Christmas in Eastern Europe - Budapest and Beyond

Christmas in Europe is a very big event. Whether it’s the dazzling decorations, or the month-long Christmas markets with seasonal food and drinks, a Christmas vacation in Europe will be an unforgettable experience for many of us.

Before Covid hit, my husband and I were lucky enough to visit Budapest, Vienna, Prague and Paris for our Christmas and New Year’s celebration. We just got married in September and really wanted a European Christmas for our honeymoon. This journey turned out just as we expected, enchanting and eye-opening.

Christmas Market at Old Town Square, Prague (Date: December 31, 2019)

Here are a few fun things we experienced during our Christmas vacation:

Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are definitely the highlight of our trip! Many big European cities have Christmas markets starting in November. In Prague, they even have Christmas markets open till early January.

We had a chance to visit Christmas markets in four different cities. My favorite is the Budapest Christmas market because of the large variety of food they offered there!

All the yummy food at the Christmas market at Vörösmarty Square (Date: December 24, 2019) 

Hungarian food is just amazing. They are super hearty and rich in flavor! The portion is quite big so I do recommend sharing.

Here are a few dishes that you must try in Budapest:

  • Goulash (beef stew)
  • Stuffed cabbage
  • Lángos (flat bread top with cheese, potato or meat. Heavy in carbs. Ladies, just eat it and exercise later! ? )  
  • Sausages (thanks to the special spices, they are extremely flavorful!)
  • Duck leg and red cabbage
  • Chimney cake

The best thing about visiting Christmas markets is that I can try a large variety of food from different cultures! In Vienna for example, I realize their food is very similar to American but less heavy.

Convenience Near Major Attractions

You know what else is great about Christmas markets? It's that you can always find them near major attractions! You know you will visit the Rathausplatz and Belvedere Palace when visiting Vienna. Guess what? They set up Christmas markets at both of these places! In Prague, you can also find Christmas markets at major attractions such as the Old Town Square and Prague Castle.

Keep in mind that many European cultures enjoy taking their time to people-watch and chatting with friends while dining. One day we sat down at a cafe in downtown Vienna for lunch, and the event took us three hours! While it was relaxing and enjoyable, I'm sure many tourists are on a tight schedule to check out as many attractions as possible. That's why Christmas markets are so valuable in this situation. The service is closer to American fast food culture. You just need to pay cash, then grab and go.

Unconventional Christmas in Budapest

Instead of staying in for family gathering, what are the other activities for Christmas? How about soaking in a public bath the whole day? That was exactly what we did on Christmas day in Budapest!

Most of Budapest was actually closed on Christmas, including many businesses and restaurants, so do research ahead of time to check what remains open. It is also interesting to see the vast difference between Buda and Pest, despite the proximity. Buda is basically a ghost town around Christmas time with almost nothing open, whereas Pest remains a party town. We were super excited to find out that the Széchenyi Bath was open on Christmas day! Budapest is a city known for its many public bath houses, and Széchenyi is the most-visited out of all. On Christmas day, it was packed but we had a great time, enjoying some refreshment while soaking in warm water.

After the bath, check out the nearby Széchenyi Fürdő Előtti Park and Heroes Square. They are both in walking distance from the bath house and a magnificent sight that no one should miss.

Christmas Dinner at New York Cafe

You might find it strange why it's called New York Cafe, but this is one of the best restaurants in Budapest. With its high ceiling and renaissance-style interior, this place is luxurious and full of history. CNN called it the most beautiful cafe in the world. It was definitely a treat to dine here for our Christmas dinner! We were also pleasantly surprised that the costs weren't outrageous. My husband and I both ordered a 3-course meal and spent $110 USD for both of us.

Where to Stay

If you are planning a trip to Budapest, Vienna and Prague, below are places we stayed at and our comments.

Budapest - Hotel Clark Budapest

We absolutely adored this hotel! When we first arrived in Budapest, the airline actually lost all of our luggage (small plane and they didn't allow any carry-ons). We were distraught even though the airline crew assured us the luggage would be delivered to us in 24 hours. Somehow this hotel and their beautiful hotel room made our first day more tolerable.

Check out Hotel Clark's official site here for more info and booking.


  • Large window overlooking the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge (connecting Buda and Pest)
  • Spacious room and stylish decorations that remind me of 5-star hotels in the U.S.
  • Conveniently located near the Buda Castle and Fisherman's Bastion.


  • We do wish the hotel staff could be more knowledgeable about their city. On Christmas day, we asked the front desk where we could go for dinner without a reservation. The staff said the only thing opened would be McDonald’s... we ended up finding plenty of restaurants opened on the Pest side!

Vienna - Rafael Kaiser Premium Apartments

I usually prefer to book an apartment with a kitchen after 4-5 days of a vacation. By that time, we will be tired of eating out all the time and crave for some home cooking. In Vienna, we stayed at Rafael Kaiser Premium Apartments. You can find more information and booking at their official site here.


  • Super clean, spacious, nice kitchen with a beautiful balcony.
  • Modern furniture, with all necessary appliances and smart TV
  • Great value for the money
  • Located near a Metro station

Cons: Not that close to the city center and major attractions.

Prague - Vinohradský dům

They call it an aparthotel. You get an apartment with a nice kitchen but still have a front desk and spa available. I picked this place specifically for the neighborhood. Prague is a city flooded with tourists. If you stay near the Old Town Square and Prague Castle, be prepared to see a lot of tourist traps. We chose to stay at the Vinohrady neighborhood because this is a quaint neighborhood with lots of nice local restaurants and shops. For more information and booking, please check out their official site here.


  • Great value for the money. Spacious room with a fully equipped kitchen.
  • Clean and comfortable to stay at.
  • Located in the beautiful Vinohrady neighborhood with many great restaurants nearby.
  • They have a famous Beer Spa.
  • Don't worry about the distance from major attractions. Taxi rides in Prague are very affordable.

Cons: Room decoration is more of a traditional style so there's not much to get excited about.

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