Food and Travel (UK)
Tumbling snowflakes, sugar-dusting the turrets of Buda Castle; vast Christmas markets, scented with cinnamon-topped kürtőskalács (chimney cakes); atmospheric ruin pubs serving up cockle-warming Unicum herbal liqueur: Budapest really comes into its own when temperatures drop.
Even before snowy season appears – though it does so relatively reliably, every late December, January and February – the nip in the air gives the Hungarian capital a cosy vibe. Early winter sunsets allow the castle, on the west side of the city, to glow warmly with regal illumination as early as 4pm, in view of shoppers and commuters as they bustle down the banks of the Danube. A cruise snaking along the river is one way to take in the scene, but art deco Four Seasons Gresham Palace fourseasons.com/budapest with its rooms backing on to the river, has one of the single best views. Saying that, if you visit the hotel in December, you may find it difficult to tear your eyes off the hotel’s opulent lobby Christmas tree – known to attract a queue of selfie-snapping locals around the block.
Winter in Budapest gets cosier still. Spend an afternoon poaching any tired muscles at the Széchenyi Baths szechenyispabaths.com one of the largest medicinal baths in Europe. Dart from interior steam rooms and pools to the sprawling outdoor area where, surrounded by wedding-cakey buildings, steam unfurls from the sultry waters. Then, get eating – because Hungarian food was made for cool days. Try rib-sticking classics given a contemporary twist at VakVarjú pest.vakvarju.com – honey-plum soup with noodles or pan-roasted mangalitza pork, say. Or opt for a brimming bowlful of goulash from wine bar BorBíróság borbirosag.com because there’s hardly a serve more suited to winter in these parts, except, perhaps, the restaurant’s tender osso bucco with tomato, onion and lemon-garlic risotto.
Budapest does fine dining, too, and nothing’s more comforting than settling down to an elaborate multi-course feast, knowing there’s nowhere better to be. Book into the Michelin-starred Borkonyha borkonyha.hu and you can feast on decadent plates of pigeon, duck liver pâté and truffles. Wash it down with a plummy glass of local red wine, and any lingering sense of chill will be banished.
Spend the rest of your days in Budapest taking in the city’s photogenic architecture, all the more perfect when framed by a flurry. Skate on a glassy rink at the City Park – one of Europe’s largest – visit those cool ruin bars or join the local children on makeshift sled rides in Normafa Park, in the Buda Hills, the city is truly a winter playground for all ages.
Finally, curl up under the covers in a sublime hotel. Budapest has no shortage of snug winter-friendly stays that are full of character. Try the shabby-chic Brody House brody.house – a 10-room stay that channels the city’s faded grandeur – or make for Baltazár baltazarbudapest.com a restaurant and pub with art-splashed rooms just a few minutes’ walk from that enticing wintry scene of Buda Castle.