If you’ve already chosen Budapest to celebrate Christmas and New Year in 2018 we have good news: there are so many Christmas and NYE festivals to get yourself into the long-awaited Festive mood! Don’t miss the traditional Christmas Markets, they are the absolute highlights during this magical month. Just to name a few of the most festive activities, you can also go ice-skating on the largest natural ice rink in Europe as well as watch The Nutcracker in a beautifully decorated art theatre. For a complete list please read our article 10 unique reasons to visit Budapest in December.
CHRISTMAS IN HUNGARY
The Christmas and gift-giving season starts relatively early compared to other European countries. In early December a Santa-like figure, Saint Nicholas (Mikulas) traditionally visits the homes of Hungarian children to celebrate the tradition of Saint Nicholas Feast Day.
Hang on…so what’s happening on the 6th December?
Although the role of gift-giver on Christmas Day itself is assigned to the Christ Child, on 5th December Hungarian children traditionally clean a boot and place it on their windowsill waiting for Mikulás to come by and fill it with treats. Mikulás often comes with an assistant called “Krampusz”. He represents the Devil who punishes naughty children.
The morning of 6th December is the official start of the gift-giving period, although Hungarians don’t until the 24th December.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
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.
ALL THINGS CHRISTMASSY
Visit the Christmas markets to get into the Festive Mood
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 2019. 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 gulash 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.
The market is free to visit and it is open daily from 10 am to 8 pm.
Special opening hours apply on the following days:
Dec 24: 10:00 – 14:00
Dec 25: 10:00 – 18:00
Dec 26: 10:00 – 18:00
Dec 31: 10:00 – 22:00
Jan 1: 14:00 – 22:00
Location: Vörösmarty tér, district V., M1 underground (yellow line), M1, M2, M3 metro lines: Deák tér station or tram 2 Széchenyi tér stop: a couple of minutes walk from both stops.
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. This year special 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 flavours.
The market opens 23rd November and remains open until 1st January 2019.
Mon – Fri: 11:00 – 22:00,
Sat – Sun: 10:00 – 22:00,
December 24.: 10:00 – 14:00
December 31.: 10:00 – 22:00
Mulled wine and Chimney cake is an absolute must
During your visit, tasting mulled wine is unmissable. This heart-warming drink has become one of the must-haves of the Christmas markets that await with a wide variety of mulled wine selection (white, red or even rose!). For a little deposit you’ll get a customised annual addition mug which you can refill with your choice of drink. You can keep the mug as a piece of memory of the Hungarian Christmas market or you can decide to return the mug and be refunded with the deposit.
Alongside mulled wine chimney cake (kürtős kalács) is a true Hungarian legend that makes people addicted for hundreds of years. Chimney cake has a perfect crisp exterior and a soft inside making the most delicious dessert for the cold winter evenings. What’s even better it is coated in cinnamon and sugar.
Hop onboard the magical winter tram
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.
The Winter Tram runs from early December to late January. Important that there is no service on December 24th and 31st.
NEW YEAR’S EVE CELEBRATION
New Year’s Eve in Hungary
New Year’s Eve is when festivities reach their zenith as people dance and celebrate the New Year. You can attend several carnivals and concerts already on the 30th December – see, Hungarians love to party so the earlier you start, the better. However, please be careful celebrating early as New Year’s Eve will still await with lots of awesome places to go to! On the 31st December, a masked ball is held at the Opera House and there are lots of exciting parties and gala dinners held across the city. Even though Budapest is rather grey and cold in winter the end of December undoubtedly brings back all the colours and excitement to people’s lives.
No housework or arguing: The best Hungarian traditions on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
In Hungary New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day traditions have interlocked with the aim of bringing health, wealth, fortune and happiness to the next year by doing magic.
Many people make a scone-like cheesy cake (pogácsa) and hide a coin in it. The one who gets the piece with the coin will be very fortunate next year. People also made garlic calendars to forecast the next year’s weather. They put salt on the 12 cloves that represent the 12 months. The clove that gets the dampest represents the rainiest month of the upcoming year.
Girls tried to foretell who’s going to be their future husband by putting names into dumplings. They then cooked them in boiling water, and the one that first came to the surface contained the right name.
Housework and arguing were forbidden on this day because it meant misfortune. Eating poultry is bad luck because hens scratch backwards. You should be careful with fish as your luck might drift away with it.
What should you eat on New Year’s Eve?
Our food is full of tradition – especially on special occasions. Following the traditions, of course the NYE dinner also needs to tell a story.
Lentils – they symbolize the wealth, and happiness in the new year. So every Hungarian needs to eat at least a spoon of lentil soup, or pottage.
Pork – roasted pork brings fortune and luck. But you have to eat from strange pork parts, like nose, knuckle, ears, tails. Moreover, from the weirdest Hungarian dish, called kocsonya, which is a jellied broth with pork parts.
Sausages, frankfurter – easy to cook and eat at a house party too with ketchup, mustard and white bread.
Deviled egg – hard-boiled eggs with yolk mixed with mayo and mustard. It’s an appetizer, a normal party food.
How to spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day?
Hungarian wine and champagne awaits you with all their qualities, after a nice dip in one of the city’s best thermal baths.
There are many types of parties you can choose from whatever your preferences are: an elegant gala dinner, a small group celebration in a cozy bistro or crowded parties in high end nightclubs? Budapest nightlife is famous for its diversity and New Year’s Eve brings no exceptions.
You usually have to book well in advance, especially in popular places. If you have no reservation, go early and pray to get in. Most places serve a substantial dinner that includes special dishes with a glass of champagne that is often included in the price.
Celebrate in class and style in Gellert Hotel
Hotel Gellert is where all the magic happened for centuries – stunning exterior, prime location and astonishing style will treat you to an outstanding experience. This year they will bring all the joy and celebration by throwing a stylish gala dinner to say goodbye to 2018. Dinner will be served from 7 pm with the recommendation of Gabor Muncz, the hotel’s master chef. At 9 pm the dance floor will open with star guests who will guarantee an unforgettable night. For prices and more details check out Gellert Szilveszter.
Gala Concert and Dinner in the Danube Palace
The impressive building of the Danube Palace in central Budapest traditionally hosts an exclusive New Year celebration where you can enjoy a 5-course dinner with the best selection of local wines, beers, champagne alongside a 2-hour classical concert with dance and ballet performance.
New Year’s Eve wouldn’t be real without stunning fireworks. As the Danube mirrors the colours on its surface the fireworks are just wonderful to look at both on the sky and on the water.
The best places to watch the fireworks is either close to the river (don’t forget to bring warm clothes) or on a river course, but Fisherman’s Bastion in the Castle District also provides an excellent panorama of the city.
Vörösmarty Square: December 31st is the final day of the city’s favourite Christmas Market so saying goodbye to 2018 will also mean the official end of the Festive period. The square will be busy with both locals and tourist taking the last sip of mulled wine of the year.
Gellért Hill: If you’re feeling active on New Year’s Eve why not climb up to Gellert Hill to say goodbye to the year with one of the most iconic views of the city? A prime spot to watch the fireworks too!
Nyugati Square: the heart of the city is the perfect place to mingle. This place guarantees the buzz and the loudest cheer for the New Year.
New Year’s Day Concert in the Danube Palace
The concert hall of the Danube Palace (Duna Palota) hosts two wonderful concerts on 1st January starting. You can enjoy a 70-minute performance by the Danube Chamber Orchestra which celebrates this special day with timeless classical pieces by Mozart, Liszt or Gershwin.
At 20.00 a 90-minute Concert & Dance Show comes alive on the stage presented by the Danube Symphony Orchestra, the soloists of the Budapest Operetta Theatre and gypsy folk artists.
New Year’s Day Cruise & Dinner on the Danube
Celebrate the New Year on a sightseeing cruise on the Danube – Reward yourself and your family with a wonderful evening that includes a splendid five-course dinner, live music by the Hungarian Folk Ensemble & Orchestra, and the enchanting sights of illuminated Budapest that you can see on a 2-hour trip.
The New Year’s Day boat excursion is hosted on the spacious and elegant Europa Ship.
When to go
Shorter days and longer nights, crisp mornings and freezing evenings are expected as Budapest slowly turns into a fairy tale winter wonderland in the end of November. To feel the Christmas spirit and get festive the Hungarian capital is the perfect place even after New Year’s Eve.
Celebrating the New Year in Budapest you can enjoy the steadiness until the end of January. It is an ideal time to go as there are less tourists and the city is just waking back up from the festive period. If you’re lucky there is even snow, lots and lots of snow so you can enjoy sledging down the Buda hills as well as the absolutely picture-perfect scenes around the capital.
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 to be close to the Christmas attractions
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.