10 Reasons for you to visit Budapest during winter
If you suffer cold weather, Budapest is not the place for you during winter time, better come visit from Spring to Autumn. But if you’re searching for a beautiful European capital with a festive holiday atmosphere, lovely markets and food festivals, and Christmas galore, Budapest is definitely the place to visit! With its enchanting Danube, snowfalls and cozy cafes to warm up with hot cocoa or tea, you’ll instantly fall in love with the Hungarian capital (and the chilly wind won’t seem so chilly anymore). Here are 10 things you can’t miss out on in Budapest during winter!
Stop by for tea at Budapest’s Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace
The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace is an iconic hotel in Budapest and one of my absolute favorite. With its picture-perfect location right in front of the Chain Bridge, Gresham Palace has jaw-dropping views of the hills of Buda. As you step inside, the dreamy liberty style of the hotel immediately wraps you up. And during the holiday season, the hotel is soaked in festive decorations that will immerse you in the holiday spirit.
After a chilly walk down the streets of Budapest, what better way to warm up than with some yummy afternoon tea? The Four Season Hotel Gresham Palace has a beautiful bar and lobby lounge where you can have the classic English afternoon tea (advance reservations) served in stunning Herend porcelain, or you can stop by for a cup of warm tea last minute. I definitely recommend the Gresham Palace tea blend with apricots and the yummy pumpkin scones with clotted cream! To die for!
Stroll around the Christmas Markets
Budapest is stunningly beautiful during the holidays. The city is almost entirely lit up with festive decorations and holiday cheer is all around. To get into the ultimate Christmas mood, you can’t miss out on Budapest’s Christmas Markets.
Cozy wooden houses are set up one after the other, selling everything from artisanal gifts, handmade ceramics, food and mulled wine. My favorite Christmas Market is the one in front of the Basilica of St. Stephen. From Zrinyi utca all the way to the Basilica you’ll find beautiful stands. But the official Budapest Christmas market is the one in Vörösmarty tér, which is also beautiful and where you’ll find the famous “BUDAPEST” sign. Don’t miss out on the charming handmade Christmas ornaments, the unique hand-crafted mugs and the yummy food! It’s the perfect place to warm up with some mulled wine and pick up some lovely gifts!
Go ice skating
It’s not officially winter without ice-skating rinks. And Budapest sure has some beautiful ice-skating rinks out there! While you’ll find artificial rinks such as the one at St. Stephen’s Basilica, there is one you absolutely cannot miss: the one at Varosligeti Mujegpaly.
It’s the beautiful lake next to Heroes’ Square which turns into a gigantic ice-skating rink in the winter! Skating with the Vajdahunyad Castle as a backdrop surely gives that fairytale feeling. Don’t miss out!
See The Nutcracker (Opera house under reconstruction)
I was lucky enough to see the Nutcracker ballet at the jaw-dropping Hungarian State Opera House just before they closed to begin renovation works. The experience was absolutely magical and the opera house is simply stunning.
If you’re into ballet and Tchaikovsky, you absolutely must get a ticket to see this performance. While the opera house will be closed for renovation until the end of 2018, performances will be held at Erkel Theater.
Have breakfast or stop by for cake at The New York Cafe
If you’ve done some research on where to go in Budapest you’ve surely stumbled upon the New York Cafe: “the most beautiful cafe in the world”. In the 1900s the New York Cafe, or New York Kávéház, was the most famous coffee house in Budapest, frequented by writers, influential editors and artists.
Unfortunately, after WWII, the beloved café was abandoned and used as a sporting goods shop. While the café reopened in 1954 with the new name Hungaria, it was only in 2006 that it was restored to its original splendor. Today, with its eclectic Italian Renaissance style, it’s back to being Budapest’s most famous coffee house, perfect for a yummy breakfast or for afternoon tea with cake.
Go sled riding on Buda’s Normafa park
If you’re lucky enough to experience a snowy Budapest, there’s one place you can’t miss out on for some real winter fun! Just a 20-minute car ride from central Budapest, on the Buda side of the capital, you’ll find Normafa hill.
While this place is one of the most frequented green spots year-round, during winter it turns into a real winter wonderland! Families with children, couples and friends gather with their sleds and go down the hill! It’s pretty steep so it’s perfect for some fun sled riding! Plus, the panoramic view of Budapest is spectacular! Just a heads up, during the weekend this place is kind of crowded, best to go during the week or during Hungarian lunch time (12pm).
Relax in Budapest’s thermal Baths
The thermal baths in Budapest are one of the main attractions of the Hungarian capital. Flocks of tourists cannot wait to go to the beautiful ancient thermal baths, relax, get massages and swim in thermal waters. I was one of those tourists too, at first. Until I went to one last winter and wasn’t particularly happy: there were too many people, we were in 30 in one sauna, it was crowded.
I found the thermal bath experience very touristy, and not up to what I was expecting. However, I am a lover of thermal baths and refuse to think that the one I went to is the standard of all. To get the best out of the experience, go during the morning as you’ll find less people! You can also book massages and other treatments on the spot. I’ve heard Rudas baths is nice, and also Gellert baths.
Admire Budapest’s festive holiday lights in December
Budapest is soaked in holiday cheer! The Christmas lights are everywhere and it just makes the city even more beautiful than usual.
To find the most beautiful Christmas lights and immerse yourself in the holiday atmosphere, have a stroll in Andrassy, the Hungarian Parliament square, St. Stephen’s Basilica and Vaci Utca.
As Pandoro is to Italy, Kürtőskalács is to Hungary during the holiday season. If you’re searching for a delicious traditional-style Kürtőskalács, Budapest’s Christmas markets as well as certain stands in the Castle district are definitely the place to try them.
If you’ve never heard of Kürtőskalács, let me enlighten you: it’s a sweet, spiral-shaped pastry originating from Transylvania. It’s made using wooden spits and a charcoal oven, and is also known as “chimney cake” due to its unique shape. You can eat it plain or rolled into various toppings like cinnamon, almonds or walnuts. It’s DELICIOUS!
Budapest’s Gozsdu udvar nightlife
If you ask Hungarians where to immerse yourself in the local nightlife scene, almost all of them will pronounce the words “Gozsdu Udvar”. At first you’ll think it’s a bar, until they later explain that it’s an area full of bars, one after the other.
Apart from the cool ruin bar experience (which isn’t very much frequented by locals), to dive in local nightlife you can’t miss out on this super fun courtyard! It’s filled with cafes, restaurants and bars. I recommend Spiler Shangai for drinks in a trendy place as well ad Di Vino for wine! Just a heads up, careful they don’t rip you off with a tourist menu. And never flag a taxi down the street, always reserve your taxi through the “Fo Taxi” or “Budapest Taxi” app!