Christmas is my favourite time of year. I’m that irritatingly festive person who puts up their tree in October, much to the displeasure of everyone else. For me, there is no better weekend than one spent in a foreign city surrounded by wooden market stalls, carol singers, and delicious food – for these reasons, Budapest should definitely be on your city break wish list, especially during December.
The capital of Hungary is popular for many reasons but perhaps one of the biggest draws to Budapest is the transformation it undergoes at Christmas. During December, the entire city is saturated in fairy lights, wooden stalls spring up everywhere, the temperature plummets (but with that comes the exciting prospect of snow) and the lake outside Vajdahunyad Castle is frozen over so that locals and tourists can ice skate.
We stayed in Budapest for two nights and found this was a good amount of time to see what we wanted in the city (though as with everywhere, you never manage to cover it all). Budapest public transport consists of an underground metro, overground trams and hop-on-hop-off tour buses. We used them all and would make two suggestions: (1) wait to book any tour bus day passes until you see a representative of Big Bus Tours – they can often offer a big discount off the online prices and (2) buying a ticket for the tram is not enough – you need to validate it before getting on. The city can fine you if you haven’t validated your ticket.
During the first day, we sat on the tour bus for the entire loop so we could check out where to stop next and what we’d be happy to see from the warm bus. Each person will have different opinions on what to see or do, but my top five are:
- Liberty Statue – the tour bus will take you all the way up to the top of the hill and the view from there is amazing;
- Buda Castle;
- St Stephen’s Basilica – this is the central ‘hub’ of the Christmas markets and at night, there was an illuminations display a la Disney – it was really magical to sit with a bowl of goulash watching the show;
- Hősök tere; and
- Hungarian Parliament Building – we actually saw this from the river during a dinner cruise. If you’re visiting Budapest with a partner, a dinner cruise is a must, and only cost £50 each for three courses!
The one thing we didn’t do which everyone raves about are the open air baths – I’d been with my boyfriend only a few months and foolishly wasn’t ready to get my swimming costume out! Looking back, I was crazy to miss out on the opportunity to visit them but it’s definitely something I will do when I return.
If you’re stuck on a destination for Christmas markets in Europe that won’t cost an arm and a leg (you can get flights to Budapest out of most UK airports for under £50pp), please consider this magical city. It’s so cool at Christmas and definitely somewhere I’ll be visiting again!