When I think of Christmas markets, I imagine glasses of steaming mulled wine, colourful woolly hats and wooden toys. Hungary is a landlocked, carnivorous country and, at this time of year, a cold one. Goulash served in a huge, hollowed-out bread roll, pigs’ knuckles with potato dumplings and sauerkraut, or fresh flat bread lathered in garlic sauce, sour cream and grated cheese is precisely the sort of heartening fare that is required for nippy alfresco shopping.
The most famous and popular Christmas market in Budapest is the fair located at Vörösmarty Tér (Vörösmarty square). This is located in the heart of Budapest, at the end stop of the yellow metro line sharing the name of the square, and in the end of the shopping street of Budapest, Váci Utca. Do not forget that all streets have two ends, and if you end up in the wrong end of the street you will find yourself walking inside the Grand Market Hall (not a bad place, but not the best if you would like to visit the Christmas market at the Vörösmarty square). If you live on the Buda side you can simply walk across the Chain Bridge, turn right and walk towards the white bridge (Elisabeth Bridge). As you reach the Vigadó tér, turn left and you will be at the Vörösmarty tér within seconds!
There are 12 food and drink stalls in the middle of it, flanked by craft stalls selling artisanal products and crafts. Budapest may be a thriving city with pop-up cafes, craft beer bars and vintage stores, but the Christmas market, is resolutely traditional. There’s a craft-making crèche at weekends, where children aged 10+ can be left and, on Sundays at 4pm, a ceremonial lighting of an advent candle, followed by marzipan candies with Santa on the stage.
At this Christmas fair you will find traditional Hungarian handicraft, lots of delicious food which tastes extremely well as you feel the smell get into your nose and your stomach orders you to sit down to grab a bite. And yes, there are lots of benches and tables at the Christmas market at Vörösmarty square, which is one of the qualities making this one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. If you want some simple food then you should try the traditional Chimney cake with the cinnamon taste, yummy!
The wide choice of winter warmers on sale includes raspberry schnapps punch and apple cider. Restored by a blackcurrant rum punch – a wine-based winter tipple that is a sweeter alternative to the mulled wine on sale – I browsed stalls that look winter-wonderland cheesy, but hid some real gems. Among the riches I discovered tiny music boxes, hand-printed stationery, felt hats, handmade jewellery that you might actually wear, casserole dishes for roast goose or fresh bread, sour-cherry white chocolate and pink bubblegum marzipan.
I was charmed by a ceramic Santa smoking a pipe, out of which real smoke blew, by the garlands made out of dried orange, paprika, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, and the hand-painted tree decorations in simple cream and gold. But it was the gingerbread stall that did for my heart. I spotted the gingerbread foxes, frogs and hedgehogs, and the stallholder, in top hat and fur coat, passed me one on a giant fake hand. “For you,” he beamed. The child in me cheered. “Take it!” and I did.
Since cakes and pastries are a timeless Hungarian tradition, I was tempted by a piece of flódni, the traditional Jewish-Hungarian plum and poppy seed cake, washed down with a hot beer with sour cherry. But after all the great meals I have already had that evening…I couldn’t make myself eat another piece.
There are daily programs taking place at Vörösmarty square during the festival, and there are choir concerts, folklore performances, book reading, Santa Claus programs for children, workshops and other cool activities. You can find more detailed information about the program at the Christmas market itself as their are information stands at different locations. In general there are more things going on in the weekends on the main stage, but if you are lucky you can enjoy some great things also during weekdays. If you miss your advent calendar from home, you can see the daily turning of the Gerbeaud advent calendar at 17.00 from the Vörösmarty square.
There’s also ice skating by the illuminated St Stephen’s Basilica nearby, whose smaller Christmas market opens this weekend and features a laser show on its neoclassical facade.
When? From 9th November to 31st December 2017
the haul will be up soon!