Budapest in winter is a very different experience than Budapest during summer.
Forget the music festivals, picnics in the park, and wandering the streets with an ice-cold lemonade in hand.
Budapest in winter is characterized by the festive atmosphere, warm foods and drinks, and wintery activities or indoor museums, exhibitions, and architecture.
Winter weather in Budapest can be a bit too cold to stroll the streets for hours, but it’s also very cozy, warm, and joyful.
So throw on all your clothes (I’m not even kidding), and go out with friends and family to enjoy the cold weather and merry atmosphere.
Here are 12 things to do in Budapest in winter:
- Attend an opera at one of the Opera Houses
- Warm up at one of the famous coffeehouses
- Sample Hungarian foods at the Great Market Hall
- Admire the indoor architecture
- Visit one of the many museums and exhibitions
- Iceskate with a castle as your backdrop
- Soak and relax in the warm thermal baths
- Wander the Christmas markets
- Marvel at the Basilica Christmas Light Show
- Savor warm street foods
- Ride the festively decorated tram 2
- Go on winter walks
1. Attend an opera at one of the opera houses
Hungary has a rich opera history and Budapest is home to several opera houses and theatres.
The most famous is the Magyar Állami Operaház, the National Opera House, on Andrássy út. The building is marvelous and you can buy tickets online or at the ticket office. I once bought tickets for about €1,50 for a final rehearsal. I don’t notice the mistakes anyway and it was a great experience.
Don’t ignore other theatres though. I attended one show at the Erkel Theatre and while it’s not as historical as the National Opera House, it has an impressive interior as well and the show was great.
2. Warm up at one of the famous coffee houses
Budapest is known for its coffee culture so it’s no wonder there are literally hundreds of coffee houses. It’s a great break to warm up with a hot chocolate and some pastries during your wanderings. Some places also serve mulled wine!
Some of the most famous coffee houses in Budapest are:
- New York Café, with its Renaissance-style interior. The café is popular, the coffees are expensive, but your visit is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- Gerbeaud Cukrászda is Budapest’s most iconic confectionery. Their cakes are renowned! Tip: They have a ‘Get to know Hungary’ plate where you’re served the best sweets the country has to offer.
- Párisi Udvar opened in 2019, after over 4 years of renovations. The architecture is breathtaking! I can’t wait to go for breakfast when I’m back in Budapest.
- Ruszwurm Cukrászda is Budapest’s oldest confectionery. Their confectionery family business dates back to the Austro-Hungarian empire! They sell all the best cakes (from behind the 200-year-old cherry wooden counter), including the annual Hungary cake.
3. Sample Hungarian foods at the Great Market Hall
Hungary’s cuisine is characterized by warm, comfortable, filling meals perfect for cold winters.
Head to the Great Market Hall to try them out. There are some food stalls on the first floor, but you can also find many delicacies or buy your own ingredients on the ground floor.
4. Admire the indoor architecture
Part of Budapest’s charm during summer is wandering the streets to admire the architecture.
But in winter, it might be a bit too cold.
So just go indoors!
Many of the city’s iconic buildings offer visits or tours for a small fee.
- National Opera House
- Museum of Applied Arts
- Matthias Church
- Dohány Street Synagogue
- St. Stephen’s Basilica
5. Visit one of the many museums and exhibitions
Want to stay indoors? Visit one of Budapest’s many museums and exhibitions.
If you’re into art, don’t miss the Museum of Fine Arts, Hungarian National Gallery, or Museum of Applied Art. History buffs should visit the Hungarian National Museum and House of Terror. Also interesting is the Invisible Exhibition, which is about life with a visual impairment.
6. Iceskate with a castle as your backdrop
Városliget (the City Park) isn’t just a park; there’s also a restaurant, zoo, circus, several museums, the Vajdahunyad castle, and the Széchenyi baths. Next to the castle is a lake, where you can rent rowing boats or pedalo boats during summer, or ice skating during winter (late November to mid-February)! That’s when the lake is turned into Europe’s largest outdoor ice skating rink.
The hours of operation vary, but in general, the iconic ice rink is open from 9 am to 1 pm, and 5 pm to 9 pm (Monday through Friday), 10 am to 2 pm and 4 pm to 9 pm (Saturday), and 10am to 2pm and 4pm to 8pm (Sunday). Kids have free entrance, and there’s a discount for students and senior citizens. It’s also possible to rent skates. More info about the ice skating rink can be found on their website.
Just so you know, there’s a little café where you can get some basic food and drinks like a sandwich. Sometimes there’s a little stall next to the ice where you can get a mulled wine!
7. Soak and relax in the warm thermal baths
Ahh, Budapest: City of Baths. Thermal baths are spread throughout the city. The best-known baths are the Széchenyi Baths and Gellért Baths. The first is the biggest thermal bath in Europe, with 18 indoor and outdoor baths between 20°C and 40°C. That’ll get you warm! The Gellért Baths are part of the Gellért Hotel, near the Gellért Hill (yes, the one with the Citadella on top).
Bonus: the Széchenyi baths are even more impressive during winter than during summer, because of the steaming baths!
If you’re looking for a more authentic experience, visit the Veli Bej baths, the oldest Turkish thermal baths in Budapest, or any of the other 100+ bathhouses, like the Király, Rudás, or Lukács baths.
8. Wander the Christmas markets
If you’re visiting Budapest in the beginning of winter, you’ll find several Christmas markets throughout the city. The one at Vörösmarty tér starts mid-November each year. You’ll find traditional arts and crafts, but also traditional foods and drinks like kürtőskalács (chimney cakes), lángos and other Hungarian dishes, and mulled wine or hot chocolate. There’s also live music and other performances. The Christmas market at Vörösmarty tér is open until January 1st.
Other Christmas markets can be found throughout the city; at Vajdahunyad Castle, City Park, Várkert Bazár, or in front of the St. Stephens Basilica which also has a spectacular light show.
9. Marvel at the Basilica Christmas Light Show
The Christmas market at the St. Stephen’s Basilica really goes all-out and has a spectacular light show!
The laser show plays on the front of the Basilica and tells religious stories and fables through animation and cartoons. There are even some 3D parts—grab some free glasses from the stalls on the Christmas market.
The winter light show happens every half hour between 4.30 pm and 10 pm.
10. Savor warm street foods
I already said how Hungarian cuisine is perfect for cold winters—and that includes the street food.
Stop by at the stalls on the street, often in populated places like busy squares and train stations, and grab a cheesy lángos, sweet roasted chestnuts, or still-steaming kürtőskalács.
11. Ride the festively decorated Tram 2
Tram 2 is popular among visitors to Budapest any time of year—it’ll take along the Danube and you can see the Citadella, Buda Castle, Chain Bridge, and Parliament on the ride (among other things).
But in winter, it’s an experience on a higher level. The tram is completely decorated in Christmas lights and even decorated on the inside.
There are a few more trams and trolleybuses that are decorated during winter, but they don’t run on each line every day.
12. Go on winter walks
Budapest is stunning, also during winter. There’s a ton to see and it’d be a shame to skip it just because it’s cold outside. Take a walk along the Danube, for example, one of the best places to enjoy the views over Buda. And the (partly) frozen-over Danube is quite impressive as well!
Talking about views: a climb up the Citadella or Castle Hill will warm you in no time, and you’ll get a fantastic view at the end.
If there’s snow, it usually won’t stick in the city. But if you love snow as much as I do, make sure to take the bus to Normafa (bus 21A from Széll Kálmán tér) or the Zugliget Libegő (Chairlift) where the snow will stick. It’s busy with families and groups sleighing, having snowball fights, and enjoying snow walks. I highly recommend the walk to the Elizabeth Lookout Tower (Erzsébet-kilátó) on Jánoshegy, the highest point in Budapest; it has amazing views! There’s also a little café in Normafa that serves warm rétes (strudel).
Are you opting for a wander session through the city? There’s enough to see; a lot of stores go all out with festive decorations during the season, and many cafes and restaurants are also decorated.
And if you simply don’t know where to go, why not join a free walking tour?
Of course, there’s plenty more to do in Budapest in winter. Go shopping at the malls, visit one of the dozens of museums, go to the movies, enjoy a long dinner, go for a cooking class, etc.
Before I sign off—I think Budapest is a fantastic destination all winter, but I’d recommend visiting in November and December to benefit from all the festive decorations and events!
What’s your favorite thing to do in Budapest in winter?
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