In the darkest month of the year what could be better than enjoying some mulled wine under the sparkling Christmas lights? Budapest offers some of the best Christmas markets in Europe, an absolute must if the December festivities are your favorite.
Budapest Christmas markets are great if you are looking for unique, locally made gifts, and also if you want to eat and drink some Hungarian specialties. Here are our best Christmas markets in Budapest according to a life long Budapest local.
Best Budapest Christmas Markets
The Biggest Christmas Market in Budapest: Vörösmarty Square
The biggest and longest Budapest Christmas market takes place on Vörösmarty square in the heart of the city. It starts already in early November and lasts until the 1st of January. Besides the countless food stalls and craft vendors, you can enjoy free concerts by various Hungarian bands every day. Budapest takes pride in the selection of craftwork and luckily the things for sale are authentic pieces by local artists – some traditional things, and even more contemporary design.
Our insider warm-up tip: Get a piece of cake at the gorgeous looking Szamos pastry shop (1 Váci street). Our favorite is the coffee-caramel flavored torte.
- 1051 Budapest, Vörösmarty square
- 8 November 2019 – 1 January 2020
Related Article: Top Things to do in Budapest
The Cosiest Christmas Market in Budapest: St. Stephen’s Basilica Market
Despite its smaller size, many visitors vote for the Christmas market in front of the St Stephen’s Basilica as their favorite one. The small ice skating rink and the gorgeous Christmas tree in the middle of the square offer excellent photo ops with the magnificent church in the background.
What else makes this location special? The custom-designed light screening show displayed on the facade of St Stephen’s. In recent years there are two kinds of shows, both once every hour: a “traditional” one, and a 3D one for which you can buy your 3D glasses at any vendor of the market.
The “Advent Bazilika” starts around the last week of November and you can enjoy it until the 1st of January.
Our insider warm-up tip: Enjoy one of the amazing square-shaped donuts at The Box Donut Shop on the corner of Zrínyi and Sas street.
- 1051 Budapest, Szent István square
- 22 November 2019 – 1 January 2020 (not confirmed yet)
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Budapest Christmas Market Where the Locals Go: Óbuda
Óbuda (‘Old Buda’) is in the north of the Buda side and has a charming old town with a beautiful town hall. In front of it, there is a Christmas market every year with a larger ice skating rink, a romantic looking carrousel and lots of free concerts.
In 2018, the Christmas tree of Óbuda was made by the artists of the Hellowood group, and the wood used to create it was donated to families in need who used it for heating.
The Óbuda Christmas market starts four weeks before Christmas and ends on the 23rd of December.
To experience this less touristy atmosphere we recommend you to hop on the H5 local train at Batthyány tér and get off at Szentlélek tér. Once you’re there we also recommend you to visit some Roman sights like the Aquincum Museum – you will be surprised to learn how important this location was for the Roman Empire!
Our insider warm-up tip: Enjoy a specialty coffee at Esernyős (2 Fő square).
- 1033 Budapest, Fő square
- 30 November 2019 – 23 December 2019 (not confirmed yet)
Related Article: Guide to Budapest’s Jewish Quarter
Best Christmas Market Outside of Budapest: Szentendre, Hungary
Just half an hour from the center of Budapest you get to Szentendre, a picturesque little town with cobblestone streets and colorful old houses. It’s a perfect day trip from Budapest if you’d like to see something outside the big city! Their Advent Market starts usually four weeks before Christmas and lasts until the first weekend in January.
They invite lots of local artists and producers from the area, and the nativity scene on the main square is the center of attention. Szentendre is also known as the art capital of Hungary, so you can always step into a gallery to warm up and enjoy the exhibitions.
To get from Budapest to Szentendre just take the H5 local train with destination Szentendre, the old town is just a few steps away from the train station, or you can even book a half-day tour with a comfortable minivan through Budapest 101 here.
- 2000 Szentendre, Fő square and Dumtsa János street
- 30 November 2019 – 5 January 2020 (not confirmed yet)
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What to Eat at Budapest Christmas Markets?
Meat lovers will be in heaven when visiting the Hungarian Christmas markets, but vegetarians can also find some options, so no worries.
The first thing that everybody knows about Hungarian cuisine is Goulash – or Gulyás, as locals spell it. Whether it’s a soup or a stew, it’s made of beef and paprika, and it’s the perfect dish to warm up on a cold day. You can find similar paprika-based dishes made of other kinds of meat as well: Chicken Paprikash is also a must, preferably with some freshly made dumplings called Nokedli.
Sausage fans will also not be disappointed. There are three main kinds of traditional sausages in Hungary: the delicious ‘Kolbász’ seasoned – of course – with lots of paprika, and the two kinds of ‘Hurka’: pork liver and pork blood. Don’t be afraid of trying any of them, the Hurkas are soft and often creamy thanks to the rice in them. Dip the sausage in mustard or horseradish, and make sure to eat a huge slice of white bread with it!
Stuffed cabbage (‘töltött káposzta’) is also on every Hungarian’s table at Christmas. Made of sauerkraut with paprika, minced meat and rice it is rich in flavor and great for your tummy, like all fermented foods. Would you like sour cream with it? The answer is always yes! Unless you can’t eat dairy, that is. Hungarians put sour cream (‘tejföl’) on almost everything, it would deserve the fame of paprika really. Stuffed cabbage is also a staple item on wedding parties served at midnight as the second dinner.
You will also see the famous ‘lángos’ at these markets, a typical fried flatbread, but in our experience, they often prepare them in advance. Make sure to get a really fresh piece, and don’t get tempted by all the toppings: locals would eat it with just garlic, sour cream, and cheese – pick your combination.
Of course, there is no Christmas market without sweet treats. The most classic thing you can get in Hungary is the chimney cake (‘kürtőskalács’), a hollow pastry baked over charcoal, caramelized on the outside, often rolled in cinnamon, walnut, or almond. You can often find it in other countries as well, but the authentic kürtőskalács comes from Transylvania. Needless to say, don’t ruin it with Nutella, ice cream, coconut, or any of the crazy new flavors. This is something that doesn’t need any improvement!
Flódni, a wonderful Hungarian Jewish cake is also sold at some of the markets. Look for the best at the stall of “Rachel’s Flódni” in front of the Basilica! It unites four classic ingredients in a heavenly combination: walnut, poppyseed, apple, and plum jam. If winter holidays have a flavor, well, this is it in Hungary.
What to drink at Budapest Christmas Markets?
The staple drink of winter in Budapest is the mulled wine with soul-warming spices. Typically it’s made of red wine, but you can find the white version of it as well. Be careful and try to get the kind made of higher quality wine. Our pick is the Divino stand in front of the Basilica – the wine bar nearby with the same name wouldn’t risk hurting their reputation!
When it is really cold you might feel like sending down something even stronger. There are two kinds of Hungarian shots. For those who don’t mind the bitter herbal taste, we recommend the Zwack Unicum made of more than 40 kinds of herbs, made since 1790. There’s a lighter version of it made with plums, the Unicum Szilva if you like sweeter notes.
The other classic drink is pálinka, a strong fruit brandy that can be made from any fruit that grows in Hungary. Typically around 40-50% of alcohol, sometimes even more, and many families make their own. If you are lucky enough to visit a Hungarian family in the countryside, they will most likely offer their homemade pálinka for you, and it’s a really impolite thing to refuse it.
Related Article: Budapest Nightlife & Ruinbar Guide
What to buy the Christmas Markets in Budapest?
You will find plenty of modern designers and artists at the fairs, and they offer a huge range of products. They are full of creative energy and you will definitely find something of your liking that will remind you of your Budapest trip for many years. We recommend you to support them instead of buying the cliché China-made souvenirs.
But let’s talk about the more classic products!
Something very traditional is the gingerbread, or as Hungarians actually call it, honey bread (‘mézeskalács’). Decorating it with fine lines of sugar glaze is an art form in itself. It is often sold by honey vendors as it is made with lots of the liquid gold. Honey itself is a good gift idea: Hungary is one of the best producers in the world. You can also find wax candles that smell amazing when burnt.
Wooden tools and toys are also common at Hungarian fairs, there is a long tradition of wood carving, especially in Transylvania. The Vörösmarty square usually features a smith’s workshop as well where you can see how iron objects are made in an authentic way.
Pottery is impossible to miss when in Hungary. While you can buy the fancy porcelain products by Zsolnay and Herend in dedicated stores, the markets offer a wonderful range of – much more affordable – pottery pieces. There are all styles and kinds, something for every household.
Hungarian Christmas traditions
You will be surprised to see that Santa Claus is not so present in Hungary around Christmas. The reason is that he has his own day, the 6th of December. According to local tradition, he brings little presents to the Hungarian kids during the previous night, he leaves a red bag full of candy, chocolate, nuts, and fruits in the shoes that kids leave in the window. Of course, the kids must clean it before! Probably the only time when it’s finally not the parents’ job. Kids that couldn’t behave this year also get a type of golden or silver colored wand in their pack – in fact, most kids get one anyway.
In Hungary the 24th of December is the most important day when the close family members get together, they decorate the Christmas tree, give each other presents and eat. A lot. So who brings the presents on this day if not Santa? Baby Jesus. To be honest, he’s never pictured bringing the gifts, we are not sure how he travels.
Because of this, the 24th is the quietest day in the Budapest, public transportation switches to night mode in the afternoon, most businesses and restaurants are closed, and very few locals go out at night. It is a good idea to reserve a table in time if you spend these days in Budapest, but if you stay hungry you can always grab something at the fairs.
One more thing that you must at least see while in Budapest in winter: the huge open-air ice skating rink on the Városligeti lake in the City Park. Surrounded by gorgeous architecture it’s the most romantic place in the colder months! It was popular already in the 19th century, and it’s just so much fun to imagine the ladies back then in their long, elegant skirts skating around the lake! It provided an excellent opportunity to meet the future husband as well. The rink is open usually from November until February, and you can rent skates there.
To finish the perfect winter day in Budapest there’s nothing better than walking over to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths and sit in the steamy outdoor thermal pool. If you are lucky enough you can catch the older gentlemen playing chess in the water!
Related: Best Traditional Budapest Baths
Budapest Holiday and Christmas Market Tours
If you would like to learn more about the winter holidays in Hungary, the Christmas markets and the city itself, don’t hesitate to book a private tour with Budapest 101. They offer a special Christmas themed tour as well, with lots of tastings!
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