Ok, I’ll be honest. Visiting the Christmas markets in Budapest was not our first choice this year. We had planned a longer trip to Bratislava, Vienna, Innsbruck, Zurich, Stuttgart and Strasbourg. But as the Covid situation got worse in Central Europe, Austria and then Slovakia were locked down and the Stuttgart Christmas market was cancelled. Some of the accommodations we had booked were also cancelled. So we had to give up the much-hoped-for December trip just three days before. No need to say we were sad, but out of the blue the opportunity to travel to Budapest and meet some friends appeared and so we went.
In the end, Budapest turned out to be delightful at Christmas time and even if I had visited it in summer years ago, December is perfect to visit Budapest and enjoy the festive season. After all, Budapest’s Christmas markets are considered some of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Europe.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting the city’s Christmas markets and some other must-see places in Budapest.
Visiting the Christmas markets in Budapest in 2021
Are the Budapest Christmas markets worth it?
Absolutely! Budapest is a beautiful city to visit in December and has some incredible Christmas markets. Germany may be more famous when it comes to Christmas markets, but Budapest is becoming a December festivities hotspot in recent years and there’s no wonder, as there really is a lot to do and see.
Are the Budapest Christmas markets happening in 2021?
Yes, the Christmas markets in Budapest are open now for the December 2021 season. We visited the Budapest Christmas markets at the end of November and the one in Szentendre on the 1st of December.
Budapest Christmas markets dates in 2021
According to the official websites, the Christmas fairs in Vörösmarty Square and the one in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica were open on the 19th of November and will stay so until the 31st of December, respectively 1st of January 2022. The Christmas market in Obuda takes place from the 26th of November to the 24th of December.
Entry restrictions at the Budapest Christmas markets in 2021
Many European cities decided to cancel the Christmas markets in an effort to limit the spread of Covid. Budapest didn’t, but this doesn’t mean you will be able to visit them freely, like two years ago. First of all, most of the Christmas markets are fenced and one can only enter through the guarded gates. Secondly, all visitors are required to present either a proof of vaccine or a recent negative test and a picture ID card. If you don’t have these on you, there are still a few Christmassy stalls around town selling food, gluhwein and souvenirs.
Check the official Budapest Christmas markets websites
For the most up-to-date information and announcements, make sure you consult the markets’ official websites here in advance:
- Budapest Christmas Fair in Vörösmarty Square
- Advent Feast at the Basilica
- Advent Óbudán
- Christmas market in Szentendre
Hungarian Christmas traditions
Wandering around the Christmas markets in Budapest, you’ll notice that there’s no Santa Claus present. This is because in Hungary the gifts on the 24th of December and not brought by him, but by baby Jesus. But kids also get presents on the 6th of December from St. Nicolaus. On the night before each child cleans his boots and in the morning expects them to be full of candies, nuts, fruits and chocolate. A stick is also popular, especially if the child was naughty.
What are the best Christmas markets in Budapest?
Budapest Christmas Markets Map
Budapest was born when two smaller towns, Buda and Pest, were joined by the Chain Bridge over the Danube. While Buda is built on hilltops that offer panoramic views, Pest is flat and has a more modern vibe. The main Christmas markets in Budapest are on the Pest side, in Vörösmarty Square and in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. Between them, next to the ferry wheel, there’s a small Christmas market in Erzsebet Square. On the Buda side, the Óbuda Christmas market, is mostly visited by locals. Technically not in Budapest, but 40-minute to the north, there’s the Christmas market in Szentendre.
Vörösmarty Square – the largest Christmas market in Budapest
The largest Christmas market in Budapest takes place in the heart of the city, in Vörösmarty square from mid-November until the very last day of the year. You’ll find there wooden stalls selling traditional food and hot drinks, authentic craft pieces created by local artists and free concerts held by Hungarian bands. The sparkling Christmas lights hanging from trees and the smell of spice mulled wine will enchant you instantly. Even with restrictions, the market is still crowded, especially in the local food area. If you want to avoid the crowds, better go early.
Erzsébet Square – an atmospheric market next to a giant revolving snowflake
After seeing the biggest Christmas market in Budapest, head to the next one located very close to the ferry wheel in Erzsébet Square. This is the perfect place to sample some cherry mulled wine. There is also a small selection of local souvenirs you can choose from and prices are a bit smaller. You also don’t need an immunity certificate to walk through this Christmas market and it’s not crowded. The appearance of the beautifully lit ferris wheel in the evening is also a nice backdrop.
St. Stephen’s Basilica Market – the most magic Christmas market in Budapest
Despite its smaller size, the location and the animated lights show on the facade of the gorgeous St. Stephen’s church make it the most popular one. There’s also a magnificent Christmas tree in the middle of the square surrounded by a small ice skating rink, food and gift stalls. One can also climb on top of the cathedral, which is highly recommended, and view the market from above. If you’re tired of traditional mulled wine, here you’ll have the opportunity to try something different. What about a grog with dried fruits and rum or hot chocolate with Bayley’s? Of course, you can also sample the traditional palinka and buy a colorful jelly palinka bear as a souvenir. Here you’ll also find a better selection of food, with modern options.
Óbuda Christmas market – the local’s favorite
On the Buda side, in front of the old town hall, there’s another Christmas market with an ice skating rink, a carrousel and lots of stalls. There are also quite a few free musical performances one can attend. This market is the favorite of the locals and is not as touristy as the others.
Szentendre – a Christmas market just outside Budapest and the best one for souvenirs
Just 40 minutes from the center of Budapest, lies Szentendre, a lovely village with cobblestone streets and colorful houses. December or not, this is still a perfect half a day trip from Budapest. The area is known for local artists and craft producers. This is the place where you’ll find iconic Hungarian souvenirs and unique pieces, that you won’t see at the other Christmas markets.
The selection of food is non-existent, but there are several small restaurants and cozy cafes where you can eat and warm up. Don’t miss the opportunity to sample some strawberry wine, mulled or not, and maybe buy a bottle for home. In the main square, besides a fully decorated Christmas tree, there’s also a nativity scene on display. During the festive season, one can also check out the Christmas museum and shop. If you have time, you can also visit the marzipan or the miniatures museum.
READ ALSO: 8 CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN AND AROUND NUREMBERG
What to eat at the Budapest Christmas markets?
No trip to a new country is complete without sampling the local food and Hungary shouldn’t be an exception. In fact, one of the most important parts of any Christmas market is the food. Traditional Hungarian food is tasty and meat lovers should be prepared for a real feast, but vegetarians will also have a few options.
Goulash – can be cooked as a soup or a stew. The original version contains beef and a lot of paprika. It’s a perfect dish to warm up on a chilly day. At the Christmas markets it is often served in bread bowls.
Chicken paprikash – another paprika-based dish, but this time with chicken.
Hurkas – this is a kind of sausage that not many people would try. One of the original versions contains pork blood and rice. While this sounds bad, the one with pork liver and rice dipped in horseradish sauce is not that horrible.
Stuffed cabbage – this dish is disputed as traditional by many countries. Romania, Serbia and Hungary are just some of them. Sour cabbage leaves are filled with rice and minced meat seasoned with paprika and topped with sour cream.
Duck and red cabbage – this is another Hungarian Christmas market staple, especially of you have it on a potatoes pancake.
Langos – a delicious snack good at any time even for vegetarians. Make sure the dough is freshly fried and add garlic, sour cream and cheese on it. While the ones at the market are pretty good, if you visit St. Stephen’s Basilica market, you might also want to check out retro langos, especially if you’re not a vegetarian, as they have many more “meaty” toppings to choose from.
Kürtőskalács – you can’t leave the Christmas markets without trying a kürtőskalács (better known as a chimney cake). This is a sweet pastry roasted over charcoals, caramelized and rolled in cinnamon, crushed walnuts, coconut flakes or raspberry. I personally think ice cream or chocolate ruins it, as it changes its texture, and I love it as a breakfast replacement. But this is just my opinion.
Beigli – a traditional walnut or poppy seeds roll served in many Hungarian families at Christmas and Easter as a special treat for generations.
What to drink at the Budapest Christmas markets?
Christmas markets would not smell or taste like Christmas without the cocktail of winter spices. Typically red wine is used, but you can also find white mulled wine, which is actually pretty good or more local versions made out of strawberry and cherry wine. Budapest also surprised me with some unconventional Christmas market drinks like hot chocolate with Bayley’s or grog with dried fruits and rum. Both combinations were great and there are actually more to choose from. And if you really want something strong to warm you up instantly, try a palinka shot!
What to buy at the Budapest Christmas markets?
Hungary has many traditional crafts and creative artisans that are happy to respect them, but also bring the products a modern twist. You can find traditional knitwear, crochet animals, beautiful pottery pieces, winter hats and fluffy coats. If you browse a little more, you might also find some vintage postcards or wooden boxes with a tricky opening system. Also, do not forget that the Hungarians take their paprika very seriously. Why not buy some smoked red paprika to give color and taste to your future stews?
READ ALSO: ATHENS IN DECEMBER, READY FOR CHRISTMAS
What are some other things to do in Budapest around Christmas?
Walk along Deák Ferenc Street aka Fashion Street
In the heart of the city, from Vörösmarty square to the Central Market Sqaure, there’s a pedestrian street with designer shops. In December the entire area is decorated for Christmas. Oversized 2.5 high heeled shoes, monumental umbrellas and cocktail dresses seem to be falling from the sky. A fashionable Christmas tree stands right in the middle of the avenue.
Gozsdu-Udvar or Gozsdu Court is a pedestrian alley in the center of Budapest lined up with bars. It is a nice place to catch up with friends all year round, but especially beautiful over the Christmas season, between 30 November and 23 December. During this time it transforms into a holiday market. On the 6th of December, even Saint Nicolaus himself makes an appearance with his reindeer.
Go ice skating on Europe’s largest outdoor ice skating rink
The Christmas markets are beautiful, but even if some of them have an ice rink, it’s usually too small to move around. For an ice skating experience in Budapest, your best bet is the City Park Ice Rink. This one is huge, has an old tradition and a romantic setting. It was first opened in December 1876 and since then it became one of the locals’ favorite winter activities. In the evening, the sparkling lights and the view of the Vajdahunyad Castle make gliding here a magical thing to do. It’s also considered the largest ice skating rink in Europe. The rink is usually open from November until February. Don’t worry if you didn’t bring your skates, as you can rent a pair right there. The city park is close to Szechenyi Baths and Heroes’ Square, two other places you might want to check out.
Attend a classical music concert at St. Stephen’s Basilica
You’ll probably see the outside of the stunning St. Stephen Basilica anyway from the Christmas market in front of it. But the church also hosts a series a of classical organ concerts. Works of famous composers as Vivaldi, Bach and Händel sound even better in this stunning building with perfect acoustics. You can attend all year round, but the most memorable ones are in December.
Enjoy a festive ride on the Christmas Lights Train
Every year, at the beginning of December, some of the trams are decorated with twinkling lights. Buy a regular tram ticket and hop on no. 2. It will take you on a ride along the Danube promenade.
More cool things to do in Budapest, Christmas or not
Go at Szechenyi Baths
Budapest is a city of thermal baths. There are several to choose from, but there are two major tourist magnets, Szechenyi and Gellert baths. While they might not be very organized or modern, I still think it is one of the top things to do in Budapest, especially in winter. Can you imagine a better way to end a fun but cold day at the Christmas markets than soaking in steaming water under the starry sky? Széchenyi baths are the biggest and the most popular. There are several saunas, steam baths, indoor and outdoor pools of various temperatures. Skip the line with this pre-paid entry ticket that also includes a palinka tasting. Don’t forget to bring your flip-flops and towels as you can’t rent them there, but only buy.
You’ll probably spend most of your time in Pest, but Buda is definitely a must-see also. Here stand some of the best sites in town, the Budapest Castle, Matthias Church and the Instagramable fishermen’s bastion, decorated with sparkling lights for the festive season. The hill will also offer you some stunning panoramic views over the Pest side and the beautiful Parliament building. While I do recommend you enter Matthias Church, I’d skip the tower as the steps are steep and narrow and I didn’t find the view better then the one from the terrace of the bastion.
Visit the Parliament building
The first time I visited Budapest, the parliament building was closed to the public and I couldn’t visit it. This time, an inside tour was high on my list, but I almost missed it because I hadn’t booked in advance. We were lucky this time, but don’t make my mistake and buy your tickets a few days before the actual visit. With 691 rooms and 365 Gothic turrets, it’s the most memorable building in Budapest and an architectural gem. The tour takes around 40 minutes, but get there before the actual start time because you’ll have to print your tickets first at the reception and check-in. At the end, you can also watch a few films about the history of the building and its maintenance.
Take a guided tour of the Dohany Great Synagogue
This is the biggest synagogue in Europe and the second one in the world, after New York. But besides the records, I truly believe you should visit it because of the guided tour. Our guide provided us with a lot of information about Jews, their history in Hungary, Europe and beyond. He also explained us the differences between a traditional synagogue and a neolog one, that resembles more a Catholic church. As a fun fact, the main conflict between the two groups was the organ, that even today is played by a non-Jew person. The guide also taught us how to recognize a functional synagogue and the role of the Torah. I loved the tour for all the information, but I also suggest visiting the old synagogue close by for a more traditional view.
Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica
Visiting the inside of St. Stephen’s Basilica was not on top of my to do list, but after reading about their roof terrace that offers panoramic views of the city and the Christmas market below, we decided to give it a chance. (Especially as the tower at Mattias church was a disappointment for us.) This time we went up by elevator, which is included in the price. The views were also better, as the church is right in the middle of the city. At the end, we also decided to enter the church, which was much bigger and more beautiful than I had initially expected.
Take a Danube River Cruise
Danube is an important part of the city and a cruise along it rewards visitors with some of the most beautiful sights in Budapest. I went on a river cruise in summer, but I also saw the boats floating by in winter. They are covered and heated, so that guests feel comfortable even on a cold day. Audio guides in several languages are also provided.
Go ruin bar hopping
Budapest developed a real ruin bar culture over the past few years. Formerly dilapidated building, with a mix of indoor and outdoor space, were extravagantly decorated and now attract masses of curious people looking for cheap drinks and fun. The oldest ruin bar in Szimpla Kert. If you get hungry, you might want to try Mazel Tov, a ruin bar with an Israeli restaurant well-known by locals for its fantastic food. Check out this article to find out which are the best ruin bars you should check out now. If you want to have even more fun, join a ruin bar tour with a local!
Where to stay in Budapest for a Christmas Market trip?
If you visit Budapest during the Christmas markets season, it would be useful to stay in a hotel close to the action. It is much easier to get there for a quick snack, drink a cup of mulled wine without worrying about driving or get to your room for an extra layer of warm clothes. You also won’t freeze too much on your way back to the hotel in the evening. Breakfast included also comes pretty handy.
Find more deals on Budapest hotels and apartments here.
Make your trip easier with Budapest Card
Budapest city card helps you save money by offering unlimited public transport and free access or discounts to the main attractions, as well as some Christmas markets freebies. The validity of the card varies between 1 and 5 days and there are two options, regular and plus. You can compare the two here. Here are some of the benefits of the card holders:
- 10% off food and drink purchases and a free mulled wine at Vörösmarty Square Christmas market
- a free kürtőskalács at Molnar’s cafe
- 20% off Szechenyi and Rudas baths entrance fees
- a boat cruise on the Legendary Duna Bella
- access to Lukacs Baths
- free entrance to Matthias Church
- admission on the Buda Funicular and the Budapest Castle Bus
- free admission to the Castle Museum
- a Cityrama walking tour of Buda
If you plan to visit several museums and attractions on the list, make your life easier and buy the Budapest Card before your trip.
Budapest Christmas Markets: The Takeaway
Budapest is a great city to visit at any time of the year, but if I had to choose between summer and December, I’d definitely choose to visit the “Queen of the Danube” in December, because of the Christmas markets and the festive atmosphere. All the twinkling lights, beautiful Christmas trees and joyful music made the city seem even more wonderful.
Have you been to Budapest’s Christmas markets? Tell me your opinion in a comment!
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