We recently had the opportunity to celebrate St. Stephen’s Day in Hungary. Similar to the 4th of July in the U.S., St. Stephen’s Day is Hungary’s independence day or foundation day. It celebrates the birth of Hungary as we know it today. And let us tell you–Hungarians know how to party.

St. Stephen’s Day takes place on the 20th of August every year. If you have the chance to plan your trip to Budapest surrounding this day, we really recommend it. It’s like experiencing Budapest on steroids! With so much celebration and happiness going on, everything amazing about Budapest is heightened.

The day was full of fun festivities, starting at 9 AM in the morning with an Air and Water show and ending after dark with a spectacular fireworks show. It was a very special day, because we felt that we got to share a very special cultural day with the Hungarian people. Paired with our time at the Flower Festival in Debrecen, we definitely picked the right time to travel to Hungary.

Tips for St. Stephen’s Day in Budapest

People gather outside the Hungarian Parliament Building on St. Stephen's Day in Budapest

  • Arrive at major events early. If you’re going to one of the main St. Stephen’s Day events and you want to get a good view, you need to arrive early. Tons of people show up, and your view will be obstructed if you show up right when the event is about to begin.
  • Choose your fireworks viewing spot ahead of time! Watching the fireworks show is one of the most popular St. Stephen’s Day traditions. This means that it will likely be very crowded! If you want to view the fireworks from a rooftop bar or restaurant, you’ll need to make a reservation ahead of time.
  • Dress for the heat! It can get pretty hot in Budapest during the summer. Since St. Stephen’s Day is in the middle of August, it’ll likely be a pretty hot day. Make sure to wear something cool, since you’ll likely be in the sun all day and surrounded by crowds of people.
  • Bring cash. There are tons of street vendors set up along popular walking points in Budapest. They sell cold drinks, beer, food, snacks, Hungarian flags and decorations, and more. You’ll want to bring cash (Hungarian currency!) in case you get thirsty or want to buy a souvenir.
  • Wear sunscreen. Again, you’ll probably be in the sun most of the day. Put sunscreen on to avoid getting burned.
  • Just enjoy the day! There’s no need to do a ton of planning on St. Stephen’s Day in Budapest. There is live music and festivities going on almost everywhere! Just walk around and enjoy yourself and you’re bound to find something fun going on.

Schedule of Festivities

Budapest by Locals posted a wonderful schedule of festivities on St. Stephen’s Day that we relied on heavily to plan our day. It was very helpful getting the input from locals ahead of time how Budapest natives like to celebrate St. Stephen’s Day.

Air and Water Show

9:15 – 10:00 AM | Danube River

Helicopter flies over the Danube River on St. Stephen's Day in Budapest

The Air and Water Show takes place over the Danube River and features all sorts of stunts by airplanes and helicopters. For us, the coolest part of the show was the amazing stunts that the helicopter pilots were doing. We had never seen them fly with such precision before! It really wowed the crowd, too.

You can watch the show from either side of the river, but the best viewing spot is typically closest to the Parliament building. This means that is is pretty crowded, but we had a great view even though we were surrounded by people.

Military Band Parade

10:00 AM – 12:00 PM | Kossuth Sqr. and the Danube

Military Band performs in Kossuth Square in Budapest on St. Stephen's Day

You won’t be able to miss the Military Band Parade–it’s so loud you can hear it from blocks away! The music performance takes place just outside of Kossuth Square along the Danube. This was very convenient, since it started just after the Air and Water Show in the same place where we watched it from.

The music was fun to hear, but the crowds of people did make it kind of hard to see. We think at some point they make their way into Kossuth Square to perform since there were bleachers set up there, but we didn’t hang around to see it. We were too excited about the next event: The Street of Hungarian flavors!

Street of Hungarian Flavors

10:00 AM – Midnight | Danube Bank in Buda

People walking next to food vendors on the Street of Hungarian Flavors on St. Stephen's Day in Budapest

If you love food, then you will love the Street of Hungarian Flavors! This street market only comes around once a year, on St. Stephen’s Day, and features dozens of vendors selling any kind of food you can imagine. There are decadent sweets, steaming hot goulashes, grilled fish and foreign alcohols–just to name a few.

Woman buys sweets for her son at a vendor on the Street of Hungarian Flavors in Budapest on St. Stephen's Day

The street was packed with people when she showed up around 11:00 AM. It seemed like all the best food vendors had a line of people waiting, which was part of the fun. There was communal seating in a couple of places, but we opted to sit on the wall next to the Danube River to enjoy our treats for a cooler, shady spot.

You also have to check out the cake of the year! Every year, Hungary holds a contest for the best cake recipe. Confectioners all over the country submit their best cake recipes, hoping to be selected as the winner. The winning recipe is created for everyone to enjoy, and is sold at the Street of Hungarian Flavors in Budapest.

Blessing of the Bread and Harvest Procession

2:30 PM | Starts at Szent György tér in Buda Castle

The Blessing of the Bread and Harvest Procession is a top notch parade that makes its way through Budapest. The parade starts at Szent György tér in Buda Castle and ends at the statue of St. Stephen with the blessing of the new bread.

The parade is a great way to experience Hungarian culture. You’ll see traditional Hungarian clothes and experience history in the making!

Fireworks

9:00 PM | Danube River

Fireworks on St. Stephen's Day in Budapest

Budapest’s St. Stephen’s Day fireworks show is world class. There’s no other way to put it. The half hour long show features all different sorts of colorful fireworks, some loudly exploding all at once and others slowly fizzling toward the water. The show ends by lighting the bridge up with fireworks! It’s truly beautiful.

Taking place over the Danube River, there are many great places to watch the fireworks show. Most people stand somewhere along the river (you can see equally well from the Buda and Pest sides of the river). Other people opt to make a reservation at a rooftop bar. While this option might be more expensive, it’s a good option if you don’t want to stand in crowds of people craning your neck for a good view.

Final Thoughts

St. Stephen’s Day in Budapest is one of the best days of the year to visit the beautiful capital of Hungary. As if Budapest weren’t great enough already, St. Stephen’s Day really highlights the thriving culture and beauty of the city.

Make sure you book your lodging well in advance since it is a popular day of the year for tourism. Have a wonderful time!

Don’t forget to check out our other posts from Hungary:

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