Things to do in Budapest for NYE
On our first visit to Budapest in 2013 it was clearly love at first sight and since then Budapest has remained one of our all time favourite cities. We longed to return and finally did so at the end of 2015 to celebrate ringing in the New Year
But what does one do in Budapest, in the cold December weather? Read on for our list of things to do.
Budapest boasts a range of sights, from majestic and historic to stroll and roam around and a rich café culture to sit and ponder, escape the cold and of course, enjoy cake.
Travelling through Europe by train gave us the opportunity to savour and enjoy the beauty of many train stations. Many people, mostly commuters rush off the train or push past in haste to make their departure, without noticing the wonderful architecture of the iron and glass domes of the platform roofs that protects them from the elements. Kelati Station in Budapest’s 8th District was no exception, we had arrived at another beautiful and interesting building. The platform was lined with archways leading us to a large central arch dominated by a clock. Outside I stop to take a picture of the central facade which is topped with a sculpture and admire the wonderful architecture before making our way on foot to our hotel.
On our previous trip to Budapest one of our favourite things to do was to walk around the city admiring the gorgeous style and beauty of the buildings.
Modelled after the Opera House in Vienna, the Hungarian State Opera House is one of the most beautiful opera houses in Europe and one of the top attractions in Budapest. The beauty of the neo-renaissance architectural building itself is the perfect setting for the must see ballet, The Nutcracker ballet and a great place to escape the winter chill and rest your feet from a day walking in Budapest. The Nutcracker is so popular amongst locals and tourists alike and has for decades been the not to be missed December tradition. The fairy tale ballet classic is the story of a young girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince. Together, in her dream, they visit the Land of Snow and meet the Sugar Plum fairy. After the performance at 11.00am there is an official guided tour at 2.00pm.
With a few hours winter sunlight left Buda Castle Hill is a great place to wander. Fisherman’s Bastion is a panoramic viewing terrace with fairy tale towers and one of the best lookout towers to capture the winter sights of the Hungarian Parliament, the Chain Bridge and sweeping views of the Danube. Built in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style on the Buda bank high on Castle Hill it is easily recognized with its seven tent like turrets. At this time of the year it is bitterly cold and despite our jackets, gloves, beanies and my thick socks and wool lined boots we decide to seek warmth and comfort with a hot chocolate at the restaurant where all tables offer views of the acclaimed Budapest outlook.
Finally we make our way across to one of the most prominent buildings, the Matthias Church. The roof is covered with colourful ceramic tiles and its Gothic façade is richly adorned with sculptures and the interior dominated by gold painted walls. Matthias has been the venue for many coronation ceremonies including Franz Joseph and Charles IV, the last Hasburg King and was named after the great Hungarian King Matthias who had two weddings there.
Next morning we headed to New York Café for the opulent indulgence of our final breakfast of 2015. Walking into the café at Boscolo Hotel we could have easily been transported back to the golden age at the turn of the century. Decorated with a wow factor guarantee in gold leaf, marble and stucco, with walls and ceilings majestically painted a clotted cream colour, we walk past beautiful stairways, mirrors and ballustrades, even a grand piano as we are shown our way to our table. Sipping our coffee in a lavishly styled setting with marble pillars, ornate frescoes and chandeliers is a sight to behold. Budapest has a rich café culture and locals and tourists gather to eat breakfast while they read the paper, sip coffee, talk and take the occasional selfie amongst all this baroque opulence. We can literally feel the history of this place dating back to 1894 as we while away the time, devouring our decadent pastries, French toast, omelette and another cup of delicious coffee. Its no wonder they refer to Budapest as Paris of the East, it is a perfect comparison.
Time to walk off our delightful breakfast, we head over to Danube Promenade for a wander across the Chain Bridge for close up look at the guardian lions and along rivers’ edge to the Shoes on the Danube River. Here we find 60 pairs of abandoned shoes from men, women and children scattered randomly along the bank as if they were just stepped out of. The metal cast shoes are set in concrete to commemorate the tragedy of the Hungarian Jews shot and killed by members of the Arrow Cross Party in the winter of 1944-45. Shoes were a valuable commodity in WWII so the shoes were removed before the people were shot and their bodies fell into the icy waters to be washed away. This poignant memorial is a reminder of those terrified, living, breathing people, individuals not statistics, making it a very intimate and emotive monument. It was very moving to see locals and tourist take a moment to consider what occurred and reflect how fortunate we all are to be here today. Shoes are a universal and basic commodity and hopefully this embeds that an event of this kind must never occur again.
Across the Danube Promenade from here is the grand Parliament building. Unfortunately we didn’t have pre-booked tickets so could not take in a tour of the building, but there is always next time. This is the third largest parliament building in the world and has super impressive details and is one of Europe’s oldest legislative buildings. A magnificent example of neo-Gothic architecture, the building is just over 100 years old and took 17 years to complete, inspired by Palace of Westminster in London. We walked around this entire building and it is enormous. The magnificent façade is decorated with 88 statues of Hungarian rulers, arches, gargoyles, spires and Gothic ornaments. The impressive dome can be seen from afar and is a height of 96 metres.
The Parliament building is the same height as St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest’s largest cathedral. This is the most important church in Hungary and was named honouring the country’s first king whose right hand is enshrined there. 50 years in the making, the church has a massive wooden door, decorated with medallions of the busts of the twelve apostles and houses the largest bell in the country, weighing 9144kg. The elaborately ornate interior is beautifully finished with marble, stucco and many statues. The church holds 8,500 people. The square outside St Stephen’s is home to one of Budapest’s Christmas markets and where an ice skating rink is erected. Needless to say enjoying a mug of warm mulled wine at the Budapest Christmas markets is highly recommended and just as we purchased ours music started up and a light projection show started on the front of the church. It was a very memorable and surprise event as we were on our way back to the hotel where we had booked a New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner.
Back at our hotel the Gala dinner commenced at 8.00pm. We were shown to our table and served welcome drinks of champagne cocktails. The music at the beginning was a local band. The service and meal was beyond compare. We had:
Mini quiche with dried tomatoes and ramsons
Citrus marinated salmon with truffle tapenade and blinis with cavier, Wild pig plate with pine nut baked in puff pastry with blackcurrant jam, Cognac duck rillettes with fresh figs
Pheasant consommé with foie gras jelly and vegetable straws
Guinea fowl breast stuffed with green asparagus wrapped in mangalica bacon, rose roasted loin of roasted veal tenderloin served with walnut & mushroom sauce, Jerusalem artichoke gratein, sage flavoured pumpkin puree and vegetables
Chocolate rendezvous, Belgian crunchy chocolate nougat, Lavender white chocolate mousse, Amarena cherries coated in silky chocolate
Aperitifs, Champagne cocktail, During the night, wine, beer, etc
Midnight, Chateau Vincent Extra Dry Champagne, Lentil soup with tarragon, Cold roasted piglet with homemade pickles
At 10.00pm the Operett show started. It was a great party atmosphere, alcohol being served quite freely and everyone having a wonderful time. The Maître d’ was very friendly and welcoming and asked for our feedback on the menu. It was impeccable. He also enquired if we had sampled the local Tokay and gave us a glass of the best local drop to enjoy, complimentary. It was lovely, I so enjoy a sweet wine and this golden coloured local drop, was honey-like, in colour and in residual sweetness. After the Operett show finished the band resumed and the crowd danced until midnight. The happy, cheerful crowd turned solemn, as if by a magical spell. Instead of the loud cheers and celebratory hugs and kissing seen at Australian NYE celebrations, Hungarians sing a serious dignified National Anthem. Then the champagne corks pop and the lentil soup and roasted piglet is eaten. Lentils are eaten to signify wealth throughout the New Year and Pork symbolises luck.
As a nightcap before bed the Bar Manager invited us to try the National drink, the local liquid courage, a shot of Unicum. This is a bitter, dark coloured digestif that is made from 40 herbs and spices and is said to have medicinal qualities. All I can say is it must be an acquired taste, blah!
We were very pleased with our last minute choice of how to spend the evening, ringing in the coming year with great food and local entertainment and made our way back to our room at about 3.00am.
So where was this great hotel in downtown Budapest? Novotel Centrum Budapest near Grand Boulevard has 227 rooms on 6 floors and is an Art Nouveau styled historical building built in 1911. It is a fine hotel with a wonderful atmosphere. We booked an Executive room which offered entry into the Executive lounge, a large spacious room and a robe and slippers. The Café Palace offered a great selection of breakfast and the Klimt Bar a nice spot to relax with cake and coffee or a drink. We thoroughly enjoyed our few days here.
Next morning it was back to the Kelati station to board our train for Belgrade. We entered the station through another doorway and found an enormous hall with marble pillars, arches of glass throwing light at us and gold leaf decorated murals. What an amazing place to await our train to take us to our final European destination.
While we wait for our train we reflect on our time in Budapest. Although very cold, we had no snow or rain so had many opportunities to see things, interesting perspectives and view people and places from different vantage points. No wonder we love this place, we will be back.
Do you have a favourite place in Budapest? Did you know urban legend has it that the lions on the Chain Bridge don’t have a tongue?
Thank you to Lance & Laura from Travel Addicts for allowing us to include their photo of inside Matthias Church.
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