Christmastime in Budapest, Hungary
Christmas Market Tour 2018
Budapest has been a city I’ve been hearing so much about since elementary school. I remember being in 5th grade and a young boy in my class had just moved to the United States from Hungary. I will always remember how he talked about his home city of Budapest and how much he loved it. At the time, I dreamt of it as a magical place with castles, lights and friendly people. After spending a couple of days getting lost in Budapest, I could attest that it truly is a city of magic and it ended up becoming my new favorite city in Europe.
I traveled to Budapest for the Christmas markets and made my way there after spending a couple days in the Austrian Alps (Salzburg and Hallstatt). During my two days in Budapest, I immersed myself in the Christmas magic, fulfilled my dream of seeing Fisherman’s Bastion and the Hungarian Parliament Building, ice skated in front of a castle, relaxed in a thermal bath and had fun at the ruin pubs of the city.
From the moment I stepped off the train, I knew Budapest was a city like nothing I’ve experienced before. It is old, beautiful, unique and filled with so much history. My two days in Budapest were probably the highlight of my entire Christmas market trip. Discover everything to not miss out on during Christmastime in Budapest, Hungary.
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Situated in North Central Hungary, the capital of Budapest is bisected by the Danube River. To the left of the Danube, is the hilly Buda side where you will find the castle and Fisherman’s Bastion. On the right side of the Danube is Pest, the flat, fun and hipster side of the city where you will find the Old Town, Parliament Building, Jewish Quarter, ruin pubs, wonderful restaurants and so much more.
Where to Stay in Budapest:
What I love most about Budapest is that it is a city filled with so many unique places. One of the highlights of being in this city was staying in BrodyLand. This unique and creative community boasts four hospitality and boutique venues in Budapest: Brody House, Brody Studios, The (NEW) Workshop, The Writers Villa and The Living Quarters.
I want to thank Brody House for letting me stay in their space my second night. I absolutely adored it! This amazing boutique hotel was listed in The Sunday Times ‘100 best Hotels’ and also won Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s ‘Best Budget Boutique Hotel 2013’. When I first arrived at Brody House to check in, I found the front of the building to be super cool! When I stepped inside, it was also very beautiful and old world.
When I first entered Brody House, the receptionist greeted me with the ‘I’m in bed with Brody’ visa to gain access into the cultural and social life at The Studios. It is there where BrodyLand team members will organize gatherings for guests. Since I was only in Budapest for two days and had so much to see in the city, I unfortunately didn’t make it to a social gathering, but I definitely will during my next visit!
Afterwards, the receptionist took me to my room, which was called ‘The Droga Room’ I absolutely loved how it offered an old world mixed with a modern flare. There was a lot of space, high ceilings, a big and comfy bed, huge bathroom with two sinks, a cool closet and a balcony that overlooked the courtyard. It was seriously amazing and I wanted to move in right there. I seriously felt like a queen!
Prior to becoming one of the best boutique hotels in Budapest, the building was built in 1896 for Dr. Vilmos Tauffer, a pioneering medical practitioner, who used the property as his city residence, office and practice. The building survived the ravages of the Second World War, the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and the 50 years of neglect and poor maintenance that followed. Later on, founders William Clothier and Peter Grundberg resided in the building, along with their fellow artist friends and would host cultural salons and dinner parties. They later named the house after an Hungarian writer, Sandor Brody. Overall, Brody House remains a work in progress, undergoing various restorations since it’s opening in 2009.
Traveling to and Around Budapest:
For my Christmas market trip, I found great flight deals through Skyscanner! From Newark to Munich with a short layover in Lisbon, I was able to grab a one-way flight for less than $200 without taxes! On my way home, I got a flight out of Vienna to Newark with a short layover in Düsseldorf for less than $300 with taxes included. (Make sure to also check out Expedia for great deals!)
Since I flew into Munich, I started my Christmas market tour there and then made my way to the Austrian Alps after two days where I got to explore both Salzburg and Hallstatt. From Salzburg Hauptbahnhof, I took a five-hour train ride to Budapest, Keleti station. Due to the holiday season, Europe is filled with many tourists and travelers alike so I made sure to book my train tickets to each city in advanced through GoEuro.
The best way to get around Budapest is by walking, taking the metro or city bus as well as a taxi. You could also find great taxi and shuttle services here. Since Brody House was located in the perfect location on the Pest side, I was able to walk to all of the places I visited. The only time where I needed to get a taxi was on the morning I left to go to Bratislava, Slovakia. I took a Flixbus that left from Budapest Kelenföld bus station, which was all the way on the other side of the Buda area. You could also take the metro as well!
Things to do in Budapest during Christmastime:
Throughout my time exploring the Christmas markets in Central and Eastern Europe, I definitely saw the difference between what was offered at the German and Austrian markets compared to the one’s in Hungary and Slovakia.
What I really loved about Budapest’s Christmas markets is that there was a true focus on preserving Hungarian culture. Yes, there was mulled wine, sausage and beer that you could get, but there were a variety of new staples such as Hungarian goulash, lángos (fried bread), spiced hot chocolate and the famous chimney cakes to name a few! You could also experience authentic Hungarian folk art, handcrafts and traditions.
Like I mentioned in my Austrian Alps’ blog post, I met up with another solo female traveler who was staying in Budapest during the time I was, so we explored the city together. During the Christmas markets, we savored “chicken” goulash in a bread bowl. Prior to traveling to Hungary, I thought that goulash was only offered for red meat eaters (which, technically it is), but I was so happy to see they offered it with chicken! Besides meat, goulash also consists of onions, peppers, spices and a light sauce. In addition to goulash, MK and I also enjoyed a spiced hot chocolate and we also split a chimney cake with cinnamon. It was delicious!
The main Christmas market in Budapest is situated at Vorosmarty Square. It is considered the most beautiful and internationally acclaimed market in the country. There is a massive Christmas tree, dreamy decorations and festive stands.
Another massive Christmas market in Budapest is the one in St. Stephen’s Square. It is here where you could see a sparkly tree as well as a beautiful display on the gorgeous Basilica. When I was at this market, there was a lovely Nutcracker display show going on. It was beautiful and reminded me of my childhood as a dancer.
In addition to the main Christmas markets in Budapest, there are also markets all around the city that you could find. I also recommend walking down Budapest’s fashion area where you could see more beautiful Christmas light displays as well as other magical decorations.
One of the top things on my Budapest bucket list was seeing the infamous Fisherman’s Bastion located on Castle Hill on the Buda side. These neo-Gothic and Romanesque lookout towers were built in the 19th century. What is cool about Fisherman’s Bastion is that it looks like the logo of Walt Disney films! (It actually does!)
When I first arrived in Budapest, Fisherman’s Bastion was the first place MK and I saw. During the winter, Budapest tends to get dark around 3:30/4pm in the evening. (I don’t know why Budapest is in the time zone that it’s in, but it didn’t matter because the city is absolutely stunning under its lights.) After settling into my hotel, we made the walk over the lovely Chain Bridge to the beautiful Buda side where we took a funicular up to Castle Hill. The funicular was super cute and the ride to the top was awesome! You do have to pay for the funicular though. It is around 1,800 Hungarian Forint (around $6 USD). If you get the 24-hour pass, it is a little cheaper.
When we finally got to the top, we got to see the gorgeous Buda Castle up close (we didn’t go in though). We also walked through the elegant Buda town to the Romanesque-styled Matthias Church. Right next to the church is Fisherman’s Bastion where you could catch spectacular views of the Danube River, Chain Bridge, city of Budapest and the eye catching Parliament Building. It was such a dream for me!
The Hungarian Parliament Building:
One of the most magnificent parts of Budapest is the Hungarian Parliament Building. This stunning building showcases Neo-Gothic architecture and is over 100 years old. (I honestly thought it was older.)
The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest is the third largest Parliament building in the world. The square where the Hungarian Parliament stands was named after Lajos Kossuth, a Hungarian lawyer, journalist, politician and Governor-President of Hungary in 1849. He was widely honored during his lifetime, including in the United States, as a freedom fighter.
During my second night in Budapest, MK and I made our way over to the Parliament Building where there was a live Hungarian concert going on. There was also a gorgeous Christmas tree as well as a few stands. Even though it was a foggy night, the Parliament Building was still breathtaking! I highly recommend making your way there.
Ice Skating at Varosligeti Mujegpalya:
On my second morning in Budapest, MK and I walked 45 minutes to the other side of Pest. We passed gorgeous mansions and prestigious villas, lovely park squares and cute restaurants. When we finally reached the iconic Heroes Square (pictured below), we saw the enchanting Vajdahunyad Castle!
Prior to going to Budapest, I was recommended from other bloggers to check out the ice skating rink in front of the castle. Since I love ice-skating in the winter, I knew I had to go! MK and I got there at a decent time in the morning to skip the heavy crowds.
The ice skating rink is located at City Park in Varosligeti Mujegpalya. When you first walk into the building, you will have to pay for your ticket. It was between 1000 and 1500 Hungarian Forint and we got the 2-hour skate rentals for 1500 Hungarian Forint. Please note that you will need to put down a deposit or have a photo ID to keep with the staff while you skate. They will give it back to you when you return with your rentals.
When it was finally time to skate, I honestly was nervous because I haven’t skated in over a year and there was no rink to hold onto at first. Just like always, I had to warm up first before I became comfortable on the ice. Skating with the castle in the background felt like a fairytale and the weather wasn’t too cold either.
Hungarian Thermal Baths:
After our ice skating extravaganza, we made our way over to Szechenyi Thermal Baths, located in the same area.
Szechenyi Bath is the largest and most popular of all thermal baths in Budapest. It is also one of the biggest natural hot spring spa baths in all of Europe. This iconic yellow building holds 18 pools, including outdoor and indoor geothermal pools. They also have massage treatments, saunas, a gym, cafés and even a beer spa! In addition, Szechenyi Bath is over 100 years old and over 100 million bathers have enjoyed the warm medicinal waters throughout the years.
A general ticket to Szechenyi Bath is around 5000 HUF, which is equivalent to around $18 USD. Of course if you want to add massages and other treatments, it is a little pricier, but still a great price! You could also pay to rent a towel or bring your own (I suggest bringing your own.) Just like at The Blue Lagoon in Iceland, you will be given a wristlet that will gain you access to the locker room where you could open and close your locker. You could also make purchases with your wristlet. In addition, you will also need to shower before and after you get in and out of the thermal baths. Unlike The Blue Lagoon, the showers at Szechenyi do not have doors, so you will be showering with no privacy. It’s all good though because everyone is in the same boat.
Since it was wintertime when I went to Szechenyi, you could imagine how COLD it was stepping outside in a bathing suit. It was so beautiful though that I had to get my photo in LOL. Once I got into the water, it was the most rewarding feeling. It’s super warm and comforting!
Overall, we checked out a few different pools and saunas and spend a few hours total there. It was so much fun and relaxing! There are also plenty of other thermal baths within the city of Budapest. Click here to check them out!
Vajdahunyad Castle is one of the most romantic and fairytale castles in Budapest. It is absolutely stunning to see and what is great about visiting this castle around Christmastime is that it has its own Christmas market! (A side note is that this castle is not a real one! It was temporarily built for the Hungarian millennium exhibition in the late 19th century. Because of its popularity, it was later fortified for no longer use. Now, there is a chapel and museum inside of Vajdahunyad Castle.)
Throughout the market, you could find the best Hungarian food, all different types of spiced hot chocolate, mulled wine, candies and so much more! It was probably the ultimate foodie haven in Budapest! (I had an amazing grilled salmon with potatoes.) What was also great about the market at Vajdahunyad Castle is that there was a live choir singing. It was so beautiful!
Besides eating at the Christmas markets, Budapest also has amazing restaurant and café options! On my second morning in the city, MK and I made a pit stop in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest to enjoy some AMAZING kosher cakes and lattes at Frōhlich Cukrászda. I had a walnut cake and it was absolutely incredible! I am still dreaming about it. Later at night, we ate at a nice restaurant near the Parliament Building called Café Vian. We both had mussels with French fries. So good!!!
Click here to discover more amazing places to eat in Budapest.
Another big Budapest staple that you cannot miss out on is a night at the ruin pubs in the Jewish Quarter.
The ruin pubs came around in 2001 when a bunch of young men were looking for cheap places to drink. The ruin pubs used to be old and deserted buildings from the Communist era in Hungary. They are now unique and artsy spaces where you could have the best night in Budapest.
Szimpla Kert is the most popular ruin bar in the city. Everything about Szimpla Kert are the classic signs of a ruin pub. It has mismatched furniture, artwork, Christmas lights and the best drinks for a good price! It is super hipster and amazing.
There are so many bars and pubs within Szimpla Kert. In addition, you could find other (local) ruin pubs along that same street in the Jewish Quarter. There is also a small park with food caravans as well. It is perfect if you get the late night munchies!
I hope you all enjoyed reading about my time in Budapest, Hungary and discovering all of the memorable things you could do in my new favorite European city around Christmastime. If you have any questions about my time in Budapest, please feel free to email me at email@example.com, contact me via social media or leave a comment below.
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