With its frequent and gentle December snowfall, conditions for a perfect white Christmas in Budapest couldn’t be better. The eclectic Budapest offers a unique Christmas for visitors. Brimming with bars and thermal baths, you can spend days hopping from one to the other. When you’re done, immerse yourself in the festive spirit of the Christmas markets or take the magical Christmas tram in the city center.
Some of Europe’s finest Christmas Markets
Goulash served in a huge, hollowed-out bread roll, pigs’ knuckles with potato dumplings or fresh flat bread in garlic sauce, sour cream and grated cheese (langos) is precisely the sort of heartening fare that will accompany your Christmas market experience in magical Budapest.
Christmas market by St Stephen’s Basilica
Set in the most stunning part of Budapest, St Stephen’s Basilica’s Christmas Market is the one not to miss. At half past 5 from Monday to Sunday 3D festive lights are projected on the walls of the Basilica with accompanying melodies. From last year on 3D glasses with which you can view the animation are available on the market. (The show can be enjoyed without wearing 3D glasses.) Enjoy a (unique) mug of mulled wine alongside with roasted chestnut and warm and hearty street foods (beyond sausages) and enjoy the lights and the flavors.
Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market
The Vörösmarty Square Christmas market is the oldest and richest of all the Christmas markets in Budapest. The Crafts Market is open from 9th November all the way to 29th December after which the food stalls remain open until 1st January 2020. There are about 100 stalls waiting for you to visit them, set around the Christmas tree that is decorated with different colours each year. From goulash to grilled sausages there is an endless selection of local food you can enjoy. Not a surprise that the market puts a great emphasis on food and wine which is truly Hungarian way to celebrate the Festive season.
Óbuda Christmas Market
The Advent Fair in Obuda (Old Buda) is a lesser known, but beautiful Christmas Market in Budapest held during the Advent weekends, where you will find lots of locals but very few tourists. If you prefer to visit off the beaten track, secret Budapest events, non-touristy places on your Budapest visit, head to Old Buda by the Arpad Bridge on the Buda side. The historical Fo Square in Obuda definitely has a small town feeling and is well worth the detour to join the Christmas events and activities, especially if there is a superb concert given by one of the best Hungarian bands. There are special programs (concerts, puppet shows, etc.) at the 4 Advent weekends. The programs usually start after 1 pm and are until 6-7pm.
The Home of Thermal Spas
Hungary is famous for its thermal water and spa culture that the country inherited from the times it was part of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire. Thermal water is high in calcium, magnesium, and hydrogen carbonate and is best to ease joint pain and arthritis and improve blood circulation.
Szechenyi Thermal Bath
Housed in a neo-Baroque palace in Budapest’s City Park, Széchenyi Thermal Bath is Europe’s largest thermal bath complex. Built in 1913, the spa is home to 15 indoor pools and three huge outdoor pools of different temperatures – which you explore even during the cold winter months. Its water is supplied by two thermal springs with average temperature of 74°C and 77°C. It is open year-round, and you might catch some of the locals play chess on floating boards at the edge of the pool come rain, sunshine or even snow.
Gellert Spa is in the historic Hotel Gellert where the bath offers a wide range of healing treatments such as gentle and stronger massage, thai massage, sauna, steam rooms, pedicure, and several outdoor and indoor swimming and thermal pools of various sizes, an outdoor wave pool and hot tubs. The hotel guests can purchase tickets to the spa for half price. The bath complex was built between 1912 and 1918 in the Art Nouveau style but was damaged during World War II. References to healing waters in this location are found from as early as the 13th century. A hospital was also located on this site during the Middle Ages, then during the reign of the Ottoman Empire baths were also built on this particular site. The “magical healing spring” was used by the Turkish during the 16th and 17th centuries. The bath was called Sárosfürdő (“muddy” bath), because the mineral mud settled at the bottom of pools.
Király Bath or Király fürdő was first built in Hungary in the second half of the sixteenth century, during the time of Ottoman rule. It still retains many of the key elements of a Turkish bath, exemplified by its Turkish dome and octagonal pool. Király Thermal Bath had no direct hot water base, nor has it any today. The Turks built the Bath far from the springs to ensure the opportunity for bathing even in the case of an eventual siege, within the walls of the castle. Its water was supplied at that time, and is being supplied now, from the surroundings of the current Lukács Bath. Kiraly Baths have 4 pools on site. You can take a virtual tour of the spa here.
“Sparty” like there’s no tomorrow
While California dreaming comes with pool parties, Budapest nightlife takes this to another level: taking advantage of its natural features the city turns the thermal baths into the best party venues. Whilst reforming our thousand years old bathing culture, the aim with the combination of Hungarian bathing and party-culture is to create a unique musical and visual world that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Hungarian food is amazing
Budapest’s food scene is technically a metaphor of the city itself: authentic, spicy and sprinkled with plenty of surprises as a new generation of Hungarians turned the traditional cuisine into an avant-garde dining experience whilst staying true to real local flavors. Hungarian food will take you far away from what you know by serving you unexpected flavors and hearty, quality wines.
Traditional dishes at Christmas
The most typical Hungarian dish for Christmas is halaszlé, a fish soup spiced with paprika paste or powder. Others may serve a magyar favorite, stuffed cabbage, but it’s increasingly common to serve up a mix of fish, chicken, and pork with a variety of sauces, vegetables, and rice. For dessert it’s not uncommon to see the ubiquitous chocolate log or gingerbread cakes and biscuits, but a more Hungarian speciality is bejgli (bay-glee), a rolled sweetbread filled with poppy seeds (mákos), walnuts (diós), or both.
All this is combined with a lot of drinking, from strong homemade pálinka—or fruit brandy—to a variety of Hungarian wines and beers. If there’s one thing that remains true of Christmas in any culture, it’s the love of excessive eating and drinking.
Restaurants that are open on Christmas Eve
Festive Buffet and Christmas Brunch in Gellert Hotel
Each ticket includes a lovely Festive Buffet Dinner at the Panoráma Restaurant with unlimited food and drink consumption (wine, champagne, beer, soft drinks, and coffee). Children under 12 can choose from a variety of tasty brunch foods for half price, while children under 3 eat for free.
Purchasers of online tickets for our Festive Buffet Dinner do not need to book tables additionally, as buying online automatically guarantees a table reservation.
LÁNG Bistro ＆Grill in Hilton Budapest
Price: 26.900 HUF / person + 10% service charge
50% discount for kids between 6-12 years, free for kids under 6 years
Full, non-refundable prepayment is required at the time of booking.
The most beautiful Christmas tramway in the World
For a unique and fairy-tale-like way to explore the city hop on tram line 2 which will be one of the highlights of your stay. The tram is lit up from the early afternoon, around 4 pm with over 35.000 white and blue LED lights that creates a stunning visual experience as the tram slowly strolls alongside the Danube. The journey is available with regular public transport tickets and passes, and in addition to tram line 2, several other lines across Budapest will be lit up, including tram 4, 14, 19, 47, 50, 56A, and 59.
Tram 2 is the most popular amongst all as it operates along the Danube Promenade on the Pest side with the most beautiful sites of the city.
What do people do on Christmas Eve?
Before 24 December, people decorate their houses and start cooking and baking – with the previously explain food culture in Hungary you can now expect that Christmas in Hungary is all about food. It’s 24th December when people start decorating the tree with colourful ornaments and put the wrapped presents under it. As opposed to most European countries, in Hungary the gift-giving happens on Christmas Eve when young children are waiting for the arrival of Baby Jesus. The family exchanges gifts after the dinner and after singing carols around the tree.
On Holy Night, Hungarians listen to holiday songs such as “Silent Night” and sing or attend Christmas mass. As an old tradition we also burn candles on the Advent wreath during the four weeks before Christmas, lighting up one more new candle each Sunday.
Plan ahead to get the most out of your stay
December is one of the coldest months of the year in Budapest so expect cold weather conditions and occasional frosty biting wind. Snowfall is frequent but not too heavy – enough to make the landscape absolutely beautiful.
What to Pack
Cold urban destinations in Eastern Europe will introduce you to a different kind of winter where a very warm jacket, a chunky scarf, a hat and some warm gloves are crucial besides making sure you wear plenty of layers. You’ll be spending time visiting outdoor fairs and markets and it may be freezing out on the streets, so you always want to keep warm. However, in museums and cafes you might want to lose some layers and feel nice and cosy.
Where to stay in Budapest?
Wishing to stay close to the beating heart of the city centre Radisson Blu Béke Hotel is an ideal choice for everyone who wants to explore the rich cultural life of the capital. The hotel is located just a few steps from the beautifully lit up Andrássy Avenue, and easily accessible by car or public transport. The theatres, museums, restaurants and cafés located nearby guarantee that those interested in high-end entertainment will not be bored for a moment.
Astoria City Center that opened in 1914 as one of the city’s most elegant hotels, and – over a century later – it stays true to that original character. Guests have always been attracted by its sublime fin-de-siècle architecture and comfortable rooms. The location of the hotel is perfect if you want to stay close to the city centre as it is only a 10-minute walk from prime attractions like the Hungarian National Museum, the Great Synagogue, the Danube promenade and the famous Váci Street.
Built in wonderful Art Nouveau-style and opened in 1918, the impressive Gellért hotel shares the building with the world-famous Gellért Spa, located on the Danube riverbanks, at the foot of Gellért Hill, which was named after Saint Gerard who was thrown to death from the hill. The hotel can be found in Gellért Square next to Liberty Bridge. Metro line M4 stops right next to the hotel, at Szent Gellért Tér, while the city centre is also reachable in a 10-minute walk.
In December Budapest is all dressed up in lights and traditions. From Christmas to New Year’s the city is your playground to explore, mingle, celebrate and make lots of memories whether it is a special meal, an unforgettable party, learning to say “cheers” in Hungarian or getting a gentle shiver after your first taste of Palinka. Hungary inspires and we promise: it will never be forgotten.
Sure, in fact Budapest has some of the finest Christmas markets in Europe.
Budapest is more affordable than some of its piers across Europe, such as Prague or Vienna.
Yes, with its frequent and gentle December snowfall, conditions for a perfect white Christmas in Budapest couldn’t be better.
Christmas markets in Budapest tend to open mid-November and stay open until 2nd January.