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Festive fare on the menu on streets of Budapest this Christmas

By Rebecca Hay

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Christmas markets are fun.
Christmas markets are fun.

Christmas calories were at an all-time high as the Hungarian winter warmers enticed us to gobble like turkeys on a 24-hour blow-out in Budapest.

Deep-fried dough smothered in sour cream and garlic, sugar-coated chimney cakes and moreish marzipan were too hard to resist as we took in the festive markets.

And with the obligatory mulled and hot fruit wines, we were toasting Father Christmas and his reindeer with gusto.

Of course, the Hungarian capital has so much more to offer and surprisingly for December, the weather was bright, if a little crisp.

Divided into two by the Danube River, Buda is where the Unesco world heritage protected sites are, with some breathtakingly beautiful architecture, while Pest is more a working side.

Pest is a great place to base yourself as it has plenty of lovely buildings itself, but is also the livelier side, with more restaurants and pubs.

Beautiful Matthias Church in the Unesco heritage site.
Beautiful Matthias Church in the Unesco heritage site.

Our apartment was housed in a grand looking building overlooking Deak Square and was ideal. A big flat with comfy beds, small kitchen and wet room, it had great views, especially at night of the lit-up Budapest wheel.

With time of the essence, husband Kenny and children Ruaridh and Flossie wanted to make the most of our time so we invested in the Budapest Card, which meant a free run on the bus to and from the airport and entrance to many museums and attractions, including a shot in an open-air thermal pool.

What to see, of course, depends on your interests, but at this time of the year Christmas markets are a big draw and are dotted round Pest, with food competing with traditional wares and souvenirs for your attention.

Chimney cakes are popular, a type of sweet hollow dough cooked on hot coals and rolled in sugar or cinnamon and on special occasions lined with chocolate spread and stuffed with ice cream. Langos or Hungarian pizza, a yeast dough made with mashed potatoes and flour bread dipped in the deep fryer and covered with all types of savoury toppings or just garlic and water is another one to try, as well as the deep soups of goulash and boar with bread lids and lots of beetroot-based dishes.

It is great fun trying out the street food as you admire the wide streets and buildings such as St Stephen's Basilica. Named after the first king of Hungary, whose hand is on show inside the church, it is the most important religious building in the country and has some wonderful fine art and mosaics.

Stunning St Stephen's Basilica.
Stunning St Stephen's Basilica.

Museums like the Terror one, devoted to telling the darker side of Budapest's history and containing exhibits relating to the fascist and communist regimes of the early 20th century, and the national museum of Hungary and art gallery are packed to the rafters with displays of the country’s past.

And what a past it has had. Bombed constantly during World War II in a 50-day campaign of terror by the Soviets, it is amazing that so many buildings have stayed intact.

Crossing the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which takes you from Pest into Buda, is a sight not to miss. This huge bridge is one of two left that were designed by Englishman William Tierney Clarke, the other being the suspension bridge over the Thames in Marlow, England.

Guarded at each end by two stone lions, it is great to walk across, admiring the picturesque Danube River filled with tourist boats, and over to Buda, with a grand tunnel leading into the historic area.

You can catch an old-fashioned funicular to reach the top or a hop-on, hop-off minibus. These take you to the Fisherman’s Bastian, one of the world’s most romantic spots. The Neo-Romanesque terraces look out to the city and have been the scene of many a marriage proposal.

Marriage proposals often take place at The Fisherman's Bastion.
Marriage proposals often take place at The Fisherman's Bastion.

Close by is the Church of Assumption, better known as the Matthias Church. Stunning white stone is topped off with the most beautiful coloured roof, which looks like a carefully knitted rug.

Buda Tower with its delightful bells which peal out on the hour, was badly damaged during World War II and only restored and reopened to the public in 2017. It is a great viewpoint and a short walk round takes you to the impressive Buda Castle and gardens.

Quirky statues can be found dotted round the city, giving a real air of elegance to it.

After all that sight-seeing, it was back to food and to one of Hungary's finest restaurants, Vak Varjú Étterem.

Packed to the rafters and with a circus-themed décor, such delights as pork knuckle and tenderly cooked cabbage were on the menu.

All hearty dishes to fill you up and keep you going in this non-stop, fabulous city and helping you decide your New Year’s resolution a wee bit earlier!

Need to know

Low cost carriers and a good rate of exchange mean Budapest is relatively inexpensive to visit.

The Budapest Card which comes in 24, 48, 72, 96 and 120-hour options is a good way of cutting costs too.

Check this and tourist information out at www.budapestinfo.hu

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