Unless you have been to Europe in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s very hard to emphasize how magical this time really is. Some cities and towns go from charmingly antique to glittering spectacles overnight. Winding streets are covered with dripping light displays. Trees are covered in twinkling white. The squares fill with vendors selling hot cider and mulled wine. Music fills the air.
It is the most magical thing I have ever experienced.
One of my favorite Christmas Markets is in Budapest, Hungary. The town already oozes grandeur, so adding blocks and blocks of festive lights and smells and shopping outdoors only makes it that much more wonderful. Rusty and I had a fantastic time wandering the rows of holiday vendors, from the artists selling watercolors, to the handmade ornaments, to street foods, hot cocoa, and everything in between. The main Christmas Market in Budapest is easily reached from everywhere in the city; it starts near the Danube and crawls through brightly lit streets lined with retail shops and restaurants. It is a sight to see, and I highly recommend a visit in December it ever you can make it!
Of course, you may want something other than fruit filled pastries and hot, curly potatoes to eat from time to time, so here are our favorite places to eat in Budapest while you are visiting, as well as some of our favorite places to stay and to visit while in town. Make it a true vacation…we are sure it’s one you won’t soon forget!
Where to Eat
In Pest, Ket Szerecsen is just a short stroll further from the river as you make your way through the Christmas Market. This fantastic restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating, and yes, it is plenty warm outdoors thanks to their heaters. The food is served tapas style – small, shareable plates. We tend to choose 3-4 items total, and then stab each other trying to hoard it all for ourselves. The duck breast with whipped potatoes and a blueberry sauce might very well be one of the best things I have ever eaten – even Rusty, a non-duck lover – agrees. It is phenomenal. The best part? This restaurant is very well priced. Our duck was only $10. Yes, really.
Tuning Bar and Burger
I feel odd recommending a burger joint, but trust us, Tuning Bar & Burger may be the burger to end all burgers. Award winning, and SO many incredible flavor options…you’ll have a very hard time choosing. (Mine had baked goose liver, baked apple, and truffle pesto on it!) The prices are perhaps a bit steep by Hungarian standards, but are what you’d expect to pay at any gastropub here in the States – only worlds better. You can opt to share, and you’ll both get full, but my guess is you’ll find too many options and never be able to choose just one. We both had a huge burger, fries, large beer and soda, and in total spent $48. It was one of our most expensive Budapest meals, but worth every penny, so we have no problem recommending this place! Again, you can find this restaurant in Pest, near Fogas/Instant, one of the most famous Ruin Bars, and not far from the Markets.
Where to Stay
Rusty and I are huge fans of Airbnb, but if you are looking for a hotel instead, there is no shortage of great options in Budapest. (Of course, message us if you’d like the info on our favorite Airbnb!) We’ve not stayed at Buddha Bar Hotel, the Sofitel Chain Bridge, or the InterContinental, but we have seen each of them, loved the locations, and can vouch that their rates of $100-$130 should be well worth it for each.
The Four Seasons Gresham Palace
It goes without saying that a Four Seasons will make the top of the hotel list just about every time. This Four Seasons is no exception; it is grand and lavish and everything you would hope for. It is also graced with the most incredible location in the city – right on the Danube and EXACTLY beside the Christmas Markets. Will it cost you? Yes, it will. Expect to pay around $400 per night during December.
The New York Palace Budapest
This beautiful hotel only recently changed hands and became part of the Autograph Collection, but is still as stunning as ever. The rooms don’t exactly match the lobby – which is old world and grandiose, with a soaring ceiling and full of awe inspiring views – instead, the rooms are very contemporary. Comfortable? Yes, very, and, if you can swing a deal to get breakfast included in the rate? DO IT. The Café is one of the best known in the city, and once you see the frescoed ceiling, you’ll know why. The breakfast itself is robust and hearty, and was the highlight of our stay. Plus, you can typically expect the rate to be $100-$150 per night, a much more palatable expense when compared to the Four Seasons. It’s a bit of a walk to the Markets, but really not terrible. We made the trek daily with no issues.
Things to See & Do
Budapest is known for its thermal baths, and they are wildly popular. On our first visit, we neglected to experience one, but, on our last trip, we made our way to one of the most loved – Szechenyi. Housed in a monsterous palace, with endless rooms of different pools at different temperatures, we were happy to have finally given it a try. To be honest, it was a little crowded for our liking, as neither of us are fans of large groups of people, but we are glad to have gone. It is quite relaxing, and a neat experience, and should be on your list of interesting things to do.
Fisherman’s Bastion and St. Matthias Church
On the Buda side of town, across the Chain Bridge, and WAY up the hill. It’s worth the hike, or, you can opt to take the funicular. Beautiful views of the Danube and Pest, and the architecture is stunning.
Again, in Buda, across the bridge and up the hill. If I had to choose the castle versus the church…I’d have to pick the church, every time. It’s just so beautiful.
Shoes on the Danube
A sad and humbling reminder that the world isn’t always good…this monument is simply cast bronze shoes to represent the scores of Jews shot into the Danube during the war in 1944-45. It’s right near the Parliament Building, and well worth the short walk to visit.
Just to view this incredible building from the outside is enough…its perch on the edge of the river is stunning. To see it lit up at night is one of the lovliest views in Budapest.
The Chain Bridge
Whether you cross it on foot or see it from a boat in the river, this famous bridge is a photographer’s delight.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
A gorgeous cathedral on the Pest side, and a fixture of the Christmas Markets. Expect to see a light show on its façade in the evenings, and follow the light filled streets to experience even more Christmas magic. If you are feeling ambitious, you can climb to the top for views of the city during the day, just be prepared to wait in line.
Danube Dinner Cruise
We booked a wonderful dinner cruise on TripAdvisor, and spent 2 hours enjoying a really nice meal, wine, and amazing views of the city from the river. I highly recommend you doing the same!
If you have ANY question for us about Budapest, or Europe, or the Christmas Markets, please, let us know! We would love to help you out!