Proper winter weather returns for the weekend, but a little cold should not stop anyone from venturing outdoors. We've rounded up the best places to visit in and around the capital, including classic hikes and walks in the woods. We also visited a wildlife park and dived underground, and, of course, had something to eat and drink. So let's explore Budapest!
Caves, hilltops, and wildlife park - 9 great winter escapes in and around Budapest
The interior of the 18th-century building offers a real journey through time, and not only because of the ruins of the Roman villa in the cellar. Also because of the long corridors of the interconnecting rooms, where you can walk through and wonder about old balls. The hundreds of pieces of furniture and clocks offer an interesting insight into our ancestors' everyday life. Alongside the furniture, beautiful tiled stoves, tapestries, chandeliers, and paintings add to the experience. Find more details here.
Update: The museum is temporarily closed.
Budafok is not too far away, if you take a car in the city centre, you can be in the heart of the former Promontor in half an hour. There's something for everyone here, from the legendary Törley Sparkling Wine Manufacture to guided tours of the cellars and wine tastings for everyone, except the driver.
The Törley family factory was one of the mightiest sparkling wine factories of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. József Törley, who studied in France and founded the factory in Reims, discovered the potential of Budafok on a trip home and soon moved his entire factory there. He also built the magnificent, romantic towered castle that houses the somewhat menacingly named Institute for Radiobiology today. Budafok boasts other castles too, such as the Sacelláry Castle or the somewhat dilapidated Czuba-Durozier Castle.
If you're looking for a family day out, the Tropicarium in Budafok is also an ideal destination for young and old. If you're dressed for the weather, you can spend a sunny morning wandering among the ghosts of the past in Memento Park. And for a real curiosity, visit the cave dwellings, which were inhabited until the 1960s, and one of which has been preserved in its original state. Art lovers can visit the Art Quarter, where the artists and exhibitions are complemented by the interesting venue, the former Haggenmacher Brewery building.
Széchenyi Hill (Sváb Hill)
If you're looking for a little hike and a great view, there's no better destination than Széchenyi Hill in the 12th district. Sometimes it's nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and wander in nature. Walking along the Széchenyi memorial road, we come to the Széchenyi Monument, which few people know originally stood on Heroes' Square.
Looking down from the viewpoint, the whole city is revealed to us in a way we have never seen it before. The meandering Danube, the rolling hills of Buda and the plain of Pest embrace the city, and you can spot gigantic buildings, such as the Parliament and the Buda Castle, which look like miniatures.
And if you're feeling peckish, you can have lunch at the historic Kőbüfé at the nearby cogwheel railway station. The small building has a covered terrace in winter, and inside you can sample a variety of delicious Hungarian dishes in charming rooms under wooden-beamed ceilings. While enjoying your much-deserved lunch, look around to see old photos of the cogwheel railway (from the days when it was still pulled by steam locomotives) and posters from the Soviet era promoting the nearby Children's Railway.
When it comes to places to visit in Budapest, the much-loved Normafa must not be left off the list. As soon as the snow starts to fall, the area comes alive, with sledgers, snowball fighters, and hikers taking over the area.
According to legend, the old beech tree that gave the place its name was felled in the year King Matthias was born, and in the 19th century, the opera aria from Bellini's Norma was performed under it. A few years ago, the area was restored, with benches and wooden tables, as well as hiking and jogging paths. If you're there, be sure to visit the popular strudel place, which has been serving hungry tourists since 1978.
If you're feeling more adventurous, you can also take a longer walk on the Svábhegy down from Normafa, where, although it's cold in winter, it's almost the only time you can see the real gems of the area, the villas, and mansions hidden in the verdure in the summer.
Those with a sweet tooth can reward themselves with a cake or two at the Szépkilátás Cukrászda (meaning ‘Panoramic Confectionary’), belonging to the Szamos Confectionery.
János Hill, Elizabeth Lookout Tower
If you want a view from the highest point in Budapest, head to János Hill! The 528-metre-high hill, which features a lookout point, is visible from many parts of the city, but the real experience is to look down from here. The Elizabeth Lookout has stood here since 1910, named after Sisi, wife of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor and King Franz Joseph. The reason for the name was that in 1882, according to the urban legend, her majesty looked out from here. We would do well to follow in her footsteps, as in clear weather, you can see up to 80 kilometres to the High Tatras from the top of the lookout.
If you're dressed for the weather, you shouldn't miss the Libegő, a chairlift that connects Zugliget with the summit of János Hill. During the 12-minute ride, you can chat, but it's also worth watching the scenery below your feet – if you're lucky, you might even spot rabbits and deer galloping by.
The Normafa is close by, so you can walk over there if you feel like it. It's easy terrain, just follow the white stone path for two and a half kilometres. This makes for a pleasant walk of about 25-30 minutes, while you clear your head and take in the views of the city in the curves that emerge.
If you head to Hűvösvölgy in the 2nd district, you can't miss the retro vibes of the Children's Railway, followed by a hearty hot lunch or dinner at the Restaurant Náncsi Néni. Foreigners visiting here are always amazed to see that the train is actually run by children, from the conductors to the track hands, all aged between ten and fourteen. Formerly known as Úttörővasút (translates as “Pioneer Railway”, pioneers being a former communist children’s organization, similar to scouts), the railway has been in operation along the entire line since 1950. In winter, it runs with heated carriages, so there's no need to worry about freezing to death. A return ticket for HUF 1,800 will take you for a full ride up to Széchenyi Hill and back.
Back in Hűvösvölgy, you can stop at the Restaurant Náncsi Néni, which is located in a former farmhouse, so it has a 16th-17th century country atmosphere with traditional furniture, paintings, and checkered tablecloths. The restaurant's forte is traditional Hungarian cuisine, but international dishes are also offered. It has a standard menu with a few seasonal dishes and a variety of Hungarian wines.
If you're an adventurous kind, the Pál-völgyi Cave in the 2nd district, the longest cave system in the country (31 kilometres), is waiting for you. The Pál-völgyi Cave was discovered in the early 20th century and its mouth is located in an abandoned quarry, which today cannot be easily spotted from outside.
Legend has it that in the summer of 1904, the ground opened up beneath a quietly grazing sheep, marking the beginning of the exploration. Then a nearly 20-kilometre-long cave was uncovered in the Buda Hills, which is now known as the Pál-völgyi Cave. The underground labyrinth is a real challenge, we tried it ourselves a couple of years ago in winter: you need the right equipment, a bit of perseverance, and a sense of adventure. The constant 12–14 degree temperature can be pleasant in winter, even when it's freezing outside, but it can’t hurt to dress well.
And be prepared to crawl through narrow crevasses, sometimes on your belly. The cave tours start from the visitor centre at 162 Szépvölgyi Road, and the ticket price includes all the necessary equipment, but it's a good idea to wear shoes that grip well and are okay to get dirty and to wear clothes with as few buttons and zips as possible. There's also a lighter form of caving, with a 45-minute track where you can meander along an easy, well-lit path through documentary-style stalactites.
Budakeszi Wildlife Park
On the outskirts of the city is the wild and scenic Budakeszi Vadaspark, a wildlife and adventure park. In this deep forest 'reserve' you can visit the forest animals of the Carpathian Basin in their natural habitat.
Alongside wild boars, foxes, deer, wolves, brown bears, and lynxes, owls and other birds of prey also roost in the nearly 30-hectare park. Perfect for families, young and old alike, but it can also be a memorable, special date spot, even in winter. Each animal has its own personality, and visitors will love the golden jackal rubbing against the fence, but the cheeky fallow deer is also worth a visit, who will happily start munching your bags and coats in the petting zoo if you're not careful.
And when you're hungry, you can head to the more traditional Vadaspark restaurant near the entrance, where the game dishes are worth trying, with our favourites being the delicious venison soup, red wine venison with cranberries and homemade croquettes, and for dessert, Kaiserschmarrn with apricot jam. But you can also taste something delicious at the classic Budai Gesztenyés Restaurant, a historic restaurant founded in 1902. Expect a Hungarian fusion line, with specialities such as Mangalica tenderloin, duck dishes, and giant Wiener Schnitzel.
The fabulous Wekerle estate
One of Budapest's real gems and one of the most exciting experiments and creations of Károly Kós and the architectural movement around him is the Wekerle estate. The idea of this colony in the 19th district is Károly Kós’ brainchild, who wanted to create a suburban community where residents could experience the tranquillity of village life. He incorporated elements of folk architecture that had evolved organically over time into a modern living environment. In Wekerle there are over a thousand individual dwellings of different sizes, shapes, and colours, centred around the park of Kós Károly Square and the Saint Joseph Church.
The advantage of our winter walk is that, as the park and the trees are barren, we can admire all the buildings in their almost full splendour. And if you're cold, you can sit in for lunch at the Wekerle Restaurant, where we tried and loved the wild boar goulash and Hortobágyi palacsinta (a savoury Hungarian crepe, filled with meat, usually veal).