Budapest is stunning all year long, but winter is an especially magical time to explore the city as myriad sparkling lights brighten the streets to create a festive state of mind, along with an abundance of activities to try even after the holidays are over. Whether you are interested in holly-jolly Christmas fairs offering heartwarming delicacies like mulled wine and chimney cake, or international Pop Art pieces at Budapest’s top contemporary-art museum, or thermal-heated soaks in the city’s renowned spas, we present plenty of attractions in Hungary’s capital this season.
As the first days of winter fall over the city, magical festive-season fairs dazzle visitors across many locales in Budapest, preparing our hearts and minds for the Yuletide. Cinnamon scents linger in the air, while the city’s most frequented locales turn into vibrant grounds of Christmas celebration, offering local gastronomy treats and artisanal handicrafts, along with numerous spirit-boosting musical events and other wintertime activities. Listed amongst Europe’s ten prettiest festive-season markets, the iconic Budapest Advent and Christmas Fairat Vörösmarty Square astounds cheerful crowds with scrumptious chimney cake and heartwarming mulled wine amid a rustic environment, while the Advent Feast at Szent István Square boasts a miniature ice rink, while joyful light shows sparkle on the front side of the St. Stephen’s Basilica to enhance the holiday vibe. Anyone can spot Santa Claus and his reindeer at the bustling Gozsdu Christmas Market in the heart of Budapest’s nightlife scene, while deluxe delight awaits at the Four Seasons Christmas Market within the majestic Gresham Palace.
As chilly days and nights envelop Budapest, outdoorice-skating rinks pop up around the city. Whether you are a complete beginner or a superstar on ice, Budapest offers a number of glacial locales for graceful gliding or silly slipping. A sprawling skating surface awaits guests amid panoramic settings at the City Park Ice Rink, offering stunning vistas of the Vajdahunyad Castle and Heroes’ Square just a stone’s throw away from this wintertime hub, while the Advent Feast at central Budapest’s Szent István Square boasts a miniature ice-skating space for kids, centered by a soaring Christmas tree. Most recently, a new ice rink opened in Hunyadi Square to offer residents of District VI a free place for frosty frolicking, but unfortunately, only people with residency cards from that neighborhood are allowed onto the ice there.
This winter Budapest is hosting many meaningful exhibitions, featuring intriguing displays from war-scarred settings along with vibrant Pop Art pieces, and much more. A somber experience awaits visitors through December 31st within the southern edifices of Várkert Bazaar, where WWI is brought alive through bizarre installations and lifelike figures. The uncanny setup navigates through a steaming swamp, a muddy trench, and a whitewashed cemetery. On the contrary, iconic works of Pop Art pique our interest through January 3rd at the Ludwig Goes Pop exhibit within Budapest’s Ludwig Museum, featuring vivid artworks by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and other significant representatives of this era, along with popular 20th-century images and contemporary sculptures mounted side-by-side. Those who would like to immerse in outstanding Hungarian art can head to the National Gallery to admire powerful paintings by acclaimed Magyar artists portraying life in the countryside, historical events, and much more through the museum’s permanent exhibition.
Wintertime is not short of fascinating festivals in Budapest to help us beat the winter blues, with exuberant events varying from food-glorifying fiestas to astounding acrobatic attractions. On December 10th and 11th, visitors can sample lip-smacking global street-food varieties at heavily discounted prices during the Night of Street Food show, proffering everything from succulent burgers to hefty Hungarian sausages to exotic Asian delicacies. From January 7th through the 10th, the International Circus Festival is coming to town with soaring acrobats and swift-handed jugglers performing under bright lights at the Capital Circus in City Park. On January 23rd, wine lovers can embark on a winter picnic tour and head out to the rustic community of Etyek 30 kilometers west of downtown Budapest – a cozy village surrounded by sprawling vineyards – where visitors can sample delicious Hungarian wines alongside local culinary treats for two days in the hidden nooks and crannies of old wine cellars and under the open sky.
Celebrate “Mikulás Day” with locals
During the first week of December, visitors to the Hungarian capital can spot merry red-and-white-suited fellows with long snowy beards all over town, handing out tasteful treats to kids and anyone who approaches them with a smile. This is Mikulás (“Santa Claus” in Hungarian), and he has a long-established heritage in Hungary: December 6th is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, a traditional time when Santa comes to visit the country, and all excited kids shine their boots on the night of December 5th to place one on the windowsill, in hopes that they’ll awaken to find their shoe filled with candy and chocolates courtesy of Mikulás. Many cheerful Mikulás-related events pop up citywide to entertain young and old, like the Santa’s workshop of Mikulás Gyár (“Mikulás Factory” in Hungarian) near , where families can enjoy visits with Saint Nicholas and diverse entertainment from December 4th through the 20th. Meanwhile, the Santa Speedo run kicks off at on December 13th between 2pm and 2:30pm, when underdressed Santas create a surreal scene by jogging around District VII while wearing only their swimsuits.
Indulge in serene pampering by soaking in Budapest’s thermal-heated waters, and spoil your body and soul amid a misty atmosphere. Whether you want to recharge your batteries with a hot soak at the crack of dawn or end the day with a sizzling splash, the city offers many historic edifices filled with miraculously balmy waters. Amid a stunning Art Nouveau environment, – located at the ’s Buda side – provides a sweltering escape from frosty conditions with a stunning indoor swimming pool and mineral-rich waters. offers thermal-heated zones with temperatures ranging from 32°C to 40°C, while is a centuries-old medical mecca with muscle-melting hot-spring waters. The iconic within City Park offers a steaming alfresco pool kept at a steady 38°C all year round, while is a perfect choice for night owls, providing sweltering pleasures until 4am on every Friday and Saturday night. Apart from the healing waters, these historic spas offer wellness facilities along with special treatments, including refreshing massages.
Like most other metropolises around the world, when the last day of the year arrives, Budapest turns into a gigantic party zone with frantic bashes and rocketing fireworks citywide, typically held at key locales like , Nyugati Square, and , all uniting to become one big shindig for the night. In addition to the public fiestas, many prime hotels organize fine-dining nights for those who want to step into 2016 amid a deluxe scene: the high-class near offers a seven-course culinary extravaganza and live DJ sets for guests, while a musical party awaits at the accompanied by a four-course gala dinner and unlimited cocktail consumption throughout the night. Additionally, almost every bar and restaurant hosts cheerful revels for the celebrating crowds; watch out for New Year’s Eve program updates closer to the end of December on our website. Even after 2016 is officially here, a wide variety of programs on January 1st attests to the fact that Budapest never sleeps, with New Year’s concerts organized at classic cultural locales, such as the at 8pm or the Palace of Arts, where a musical gala starts at 7pm.
Attend a “Farsang” costume party
Fun festivities and matchless masquerades mark the Carnival season in Hungary, adding joy to wintertime with rowdy parades to anticipate the arrival of the spring season. There are many “Farsang” (Hungarian for “Carnival”) celebrations held throughout Hungary starting from January all the way through February, with the UNESCO-acknowledged annual Busójárás festival in Mohács (200 kilometers south of Budapest) being the most popular parade – from February 4th through the 9th, locals wear furry costumes with devilish masks, brought alive with folk music and heated dance performances. Anyone can join the joyful jamborees happening across several locales in Budapest as the city celebrates this costume-filled bash with plenty of madcap parties and scrumptious carnival-style doughnuts, while gourmands can enjoy gluttonous glory on Fat Thursday at several restaurants and benefit from the 50% discount at all participating eateries nationwide. The palatable event is scheduled on a Thursday right after Ash Wednesday.
Beat the winter blues with Hungarian eats and drinks that soothe the frosty months. The star of the season is undoubtedly aromaticmulled wine – hot wine infused with cinnamon and orange – available for purchase at every Christmas market, numerous cafés and bars around town, and even summertime ice-cream parlors like Levendula on Erzsébet Square. To the delight of sweet-toothed travelers, Hungary’s winter season is all about sugar, and heaps of soul-warming delicacies are available at Budapest’s confectioneries, Christmas fairs,and supermarkets, like the scrumptious chimney cake (sugar-glazed rolls dusted in various flavors), or typical Christmas sweets like beigli (sweet rolls filled with poppy seed or walnut), or szaloncukor (chocolate-covered Christmas candy with various fillings). Besides these sweet seductions, the aromatic smell of freshly roasted chestnuts lingers around many outdoor stalls in town.