Winter is the most magical time to visit Budapest. Skating rinks, Christmas markets and even a Christmas tram light up the city centre, with winterised bars providing warming drinks and panoramic views from above. Even if you come after December, there's plenty to see and do. Here are 17 great ideas for young and old, indoors and out.
Browse the Christmas markets
Christmas fairs are now in full swing city-wide, enticing everyone with live music, cultural attractions, merry merchandise and festive treats. Aiming for a million visitors this year, the Advent Market by St Stephen’s Basilica is Budapest’s most impressive. Kids can skate for free at the rink, and everyone can have their selfies projected onto the church façade, a unique new feature this year. Round the corner on focal Vörösmarty tér, the main market is always busy, while you might find a few alternative gifts at nearby Városház tér. See here for our selection of Budapest’s best Christmas markets.
Ride the Christmas tram
Essential to any Budapest Yule, the brightly decorated Christmas tram zips around the city until 5 January. There’s no need to pay extra – standard tickets and passes are valid for this most glittering of local seasonal traditions. As well as the celebrated number 2 line along the Pest embankment, other popular routes such as the 19, 47 and 49 get a Yuletide makeover. See the full schedule for the number 2 here.
Look out, too, for the Christmas trolleybus, on certain routes until 19 December.
With winter upon us, don your skates and draw figure eights! Whether you amaze people with your smooth moves on ice or amuse them with epic falls, you can slide and glide alfresco at many skating spots around town. Settings stretch from rooftop retreats in town to the cultural hubs by the Danube. And then there’s the jaw-droppingly gorgeous rink in the City Park! All have tasty treats to boost your mood between laps. See our selection here.
Glide up on the Chairlift
The Zugliget Chairlift runs continuously in winter, weather permitting, so there’s no better way to take in the (hopefully!) snowy landscape than gliding up in a two-person gondola. Transporting passengers between Zugliget and the road leading up to the Erzsébet Lookout Tower, the Chairlift takes you calmly up the side of János Hill in about 15 minutes. The Chairlift is operated by the city transport company BKK, single tickets 1,000 forints, return 1,400. To reach it, take bus 291 from Nyugati station to its final stop.
Sink drinks on a winterised terrace
Rooftop views of Budapest are just as spectacular in winter as they are in summer, and several bars install cosy igloos and cabins for that full romantic effect. Sip mulled wine and snack on Hungarian specialities at Toprum, the High Note SkyBar, the St Andrea Wine & Skybar, the Intermezzo Restaurant & Roof Terrace and the 360 Bar, among others.
Enjoy a Tchaikovsky ballet
Linked in the public imagination to Christmas, Tchaikovsky’s revered Nutcracker, is being performed several times around Budapest. A whole Christmas festival is being themed around it at the Erkel Theatre, where new choreography and costumes can be admired all through December, until 5 January. There are also two shows at Müpa on 23 December.
Take in an exhibition
To leave Christmas behind for a while, Budapest’s main museums and galleries stage major exhibitions this winter. Rubens, van Dyck and the Splendour of Flemish Painting is unmissable at the Museum of Fine Arts – in fact, on 12 December, there’s a special evening laid on, with guided tours in English at 6.45pm and 8pm. For something less high-brow, the Star Wars exhibition at the waterfront Bálna Budapest leisure complex has been extended until 19 January 2020, giving fans a chance to see one of the biggest private collections of memorabilia.
This month is also the last chance to see the Robert Capa exhibition at the photo gallery of the same name on Nagymező utca. Some 50 images by this most celebrated of war photographers will be on display until 31 December, part of a collection kept in Capa’s birthplace of Budapest. Only three sets of enlargements can ever be made from each negative, and the subject matter ranges from Trotsky to the Vietnam War of the 1950s, where Capa lost his life.
Warm up with fine tea
What can warm you up better on a cold day than a nice cup of tea? Budapest has many tea houses available to choose from. Some of our favourites are listed here, including Zhao Zhou, the Levél Tea House and the Flying Bird Tea House. Prefer to brew your own? Check out the selections at the Teavolution Tea Room and Bonthé.
Board the Children’s Railway
The popular Children’s Railway, connecting the most beautiful hiking areas of the Buda hills, is always a pleasure to ride, but the experience is particularly thrilling in winter. Enjoy a snowy day aboard the venerable train, staffed by children, as it chugs through the scenery. You can also pair it with a walk or snowshoeing with family or friends.
Celebrate New Year’s Eve
Budapest always rings in the New Year with spectacular fireworks, street parties and countless special events. The selection is extensive, bars, clubs, restaurants and party boats. Look out for our article nearer the time with details of all events.
Relax in greenery
There are several large palm houses in the capital, where winter is hidden amidst hammocks, abundant trees and balmy temperatures. Check out Budapest Zoo, the ELTE Garden and even the upper level of the Széchenyi Baths for naturally verdant surroundings. This particular palm house is separate from the baths, so make sure to get the correct ticket.
One of Budapest’s most imaginative and enduring bands, Carbonfools mark the new year with a return to the A38 Ship for the first time since 2017. The show also signals the release of a new album, CarbonSun, which sees the team in full party mode. The show takes place on 23 January, advance tickets 1,990 forints.
Iowa’s masked marauders Slipknot return to Budapest on 4 February. After scoring a hit album with the acclaimed comeback record We Are Not Your Kind, the eerie Iowa ninesome are celebrating with a huge run of shows. The masked metalheads, along with new percussionist, ‘Tortilla Man’, perform at the Papp László Budapest Sportaréna.
Devour divine mangalica
Revived in recent times, mangalica is a regional breed of pig whose meat is highly prized. As well as appearing on the menu of many restaurants around town, mangalica is celebrated with its own festival every February, taking place over three days on Szabadság tér in the city centre. As well as sausages and diverse pork dishes and specialities, children’s attractions and live performances are also scheduled. Festivities begin on 7 February and admission is free.
Sip java at the CoffeeBar Bazaar
For the second year running, the CoffeeBar Bazaar hosts Budapest’s largest coffee event. Gather ye coffee enthusiasts at the Millenáris Cultural Centre on 8 and 9 February to enjoy two full days of tasting coffee, wines, beers, cocktails and spirits. There will be numerous exhibitors and attractions, as well as competitions, presentations and of course, lots of coffee products for sale. More information can be found at the CoffeeBar’s website and the Facebook event. Ticket sales here.
Get groovy with Altin Gün
Anatolian rock band Altin Gün emerged onto the world music and psychedelic scene thanks to their particular blend of sounds drawn from Turkish folk music, blended with musical influences of their own time. Even Led Zep were influenced by such psychedelic melodies in the ’70s. Altin Gün’s second album, Gece, was released in 2019 and was nominated for a Grammy. The band will be appearing in Hungary for the first time on 9 February at the A38 Ship. Tickets start at 3,900 forints.
Get romantic on Valentine’s Day
What to do for the perfect Valentine’s Day date? Budapest has many options for where to spend the occasion with your special someone, from ice skating in the park to themed bars and days at the thermal baths. Check out our range of fun and interesting date ideas.
This article was produced in co-operation with the A38 Ship.