Christmas presence

Hungarian parliament at nightfall
Hungarian parliament at nightfall
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Travellers wanting a last-minute Christmas shopping trip could bag a bargain break in Budapest, says Jeremy Gates.

With Christmas less than two months away, thousands of Britons are planning to splash out on a cheap weekend break in Europe to find unusual gifts for friends and relatives, says lowcostholidays.com.

According to the website, searches and bookings for city breaks are soaring, with a 220 per cent increase year-on-year in the number of customers looking for mass market destinations.

Some of the most famous Christmas markets in Europe have been thriving since the Middle Ages and offer stress-free shopping in an attractive and traditional festive setting. The top-selling Christmas market destinations for 2012 include Budapest, Berlin, Krakow and Prague.

Duncan Morgan, head of product for cities at lowcostholidays.com, says: “Bookings to Budapest over the last four weeks are up more than 300 per cent year-on-year, with Berlin up by more than 150 per cent.

“We see that many holidaymakers love to combine a city break with Christmas shopping, to enjoy these historical destinations and to cash in on the favourable euro exchange rate at the same time.”

Budapest, in Hungary, is one of the cheapest European city destinations, since its national airline Malev collapsed, sparking a battle for customers between other low-cost airlines.

Morgan explains: “There has been a fierce battle this year between Ryanair (flying mainly from Stansted) and Hungary’s own Wizz Air, mostly flying from Luton and Doncaster for travellers from the UK.

“Prices have sunk to barely half of last year’s level, and availability is good. For travellers who keep within the Ryanair rules on luggage, it’s reasonably easy to find a return flight ex-UK to Budapest from around £35.

“Wizz Air has fought back using a technique which began in the United States: a three tier baggage charge, which only takes money off passengers if they need an overhead compartment.”

With air fares at rock-bottom levels, Hungary’s hotels have slashed rates too.

Morgan adds: “Since the demise of Malev, many hotels have been feeling the pinch too, and they have seen fewer visitors overall. So they see Christmas as an obvious opportunity to recoup some lost business.” The strength of the pound against the euro is another big attraction for British travellers keen to make Christmas shopping less of a chore this year.