When Chloe and I were deciding where to go for a festive city-break before Christmas, Budapest ticked all the boxes. Christmas markets, check. Possibility of snow, check. Cheap mulled wine, check! Not to mention all the amazing architecture would be twinkling with Christmas lights in early December.
As we were going mid-week we managed to find a good deal to stay at Boscolo Budapest, a 5* hotel in the heart of the city. It’s not located in the prettiest area but it’s very convenient for public transport and all the top tourist spots.
I’ve never stayed in a 5* hotel before and, as soon as we stepped into the hotel lobby, I was blown away by how grand it was! Built in the 1870’s, it’s flamboyant design was inspired by the Italian Renaissance and the vast atrium looked magical decorated with huge snowflakes dangling from the glass pyramid ceiling.
After dropping our luggage off in our room we headed out to explore the Christmas markets, just a 15 minute walk from the hotel. They’re dotted about the city but the one closest to us was in Vorosmarty Square. The Christmas Markets being one of the main reasons why we decided to visit Budapest, we weren’t disappointed.
Where the rest of the city might be becoming more and more hipster, the markets are distinctly traditional. With rows of wooden sheds selling artisan products and crafts, we didn’t know where to start!
Feeling in need of a pick-me-up and something warm we followed our noses to the raised platform in the middle of the square where there was an amazing array of authentic Hungarian dishes being served, from Goulash in a huge hollowed-out bread roll to all the meat you can think of, plus some. Pig’s trotters anyone?!
Merry on mulled wine, we made our way back to the hotel to thaw out in the spa’s hot relaxation pool – we were going to go in the steam room but the people in there were naked so we decided against it!
That evening we had dinner at the city’s famous New York Café in our hotel. Tourists flock to the café due to it’s stunning interior of marble and gold gilted everything. It was a tad overpriced but you’re paying for the setting rather than the food. Same goes for the cocktail we had in the hotel’s Nyugat bar but, with a live pianist, it felt very glamorous and like we’d gone back in time.
The next day we started with the breakfast buffet at the hotel, which was pricey again but we definitely got our money’s worth with the variety of things on offer and filled our boots ready for a long day exploring in the snow.
We managed to navigate the metro to the Castle District with relative ease and walked up the steps to Castle Hill. Overlooking the Danube, Castle Hill contains some of Budapest’s most important medieval monuments and museums, and is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Fisherman’s Bastion, named after the medieval guild of fishermen responsible for defending the stretch of castle wall, was built in 1905 and offers some of the best views of Budapest. It was a sight to behold in the snow and the Bastion itself resembles a Disney palace with its seven gleaming white turrets.
We were hoping to visit the National Gallery and Castle Museum but we didn’t realise they were closed on Mondays so warmed ourselves up with a hot drink before making our way down the hill and across the iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge to the Pest side of the city for more sight seeing.
Along the Danube there are iron shoes scattered on the bank as a poignant memorial to honour the people, mostly Jews, who were killed there in the Second World War.
From there it isn’t long before we reached Parliament, Hungary’s largest building, which looked even more impressive lit up in gold when we took a boat tour along the Danube after dark.
There are lots of boat tours to pick from but we went for the Legenda, which only runs in the winter and includes audio description and a free glass of champagne.
It was amazing to see the city from the river at night and I’d highly recommend doing a boat tour if you go.
We walked back via the Jewish district where we stopped for dinner at Spinoza Café for a traditional Hungarian meal of beef goulash and apple strudel, which was very tasty.
It was so cosy and friendly in there with live piano being played and we stayed there for quite a while before going for a drink at Szimpla Kert, Budapest’s first ruin bar.
An eclectic interior of graffiti and bric-a-brac, the bar was buzzing with tourists and locals, even on a Monday night, and it’s well worth a visit. We found a spot near a heater and soaked up the atmosphere with a couple of cocktails.
On Tuesday we started off with brunch at London Coffee Society, which wouldn’t be out of place in Shoreditch, fuelling ourselves for the half an hour walk to the Gellért Baths. Another amazing building, the Gellért Baths is made up of 8 art nouveau thermal pools; we even braved the open-air one!
It was really relaxing to soak in water from mineral hot springs. The locker/cabin key system was slightly complicated to figure out but we managed it in the end! Make sure you take a swimming hat with you if you go as it’s compulsory to wear one in the main swimming pool.
On the way back we took a look around Nagycsarnok, Budapest’s biggest indoor market hall offering Hungarian delicacies such as dried paprika, every type of Honey you can imagine and so many sausages!
We also stopped by our nearest Christmas market again for yet another mulled wine, a sweet cinnamon Chimney Cake or ‘Kurtos kalacs’, and to pick up some presents.
With half a day left in Budapest on Wednesday we headed back on the metro to the Castle District and boarded the Sikló, the funicular, to the museum.
The striking Royal Palace has been destroyed and rebuilt six times over the last 700 years and has been added to by Hungarian kings since the 13th century.
The palace complex contains both the Hungarian National Gallery and Castle Museum. We would’ve done both if we had time but we opted for the Museum to learn about the city’s 2000 year history.
A fantastic, inexpensive city with a fascinating history and amazing architecture, we were sad to say goodbye to Budapest. It has so many bars and restaurants to choose from and comes alive at night, even during the week.
Budapest was especially beautiful at this time of year in the snow and glittering with Christmas decorations, making it the perfect festive city-break. Let me know in the comments if you’ve been to Budapest, I’d love to hear what you got up to.