Catching the Christmas vibe in Budapest

By Mihai Damascan

Not only are families and churches getting ready for the day of Jesus’ birth, but also our environment – the towns and even the Hungarian capital. Christmas, the most important winter holiday, can be celebrated at the Advent markets for which Budapest has prepared for this season pretty well. We are in the middle of the season and the markets are ready to serve all visitors from around the world. The mulled wine is ready, the hot goulash soups served in Hungarian loaf ‘cipó’, the duck with red cabbage and the sweet chimney cake is ready to have the guests to taste them. But the question remains where to go around the city in the last weeks before Christmas.

The city center offers a lovely atmosphere with its apartment buildings around for the holiday markets. The main attraction for several years was the Vörösmaty tér market, until the one next to the Basilica was decorated in snow flakes and holiday videos projected on the walls of the beautiful central building. Since many wine shops are originally in the district, the mulled wine specialists could easily fit in the Basilica market. However, I would emphasize that this market is not famous for its mulled wine or ‘puntsch’ (non-alcoholic drink apple-lemon juice, cinnamon, honey and clove). The ‘Unicum’ brand’s stand is the one must be visited by all the people wanting to get into the holiday spirit. All their drinks are prepared by using the famous Hungarian spirit of ‘Unicum’. Their specialty is the hot drink added with ‘Unicum’ spirit which was aged on a prune bed in the barrel. Other than that, the amount of hot food served around the ice-skating rink, is never ending. The fresh goulash soups, Transylvanian cabbage, and sausages of all kind- but each containing Hungarian paprika- can be found in the market.

The Vörösmarty tér used to be the main point of Christmas for the visitors of the capital and has become quite a tourist attraction. It is located around the shopping streets of Váci utca and Bécsi utca. For sure, after a long shopping day tourists want to sit down, have a nice drink, eat proper food including something sweet- that is fair enough. After tasting all the mulled wines around the city and its markets, the most delicious can be found at this market, on the Bécsi utca side of the square, on the podium. Though it is the most crowded market in the city, be sure you get your mug of mulled wine.

When walking through the Andrássy út, after the Oktogon on the right side the Jókai tér has opened its small, but really cozy market where the Hungarian folklore is in the focus collaborating with the Christmas vibes. Because of its really friendly and less crowded atmosphere, I would recommend to visit when taking a walk around that area.

Not much further, the Opera has opened up a more interesting market for the people. Actually, I would not call it a market, as the Opera and the Erkel Theater are organizing the stands for more active purposes. Each Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for fund-raising purposes some actors and a choir sings and performs for the audience who visits the market. They are not just making our Christmas better, but also for those children who are going through hard times and cannot celebrate it as they wish. By visiting the market and seeing the performance we also make their lives better. At the entrance of the Opera anyone can donate.

The Hősök tere also became a place to visit not only for the statues standing around, and the two museums facing each other at the square, but for the ice-skating lovers. By walking closer to the Városliget Park, the ice court has opened up its gates for the public. The parties are going on mainly in the last days of the weekend until 9 pm provided by the local radios. It is an experience once everyone should go through. Mulled wine is served within the territory and some sweet bites as well. No worries if do not have your ice-skating boots, you can rent some.

On the other side of the Danube, the Várkert Bazár is open for the public only on the Advent Sundays. There are four great candles emerging in the central point of the market set up around it.  Each Sunday – nearing Christmas – one new candle is lit up, while the visitors are having their mulled wines, eating their perfectly served either salty or sweet munchies. The sight from the Várkert Bazár of the Pest side and the Lánchid (Chain Bridge) is also part of the experience, mainly in the evening.

I would definitely recommend visiting all the listed Christmas markets, whether that day is related to shopping at Vörösmarty, being a tourist at the Bazilika, taking a walk on the Andrássy út – Opera, Jókai tér, or just being ‘sporty’ and ice-skating a bit at the Hősök tere – Városliget Park. All these are already open since 24 November, and will close on Christmas Eve. Make sure anyways to put on something warm before stepping out in the cold winter. Enjoy your holidays and wishing you all a safe trip back home! Do not forget to surprise your relatives with the best gifts from Budapest, but only after visiting the Christmas markets.

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