Christmas in Budapest: Christmas market at St. Stephen's Basilica

Christmas in Budapest

Thinking of spending Christmas in Budapest? Are you wondering what there is to do in Budapest at Christmas?

This post will help you to plan your visit!

Budapest in the holiday season is truly magical: fairy lights illuminate the streets and shops, the smell of chimney cakes and spiced mulled wine blend together.

Downtown Budapest is full of huge and small Christmas markets.

The weather is frosty and the attractions are covered in snow or white frost. It is getting dark from 4 pm but the illuminated architectural masterpieces and snow make the scenery marvelous.

You can always warm up in one of the coffee houses, baths or over a bowl of goulash, steaming glass of mulled wine, honey mead.

What to see in Budapest over Christmas?

Budapest Christmas Lights

The Christmas lights are traditionally switched on during the middle of November.

The most beautifully illuminated areas are:

Andrássy Avenue

Andrássy Avenue high-end shops

Andrássy Avenue – the most elegant boulevard in Budapest stretches between Elizabeth Square and Heroes’ Square. The section between downtown Budapest and Octogon is packed with high-fashion shops like Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Gucci, Ralph Lauren to name a few.

During the holiday season, the whole tree-lined avenue is covered with lights.

Váci street

Váci street, the main shopping street in downtown Budapest that runs parallel to the Danube welcomes shoppers with Christmas lights. The bustling street leads us the Vörösmarty Square.

Fashion Street

Deák Ferenc Street (recently known as Fashion Street) is an upscale city-center pedestrian street that runs between Deák Ferenc square and Vörösmarty Square. This street has become one of the tourist attractions during Christmas thanks to its displays and wooden Christmas booths.

Vörösmarty square

Vörösmarty Square houses the biggest Christmas market and one of the tallest Christmas trees in Budapest.

Szent István Square

This is the square where St. Stephen’s Basilica stands. There is a Christmas market with an ice rink in the middle of the square, while several restaurants are around it. The whole area is illuminated with Christmas lights as virtually every shop has a gorgeous Christmas window and many of the stores hang thousands of lights themselves.

Christmas Markets in Budapest

During the holiday season, from the middle of November until the end of Christmas, Budapest fills with Christmas vibe.

The Hungarian capital was voted the most affordable European Christmas Market destination.

Budapest Christmas markets are famous for their traditional, high-quality craft products, such as leather gloves, knitted scarves, hand-made chocolates, dried fruits, essential oils, and herbs.

These markets are heaven for foodies! Try as many hearty, authentic Hungarian dishes – such ad stuffed cabbage, goulash, grilled sausages – as you can, the memory of their taste will stay with you I promise.

Opening times of Christmas Markets in Budapest:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas from 8 November at Vörösmarty Square and 22 November at Szent István Square, while in Gozsdu Bazaar it starts from 6 December.

The markets are open daily from 11 am to 9 pm (subject to change)

24. December 10 am to 4 pm

25-26 December 10 am to 6 pm

1. Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market

The biggest Christmas Market is held at Vörösmarty Square.

This fair is right in the middle of the city center is the most popular fair in Budapest. It has around 100 stalls set up with live programs to entertain the Christmas crowd.

Only high-quality products can be sold at the fair: the about 120 craftsmen must undergo a quality sieve where an independent jury examines the hand-made souvenirs, gastronomic specialties, folk art designs.

20 crafts are present at the fair, which is an excellent demonstration of the diversity of Hungarian handicrafts.

The food stalls of the fair represent the gastronomic traditions of the Carpathian Basin and gastronomic tastings are available for visitors and use small-scale raw materials and the best products from Hungarian family farms.

During the fair Hungarian wine regions also have their stalls on Vörösmarty Square. Taste some authentic Hungarian wines with traditional delicacies like roasted chestnuts, handmade chocolate bonbons, marzipans, strudels, gingerbread, bejgli, and chimney cake.

Gerbaud Coffee House, one of the most famous cafés in Budapest is a symbol of Vörösmarty Square. This Art Nouveau masterpiece was built in 1858. Between 1-24 of December, the walls of the building come to life as it serves as a canvas of light shows from 5 pm.

During the fair, visitors can enjoy nearly 160 high-quality programs: folk, jazz, blues, soul concerts are on stage every day.

Families with kids can learn the techniques of candle making, gingerbread, beading, felting and basket weaving in a heated craft playhouse. A puppet theater, folk dance programs are also available for children.

Santa Claus

Joulupukki, the real Finnish Santa Claus shows up every year to meet children at Vörösmarty Square on December 6 from 4-7 pm.

How to get to Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market

Location: Vörösmarty tér, district V.

M1, M2, M3 metro lines: Deák tér station

tram 2 Vigadó station

2. St. Stephen’s Basilica Christmas Market

Christmas in Budapest: Christmas market at St. Stephen's Basilica

Budapest has a fabulous market right in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica with unique features.

Light Painting at the Basilica

A spectacular light show takes place every half an hour between 4:30 pm and 10 pm during December.

Religious stories and fables are projected onto the walls of this beautiful piece of architecture. Colorful lights, 3D animations create the illusion that the Basilica is moving or falling, accompanied by music and sound. The screenings last for just a few minutes but they always tell a different story.

This breathtaking light show is a must-see when visiting Budapest during Christmas time.

Ice Rink

Every year a free to use ice rink is built in the middle of the square between the Christmas food stalls. Bring your ice skate or rent one on spot.

Zrínyi Street Street Food

The street leading from the Basilica to the Danube is full of food stalls.

How to get to St. Stephen’s Basilica Christmas Fair

Location: Szent István tér, district V.

M1, M2, M3 metro lines: Deák tér station or Arany János station

tram 2 Széchenyi István tér

3. Városháza park winter festival

Városháza park (City Hall Park) is just a few steps away from Deák Square, the center of downtown Pest. This art fair displays handicrafts, traditional show kitchens, and amateur folk groups, choirs perform on its stage.

When: November 21 – January 3

Deák Ferenc tér

1052 Budapest, Városháza Park

4. Christmas market in Four Seasons Gresham Palace

The hotel hosts a luxurious Christmas market that showcases a huge repertoire of Hungarian and international products. Herend Porcelain Manufactory, Várga Crystal, wineries have stalls in this fairy-tale Art Nouveau hotel.

When: November 27 – December 27

Four Seasons Hotel – Gresham Palota

1051 Budapest, Széchenyi István tér 5-6.

5. Erzsébet Square Christmas market of Hungarian dishes

Erzsébet Square this small oasis in the middle of downtown Budapest that is dominated by the huge Budapest Eye Ferris wheel that spins like a gigantic snowflake in its middle.

This fair is full of local food vendors selling their delicious goodies: cheeses, honey, salamis, handmade treats like poppyseed rolls.

November 27 – December 23

Erzsébet tér

1051 Budapest, Erzsébet Square

6. Gozsdu Courtyard Christmas Market

Gozsdu courtyard that is the buzzing hub of leisure and parties throughout the year turns into a holiday headquarter for December. The courtyard is located in the heart of the Jewish district in Budapest, right between Király street and Dob street. Like the other Christmas fairs, it has a huge selection of tasty dishes and hot drinks.

When: 6 December – 23 December

Gozsdu Udvar

1075 Budapest, Király utca 13.

7. Advent at the Várkert Bazaar

Várkert Bazaar is situated right at the foot of the Castle Hill. Its elegant buildings provide a perfect backdrop for a holiday fair.

When: Advent Sundays November 29 – December 24

Várkert Bazár

1013 Budapest, Ybl Miklós tér

Top things to do in Budapest during Christmas season

Visit Budapest’s Great Christmas tree

The biggest, grandest tree in Budapest stands in front of the House of Parliament

Take a ride on the Ferris wheel

Budapest Eye Ferris Wheel

There’s a giant Ferris wheel to see Budapest’s skyline, which looks pretty at night.

It operates every day, all year round – even on public and national holidays – and offers a marvelous panorama from above.

Opening Hours:

Monday – Tuesday: 10.00 – 23.00

Wednesday – Thursday: 10.00 – 24.00

Friday – Saturday: 10.00 – 01.00

Sunday: 10.00 – 24.00

Tickets:

3 000 HUF for adults,

1 500 HUF for children between ages 2 – 14.

people above 65 yrs of age: 2 700 HUF

Family ticket (2 adults+2 kids under 14): 7 800 HUF

Glide on one of the Christmas Skating rinks

City Park Ice Rink

Budapest’s City Park Ice Rink is the most famous skating rink in Budapest, if not Europe. Situated directly in front of Vajdahunyad Castle, skaters flock to the rink each winter between late November and mid-February.

This ice rink one of the oldest (since 1870) and largest in Europe.

During summer it serves as a boating lake.

Admission fee: 1,000 HUF for children, students, and pensioners, 1,500 HUF for adults and 3,500 HUF for families (two adults and one child.)

Opening hours: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

City Park Ice Rink, Budapest, Olof Palme sétány. 5, 1146 Hungary; +36 1 363 267

Coffee houses

Sightseeing in winter can be challenging. Surely, you will ask for some coziness and warmth from time to time. Fortunately, Budapest is full of both traditional and modern coffee houses.

The traditional cafés are famous for their marvelous architecture and decorations. Great examples: Ruswurm, Gerbaud, New York Café and Café Párisi (Lotz Hall).

If you are more into modern cafés with bearded lumberjack baristas, fear not: downtown Budapest is full of new-wave coffee shops.

Go for a dip

Budapest’s nickname is the “City of Spas,” thanks to its almost 120 natural thermal springs that deliver 70 million liters of therapeutic waters each day to the spas.

These thermal baths and spas — including Széchenyi Baths, Rudas Baths, Gellért Baths, Lukács Baths, Király Baths — house saunas, steam chambers, and massage rooms.

Temperatures may be sub-zero during Christmas time, but a bracing dip in one of the spas will be memorable for sure.

Sitting in one of the warm, thermal water filled outdoor pools while snow is falling on your head and clouds of steam linger in the air is a truly unique experience!

I recommend visiting Széchenyi Baths in City Park as it is the biggest bath in Budapest with outdoor and indoor pools, medical treatments, saunas.

The Turkish baths are also astonishingly beautiful if you plan to visit one, try Király Bath or Rudas Bath. Rudas still preserves the unique Turkish architecture and character. It has a small pool on its top with a gorgeous view of Elizabeth Bridge and the Danube.

Check its website for more information especially regarding women and male days.

Széchenyi Fürdő

1146 Budapest, Állatkerti körút 11.

Rudas Baths

Budapest 1013, Döbrentei tér 9.

You can read more about the thermal baths of Budapest here.

 

A tram from a fairytale

Christmas tram in Budapest

The Christmas Lights trams operate across Budapest form 5 pm. These trams are covered with almost 40 000 lights turning them into fun, festive rides.

Main lines:

Tram 2 that rattles along one of the most scenic tram route in the world: the Danube promenade. This line was rated #7 on National Geographic’s Top 10 Trolley Rides!

tram 47 and 49

The trams can be used with standard tickets.

From 1 December to 15 December

Check the schedule here (soon)

Christmas Shopping in Budapest

The streets of Budapest are being more crowded than usual, the shops and stores are full of goods.

Hungarian gifts range from traditional folklore items to edible souvenirs.

The best places to look for Hungarian Christmas gifts are the Christmas markets, design shops, and the Great Market Hall.

Paprika

Hungary is famous for its paprika, which flavors many traditional Hungarian dishes like goulash soup, chicken paprikas and gives a kick to other national dishes, too.

This tasty seasoning is sold all around the city in canisters for easy transport and can be found in groceries, supermarkets and everywhere where Hungarian souvenirs are sold.

Read more about Hungarian dishes and flavors here.

Hungarian Wine and Spirits

Both red and white wines are produced in Hungary. The Hungarian fruit brandy, called pálinka, has different varieties and flavors.

Wines and pálinka can be bought in supermarkets and groceries. There are also wine shops in downtown Budapest.

Hungarian Embroidery

Bold and colorful folk embroidery decorate blouses, shawls, table linens, adding a unique touch to an outfit or a room.

Hungarian Porcelain

The world-famous Hungarian porcelain can make a perfect Christmas gift, though they are quite expensive. Porcelain stores have a huge variety to choose from.

Herendi

Zsolnay

Hungarian Dolls

Dolls dressed in Hungarian folk costumes make perfect gifts for little girls. There is a huge variety of sizes and qualities: toy dolls and porcelain masterpieces are both available.

Christmas Cruises in Budapest

Ship cruise in Budapest with the Parliament as the background

Christmas Lunch and Dinner Danube Cruises with Drinks or Lunch

The Danube runs through the heart of Europe from Germany to the Black Sea, Budapest being one of the main cities it touches.

Ship cruises are very popular all year round among tourists from all over the world. During a cruise, you can see the main attractions of Budapest like the Buda Castle, Gellért Hill, Parliament Building.

If you’re staying in Budapest for just a few days, a ship cruise is a great way to experience the city. A cruise lasts a few hours and it goes from one end of Budapest to the other.

Day or night cruises are available and their prices depend on what package you choose.

The cheapest option is just a sightseeing tour, while the more expensive ones include lunch and dinner.

Tip: if you are short of time or money, you can also use the public ferries!

Attend Budapest Christmas Carols & Church Services

You can take part in a Midnight Mass in Budapest in numerous churches.

You are free to join any of the Christmas masses in Budapest from midnight.

These masses attract many thousand locals and tourists alike.

If you want to attend the Midnight Mass in Hungary, do get dressed warmly to avoid catching a cold.

Churches to Attend Midnight Mass in Budapest on Christmas Eve

St Stephen’s Basilica: the biggest church of Budapest (can take in about 8.000 people) attracts thousands of visitors for the Midnight Mass.

Since it is situated right in downtown Budapest it is easily accessible.

Matthias Church: Matthias Church is very popular amongst locals living on the Buda side. Since Matthias Church is more modest in size, this mass is more intimate than the mass of the St Stephen Cathedral.

Rock Church: the church was built in the caves and rocks of the Gellert Hill. You can attend the Christmas mass on Dec 24 here too.

The church is right next to the Liberty Bridge and Hotel Gellert.

Christmas Pub Crawls

The Jewish district is home to most of the famous ruin bars of Budapest. The most famous ruin pub is Szimpla Kert.

Ruin bars offer seasonal delights during the winter season.

For more information about ruin bars check out this post. 

Just a few meters from the pub you can also find a Street Food court called Karavan. This is a perfect place to grab a cheap meal quickly.

Hungarian Christmas traditions

Advent

Hungarian Christmas starts with Advent, the preparation time before Christmas.

The countdown to Christmas is marked by traditional advent wreaths. These beautiful holiday centerpieces feature four candles, representing faith, hope, joy, and love, nestled in a bed of pine branches and ribbon.

Every four Sundays before Christmas we lit one additional candle and the last one is lit on Christmas Eve.

You can find these colorful wreaths in every Hungarian home, shops, and schools.

Mikulás (Santa Claus)

Hungarian children receive gifts twice during the Christmas season.

Santa Claus visits the kids on December 6 bringing sweets and small presents for those well-behaved children who put their clean shoes on the windowsill the night before.

For those kids who have been naughty, Santa’s sidekick Krampusz (a devil), will leave a bundle of birch sticks or coal instead.

Christmas Eve and the Christmas Tree

In Hungary, the Christmas tree is decorated on 24 December (Holy Night).

It is the most important event of Hungarian Christmas traditions.

This is when families get together around the Christmas tree to have dinner, to celebrate and to exchange presents.

If there are children in the family, the Christmas tree is decorated without their knowing. They are taught that Jesus brings the decorated tree and the gifts for all (not Santa Claus as in many other countries).

Christmas trees are usually decorated with lights, sparkles, handmade ornaments, gingerbread figurines and with “szaloncukor”, a Hungarian Christmas candy covered with chocolate and wrapped in shiny foil tied with bows and hung on the tree with small metal hooks or strings.

Hungarian Christmas Dinner

A traditional Hungarian Christmas dinner usually consists of fish soup, fried fish, stuffed turkey, stuffed cabbage and beigli (a traditional winter pastry rolls stuffed with poppy seeds or chestnuts filling).

Did you know? Poppy seeds are widely consumed in Central and Eastern Europe. The milled seeds are eaten with pasta, or used as filling or topping on various kinds of sweet pastry.

In countries where eating poppy seed is not common, some people think that it is dangerous and can lead to a positive drug test.

Saint Lucy’s (Luca) chair

According to a legend, on 13 December when winter evenings became longer and the darkness deeper, Saint Lucy turned into a witch.

The carving of the Luca’s Chair is one of Hungary’s most famous holiday folk traditions. The chair is made of nine different types of wood, and it was to be carved by Christmas Eve. The catch: only one carving was permitted per day.

A Hungarian saying that came from this tradition is “Készül, mint a Luca széke” or “It is prepared as slowly as a Luca’s Chair!”

Regölés

Regölés is much like North American caroling. From December 26 until New Year’s Day, singers called ‘regősök’ travel from house to house singing songs of good wishes to their neighbors.

Historically, this was “a custom of singing about the magic of nature, greetings, wishing for abundance, drawing couples together and collecting donations.” These Hungarian carols can still be heard throughout the holiday season.

Mézeskalacs

Mezeskalacs (pronounced may-zesh-koh-lotch) are handmade Hungarian gingerbread cookies decorated with royal icing.

Unlike traditional gingerbread, these cookies are made with honey that gives them a mild flavor and light texture.

The Yummiest Hungarian Christmas Foods

Hungary has some of the best, tastiest foods in the world, and Hungarians love to eat!

#1 Fish Soup

Fish soup is rather time-consuming to prepare and it also requires practice. All Hungarian regions have their own fish soup style. Two of the most well-known are Szegedi and Bajai fish soups.

Hungarian fish soup is made from river fish such as carp or catfish, bass, starlet (but never from sea fish). Several types of fish can be also used in this soup. The other very important ingredient is paprika, of course.

#2 Stuffed Cabbage

The most critical ingredients of the Stuffed Cabbage are the sour cabbage, the smoked products, and pork.

#3 Beigli

The authentic Christmas rolls are made using raised dough and filled with poppy seeds or walnuts.

#4 Zserbó

One of the best-known dessert in Hungary was invented by Emil Gerbaud (hence the name). It has several layers, filled with apricot jam, walnuts and covered with chocolate.

#5 Turkey

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without turkey. A big, meaty, stuffed turkey covered with mouth-watering gravy and a variety of side dishes.

Where to have a nice Christmas Dinner in Budapest?

You must be wondering where could you eat a tasty, traditional Hungarian Christmas dinner and also curious about what you can do after 4:00 in the afternoon when all the shops, Budapest attractions close?

Most places are closed but there are still some restaurants that offer special Christmas and Christmas Eve dinner.

You can have a great Christmas dinner on a ship cruise on the Danube.

You can also book a Christmas dinner at your hotel. Most hotels offer special programs for that night. If your hotel does not, reserve a table in advance!

Some of the best hotels with Christmas dinners are: Kempinski hotel, LeMeridien, Onyx Restaurant.

Recommended restaurants: Gundel restaurant, Araz restaurant, New York Café, Costes Downtown, Corso restaurant, Spoon Café and Lounge.

Good to Know

During December 25 and 26 Hungarians visit their relatives to have a nice time enjoying Christmas meals and desserts.

Christmas itself is a 3 day holiday for most Hungarians.

Shops, grocery stores, businesses, offices are all closed from December 24th from 2:00 pm, and all day on December 25th and 26th.

Even some restaurants and bars shut their blinds for a couple of days, so those that stay open require booking.

Weather around Christmas in Budapest

The temperatures are around zero or below.

Snow in the city is unpredictable during the holiday season and the weather can be rather mild and dull, with some rain, or it’s crispy and sunny with crystal blue sky and freezing temperatures.

Hungarians always long for white Christmas each year.

Read more about winter in Budapest here.

I hope that this post proved that Budapest is well worth visiting during the holiday season. 

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