Mother and daughter at Christmas market © iStock/Gorter
Aside from the sparkling décor, indulgent feasts and gifts piled high under the tree, Christmas inevitably revolves around family and loved ones. For a festive season that appeals to all ages, few do it better than Budapest. The Hungarian capital pulls out all the stops in winter, with a range of family-friendly activities and seasonal highlights that bring visitors back year after year. Here are our top picks for celebrating a family Christmas in Budapest.
Glide out across the ice
Ice skating is a quintessential family activity at Christmas in Budapest. The Hungarian capital is home to Europe’s largest ice rink, and its oldest, having opened its glittering three acres to the public way back in 1870. Whether pirouetting into the centre like a pro or hugging the sides as you learn the ropes, the brilliant white sprawl of City Park Ice Rink is a very pretty spectacle. Plus, Vajdahunyad Castle is its dazzling neighbour.
Ride a Christmas tram
Budapest’s trams snake through the city offering cosy (and very reasonable) sightseeing trips. The city council festoons each tram with fairy lights, transforming them during the festive season into twinkling streetcars that look as if they’ve glided straight out of a fairy-tale. Hop onto route No. 2 for a scenic journey along the Danube that takes in many of the city’s notable sights.
Enjoy a cultural evening
Budapest’s rich cultural history is no secret, and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker plays at the Hungarian State Opera House—also the National Ballet Institute—every winter. Frothy stage sets, soaring symphonies and spectacular choreography make The Nutcracker one of the highlights for families visiting Budapest at Christmas. In 2018, the ballet will take place at the Erkel Theatre while the Opera House is under construction.
Try local cuisine at a Christmas market
Budapest’s take on the traditional Christmas market is most notable for its culinary delights. The scent of hot chocolate and Glühwein infuses the air. Browse the stalls lining Vörösmarty Square for hand-crafted decorations, candied fruits and traditional handicrafts, nodding to Father Christmas along the way. Then follow your nose to the food stalls. For the peckish, liberal servings of pork knuckle and steaming goulash await.
Watch a puppet show
Budapest Puppet Theatre is well-versed in the kind of mesmerising drama that appeals to younger guests without compromising on style and substance. It does have more than 50 years of perfecting its art after all. The theatre has adapted Mozart, Bartók and Kodály as well as Tchaikovsky for an alternative version of The Nutcracker, making this an ideal inclusion for a family Christmas in Budapest.
Snow and sleds go hand in hand, and Buda Hills are a favourite sledding spot among locals. The views from this vantage point are spectacular, with a sparkling blanket of snow rolling out into the distance and the city rising up beyond it. Ride the charming Children’s Railway to Normafa Hill and meet Santa Claus along the way.