Hungary for Christmas

If you have been chasing the perfect winter wonderland travel experience, head to Budapest, suggests Rijutha Jaganathan
Last Updated 23 December 2019, 20:00 IST

Budapest is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and just one glance of the city is enough to convince you of that. The capital city of Hungary is not one but three cities joined together and the River Danube runs through the middle with Buda and Obuda on the west bank and Pest on the east bank. The city is referred to as the heart of Europe, Queen of the Danube, Pearl of the Danube, Capital of Freedom,
Capital of Spas and Thermal Baths, Capital of Festivals and none of those titles are an exaggeration. The heart of Budapest (Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and here are five reasons why you should consider spending your Christmas holidays there.

Christmas markets

Christmas markets spring up across cities and towns in Europe and are a treat to the senses. From local handicrafts to local delicacies, Christmas markets are a must-visit. Budapest’s largest Christmas market is at Vörösmarty tér and there is usually live music or dance in the evenings. Spend the day exploring the city but after sunset head to the Christmas markets.

The food stalls are usually where I head to first. I tried a Hungarian favourite, lángos which is a deep-fried bread (similar to the Indian bhatura but thicker) topped generously with sour cream and grated cheese. Make sure you wash it all down with mugs of hot spicy mulled wine. There’s a smaller Christmas market in front of St Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István Király Bazilika).

The Basilica is the tallest building in Budapest (along with the Hungarian Parliament Building) and was completed in 1905 in the neo-classical style. The lights of the Basilica give the Christmas market a charming look. The stalls were brimming with unique hand-made objects — ceramics, jewellery, cards and dried flowers.

Here, try another Hungarian favourite, the chimney cake (kurtoskalacs) which is a dough rolled around a cylindrical baking spit and cooked on charcoal. Once cooked, you can choose between a variety of fillings but I went for the classic one which is just rolled in sugar.

Largest open air ice skating rink
Largest open air ice skating rink

Ice skating

The fairy tale like Vajdahunyad Castle was built in the late 19th century as part of the Millennial Exhibition which celebrated 1,000 years of Hungary since the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895. The castle is a mix of several landmark buildings from different parts of Hungary, notably the Hunyad Castle (more famous as Dracula’s Castle) in Transylvania. During Christmas, it provides the backdrop for Europe’s largest open-air ice-skating rink. Don’t miss the chance to skate in this enchanting atmosphere and get some great photos.

Parliament & National
Christmas tree

The Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház) is probably the most recognised parliament building in Europe. The building was designed by Hungarian architect Imre Steindl in neo-Gothic style, and opened in 1902. It is the largest building in Hungary. Although the best views of the Parliament are from the other side of the Danube, do walk by the building to see the national Christmas tree of Hungary. Alternately, you can also take a Christmas tram decked in white — and blue-coloured LED lights which passes by the Parliament.

Soak in the thermal baths

Budapest is a city of spas as it sits on a patchwork of hot springs that spout mineral-rich waters into numerous thermal baths, many of them dating back centuries.

The best-known and most popular are Széchenyi Baths in City Park and Gellért Baths up by Gellért Hill. Széchenyi is the biggest spa complex in Europe with 21 pools.

The pleasure of relaxing in a hot bath when the air temperature is below 0 is indescribable. After a long morning walking around Budapest in the cold, you won’t think twice about soaking in a 60 degree natural bath.

View of Budapest from Gellert Hill
View of Budapest from Gellert Hill

The promise of a white Christmas

In Budapest there is a promise of a white Christmas as temperatures usually dip below zero in December. A city more beautiful than Budapest is Budapest lit up with Christmas lights. So even if you don’t get some snow, walk along the Danube and enjoy the Christmas lights.

And don’t forget to wish the locals Merry Christmas in Hungarian — Boldog Karácsonyt!

(Published 23 December 2019, 19:58 IST)

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