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13 best things to do in Budapest in December

Anyone averse to Christmas should look away now, as the following list is heavily focused on the festivities. From Christmas movies to award-winning or tiny pop-up fairs, ugly sweater skatings, and splendid afternoon teas, here are our favourite things to do this December.

Treat yourself to a winter delicacy

It's that time of the year when it's perfectly acceptable to toss diets away for the sake of hot chocolate and seasonal sweets. And Hungary is strong in this department, showering you with mouthwatering holiday specials such as bejgli (poppy-seed or walnut roll), chimney cake, mákos guba (a sweet poppy-seed-based bread dessert covered with custard), szaloncukor (small, filled bonbons, packed in colourful tissu paper), or sweet steamed buns. Besides the Christmas markets, find them at Stühmer, Édes Mackó, Édesmindegy, or Polo Pub.

Wrap yourself in an Alpine atmosphere

Yes, we're aware that the Buda Hills can't quite compare to the Alps, and yet, here we are recommending two spots where the ski resort vibes kick in as soon as you walk in. Hello Buda is an alfresco food court, offering top-quality street food, from schnitzels to tom yum. The place is adorned with Christmas decorations, complete with a skating rink, a heated terrace, and soon, igloos. Not too far away, at popular hiking spot Normafa, Normafa Ski House is a perfect spot to cosy up after a nice walk in the snow. Make sure to order kaiserschmarren!

Skate in an ugly sweater

We know you have an ugly sweater tucked away deep in your wardrobe, waiting for this exact moment. So pack it in your suitcase because the time to don it has arrived: Budapest Park, a concert venue turned into a skating rink, and City Park, with an ice rink set against the backdrop of Vajdahunyad Castle, are both hosting an ugly sweater skating event on December 15th.

Tickets to Budapest Park Ice World here (you need a popular period ticket) and to City Park Ice Rink here.

Catch a Christmas ride

The Christmas fleet, featuring trams, buses and trolleybuses adorned with twinkling lights, has set off on its journey, turning public transport into a source of pure festive cheer. Also, a festive fire truck is making its rounds, popping up on playgrounds in the 12th district. You can catch the holiday vehicles all over town, and we have rounded up all the important details here

Go fancy and enjoy a splendid afternoon tea

Afternoon tea might be a British tradition, but sipping black tea and/or champagne while sampling delicious cakes is a guilty pleasure we would sign up for anywhere and anytime. Yet, Christmas makes it all the more timely, and in Budapest, amazing locations provide the perfect backdrop to your three-tiered cake stand. Enjoy an afternoon tea at The Ritz-Carlton Budapest, right beside a charming Christmas tree towering under a glass dome. Or book a table at the magnificent Párisi Passage restaurant, where you can marvel at the golden arcades while savouring your sweet treats and additional mulled wine.

Visit Europe's best Christmas market

Advent Basilica has just been named the best Christmas fair in Europe, and we couldn't agree more. With St Stephen's Basilica backdropping the festive haze and occasional light paintings playing on its walls, top-notch mulled wine warming your hands, the enticing aroma of chimney cake wafting through the air, and people buzzing all around, you'll find all the Christmas essentials here.

Pop by an alternative Christmas fair

If you are pining for a more laid-back and fuss-free Christmas fair, explore one of the pop-up markets from our recent list. Whether it's the market at W Hotel Budapest, designer fairs, or the Green Market, you can get your hands on special gifts crafted by local artists.

Indulge in a festive brunch

Brunch is always a good idea, and a festive brunch is downright brilliant. What's more, Christmas provides the perfect excuse to go all out and spoil yourself with a more high-end version in a fab location, such as the Intercontinental Budapest or the Matild Café & Cabaret. Alternatively, for a more chilled experience, check out Kaptafa in the party district.

Catch a Christmas film at the Bem Cinema

Bem Cinema is our favourite repertory cinema with retro vibes and tickets without seat numbers. They are gearing up for Christmas, featuring holiday specials in their repertoire. Cheesy or not, we just love the idea of watching Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet swapping houses, Jack kidnapping Santa, Hugh Grant's epic Downing Street dance, and the Grinch stealing Christmas on the big screen, surrounded by like-minded people.

Get tickets online (Hungarian-only) or on the spot.

See a Hungarian play with English subtitles

Hungarian plays with English subtitles are a rare find, so if we were you, we'd grab our tickets to 'Melancholy Rooms' fairly soon. The production of downtown Katona József Theatre delves deep into the theme of solitude through monologues presented in prose and songs, resulting in a brilliant musical and visual composition. In the 90-minute play, you get to peek inside the homes of 8 very different people – the museum keeper, the experimental monkey, the prima donna, and the man who one day wakes up to find he has turned into a woman – all of whom share one thing in common: isolation. (x)

Get tickets here.

Wander among hundreds of lanterns at the Budapest Zoo

In anticipation of the Year of the Dragon in 2024, the Biodome, a vast glass monument within the Budapest Zoo, is paving the path for its arrival. From December 16th to February 24th, you can step into a magical world filled with fantasy, lights, lampions, and massive installations of gigantic pandas, phoenixes, and dragons. 

Get tickets here.

Get into the festive spirit at a light exhibition

This year, we are spoiled with mesmerising light exhibitions in at least three locations. First up is the Garden of Lights in Budapest's oldest botanical garden, where you can embark on a journey to meet Alice, the Chesire Cat, and the Mad Hatter. A little further away, at Margaret Island's Palatinus Baths, Lumina Park showcases Budapest's iconic landmarks, allowing you to stroll among a miniature Chain Bridge and Parliament. And Lumina Park has opened another exhibition dedicated to Christmas at Római Baths, where you can witness elves crafting presents and meet Santa himself. 

Soak in a jacuzzi while admiring the city at Rudas Baths

When in Budapest, you can never go wrong with a spa day. The city is rich in thermal water and Turkish baths, Rudas being one of them. For a real treat, we say book the all-in ticket, which not only grants access to the incredible bathing facility dating back to the 16th century but also includes the wellness section with a panorama jacuzzi on the rooftop. On weekends, you can even indulge in night bathing, too. However, be sure to read the house rules carefully, as specific days are designated for women or men only.

More details here.


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