Winter brings a serious chill to beautiful Budapest, but a dusting of snow also adds to the charm of Hungary’s capital city. Playing up its architecture and lovely natural setting, the city still has plenty of outdoor activities and cultural events planned during the holiday season. Even in the colder months, you’re still guaranteed to love your holiday in Budapest!
Here’s how to bundle up to enjoy the markets and winter sports, while saving time for the streaming natural pools that add a dash of relaxation to Christmas in Budapest!
Spread the holiday cheer at a Christmas Market
Whether you want to shop or people watch, don’t miss the Christmas market at Vörösmarty Square. The already picturesque setting is transformed into a holiday wonderland from mid-November until 31 December every year. More than 120 wooden stalls pop up to sell holiday themed gifts, as well as hot drinks and food. In addition to the opportunity to wrap up some Christmas gift buying, there is also a full calendar of events for the winter festival – including live music and performances for children. If the mulled wine (known as forralt bor) and hot tea are not enough to warm chilled hands, pop into the historic Gerbeaud Coffee House located on the same square for a taste classic of Budapest.
Hop aboard the Christmas Trolley
In addition to all the public spaces that get a Christmas makeover, Budapest’s public transit also gets into the holiday spirit. The city’s Streetcar No. 2 is completely covered in LED holiday lights for the month of December. Best of all, there is no surcharge to use the Christmas streetcar – a regular ticket or pass is all you need to navigate the city with an extra side of sparkles.
Ice skate in Budapest’s Squares
If you visit Budapest during the holidays, embrace the cooler weather by enjoying a winter-only activity such as ice skating. In addition to holiday markets, the city makes the most of its squares and parks by creating seasonal ice rinks where you can take a spin on hired skates. One of the prettiest settings is in Szent István Square, where the Basilica provides a festive backdrop to the small skating rink that is open until New Years.
Want a bigger ice rink with a larger than life backdrop? Opt for City Ice Rink at the base of the Vajdahunyad Castle. The lake is used for boating during the summer months, but turns into the city’s most impressive outdoor rink from Mid-November until February. Afterward, warm up in your Budapest hotel with a hot chocolate or two.
Attend the Nutcracker ballet at the Hungarian State Opera House
Budapest’s elegant state opera house opened in the late 19th century and features a sweeping staircase to usher guests to their seats. Inside the theater, gold and red boxes create a refined scene that seems made for a classic Christmas performance. Performed by the national ballet company, The Nutcracker tells the story of a holiday figurine come to life, with the festive music to match.
A quick tip: be sure to book tickets ahead of time if the ballet is on your list of “must sees” because the seasonal performance has a tendency to sell out during the days closest to Christmas. Tickets can be reserved up to two months in advance.
Soak away holiday stress in the thermal baths
Regardless of the weather, Budapest’s thermal baths are one of city’s best attractions for good reason. In fact, the cold winter temperatures make taking a dip in the naturally steaming mineral water even better. The most famous pools of all can be found at the ornately decorated Széchenyi thermal baths, which date back to 1913. The historic complex of spas and steam rooms keeps almost all of its 21 pools and other thermal services open on both Christmas and Boxing Day. (Though Christmas Eve will probably see the baths close early). The 27-38 °C outdoor pools offer the ideal remedy to recovering from a hectic holiday schedule, and make it obvious why Budapest is also known as the City of Healing Water.
Have you been to Budapest? What else would you recommend? Make sure to check out more things to do in Budapest here.