Advent Markets Bring Significant Rise in Seasonal Tourism

Tourism

The market at Vörösmarty tér, pictured here on Nov. 24, has been rebranded the Vörösmarty Classic Xmas Christmas.

Photo by Geza Kurka_Hungary / Shutterstock.com

The return of the annual Christmas markets in Budapest and around the countryside are drawing in even more international tourists than last year, resulting in a 15% increase in the number of guest nights spent in domestic accommodation for this year’s November-December period, according to the National Tourism Data Supply Center (NTak).

The annual Advent and Christmas markets in Budapest have once again opened their doors to guests, featuring festive activities, handcrafted gifts and traditional Christmas food. Experiencing the seasonal market atmosphere, redolent with crisp nights filled with the smells of fried food and mulled wine, is evidently as appealing to international tourists as it is to Hungarians.

Seasonal tourism has spiked in comparison to last year, according to data from the NTak, with more than four million guest nights in domestic accommodation registered for the 2023 November-December period, compared to the previous year’s 3.9 million bookings. According to the latest seasonal data from the NTak, Budapest’s thermal spas and the Advent markets around the capital, which are hosts to traditional winter activities and Christmas sights, are some of the most influential factors for drawing in foreign guests during the festive season.

Although the majority of the bookings are actually for countryside venues, bookings within the capital have also increased by a quarter compared to the same period in 2022. The majority of pre-bookings for this period came from the Czech Republic, followed by Spain, Austria and Italy.

Seasonal Experiences

Although most international guests may focus on Advent Basilica or Vörösmarty Classic Xmas, there are many other markets in the capital that offer their own seasonal experiences. The markets, many of which opened their gates in late November, offer a wide array of activities for guests during the holidays, including opportunities for ice skating, mulled wine tasting and browsing handcrafted gifts.

Due to the large number of foreign guests, some business-savvy associations also recognize that advent markets are an excellent opportunity to advertise Hungarian delicacies to a broader international audience.

This year, the Hungarian Wine Agency (MBÜ) will be promoting Hungarian wines at various Christmas markets around Budapest, with menus available at gastronomic units found in St. Stephen’s Square, Vörösmarty Square, and in Városliget. The MBÜ stand in front of the Basilica will provide daily wine tastings, with some 20 Hungarian wines available to buy.

Anita Pusztai, marketing director of MBÜ, highlights that “About half of the visitors of Advent fairs in the capital are foreign tourists, providing an excellent opportunity to promote Hungarian wine products internationally.”

New scenic additions have been introduced this year to keep the traditional market atmosphere modern and exciting. Novelties have been unveiled throughout the capital city, two of which can be found at the center of the oldest Christmas market in Budapest at Vörösmarty tér.

Giant Snow Globe

The statue of the iconic Hungarian poet Mihály Vörösmarty, in the center of the square, has always been wrapped up in plastic each winter to offer it protection against the frost. This year, however, it has been enclosed within a transparent snow globe design, while an LED wall has also been built around the figure, acting as an electronic information point where guests can research relevant information and even engage in a community game linked to a displayed QR code.

A colorful, multimedia light installation also awaits guests at Vörösmarty tér, embodying the fairy-tale characters of Alice in Wonderland.

Foreign and Hungarian guests alike can find Christmas novelties and experiences at all of Budapest’s annual Advent markets. The Christmas market at Vörösmarty tér (vorosmartyclassicxmas.hu/en) opened on Nov. 17 and will welcome guests until Dec. 31. Similarly, the Advent Basilica fair (adventbazilika.hu/en) at St. Stephen’s operates between Nov. 17 and Jan. 1, while the market at Deák Ferenc tér started later, on Nov. 24, but runs until Jan. 7.

Operating hours for each venue vary, but most open late in the morning and welcome guests until late in the evening. The markets are also accessible on most public holidays, albeit with reduced hours, and all are free of charge to enter. Beyond Budapest, there are many fairs in countryside cities and towns such as Debrecen, Eger, Pécs, Siófok, Szeged, Székesfehérvár, and Szolnok, amongst others.

Editor’s note: We contacted the Hungarian Tourism Agency to ask it for more detailed information about the economic significance of international visitors over the Christmas period, but it was unable to get back to us before publication.

Advent Basilica, the Christmas market situated in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, where guests can enjoy light shows, VR experiences and stalls selling arts and crafts by some 120 domestic exhibitors, has been elected for the third time as the Best Christmas Market in Europe by European Best Destinations. In another poll, online travel agency weloveholidays monitored 15 of the most popular European Christmas markets posted to Instagram, publishing a ranking where the Budapest Advent fairs placed seventh with 12,321 posts overall, highlighting Budapest as a leading tourist attraction this holiday season.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of December 1, 2023.

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