What is there to do in Budapest in the winter? And what should you not to do? Don’t be scared of winter; there are some really good indoor and outdoor activities in Budapest in this season.
Not many people schedule winter trips and journeys for the winter, thinking there aren’t many things one can do in a European city like Budapest. You’ll be surprised to learn there are LOTS of things to do here.
When it’s cold and frosty out with a little snow, you get to know an even more beautiful and different face of the city. Plus, with a little creativity, you can choose from plenty of interesting and fun activities, and there are some that you can only experience in the winter.
The best things to do in Budapest in the winter
1. Winter sports at Normafa
Normafa is probably the most obvious choice if you don’t want to go too far from downtown, yet you still crave some fresh air. It is a favorite place among locals for excursions and a great place to go to in the winter as well, no matter if you only want to take a walk in a forest covered in snow or want to do winter sports.
If the weather is favorable and the landscape is white, there are several opportunities to choose from including skiing and sledding. Want to go sledding with the kids? Anna-rét (Anna Meadow) is the perfect place for that. It is perfectly safe as it is not too steep and there are horizontal stops as well.
For those of you who want to go skiing, I recommend the Kis-Normafa ski slope; if you are really experienced, try Nagy-Normafa and Harangvölgy. Cross-country skiing is also a possibility if you want to have a sporty day. There are tracks at two locations in Normafa, so you can ski under the right conditions.
2. Ice-skating in the city
If it’s winter, it’s time for skating. And there are numerous great skating rinks in Budapest. The most classic one is the City Park Skating Rink which dates back to the 19th century, so gliding on the ice is a true honor there.
In addition, it is also the largest outdoor skating rink in Europe and is located in the picturesque environment of the City Park.
However, your experience can still be enhanced further. What if you could skate on top of a building? In winter, the Intermezzo Roof Terrace is transformed into a beautifully-decorated ice rink in the center of the terrace.
Thanks to heaters, you can stop and warm up between circles or have a drink if you feel like it.
In addition to the above-mentioned options, you can also try a smaller rink located just outside St. Stephen’s Basilica or the one in Bálna (whale) and another one outside Müpa. If you venture a little further away from the city center, visit the ice corridor in Csepel; it will definitely be an exciting experience.
3. Discover the best Christmas markets in Budapest
Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market
If you are here in winter, this market is a must, as it is said to be one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Europe.
There are traditional culinary products at the market with a wide range of foods and wines characteristic of the different wine regions of Hungary. And if that isn’t enough, the fair also features traditional arts and crafts products and quality stage performances.
Christmas Market at St. Stephen’s Basilica
Named the second-best Christmas market in Europe in 2018, the Christmas Market at St. Stephen’s Basilica was established with the intention to create an unparalleled festive atmosphere for visitors. Luckily, they succeeded and visitors can spend some quality time there enjoying the special culinary offerings.
The event is made whole with several fun activities like an interactive selfie spot, 3D wall paintings projected on the Basilica, and a 15-meter Christmas tree. It would be a shame not to see it!
Smaller Christmas Markets
In addition to the large classic Christmas Markets at Vörösmarty Square and opposite Basilica, there are several smaller ones as well.
They attract a much smaller crowd; thus, they are cozier and nobody will step on your foot. Although they are not located in the heart of the city, sometimes it is worth travelling a bit for the ambience.
The traditional Christmas Markets in Óbuda and Újpest are both great choices, and so is the one in Szentendre.
There are also markets a few meters away from the Danube, for instance in Várkert Bazár (Castle Garden Bazaar). Handicraft activities and concerts also add to the diversity of the markets.
If you want to get in the Christmas mood and would like to try Hungarian delicacies like chimney cake, you must visit one of the above.
4. Tavaszváró Mackófesztivál (Bear Festival)
This is one of the best end-of-winter/beginning-of-spring festivals, especially for kids. There is always something exciting happening in the Budapest Zoo (if nothing else, a new animal is born) and even going through the winterized part is a whole-day trip.
The Bear Festival is organized for the first weekend of every February. It is also the most important “meteorological” event of the year as this is the only time bears provide a weather forecast – if the animal comes out from its cave and sees its shadow, (according to folklore) it gets scared and runs back immediately to continue its hibernation. This means that spring is not yet to come.
Either way, the Zoo tends to prepare for the glorious event of the three-day Bear Festival with countless funny and exciting activities for children and adults alike.
5. Christmas workshops
Once winter is here, everyone gets in the Christmas mood, and the habit of self-made presents is becoming more and more popular. This way you don’t have to waste a huge amount of money.
There are countless workshops awaiting creative minds that show you how to make nice presents and decorations for your home. One such place is Sisko. They work with three brands and you can also use recycled materials, which makes the whole thing even better. Not only gifts and accessories can be made here, but recycled wrapping paper as well.
If you are more interested in plants, visit RisoPlant and join the floral terrarium workshop to learn more about succulents in small groups. You don’t need to bring anything; they provide everything you need from glass jars to the plant you put in it. Then you can decorate it the way you want, making the whole item even more personal.
6. Go and see the Nutcracker
I don’t know about you, but for me the winter season goes together with the story of the nutcracker, a wonderful ballet that you can also enjoy.
If you know you are coming to Budapest in the winter and would like to see this masterpiece by Tchaikovsky, book your tickets well in advance. The piece can be seen at several bigger venues including Erkel Theatre, Müpa, and Budapest Operetta.
The Nutcracker is one of the most well-known and popular ballet performances in the world which even those who haven’t seen it can cite from. Seeing this ballet while in Budapest is the best possible idea.
7. Hot soups to warm you up in the winter
I can’t think of many things better than a hot soup after a long walk in Budapest. This hot liquid plays a particularly important role in Hungary as we are a real “soup” nation, so there are lots of great places to eat some.
One of them is a street food place called LEVES. It is perfect for those of you looking for moderner flavors. Leves is a real quality fast food restaurant where you can always taste flavors from different parts of the world, all served in small paper cups.
However, if you are looking for a slightly more authentic taste, let me recommend Liszt Restaurant, with a name referring to the acclaimed Hungarian composer. Guests and exhausted wanderers are welcome stylishly with sourdough bread and butter.
The menu evokes the time of the monarchy, and there are seasonal fruit and vegetables in the spirit of freshness. Starting with caudle, through the usual broth, you will find everything that warms the human soul.
8. Alternative Christmas Markets in Budapest
Perhaps one of the most sought after and coolest words of the year could be alternative: alternative milk, foods, music, etc. No wonder there is a growing demand for these types of products.
And if you are crazy about Christmas Markets but are looking for something slightly slower and lighter with designers and domestic producers selling products, there are several such fairs in Budapest.
One of the most popular ones is WAMP organized in Millenium Park with quality and creative presents to put under the Christmas tree. You can choose from the works of more than 200 designers, and there are a number of culinary and other specialties.
Although the Czakó Garden and Farmer’s Market is not one of the large-scale events, you can still purchase several vegan, all-free, homemade delicacies. In addition, there are also handmade ornaments and quality accessories.
9. Winter detoxification in the sauna
Sitting in the sauna is always great and also healthy, but is even more refreshing in the winter when it’s cold outside. Budapest has several different types of places to choose from if you feel like detoxifying a bit.
Of course, there are some well-known ones like Gellért and Széchenyi Baths, but you can also visit some less-known places.
Palatinus at Margaret Island reminds everyone of fun summer swims, however a wellness area was also added during the renovations. It is open all year round with both saunas and thermal water pools.
Pesterzsébeti Jódos-Sós Gyógyfürdő is the only thermal bath in Budapest with bubbling iodine-salty medicinal water. The Finnish sauna that can be entered from the inner yard offers an authentic experience for everyone. In case of snow, you can even rub yourself with it between two saunas, as it is officially done.
Of course, there are numerous other places as well, including gym centers and other baths. So, pick the one you like most and enjoy your well-deserved sauna.
10. Thermal bath tour
And if we are talking about saunas and Budapest, it would be a huge mistake to miss out on thermal baths. The presence of the many beneficial medicinal waters is characteristic of the whole country.
And what else would you enjoy more on a cold winter day than 30-something degree Celsius thermal water? Plus, there are also several wellness services, so you can add a massage and other pampering activities to your relaxation.
One of the best thermal bath in Budapest is Gellért Bath with a history dating back to the 13th century. There are separate men’s and women’s baths, indoor and outdoor pools, and all kinds of thermal and beauty treatments. The beautiful Art Nouveau building and its surroundings are just the icing on the cake.
The Széchenyi Baths should not be left out either with its outdoor pool providing an unparalleled experience in snowfall. Numerous indoor and outdoor pools, steam chambers, and body care functions are offered among the Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance walls.
If you are looking for truly authentic Turkish baths, visit Veli Bej Spa – built during the Turkish occupation, it should be visited by everyone, however, it is probably one of the least known spas in the city. It isn’t crowded, so you can have a perfectly relaxing day among the beautifully restored, yet centuries-old decorations.
11. SUP on the winter Danube
Didn’t expect this one coming, did you? In winter? On the Danube? Yep! In case you happen to spend Christmas in Budapest, join the SUP Budapest team – they have their usual festive training on December 23rd.
They set off from the Roman Coast and take participants to Lupa Island. You can slowly “drift” from there to their location where the brave ones are awaited with hot drinks, campfires, and music.
The event is subject to registration, and if you fancy SUP and the team, you can join one of their events all year round. Also, being able to admire the landscape from the surface of the ice-cold Danube is perhaps one of the coolest winter activities I can imagine.
12. Concerts everywhere
Just like summer is all about outdoor parties and festivals, winter is about indoor concerts and bar parties.
There are several clubs in Budapest which offer quite famous performers. One of the cult places among citizens is A38, where there is a great party and concert almost every day. What’s more, the whole thing is inside a ship! Obviously, it’s no Titanic – i.e. the place is not huge – but it has a charm to it with a whole crowd of approx. 200 people jumping to great music with beer in their hands.
Another popular concert site is Akvárium Klub at Erzsébet Square. The place houses concerts by internationally-acclaimed performers in its several halls, providing unforgettable parties.
Dürerkert in the City Park is also a place you shouldn’t miss if you are a fan of heavy metal and rock as there are concerts almost every day of the year.
However, if you fancy pleasant jazz concerts that warm you up on a winter day, then the Budapest Jazz Club is the place for you.
13. Winter hiking in Budapest and the surrounding area
If you are not one to be afraid of the cold, or love a good challenge, I have some great winter hiking routes for you. Walking in nature covered in snow on a cold day has a bit of a mystical atmosphere.
The silence that surrounds you is an uncommon experience. Visegrád, located close to Budapest, is one of the best winter excursion destinations with the Fellegvár (Citadel) and the surrounding forests. Want to go skiing? Try the northern side of Nagyvillám Hill (Great Lightning Hill). Although it is not the Alps, it can definitely be huge fun.
Dobogókő – also close to the city – is a great choice in the winter thanks to its built tourist trails. Many consider the region a place of pilgrimage and believe it is twice as easy to recharge your energy there, but no one can prove that it is indeed the location of the heart chakra.
Duna-Ipoly Nemzeti Park (Danube Ipoly National Park) is the perfect place for winter walks and sledding. There you can visit Nagy-Hideg-hegy (Big Cold Hill), a site with a strange and mystical name that can be reached by train from Kismaros in a short time. It is an excellent choice if you are okay with travelling an hour from Budapest to get there.
However, if you prefer not to travel that much, you can visit Gellért Hill as well. It is a popular tourist destination all year round. On the one hand, it feels good to move around a bit. On the other hand, it is a totally different experience to admire the frozen city from above without the usual crowd.
14. Cafés – a short black, please!
This one sounds pretty obvious, but there are so many great cafés in Budapest that you could spend a whole day just visiting them. A cup of short black or hot tea in winter is so much better anyway.
And if you are real coffee junkie, you might want to visit KávéBár Bazár at Millenáris (Millennium Park). There are several exhibitors and activities in the spirit of coffee awaiting those interested. Coffee tasting and competitions are all in line with environmental awareness.
However, if you intend to explore the great places of the city on your own, I have some ideas for you. There is for instance Espresso Embassy, a rustic café offering the best quality coffee in the capital.
Madal Cafe is another one you should visit with several locations in Budapest. They offer quality coffee, healthy foods with music, and environment enhancing relaxation.
But there are several more specialty cafés in the city with good quality, uniquely roasted coffees and specialties awaiting visitors.
15. Wine tasting – enjoy the best Hungarian wines
In addition to medicinal waters, our country is also rich in quality wine. And what is better to warm you up than this wonderful nectar? You can take part in wine tastings with the best of the best wines to enjoy.
Wine&Cruise is an unforgettable experience – have dinner and drink the most famous wines of the country while cruising down the Danube and admiring the city.
Wine is history – this is something that restaurant Borkatakomba is well-aware of. Join wine tastings in one of the cellars of the Brückner vintner family. The atmosphere of the event is made whole with wine barrels, candlelight, and, of course, quality wines.
And if it’s winter, the Winelovers Xmas initiative is a must. This is a real Christmas wine tasting and a fair all in one. There are quality wines by domestic producers, and you can also stock up on the ones you like right after the tasting.
16. Tropical ambience in a Budapest palm house
Discover tropical Budapest in winter. You can easily do so in one of the three palm houses there are in the capital. They are not only worth visiting because of the temperature, but also because of the plant specialties.
One of the most obvious choices is the Fővárosi Állat- és Növénykert (Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden) which is worth a visit because of the palm house and the animals as well.
The second location is the palm house of the Fűvészkert (Eötvös Loránd Botanical Garden), where you can see many non-native plant species in an imposing environment.
The third and also the most unexpected place to visit is the top floor of Széchenyi Baths where you can read and relax in hammocks enjoying the soothing effect of plants.
Carnival exists in several parts of the world in a way, we just call them different names. Of course, Hungary also has its own carnival customs and events related to it.
These include Busó-walking, eating huge amounts of szalagos fánk (Hungrian ribbon doughnuts), and dressing up as something you like. There are numerous events in Budapest connected to carnival from fancy dress parties to carnival doughnuts, feasts, and balls.
There is literally no club, café, bar, or anything without elements connected to carnival, so look out and get a costume if you feel like taking part in the fun.
18. Mangalica Festival – Budapest
Those of you who are horrified even of the thought of it or don’t eat meat, please jump to the next point. However, if you are interested in Hungarian customs, you must attend this festival.
There are still real pig slaughters in the countryside. These days are about waking up with the sun, drinking huge amounts of palinka, and stuffing yourself with food.
Even if you don’t want to do all this, you might want to enjoy the end product at the Mangalica Festival in Budapest. The meat of Mangalica is very tasty and also healthy – if eaten in moderate amounts.
The festival may be visited free of charge, and it is valued for the introduction of the fair-trade movement. In addition to Mangalican products, you can also buy Hungarian goods and participate in children’s and musical activities. But there is also a whole roasted pig, pálinka tasting, and a cooking competition, bringing back a bit of the atmosphere of real pig slaughters.
19. Board games in good company
I am sure many of you remember spending cold winter days crouched up in a room playing board games.
There are lots of board game bars in Budapest, and you don’t need to worry about the language either as you can play several games (e.g. card games) which do not require the knowledge of a common language.
At the Board Game Cafe, for example, you can not only have fun, but also eat and drink a lot. There are 500 board games to choose from, and the game master will be happy to help you with the rules.
Társa’s Játék Bár awaits guests with homely atmosphere and pallet furniture in its basement rooms. There are more than 200 games to choose from, as well as soft drinks, alcohols, and snacks.
20. Csodák Palotája (Palace of Wonders)
Located in Óbuda, it is currently the only scientific playground in Central and Eastern Europe with nearly 250 interactive objects to discover the fundamental laws of physics.
There are exciting and funny experiments and games that allow you to experience the surrounding world and science which perhaps seemed incomprehensible until now.
It can also be a great family activity as kids get to experience the things they study at school in a more fun way.
21. Art cinemas
Watching a film together when it’s freezing and snowing outside is the best activity imaginable. There are several art cinemas in Budapest with films often in the original language and in most cases, they have English subtitles as well, so you can admire all arts.
These cinemas are much smaller than the ones in shopping centers and also offer a much smaller range of choices in terms of the selection. But thanks to this, they are cheaper, and art films that are not mainstream may surely be found at these cinemas.
The whole cinema feeling is completely different with a homely atmosphere. Watch the film you are interested in, check if it is captioned or possibly broadcast in another language, and enjoy this novel ambience.
Things to do in Budapest in the winter – Summary
Don’t let the cold winter scare you; you can get to know a completely different side of Budapest at this time of year. No matter if it is an indoor or an outdoor activity, you will surely find something to your taste that will immediately make you forget about the thought that visiting Budapest in warmer weather would have been a better idea.
Plan ahead what you want to see and experience, but also leave room for spontaneous activities, as even in winter Budapest is a city of surprises.