Budapest in winter!
Budapest offers its visitors countless experiences and attractions in all seasons, but one of the most special and magical times of the year is when the city prepares for Christmas. During this period, there is a plethora of opportunities to have a good time in addition to the ones offered by the attraction of the colorful fairs.
You should not miss visiting at least one of the thermal, medicinal spas or amusement spas. You can choose the soothing and refreshing power of the springs that boast the historic surroundings of Turkish times or those with a modern interior, but the more multifarious wellness features, sauna worlds and salt rooms can also help you relax and unwind.
Immerse yourself in the sights, attractions and unique atmosphere of Budapest!
If you fancy a stroll, let’s wander the streets and squares of Budapest – a mug of mulled wine or a freshly baked horn cake will warm you up even in the coldest weather. It is an unforgettable experience to skate together on the Skating rink in Városliget, next to Vajdahunyad Castle, which very much resembles an enchanted castle in winter. The Buda hills are also at their most beautiful in winter, especially under a blanket of snow. The Children’s Railway, winding through the woods, sometimes heated by iron stoves, takes us all the way to the Elizabeth Lookout Tower on the peak of János Hill, with its magnificent panorama.
The permanent and temporary exhibitions of Budapest’s iconic museums also offer great winter activities. The Museum of Fine Arts has one of the most prestigious Spanish collections in Europe, with magnificent works by Velázquez, El Greco, Goya and Murillo, while the Ludwig Museum has some of the finest 20th century art on display – Picasso, Warhol, Joseph Beuys. It’s also worth visiting the churches of Budapest, where there are numerous festive concerts during the Advent season. Hearing an organ or choir piece in St Stephen’s Basilica or Matthias Church is unforgettable and will further enhance the festive atmosphere.
Chimney cake - a delicious Hungarian speciality
One of the most popular treats at Christmas markets is the chimney cake. Walking around Budapest in winter, you can smell the unmistakable aroma of the cake baking over the coals, and it is not worth resisting the temptation, as sooner or later we all give in.
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ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS IN BUDAPEST
Budapest offers a wide range of activities for both Hungarian and foreign tourists during the Advent and Christmas period. In addition to discovering the city, the latter can also learn about Hungarian festive traditions by visiting the capital.
Budapest at Christmas / in December
December is a very special time in Budapest. It invites you to travel. The Christmas lights dress the Hungarian capital in festive attire, hot tea and mulled wine warm our hands and souls as we walk through the city’s magnificent buildings with more and more experiences awaiting us.
It is true that in December, we often see sub-zero temperatures, but if we are prepared for the bitter cold, we cannot be caught off guard. In fact, it is the perfect time to enjoy a delicious goulash soup or a steaming chimney cake, or for the more adventurous, a shot of pálinka (fruit brandy) to warm you up. The most popular events of the Advent period are the Christmas markets, where, in addition to exciting programmes, tradition preserving demonstrations and of course tasting traditional Hungarian food, you can also buy Christmas gifts.
Once you have had your fill of market stalls, Budapest has plenty of other attractions to offer December travellers. There are world-class museums to visit, relaxing thermal baths to indulge in, and hundreds of cultural events to choose from, from jazz concerts to opera and special theatre performances. If you would rather soak up the winter city atmosphere, you can simply stroll through the cobbled streets of the historic Castle District or wander through the heart of the Old Town, where you are sure to stumble on an exciting adventure, a charming tea shop, a contemporary design store or a unique gallery on a random corner. When you are hungry, it is worth returning to the bustle of the Christmas markets, where you can find the best dishes, not to mention the special Christmas dishes that vary from week to week, all tied to Hungarian traditions.
Arrival of St. Nicholas
At the beginning of December, every child in Hungary is waiting for St. Nicholas. The big bearded gift-giver can be spotted all over the city on this day, not arriving on his reindeer-drawn sleigh but happy to take photos and chat to the children waiting for him in the market crowds. It is a long journey from the Arctic Circle to Hungary, but that does not deter St. Nicholas from returning year after year to visit Hungarian children. Although the timing may seem odd to some, Hungarian tradition has it that St. Nicholas arrives on 6 December, St. Nicholas Day, when he gives good children sweets and punishes bad ones with a ‘virgács’ (willow switch).
St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children and students, and is therefore considered to be the forerunner and the model for the bishop’s mitre wearing gift-giving St. Nicholas, inspired by popular beliefs. As it happens, Christian customs have over the centuries been mixed with the celebrations of earlier religions, so it is highly likely, for example, that the Viking tradition of giving gifts to each other at the winter solstice and the fact that Odin rode through the night sky in a chariot laden with gifts inspired the creation of the figure of St. Nicholas.
According to modern Hungarian folklore, on the night of 5 December, St. Nicholas visits children, and if they have been well-behaved over the past year, puts a small gift of sweets in their cleaned boots placed in the window. Although the old tradition says that St. Nicholas lives in heaven and is assisted by angels and krampii, it is now increasingly believed that the real St. Nicolas lives in Lapland with his reindeer.
Traditional Christmas food
For a taste of traditional Hungarian cuisine, you cannot find a better place than the Christmas markets. If you are just looking for a quick bite to eat while sightseeing, bratwursts or tasty liverwurst are excellent choices. Together with a big slice of bread with a crispy crust, it makes a hearty lunch and gives you enough energy to wander around the market. Just like a bowl of hot goulash soup or stew. A unique characteristic of the market is that it also features traditional dishes associated with the Advent season, with a different festive dish taking centre stage each week.
At the beginning of November, the main focus is on the goose specialities of St. Martin’s Day, followed by game dishes, while as Christmas approaches, fish dishes, stuffed cabbage and Hanukkah specialities are the main focus, followed by roast pig just before New Year’s Eve.
Alongside these, of course, Christmas desserts are also well represented. It is worth tasting, for example, the poppy seed-filled cakes typical of Central European gastronomy, such as the poppy seed beigli, an indispensable part of Hungarian Christmases, or the Hanukkah flódni cake.
Although the most characteristic dishes of Hungarian cuisine are usually meat dishes, vegetarians need not worry either, with the show kitchens also serving grilled vegetables, mushroom dishes and meat-free flat breads. The delicious food is accompanied by excellent wines from the Hungarian wine regions.
Creative gifts for everyone
There are many festive markets in Budapest over the Advent and Christmas period, offering not only great entertainment and activities, but also great places to buy gifts. Whether you are looking for a small souvenir for your loved ones or planning a big Christmas shopping spree, you can be sure to find the perfect gift for everyone as you browse the markets.
Ceramics and glassware, wood crafts, leather bags, furs, handmade knives, precious metal and porcelain jewellery, folk instruments, children’s toys, ornaments, clothes and home furnishings are all on display throughout the city.
Until 2021, the Budapest Advent and Christmas Market at Vörösmarty Square was organised by the capital city to welcome visitors during the festive season. A festive bazaar of selected, high quality handicraft products, the wide range of food featuring unique traditional Hungarian gastronomy, the unmistakable scent of chimney cakes and mulled wine, the stage programmes that lift the Advent atmosphere, the Advent candle-lighting and the Christmas tree set up at the market all contributed to giving an unforgettable experience to those who chose the capital’s most popular Christmas event as their destination.