Have you noticed how each and every city becomes a completely new one during the festive season? All the lights, decorations and smells … as if they are preparing for their first ball. Budapest is no exception. It has already dressed up in its luminous dress and looking for some joyful company to take her out … Are you in?
While I was living abroad I was always looking forward to coming back home for Christmas. You can say it is all because of sentimental reasons, and you might be partially right. However, recently Lonely Planet has said the same thing, ranking Budapest as number one on their list of The world’s hottest cool places. But where to start the winter enjoyment once you arrive?
Setting in the mood
Wandering around the little wooden houses of a Christmas market, drinking mulled wine and listening to live music is one of my favourite ways of swinging into the Xmas mood. I enjoy having a look around the hand made crafts. Sometimes I find presents, other times just ideas and of course there is always an item which makes it to my Xmas wish list – then if I was good enough at sending subliminal messages to my H2B I might see it under our Xmas tree. When it comes to choose where to go: For a big selection of stalls stick to Vörösmarty Square. To enjoy a fairytale setting head towards Városliget and the Vajdahunyad Castle area. If you prefer smaller, less touristic but more cozy and family atmosphere visit the Főtér in Óbuda.
Sightseeing with extra
With the festive season wrapping around wherever you go in the city you will find a pinch more elegance. Stroll along the luminous Andrássy Avenue, enjoy window shopping of the A-list brands and pop in to Opera House to check out its beautiful interior, designed by Miklós Ybl. Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is dedicated to Hungary's first king, and linger around its huge square filled up with Christmas stalls offering loads of goodies. Hop on bus nr. 16 and go up to the Castle district. Once you you checked out the view from the Fishermen’s Bastion and you are up to see some art, head to the National Gallery.
Get into the tune
December is showered with an ample selection of concerts, theater plays, and dance performances. Although most people get their tickets well before Christmas you can always try your luck on the day of the show, since there might be cancellations. The Nut cracker is an all time favorite on the repertoire of the Hungarian Opera House. The National Dance Theater and the Ram Colosseum offer various dance performances, while at the MÜPA you find a great selection of classical and world music concerts. If you want to check out The world's greatest bar (according to a poll done by Lonely Planet) make your way to A38.
Walk in the snow
One of the most magical thing about winter is the dance of the snowflakes and places where you can experience nature all covered in white. So once the snow arrives make sure you have at least one of these walks: Check out one of the landmarks of Budapest under the white blanket and climb up to the Citadel where you will enjoy a magnificent view. Do you prefer staying close to the center? Opt for Margaret Island. With a bit of luck and freezing cold weather you will have a close up look of boards of ice swimming idly in the river Danube. For those who do not mind going for the extra mile Normafa is the place to visit – being easily accessed by public transport, yet far enough to feel that you left the city completely behind you. Warm boots and a flask of hot tea are a must. Sleights are optional, but very recommended if you want to have some extra fun! While on the spot do not miss out on the freshly baked rétes (strudel). Just follow your nose and the crowd to find where to buy them!
Time for warming up
The best technique to keep the cold out, if you schedule a spot for a hot drink regularly. Since Budapest is the city of coffee houses you will not have a problem of finding a cool place. From the menu go for a hot chocolate or a creamy cappuccino but make sure you also taste the forralt bor, some fruity mulled wine. Café Praha is in the Palace Quarter close to a university area, so young atmosphere, moderate prices and a good selections of winter drinks are guaranteed. Printa is a good choice for the lovers of fair trade and they also serve a delicious flat white here, which is otherwise rather rare ti find in the city. Gerlóczy Café is like a vision from Paris, plus it always offers some mouth-watering cakes on its dessert menu.
Enjoy the ice
Skating is fun plus it gives you a chance to make room for more delicious food in your belly. Maybe because I have skated the most here and during my teenage years this was a permanent spot to hang out in winter with my friends but the Városligeti Műjégpálya, the ice ring of Város Liget, truly has a special charm for me. Also you hit two (or even more) birds with one stone, if you visit this area. Since you can also see the Heroes’ Square, the Vajdahunyad Castle, and once you have had enough of the cold you can check out the latest exhibitions of the Museum of Fine Arts or jump into the hot tubs of the Széchenyi Bath and Spa.