This year, I spent New Year’s on a study abroad trip to Budapest, Hungary, through the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business. I was with a group of about 50 students and we visited a few local businesses and checked out the local museums before celebrating the New Year with Budapest’s locals.
New Year’s is the perfect time to visit Budapest. This is because the city mostly shuts down for Christmas, but as a huge driver of the economy is tourism, it opens back up right after Christmas, with loads of shopping, food, and festivities, not to mention the fact that their famous “Christmas Markets” are open through the first day or two of the new year.
Budapest Christmas Markets consist of small log cabin-looking booths where people sell yummy chocolates, mulled wine (red wine that’s served hot, it’s a bit like hot cider, but better!), and amazingly delicious baked goods. There is also a skating rink and some more booths selling Christmas ornaments and knick knacks.
Hungary is famous for some of it’s New Year’s traditions and superstitions. Most cultures have a superstition about money and the New Year. For Hungary, that superstition is that if you eat lentils on the New Year, then you will have lots of money. Gabriela Manuli explains this on her blog as being because lentils are shaped similarly to coins.
In a travel blog post, Roberta Gyori outlines the bulk of the Budapest traditions. For example:
On New Year’s Eve it’s customary to make a lot of noise to scare off the demons and the evil spirits. Traditionally a bullwhip with a cracker was used to make a loud noise, but these days horns and other noisemakers are just as effective.
One thing I found interesting was that unlike some capitals and larger cities such as Paris, Washington D.C., New york, or Tokyo; Budapest does not appear to have a coordinated primary fireworks display. You can literally walk around the city between midnight and sunrise and there are fireworks ALL over the place. The important thing to note about this is that you have to pay attention as locals enjoy shooting off smaller fireworks, and they don’t really care if you’re caught in the cross fire.
On New Year’s Eve there are also many concerts across the the city that you can attend. Some feature DJs, some feature local bands, or pop artists, some are operas, but I chose a classical music concert. A friend and I scored tickets to see a string quartet playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at Saint Michael’s Cathedral.
While you’ve traveled half way around the world to Budapest, you should spend a couple extra days there and enjoy the rest of what the city has to offer, regardless of the New Year. I found TripAdvisor to be the best way to find great activities with tons of user reviews. I will tell you about a couple of the things I enjoyed most.
The first, and this sounds sketchy but bare with me, is to wander around and sight see not just during the day, but at night. But please make sure that you do this while sober and with a group of friends, preferably with more than one of you being good with maps and the language. I say this because Budapest is an insanely picturesque city and everything worth seeing is beautifully lit at night.
The second big item that I recommend checking out is the Buda Castle, which houses the Hungarian National Gallery. Not only is the castle a world class museum, but the building itself is a true work of art and features some spectacular sculptures. When I was there, they happened to have assembled the most comprehensive exhibit of Marc Chagall’s work that will probably ever be put together, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Overall, the castle is quite large and houses so much art that seeing all of it could take up two or three days, depending on how long you wanted to ponder each piece of art.
Overall, Budapest is a great place to be on New Year’s. If you’re looking for someplace fun with a strong local vibe and a less commercial feeling than the likes of Paris or New York, Budapest is a great place to celebrate!
All of the photos in the post were taken by me. Feel free to share or use them, but please link back to this post!