Budapest is one of our favorite European cities. It’s fun, it’s cheap, it’s beautiful! We have been to Budapest several times and despite being very popular you can still enjoy it, particularly in winter! From Europe’s biggest ice rink to the famous baths, here you can find all the best things to do in Budapest in Winter.
We will explore things you can only do in winter, the things you can do despite being winter, and the things that are better in winter! But, let’s start by explaining why visiting Budapest in winter is a great idea.
Why should you visit Budapest in Winter?
We believe that Budapest is one of the best cities in the world to visit in Winter. Why? Two main reasons: Weather and crowds, but also the fact that most of the best things to do in Budapest are great to do in Winter.
It doesn’t rain all that much Budapest in Winter. Actually, it rains less in the Winter than in Summer. Yes, it’s cold (sometimes very cold), but it isn’t too wet. In fact, February and March are two of the driest months in Budapest. This means that as long as you keep yourself warm, you can do almost everything in winter.
Budapest is very popular these days, but Winter is also the low season in Europe. So, you won’t have to endure the crowds that you get during the peak season / Summer. You’ll have some places for yourself and in others, you won’t have to be in queues for hours.
In hindsight, you’ll probably have better travel experience in Winter than in Summer. We have done both, and now that I think of it, we enjoyed our Budapest winter trip more! Though, It’s never a bad time to go to Budapest.
Things to do in Budapest in Winter
#1 Take walking tour
One of our favorite suggestions in these big, historic cities is starting with a walking tour. A walking tour will give you an overview of the city. the guide will take you to some of the main sights, explain their importance, tell you stories about the neighborhoods and the history of Budapest.
In Winter there are fewer tours, and much fewer tourists, making it more enjoyable. On the other hand, it will probably be very cold and even snowing, so pack some warm clothes and shoes. You can also take advantage of having a local guide and ask for some tips, restaurants, bars, and whatever you are interested in.
#2 Visit the Hungarian Parliament
The Hungarian Parliament is possibly the most famous building in Budapest, and you won’t miss it even if you want to. It’s 268 meters long and 96 meters high in the central dome. It may look familiar to you as it was inspired by the English Parliament. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy it from the outside, as it’s located by the Danube and visible from most of the best lookouts in Budapest (Chain Bridge, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s bastion…)
Yet, what we are suggesting is visiting the interior of the Parliament. While you should do this either in Winter or Summer, it’s obviously much more inviting in winter, because the nice comfy heat will feel like heaven. The Parliament is really a wonderful building, full of lovely details, golden ornaments, and beautiful rooms. The tour will guide you through these rooms and sights which include the Holy Crown, the magnificent staircase, and the session room.
You should always book your visit as soon as you plan the trip. It sells out really fast, even in winter! Book your ticket online and you’ll save time, money and ensure that you actually have a ticket.
#3 Szechenyi thermal baths
Going to Budapest and not going to the thermal baths is inconceivable… for us! Even if you have little time, you need to go to the baths, and in winter we suggest going to the Szechenyi thermal baths, located in the city park. They are the most popular and the biggest in Europe, with 18 pools (15 indoors and 3 outdoors), several saunas and steam baths.
We really enjoyed going to the baths when it’s really cold, particularly to the outdoor pools. There’s something really relaxing and fun to be in a hot pool with whirlpools with a temperature of about 0º C.
This is one of the most crowded attractions in Budapest, so during winter, it has far fewer people, which makes it even better. However, we still encourage you to buy the tickets online, skip the lines, and guarantee that you can enter! Do you really want to go to Budapest and have to skip this?
#4 Gellert thermal baths
The Szechenyi Thermal Baths have a beautiful building but that’s not enough to be the most beautiful thermal baths in Budapest, that title goes to the Gellert thermal baths in Gellert Hotel – an exquisite one hundred years old art nouveau building.
Unless you are staying 3 days in Budapest or more, we do not suggest you go to both baths, there’re a lot of things to see and do in this city. So, in winter we think the Szechenyi is a better option, because the outside pools are open, and it’s so much fun to be on the hot water and freezing air.
Gellert baths have the outdoor pools closed and you can’t have that experience. On the other hand, the building is just wonderful and it’s easily the most beautiful thermal baths we have ever visited. Similarly to the Szechenyi, it’s also a good idea to buy a skip the line ticket! Or if you want to have a massage, buy a skip the line plus massage ticket.
#5 Enjoy a Danube cruise
One of the most popular things to do in Budapest, all year round, is taking a Danube cruise. There are cruises for all tastes, time of the day, wallets, and duration. As you are traveling in winter, make sure you choose one with a warm, closed boat.
We believe that a night cruise is your best bet. You’ll be able to see all the lights, to both Buda and Pest and it’s an easy, fun and romantic thing to do at night. There are plenty of night cruises with different themes, you can have a dinner cruise, a party cruise, a cruise with a show. Or simply take in the views, enjoy the company, and maybe a hot cappuccino to warm up during the cold winter nights.
Tip: if you want a very cheap cruise, you can take one of the public transport boats and enjoy the views during the day.
#6 Ruins bars
The ruins bars are (were?) the hotters nightlife trend in Budapest a few years ago. They used to be a very local thing until tourists found it, and now every backpacker wants to go to Budapest to check the ruins bars and party all night long!
If you haven’t heard about ruins bars, the concept is simple: you take an abandoned old building (usually in the old Jewish quarter) and set up a bar in it and fill it with random flea market furniture, cool street art, and start serving alcohol. There are many of these bars, and it can be difficult to choose where to go, so you should really consider doing a pub crawl.
The ruins bars are a perfect destination for partying in Budapest, particularly in winter, when there are fewer tourists and more locals. It’s also a great way to warm up… in every way.
#7 St. Stephens Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica is the biggest church in Budapest and naturally one of its main attractions. It’s right in the center, so it’s possible that you’ll go there even without wanting.
On the exterior, it is a beautiful neoclassical cathedral, but it’s the interior that will really catch your eyes with sculptures, frescoes, and stained glass windows. Furthermore, this is where you can supposedly find the mummified right hand of Saint Stephen.
Finally, in winter the cathedral is also a great pit stop in those really cold days! you can stop, sit, rest and warm up a bit before continuing your trip.
#8 Buda Castle and the Castle district
The Buda Castle is a very imposing building and it’s impossible to miss it. It used to be the home of the Hungarian kings, so it’s also called the Royal Palace. Today it’s home to the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. even if you aren’t planning to visit the Gallery and museum, you should check this majestic landmark up close, as it also offers beautiful views to the Pest side of the city.
In Buda, you should also take some time to wander through the old and historic streets of the Castle District. This district is very different from the rest of the city, particularly the central districts of Pest. The castle district is full of cobbled streets and small alleys. It looks and feels like a completely different place. In winter, with fewer tourists, you will almost forget that you are inside one of the busiest cities in Europe.
#9 Matthias Church & Fisherman’s Bastion
Matthias Church is the other great religious temple in Budapest, but it’s located in Buda in the heart of the Castle district. It’s used to be the coronation spot of the Hungarian kings and hosted the royal weddings. Despite having suffered from several renovations the church has delicate turrets, and beautiful details in the exterior and a unique interior.
Next to the church, you’ll find the fisherman’s bastion, possibly the most beautiful place to take pictures in Budapest. the view to the parliament and the rest of the city is just astonishing. This lookout tower and terrace may look old and historic, but it’s rather recent. It was only built in the 19th century. Nevertheless, it’s a mandatory stop in any visit to Budapest.
#10 Ruszwurm Confectionery
After all the walking and sightseeing in the castle district, you will need to rest, recharge your batteries, and probably warm up a bit. Luckily for you, the oldest (and one of the best) confectionery in Budapest is just a few meters from Matthias Church.
Ruszwurm confectionery is very small, and it’s usually crowded in the peak season, but in winter you should be fine. They are famous for the layers cakes, so this is the time to indulge your sweet teeth. We advise you to have a nice warm coffee and a piece of their delicious cakes before continuing to explore the city!
#11 Take the millennium underground to Heroes’ Square
This is a 3 in one people! You get to do 3 important things in Budapest all at one! The Millenium Underground railway is one of the oldest subways in the world and it’s one of Budapest’s UNESCO heritage sites! Built-in the 19th century, under Andrassy avenue, it connects the city center with Heroes’ Square. Even today taking this metro line is a fascinating experience. It’s old and classic. Even each metro station looks like a small museum!
You should exit in Heroes’ Square and take the opportunity to appreciate Budapest’s biggest and most important square. The millennium monument in the square celebrates many of the Hungarian Heroes and in the center, there’s a 36-meter Corinthian column with Archangel Gabriel holding St. Stephen’s crown on top. The Heroes’ Square serves as the gate to Budapest’s city park.
#12 Vajdahunyad Castle and the city park
In general, the city park isn’t the most attractive place to visit in Budapest in Winter. It will probably be very cold and you won’t be able to have a picnic or anything. However, there’s one attraction that will probably catch your eyes, Vajdahunyad Castle.
Initially built with cardboards and wood for the 1896 millennium celebrations, it was later rebuilt in more resistant materials, as the people of Budapest really loved it. The castle is rather unique with 4 different architectural styles, Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, and Romanesque as a unique tribute to Hungarian architectural tradition.
It’s always a wonderful sight, but during winter, with the snow, and the Christmas lights it becomes something else! It’s very charming and romantic. Plus, during the Christmas markets season, there’s a small Christmas market in the entrance.
#13 Ice skate in Europe’s biggest outdoor ring
You may not want to have a picnic in the park or sunbathe as you would in Summer, but during winter the boating lake of the park freezes and becomes a huge ice rink where you can skate.
We have to be honest with you, we can’t skate. So we couldn’t really skate but watching people having fun ice skating, it was so much fun that I don’t think I ever wanted to learn a skill so much.
The rink is huge, but there’s more to it. It’s also located in a beautiful part of the city, with the park surrounding it, Vajdahunyad Castle behind and heroes’ square closeby.
It’s also pretty cheap, costing less than 5 Euros, making it a cheap way to enjoy winter in Budapest. Do yourself a favor and don’t skip this!
#14 Christmas markets
Budapest arrived late to the Christmas market scene. The first Christmas market has only 20 years of so, but since then they have been popping like mushrooms. Budapest’s Christmas markets are fun, much cheaper than the average, and offer lots of things to try. The smoked salmon, the delicious langos, the Mulled wine, the traditional Chimney cakes and many other things.
They are spread over the city, but the most important ones are:
- Vörösmarty Square – the biggest and oldest.
- The one in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica – also really big and where you can see the light show on the Basilica.
- In front of Vajdahunyad Castle – probably the cutest and most charming
As you can see, they are located close to other destinations, so you’ll be able to visit them all easily. The Christmas markets bring lots of people to the city, which is great and makes it even more alive, but if you are planning to visit during this time you’ll have to take into consideration that this is also a peak season. not as bad as summer, but still crowded.
#15 Great Market hall
The great market hall of Budapest is a great place to buy souvenirs and have a quick bite. It has lots of cool things to buy and delicious food to eat. The prices are fair, it’s not too cheap anymore, but you won’t feel overcharged (I think). We really enjoy going to the market in Budapest.
During Summer the Market tends to be way too crowded with tourists. This isn’t a problem in winter, so you can explore it much more easily. Also, don’t forget to buy paprika, lots of paprika! Sweet, mild, hot, and smoked. Hungarian paprika is really something else.
Where to stay in Budapest in Winter
Budapest has wide array of accommodations for you to choose from so you can choose to stay in a 4 or 5 star, a boutique hotel, an Airbnb, or a hostel. You can, and should, take advantage of the low season to stay in Budapest at a lower price in winter. Or pay the same and stay in a better place! Even during Christmas it’s cheaper than in Summer.
We always advise our readers to stay close to the city centers, it more than pays off the extra cost. In winter, it’s even more important, as you won’t have that much fun if you have to walk in the cold for 1 hour just to reach the center.
That being said, people usually have to choose between staying in Buda or Pest. The true center is in Pest and that’s where most people stay. There you should stay in districts V, VI e VII, which are the most central. Some of the best places to stay in these districts are:
- Hostel One – if you are looking for a party hostel. Check prices and availability.
- Boomerang Hostel – Very well located with a great value for money. Book here.
- Pal’s hostel and apartments – Also a good option in the city center. Check if it’s available.
Buda is probably a good option if you are on a romantic escape or not looking for parties. In Buda, we really enjoyed staying in Buda Castle Fashion Hotel Budapest. The Buda, o Budapest by castle Apartment is a nice cheaper alternative.
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