruin the illusion. But it still fulfilled my winter Christmas dreams).
The ice rink is open from mid-November until the end of February. Skates are available for hire.
Watch the Sunset from Gellert Hill
Let’s be real; sunsets are good at any time of year. Sunsets from Gellert Hill are stunning, offering incredible views of the city below (not just at Christmas). But still, Gellert Hill sunsets are just a little bit more special at Christmas time.
Rising above the Danube on the Buda side of the city, Gellert Hill has one of the best views in Budapest. It’s about a fifteen minute hike to the top, but trust me friend; the views are worth it. Remember to get there early (the sun starts to set at around 3:30pm in winter) and why not indulge in another mug of gluhwein? Wear your winter woolies; Christmas in Budapest can be pretty cold.
Slurp a Hot Chocolate at Ruszwurm Confectionery
What’s Yuletide without a mug or two of warming Christmas drink? No, not mulled wine; hot chocolate. (Infinitely better, in my opinion)
If you’ve any kind of a sweet tooth Ruszwurm Confectionery needs to be on your Budapest bucket list. This famous confectionery store is owned by the Szamos family, who’ve been making delicious cakes since 1827.
Though it can be hard to snag a table inside the small store it’s undoubtedly worth the wait. Grab a slice of cake (it’ll be hard to pick; everything in the cabinet looks amazing) and wrap your hands around a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Could Christmas in Budapest get any better than this?
Christmas Brunch at the Four Seasons
What’s a girl to do when she’s away from her family on Christmas day and there’s no pav in sight? Why, Christmas brunch at the Four Seasons of course.
Ok, this is a little more exspenny than your average brunch (even by Eastern European standards). But if you’re looking for something that will make your Christmas in Budapest your most magical Christmas yet, friend, this is it.
Located inside Gresham Palace the Four Seasons Budapest is a stunning venue. (Seriously; the lobby is insanely grammable). Tickets to the brunch are 24,500 HUF for adults and that gives you a glass of sparkling wine and unlimited access to the Christmas buffet. We’re talking quiches, salads, rotisserie meats, roast vegetables, soups and desserts. As much as you can handle. And I don’t know about you, but on Christmas day I can handle a lot of food.
There may not have been any pavlova, but brunch at the Four Seasons made for a Christmas to remember.
Twas’ the day after Christmas and this girl was content. It had been a Christmas filled with markets, street food stalls and fancy Christmas brunch. A Christmas spent relaxing in thermal baths, ice skating outside an actual castle (!) and glugging hot chocolate. Though there was no pavlova and little sunshine in sight, Christmas in Budapest was one to remember.
Things to know about Christmas in Budapest
Though Christmas Eve isn’t a public holiday in Budapest, from about midday onwards shops and restaurants will start to shut. If you’re planning on doing any sightseeing make sure to get up early; both Vörösmarty Square Market and Széchenyi Thermal Baths close at 2pm.
It can be hard to find any restaurants open on Christmas Eve. We asked our Airbnb host and ended up having dinner at Akademia Italia Budapest (not your typical Christmas eve dinner, that’s for sure). For any Christmas eve dinner plans make sure to book ahead.