I love exploring in the shoulder season and had been looking forward to all the cool things to do in Budapest. Hungary’s capital, Budapest, is one of the most enthralling destinations in the world adorned by immaculate architecture, steeped deep in history and flaunting amazing gastronomy.
Now, during snowy winter months, the city exudes magical experiences like a frosty wonderland creating indelible memories and while the temperatures can drop as low as -5°C (-23°F) the pace never comes to a halt, in fact, it gets livelier! I can honestly tell you that evening leaving a cold London, I was not prepared for just how brrr-cold it was in Budapest. Yes, I had gloves, a warm coat as I was going to be visiting Beijing for a winter visit as well so I was good but the cold air was crisp and had bite to it. I will share a post on what to wear in Budapest in winter shortly.
The winter season in Budapest run from December to March (though the season can vary from year to year) with January being the coldest month where temperatures range between -5°C (23°F) and 0° C (32°F).
Although can be pretty grey and cold in Budapest during the winter, we still did have some sun, albeit super cold. You’ll be astounded by the array of fun activities that you can see and do. Without further ado, check out the best things to do in Budapest in winter.
- 1 Must-Dos In Budapest
- 2 Things to do in Budapest In Winter
- 2.1 Visit the spectacular Vajdahunyad Castle
- 2.2 Enjoy a Christmas light show at St. Stephen’s Basilica
- 2.3 Take a traditional Hungarian wine or pálinka
- 2.4 Visit the magnificent Hungarian Parliament Building
- 2.5 Take a dip in The Many Thermal baths In Budapest
- 2.6 Visit a Museum (or two)
- 2.7 Hike to the summit of Gellért Hill
- 2.8 Street art and cultural walk
- 3 Winter based activities in Budapest
- 4 Where To Stay In Budapest Hungary
Must-Dos In Budapest
Whether you are in Budapest in winter, summer or spring, to help you get your bearing around the city, I highly recommend doing sightseeing tour whether that is by way of a city hop on hop off tour, a lunch and cruise, a riverside tour, evening sightseeing cruise all go along with of giving you an overview of the city and then you can retrace and get a much closer look and explore the sights deeper. Some of these sights not to miss when you are self-exploring include:
- Heroes Square
- Buda Castle
- Castle Hill Funicular
- Matthias Church
- Chain Bridge
- Upper Lookout On Fisherman’s Bastion
- Daube Promenade
- Shoes By The Danube
- Synagogue In Kazinczy
- Gresham Palace
We spent some time walking around the city and hop-on and off bus tours around Budapest to avoid the cold. Many of the places and points of interest below in terms of winter are best on things to do in Budapest in December, January, February and March. We were in Budapest in December and spent 4 days before leaving for Beijing.
Things to do in Budapest In Winter
Below are some of my must-see places in Budapest in winter including the thermal baths which are a must to help bring back some of the circulations in your toes after walking around in Budapest. The places below can easily be visited in 2 days in Budapest. You can, of course, take your time and visitor at a much slower pace if you are in Budapest say 3 days or even 5 days to include day trips from Budapest as well.
Visit the spectacular Vajdahunyad Castle
Vajdahunyad is alluring all year round but it’s during the winter season when coated with white snow that it oozes fairy-tale-level magical look.
Situated in the middle of the Varosliget, and close to the Heroes Square this castle is a scenic medieval building surrounded by water which turns into a large ice rink. Inside, it holds collection of structures that tell the tales of Hungary’s history.
The complex is old yet charming and its history is pretty interesting. Initially, it was built with wood and cardboard to commemorate 1000 years of Hungarian state but later on received a facelift into a permanent brick and stone castle in 1908.
In addition, it hosts the largest agricultural museum in Europe, the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture but if you’re neither an agricultural nerd nor a history geek, you can simply stroll around the museum’s ground or take in the awe-inspiring views around.
Enjoy a Christmas light show at St. Stephen’s Basilica
November to January brings forth brilliant Christmas light shows accompanied by heart-warming music at the St. Stephens Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika).
The animated Christmas show projected onto the front of the church is applauded as the largest 3D light painting show in Europe and it runs from Mid-November to the first of January.
This free show runs every 30 minutes from the fall of dusk till 10 pm every day during winter.
Hungary produces a variety of fantastic wines from about 22 wine regions in the country and a glass of traditional Hungarian wine definitely tastes better when you’re cosied up escaping the chilly weather outside.
Better yet, you can try pálinka, a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy that’s so significant to their culture that it has festivals solely devoted to it. It’s distilled from orchard fruits such as cherries, plums, and apricots.
Visit the magnificent Hungarian Parliament Building
The iconic Hungarian Parliament is unmissable on any Budapest itinerary. The domed neo-Gothic complex was inspired by the British House of Parliament and it has braved the most political pivotal moments of the country for over 200 years.
Today, the building stands with awe-inspiring architecture offering insights into the political past of Hungary plus serving both as a supreme landmark and an active government centre.
If you’re lucky enough to visit when there is a polish official visit, then you’ll have the honour of witnessing an official reception with band and horse guards. This is another must see whether you have one day or even two days in Budapest.
It’s highly recommended that you visit with a guided tour so that you can reap invaluable knowledge about the building and its history. The views of the parliament building are stunning regardless of the time but consider passing by at night, when it’s lit up almost like a Disney palace.
Take a dip in The Many Thermal baths In Budapest
After Budapest sightseeing or exploring the many places to visit in Budapest, you want to relax in a place of warmth. Like in Iceland where we left the Blue Lagoon to the end, the same for the baths in Budapest. After all the exploring its time to relax and rest before the next adventures. Budapest is world-known for its bathing culture, (one of the remnants of the Turkish influences in the country) and state-of-the-art facilities, which offer a quintessential experience whether you choose to be indoors or outside.
The water sources in the Budapest baths are natural springs and most of them boast temperatures of 23° C and above making the swimming experience pleasurable even in the falling snow.
Outside thermal baths are the best during winter probably because it’s simply a wicked feeling to swim outside when the temperatures are below 0 degrees. Budapest thermal baths worth checking out include Szechenyi thermal bath, St Gellert thermal, Ruda thermal, St Lukacs thermal bath. You can buy the fast track tickets for Szecheyni Spa with an optional massage.
Visit a Museum (or two)
One of the best things to do in Budapest in winter to avoid the cold is to escape to museums and galleries. Boasting over 200 museums, Budapest offers an excellent range of choices for people with a fable for art, paintings and general history of the country.
It’s also a great opportunity to escape the harsh weather outside and dig into the fine details that made Hungary what it is today.
While your choice of the museum will depend highly on the information you want to know, you can try these remarkable suggestions.
- House of Terror
- Museum of Fine Arts
- Hungarian National Museum
Hike to the summit of Gellért Hill
When it comes to attractions in Budapest or what to do in Budapest whatever time of the year you visit Hungary, this place is not to be missed. Gellért Hill together with the Liberty Statue on the top of it is a popular landmark and the perfect place to go for the most panoramic views of Budapest. From the peak of the hill you get unrivalled spectacular views of the Danube River, the bridges plus both sides of the city- Buda, and Pest.
Yet, the hill is much more than just a dramatic viewpoint- it was one of the earliest parts to be inhabited in Budapest, hence it has played a significant role in the city’s history.
The hike up is relatively easy and the little sweat is highly rewarded with views, interesting tales and astounding surroundings.
Street art and cultural walk
If you adore street art, then you’ll be stunned by the incredible art that’s all over Budapest. What’s more interesting, is the fact that you to find free Budapest street art tour most likely offered by accommodations such as hostels.
From radiant murals to tiny yet fine details that can easily be missed the street art in Budapest is varied but super interesting.
Winter based activities in Budapest
Ice Skating on Városligeti Tó
Budapest winter activities are not complete without a session on the ice. Situated right behind the renowned Heroes Square in Budapest, Városligeti Tó is among the largest recreational areas in Budapest.
In summer, the stunning lake is home to fishes, ducks, and it’s a popular area for evening walks or just a stroll with kids. Yet in the winter, this small lake changes role when the water gets frozen and turns into ice rink where dozens turn up for ice skating every evening.
With the striking backdrop of the statues of Heroes’ Square and the magnificent Vajdahunyad Castle, ice skating experience on Városligeti Tó is unforgettable.
Stroll the innumerable and beautiful Christmas Markets In Budapest
This is among the best things to do at Christmas in Budapest. Budapest is immaculately heart-warming during the winter festive season. The city is covered with beautiful jolly decorations and the holiday ambiance cheers even the gloomiest. To indulge in the ultimate Christmas mood, you really can’t afford to miss on the Budapest’s Christmas Markets.
Pleasant wooden lodges are dotted across the city squares selling everything from beautiful handmade ceramics to artisanal gifts, Christmas ornaments, food and mulled wine. Culinary booths are awesome spots to have a taste of Hungarian specialties.
The main Christmas Market is usually held in Vorosmarty Square in Pest and it’s ranked among the most beguiling Christmas Markets in Europe.
For foodies, the Mangalica festival is a gastronomic event perfect to taste the glorified curly-haired Mangalica pig, which is a Hungarian Heritage breed that’s believed to have come close to extinction a few decades ago.
You can try a variety of products mainly salamis and sausages from Mangalica meat which is thought to be healthier and flavourful compared to the ordinary pig. This festival is usually held in early February in Szabadság tér.
Alternatively, you can head to Central Market Hall where you can escape the unforgiving cold and sample local authentic cuisine.
This expansive market hall is frequented by tourists and locals alike and it’s filled with lots of stalls selling fresh local produce.
Take a walk around the city
Budapest can get pretty ugly, muddy and cold during winter but the city doesn’t lose its charm since awesome snowy or sunny days do exist and when they come by they’re just perfect for a winter walk.
You can pick your own route, stroll through blocks and get lost intentionally on the streets of this perplexing city. Better still, you can join a walk organised tours of Budapest that cover various topics and deep tales of the city. Many of the tours offer great value for money as you can cross of many of Budapest, Hungary points of interest in such a short time.
There are also tons of Segway tours available that offer the same value but on a more stylish way.
Winter sales shopping
Mostly in January, Budapest’s department store, shopping malls, boutiques and other kinds of shops instigates winter shopping sales that offer awesome bargains going up to 70% off. Usually, the sale begins around the end of December and runs all through the entire month of January.
The winter sales are amazing since they create a great opportunity to get unique stuff at fair prices giving you a chance to update your wardrobe.
Vaci utca is a perfect place to start where you can get both local and world-renowned stores. Arena Plaza, Westend, Arkad, MOM Park, Mamut and Allee shopping malls are also valid options.
Where To Stay In Budapest Hungary
I will share a detailed post with regards to where to stay in Budapest. We stayed fairly central and had a view of the Parliament building from our hotel and were only a short walk from Fisherman Bastion, Chain Bridge and many other places. You can book your stay in Budapest via Booking.com as we did.
Enjoy Winter Travel? Also Read:
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- Things To Do In Stockholm In Winter
- What To Pack For Winter In Stockholm
- What To Wear In London During Winter
- Best Things To Do In Amsterdam In Winter
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- How To Look Refreshed After A Flight
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