Festivities might be over, but trust us: there is life after the Christmas markets. True, January can feel way too long and gloomy, but if you visit Budapest this month, you will be spoiled with dazzling things to do. Alfresco ice disco, a late-night soaking at a Turkish bath, or chilling in a hammock at a Palm House don't sound that bad after all.
Hang out at a covered rooftop bar
Budapest boasts some pretty fantastic rooftop bars and restaurants. And the good news is that most of them are covered and winter-proofed, offering you ace locations to have breakfast (or Margaritas) and simultaneously admire the panorama. Go to 360 Bar for igloos and cocktails or SOLID Budapest for indulging brunches. Head to St. Andrea Wine & Skybar above focal Vörösmarty Square, where fine wines are in focus, or to LEO Rooftop, the first rooftop bar of Buda, where you can admire the Pest skyline while sipping a Mighty Jungle and enjoying a fancy poke bowl.
Settle down with a book at Szabó Ervin Library
Housed in a Neo-Baroque palace built in 1889, Szabó Ervin Library has been functioning as a library since 1931. No wonder it is an architectural landmark, and we haven't even started on its huge historical halls, gorgeous wooden spiral staircases and cosy armchairs. One of its reading rooms (the one with golden ornaments, mirrors and chandeliers) used to be a ballroom, which equally makes the place a must-see for bookworms and Instagram enthusiasts. You can enter with a visitors' pass (daily ticket).
Indulge in wintery sweet treats
To us, wintertime means an increased appetite for hot drinks and cosy, homely cakes. If you share this feeling, you are lucky as Hungarian desserts are brilliant and Budapest is teeming with marvellous confectionaries to find them. Take the Christmassy treat, bejgli (walnut or poppyseed roll), which is so popular that Auguszt Cukrászda puts it on its menu all year round. Then we also have some sensational delicacies, from aranygaluska (balls of yeast dough and vanilla custard) to flódni and Dampfnudel (’steamed bun’), that are perfect accompaniments to the winter months. Find our list of 8 heavenly desserts here.
Budapest has some pretty amazing answers to outdoor skating. At City Park Ice Rink you can draw figure eights backdropped by magical Vajdahunyad Castle. At Csepel Ice Park you can feel like a local, sliding through special ice corridors (connecting two ice rinks). And you can slide to upbeat tunes at popular open-air concert venue Budapest Park.
Go ballooning over the City Park
Up to 30 people at a time can be taken up above the City Park by balloon to gaze over Budapest from a height of 150 metres. The point of departure and return is Mimóza Hill, a small hillock designed to be a lookout point when the historic Baloon Captif was tethered here during the Hungarian Millennial celebrations of 1896. It is an exciting wintertime activity; with the sun going down fairly early, you can admire the enlightened city in the afternoon. With a 15-minute floating time and breathtaking views of the Széchenyi Baths, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Heroes' Square, you will not likely be worried about the chilly winds either. Always check the daily flying times, more info here.
Get topical at the Palm House of Széchenyi Baths
If you do end up freezing after the ballooning, head directly to neighbouring Széchenyi Baths. But skip the myriad of people soaking in the pools, and stride confidently towards a hidden gem, the Széchenyi Palm House instead. Tucked away on the second floor of the baths, it awaits with soothing warmth, a plentitude of lush green plants, fresh fruit bowls, ample sunshine, water features, two-seater hammocks, citrusy refreshments, and cushions. This green oasis of calm offers heaps of healthy amenities that give your body a full recharge, be it a girls' day out, a family break or a couple’s retreat – or just conquering your hangover from the night before. More info here.
Follow the light
A magical light exhibition took over Margaret Island's Palatinus Open-Air Baths for the winter season. Lumina Park's special light and sound-filled fairytale land is open until mid-February.
If you are pining for an indoor experience, go to the Light Art Museum. Housed in the former building of an iconic market (and keeping its features), exciting installations and ground-breaking artworks await. You can marvel at pieces by the pioneer lumino kinetic artist László Moholy-Nagy and op-art icon Victor Vasarely. And it is the perfect spot for Instagram-worthy photos.
Sip a rich hot chocolate among teddy bears
The gem of all our 'cosy up' top lists, our favourite hot chocolate place, the Rengeteg RomKafé has moved to a brighter and twice as big space. It awaits with about 570 freshly washed teddy bears and 1,600 kinds of hot chocolate. And note that these are proper dense, pudding-like drinks, enhanced with various spices, and are made by founding honcho, Tibor Szabó. His advice is always worth following, particularly if you're brave enough to try the rum-chestnut or curry-onion chips variations.
Spend a night above the city at Rudas Baths
Budapest is the City of Spas, so bumping into a thermal bath or Turkish bath is not too difficult. However, finding one open until 3 am is more than rare. That's why we would not hesitate long before booking a ticket for a night bathing at Rudas Baths, the oldest thermal bath in Budapest. The place offers a unique way to recharge: on Fridays and Saturdays, you can book a night slot and soak yourself in six different pools (with varying temperatures) between 10 pm and 3 am. The mentioned pools include the 450-year-old Turkish baths, the swimming pool and the jacuzzi on the rooftop.
More info here.
Explore new restaurants
From a tiny Thai eatery and a gorgeous Brazilian restaurant to Budapest's first listening bar and a cute dog bakery, explore hot new places with our list of the latest additions to the city's gastro scene from 2022. Just to give you an idea: try pretty darn good Central American dishes with a modern Texas twist at Cortez. Eat with your hands at Meshuga. Order traditional dishes in a modern guise at Retek Bistro. Have a bubbly brunch at BABA. Share tapas at UnoMas. Sip a cocktail in a mysterious jungle at KAA. Soak up Australian vibes (and impeccable flat whites) at Grumpy Monkey.
See an exhibition about the diverse world of headscarves
The recently-opened exhibition of the Museum of Ethnography, 'Bekötik a fejét' (literally 'Tie her head', meaning something similar to 'Tie the knot') explores the headscarf-wearing habits of women in Hungarian, Jewish, and Muslim cultures. A variety of photos helps you learn about the traditions of wearing different headscarves and what they represent. We can admire the festive costumes of traditional peasants on their way to the church or smile at the familiar figures of the village aunties, heads covered with a headscarf. The thought-provoking exhibition is also closely linked to the ongoing protests in Iran. And we are pretty sure that the time spent here won't leave you unaffected. The exhibition can be visited for the whole of January.
Treasure hunt in a vintage store
Shopping in a second-hand store is like a treasure hunt. No matter which shop you choose, you will leave with a piece of clothing or accessory (or more) that has value and history. And chances are that you won't see it on anyone else. Sure, sometimes it can be tiring to push hangers and browse, but it's worth it, because where else can you get an original '30s outfit or a pair of Wesco boots? Larger shops might surprise you, but we suggest you try the smaller and often more exciting ones – just like Franc.
Celebrate the Lunar New Year in Budapest's Chinatown
On the evening of January 22nd, we are stepping into the Year of the Rabbit. The Lunar New Year is a massive celebration for Chinese communities worldwide, and that includes the Hungarian capital too. On the last weekend of January (28-29th), visit the Temple Fair in Budapest's Chinatown: the Monori Center will be decked out in decorations, offering an array of culture-infused activities and delicious food. Expect a parade featuring Chinese folk garments, try on the traditional dress hanfu, make jiaozi (Chinese stuffed dumplings), and browse handcrafted products. More info here.
+1 Go sledding and skiing at Normafa
This activity is highly dependent on the weather, so make some calls before you set off on a journey. In the Buda hills, Normafa is a top-notch hiking destination for city dwellers, with forest trails and breathtaking views. It is popular all year round, but a visit here is even more tempting this time of the year as parts of the slopes regularly get covered in snow. The snow is artificial, but it allows visitors to enjoy winter sports, such as sledding or cross-country skiing, when the temperature stays around zero. If it is warmer, we still recommend a nice walk and a strudel at Normafa Ski House.