The Ideal Winter Escape

When looking for the perfect place to sink in a “Christmas”atmosphere I realised that we have thousands of options to choose from in Europe: Strasbourg, London, Sud-Tirol and many others but in the end I decided to listen to the Budapest call since I have never set foot in Hungary before December 2019, it a cheap destination for the cost of life and accommodations even when bought last minute and I have heard nothing but good on this Central European country!

Budapest is definitely a special place during Christmas time and you are spoilt with choice concerning Christmas traditional markets where local vendors sell handmade wooden carved souvenirs and boxes, kilos of hot or sweet paprika (the local pride) used to make thin sausages . Budapest really tries to keep Christmas authentic and charming carrying on ancient artisan traditions such as glass blowing, knitting, lace work, wood carving, candle making, pottery, leather trade and refinement and much more.

Don’t miss the opportunity to try out Christmas local specialities such as the homemade sour-cherry-and-chocolate or apple Strudels served at the markets food stall perfectly matching with the thick dark hot chocolate or the “Kurtokscalasz“, the chimney cakes made of oven cooked bread topped with cinnamon, chocolate and many other variants, a Christmas sweet treat popular in Central and East Europe. If you are turning into a block of ice while you try to explore the markets, make a stop and by the ultimate Hungarian dish and symbol of the country: Goulash. This reddish soup with medieval origins contains carrots, onions, tomatoes, potatoes and beef meat which are simmered for hours to get tender. The tons of paprika will warm you up and give you the energy to carry on your wanders.

Let’s see together the Christmas markets worth freezing for:

1. Vörösmarty Square Market

Let’s start with the oldest and most popular market of the city: the Vörösmarty Square market is in the heart of the city and stars a huge pine tree decorated with Christmas lights and illuminating the food stalls and artisan markets all around. In the middle of the square you will find huge benches where people sit to eat and drink together, enjoy the music and the “camaraderie” of eating at someone’s table and start chatting with other tourists.

This market can be very busy during the evening being the number one on everyone market list but it is still a must-see due to the wooden stalls where artisans will be happy to tell you their story and the passion for their profession working right in front of you, or grab something to eat and indulge in some hot goulash , stuffed cabbage, roasted meat and sausages and end with some heart warming dessert or mulled spiced wine. The atmosphere is truly magical: folk local music or Christmas songs play in the evening and the whole market shines under the Christmas lights.

Don’t forget to support local trade buying some homemade Christmas gifts such as ceramics, scarves, candies, musical instruments, hand-made jewellery, wooden carved biscuits moulds or local wooden clothes.

Once you are done with this market, head toward the St; Stephen’s Basilica and explore the market of Erzsébet Square  near the panoramic lightened wheel.

2. Erzsébet Square Market

We should probably call it the market of Hungarian gastronomy and remember to come here at dinner time to enjoy what the local cuisine has best to offer at Christmas time. First of all, I wasn’t aware that so many kind of mulled wine existed: orange, cherry, lavender, cinnamon and so on and so forth. If the freezing cold wind and the negative temperatures are discouraging you to carry on, here is the perfect occasion to try out a local liqueur, the Mezeskalacs Likor poured in all sorts of hot drinks. Kids will have to content with lush dense hot chocolate with or without syrups and whipped cream, or eat the typical Christmas chocolates, the szaloncukor , or the huge chimney cakes and many more.

3. St. Stephen’s Basilica Christmas Market

Probably my favourite market due to the imposing presence of the Basilica right behind illuminating the whole square and featuring a spectacular light show projected every 30 minutes over the church during the evening. A 200 square meter ice rink will be the joy of children and grown ups who can skate around admiring the crossed shaped wooden markets and anticipating all the treats following. This market is famous for making the best cheese fried burger of the area, BBQ, grilled meat and sausages but also one of the best spots to try the Hungarian Palinka liqueur, a true bomb much needed to endure the cold. The square hosts folk Hungarian dances and Christmas chores making it a perfect place for families and local dishes tasting.

4. Vajdahunyad Castle Christmas Market

This market located in around the picturesque castle in the City Park is one the best ones for the huge Ice Rink Palace, the largest outdoor rink of Europe, where locals and tourist come from all parts of the city to spend time with family and friends admiring the Gothic imposing castle in the background and soak in this romantic winter atmosphere. Looking for warming up without alcohol? At walking distance you will find the iconic spa the Szechenyi Bath. As if these two landmarks were not enough to come here and visit this area, the park is dotted with Hungarian food trucks, atmospheric Christmas lights on the trees: so wear multiple layers, grab a cinnamon milled wine or a palinka and watch people skating freely or visit the Guard Tower at the entry of the castle for some panoramic view or simply take a walk among the city park and admire the festive decorations and lights of the Vajdahunyad Castle.

One of the few restaurants where I felt the table service was done with pleasure and where the waiter took the time to explain us the different dishes and advise us: Belvarosi Lucas Restaurant is a typical Hungarian restaurant offering a wide choice of local fresh dishes and lush desserts at a honest price. The restaurant is cosy, it has a rustic decoration and a familiar atmosphere; I recommend it for dinner also due to its central position at the back of St. Stephen’s Basilica.