If you would like to experience a magical winter in a city that has a lot to offer even in cold and snow, come and visit Budapest!
We really enjoy winters in this city and in this post I show you why.
I am pretty sure that I will be able to convince you to think about joining us.
Budapest is rich in historical sites, cultural heritage, and thermal baths. These features make this city a perfect winter destination.
Winter runs between December and the beginning of March.
Each year Budapest receives a decent amount of snowfall (January is the snowiest month of all).
Average temperatures: 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius) – 36 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degree Celsius) with some snow or sleet.
What to Pack for a trip to Budapest in winter
We regularly see a lot of tourists who are not well prepared:
They wear sneakers, their noses are red, lips are blue, faces are pale, hands and fingers are both red and white but most importantly: frozen to the point of being unable to move.
They don’t wear gloves so they couldn’t write down their names even if their life would depend on it. Even worse, they can’t set their camera functions well!!! It is really a sin in Budapest!
Do not follow their route! Be prepared!
Pack your scarves, the bigger and fluffier the better. Bring hats, and for God’s sake, bring warm gloves with you!
Do not forget your waterproof, grippy, warm boots at home.
Also, layering is key. There is a huge difference between the temperatures on the streets and indoors (cafes, museums, underground).
Drop a heavy, nourishing hand and face cream in your bag, too.
Great news: it is always cold, so you can leave your favorite cute leather jacket and trench coat at home! 😉
Jeans can be OK if you don’t plan to spend hours outside but have some leggings or thermal underwear with you to wear under your jeans when you visit the Castle area and the Danube promenade (it is always much colder near the river and the wind is also stronger there).
Now you might ask yourself why the heck would you visit Budapest in winter? It is so unfriendly! But, I have to tell you that… it is not!
Just dress according to the weather and you will be fine!
Budapest is full of programs, attractions, and winter magic!
Here are some examples!
Annual programs in Budapest in winter
Budapest in November
November in Budapest is a great time to wander around the streets below the colorful leaves and enjoy cozy dinners at restaurants serving Hungarian traditional cuisine.
11th of November is St. Martin’s Day when festivals and restaurants serve gourmet goose dishes and new wine.
At the end of November opens the annual Christmas market, a great source for souvenirs and traditional crafts.
Budapest in December
6th of December is one of the favorite days of Hungarian children as Santa Claus delivers them presents.
They just have to clean their shoes and boots the night before and place them on the windowsill and sleep deeply as Santa sneaks in to put sweets in their tiny shoes.
Of course, December in Budapest is a perfect time for celebrating Christmas and the arrival of the New Year. The streets and squares are dressed in festive lights.
The Christmas markets offer great opportunity to purchase homemade crafts and gifts, and hot mulled wine is a favorite beverage served. The biggest market is held at Vörösmarty Square, but be sure not to miss the one right in front of the Basilica as light show is projected onto the facade of the church. Also, this fair has an ice rink in its middle.
Budapest in January
It can be very cold during January, so it is not a popular time of the year to visit Budapest, but it also has its advantages: the absence of huge tourist groups and crowds. Also, it is one of the cheapest months: airfare, hotel prices significantly drop after the holidays. The city shows it’s much calmer side.
If you are not afraid of the cold (and you should not be!) start the new year in Budapest.
There are plenty of things to do: try our coffee houses and the spas. If you are interested, visit some of our museums, we have several for every taste and interest.
One more thing: tourist usually has a huge smile on their faces when it starts snowing. Especially if they happen to sit in a hot outdoor pool.
Why would you be an exception?
Budapest in February
February is still cold in Budapest, you can still experience snow and wind, so the indoor attractions and programs will be your best friends. Does it mean that you cannot do anything interesting outside?
Try ice skating on the City Park Lake, right in front of Vajdahunyad Castle, hike to Normafa and drink mulled wine while tasting a fresh strudel. Or just visit Fisherman’s Bastion in the Castle District and take great pictures of the snowy city.
February is the season of carnivals, “farsang” as we call it. It begins on Epiphany on the 6th of January and lasts until Ash Wednesday.
Farsang is the perfect season to eat as many doughnuts as humanly possible. We call our carnival doughnut “fánk” and it is simple but delicious, with powdered sugar and (apricot) jam.
Budapest holds farsang events to give you a sneak peek into the “Busó” parade of Mohács, where scary-looking men chase women while wearing wooden masks and horns.
For those who like romantic relationships more than the horror of Busó relationship building, I have good news: Valentine’s Day is also celebrated in Hungary.
The possibilities to buy sweets and teddy bears are given. For something more memorable, a romantic dinner – maybe on a boat – or a concert, or just trying the rooftop pool of Rudas Baths while watching the lively city around you are always great options for celebrating.
Hungary’s prize pig, Mangalica has it’s own festival held also in February. Here you can taste the products made from this pig while chatting with breeders and farmers.
Here are all the things to do in Budapest in winter!
What do you think of when you hear mulled wine, Christmas strudel, traditional dishes and arts and crafts in one sentence?
1. Christmas Markets!
From late November until January each season the markets are open and waiting for us.
The most famous Christmas Market in Budapest is the Vörösmarty Square market. It is right in the middle of downtown and this is the oldest one.
Here you will find lots of food stalls, offering traditional Hungarian dishes, such as lángos, chimney cake, sausages, etc.
The crafts stalls sell a plethora of Hungarian, mostly handmade goodies.
Another market takes place right in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. I recommend visiting both of these markets, but we like the Basilica market a little bit more. It is smaller and it usually has a small ice skate rink in the middle of it. The sight of this market from the higher steps of the Basilica is also really nice.
I recommend tasting mulled wines at both of the markets or even between them, as there are food (and some crafts) stalls also at Erzsebet Square. At least you will not feel the cold.
Of course, admission to the markets is free.
Vörösmarty Square Christmas market: Budapest, Vörösmarty tér, 1051. Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
St. Stephen’s Basilica Christmas market: Budapest, Szent István tér 1, 1051 Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
2. Basilica light show
As you are going to visit the market anyway, I just mention that every half an hour between 4:30 p.m and 10 p.m. a light show takes place at the Basilica.
The building is a magnificent piece of architecture, but a spectacular light show makes it even more interesting: Religious stories and fables come into life as 3D animations are beamed onto the building. Sometimes it looks like that the Basilica is moving (or falling) but doesn’t worry, it is just an illusion.
Do not miss it! If you missed it, go back.
3. Go ice skating at Europe’s largest rink
The City Park’s lake (an artificial lake) freezes every winter. It’s not surprising as it is very shallow.
So during winters, the lake turns into Europe’s largest ice skating rink. What makes this place even more interesting is the surroundings. The background of the lake is Vajdahunyad Castle that looks like as it just stepped out from a fairytale.
The other side of the lake is not ugly, too: a Baroque-style Cafe and Heroes’ Square. So you can turn any direction, the sights will be stunning.
Admission fee: 1,000 HUF ($3.50) for children, students, and pensioners, 1,500 HUF ($5.25) for adults and 3,500 HUF ($12.30) for families (two adults and one child.)
Opening hours: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
City Park Ice Rink: Budapest, Olof Palme sétány. 5, 1146
4. Take the winter tram ride
During the winter months, some of Budapest’s trams are covered in fairy lights.
The timetable of the lighted trams is always on display at every station of the trams.
Budapest’s Christmas trams run on the following lines throughout December and early January: 2, 14M, 19, 41, 42, 47, 49, 50, 56A, 59 and 69 from 5 p.m.
The one that is definitely worth a ride is tram line 2, which goes along the promenade of Pest.
You don’t need special tickets for these trams, standard tickets are valid for travel.
There are no services on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Tram tickets cost 380 HUF ($1.35)
5. Eat a chimney cake
It is a sweet strip of bread dough, wrapped around a spit and slowly cooked over a fire, then coated with sugar, cinnamon, and other sweet flavorings.
Our new favorite is the one with raspberry flavor. It gives a tiny sour taste to the sweet dough. Unfortunately, it is not available everywhere but if you happen to see it, try it and thank us later.
You’ll find these cakes at any number of Christmas markets, but there are so many stalls dotted throughout the city that you’ll regularly have to battle the temptation of the sweet smell.
6. Dip in a thermal pool
Budapest has an interesting nickname. “city of waters”. Well, it gained this name for a reason! It has so many hot springs no other capital has in the whole world!
Fortunately, these thermal baths are open all year round.
It might sound a crazy idea to go outside in the freezing cold wearing only swimwear, but trust me, you will love it.
The baths are thermal, which means that they are warm and their steam make a cozy “tent” able the pools. How cool is this? 🙂
Thermal baths and spas — including Rudas Baths, Gellért Baths, Lukács Baths, Király Baths, Császár Baths, and Palatinus Baths — also house saunas, steam chambers, and massage rooms, with many treatments available upon request.
If you are into parties, try a Sparty.
You can read more about the thermal bath culture in Budapest here.
7. Hike at Normafa
Especially if there’s enough snow during the winter, many people will head up to the hills of Buda to ride up and down the natural slides.
You can get there easily taking bus no. 21 from Széll Kálmán Square.
Some people even take their skis and snowboards, but honestly, I don’t recommend renting these stuff. If the weather and the conditions are perfect, then there will be a huge crowd on the slopes. If the conditions are not that good, it does not worth renting this equipment.
Also, the slopes are quite short and steep, sometimes it is a miracle if the sled can stop before they hit the trees at the end of the slopes. When I was a small child, my grandpa tried to teach me how to ski but it was too dangerous. I even left one of my skis as it slipped in the woods and no-one wanted to go after it. A memory for a lifetime. 🙂
But it is a perfect place to take a walk, to see the city that lies right under the hill and to taste the strudels, the bread with lard, red pepper and onions, the tasty, full of sugar tea and mulled wines – these are always good ideas. No wonder you have to wait in a queue for these.
8. Warm-up in one of the ruin bars
Budapest has numerous ruin bars, the most popular ones are in District VII.
Try Szimpla, Instant for example, but Gozsdu Courtyard’s pubs and restaurants are also perfect places for warming up during wandering the streets.
9. Wander the streets
Because strolling around the city is a perfect way of sightseeing. Also, history is everywhere in Budapest. Visit the Castle District, Jewish Quarter, Palace Quarter. They all have their distinct characteristics rooting in their past.
During winter, as the sun sets early, the architectural masterpieces of Budapest are all lit, enhancing their beauty.
Like any city at Christmas time, Budapest’s major roadways, their lamps, and trees are beautifully lit with festive and non-festive lights.
10. Spend New Year’s on the Danube…
… or any evening while you are here.
Boat cruises are very popular both during summer and winter, people from all over the world use cruises to see most of the main sights – like Parliament, Buda Castle, Castle Gardens, the Danube promenade – from the river.
There are a number of cruises available, day and night cruises, with or without meals, etc. Their price varies depending on the package you choose.
The most expensive includes a three-course lunch or dinner with drinks, while the cheaper options offer only sightseeing.
Secret tip: Public ferries go on the same route! 😉
11. Try some of the coffee houses of Budapest
Wandering around the snow-capped streets will make you want to get a bit cozy with a cup of hot coffee or tea fur sure. Lucky you! 🙂
You can choose:
A traditional cafe with marvelous architecture and detailed decorations such as the famous Ruswurm, Gerbaud, Central Café, New York Café (that is said to be one of the most beautiful cafes in the world) and Lotz Hall.
a modern café with a trendy, minimalist interior and bearded 🧔 baristas on almost each and every corner in downtown Budapest such as Fekete or Madal.
If you are near the Parliament, try Szamos Cafe.
12. Shop for souvenirs or anything else
You can surprise your loved ones – or yourself – with cool stuff you can’t buy anywhere else.
Memories of Hungary is a souvenir shop near Basilica. They have a shop at the airport, too.
While Andrassy Avenue and Fashion Street are two of its most popular shopping and tourist destinations at any time of year, I would recommend searching for the hidden little design shops.
13. Take a walk around Buda Castle
14. Taste Hungarian flavors in one of the Market Halls
Even if you don’t want to learn how to cook, at least eat a lot of heavy Hungarian food.
Forget about calories and dietary restrictions and eat huge amounts of cakes – you deserve it after all the wandering in the cold
Read my blog post about the best Hungarian dishes and sweets.
Budapest’s markets take place indoors, which makes them perfect cold-weather spots.
The Grand Market Hall is a breathtaking one where you can try lángos (on the second floor) and strudels (ground floor).
15. Try escape from a room
Let yourself being locked in a quirky cellar and solve mystery games and brain teasers to escape them.
This page lists all exit room games across Budapest.
16. Visit some Museums and Exhibitions
You can visit some of the classics, like the National Gallery, the National Museum, House of Terror or the National History Museum.
If you look something unique or quirky, head to any of these:
- Unicum Museum
- Pálinka Museum
- Museum of Sweets and Selfies
- Invisible Exhibition
- Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum
- Mai Manó House of Photography
- Pinball museum.
17. Visit the indoors of the main attractions
We even have Museums for pálinka and Uniqum. Both are worth visiting.
For wine tasting, you can find tours and other programs or just try one of the wine bars or rooftop bars.
I hope that you liked these tips and you will try some of these programs.
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