What to do in Budapest in winter

Budapest in winter is nothing less than amazing.

Ever since my trip to Austria during the Holiday Season in 2017, I decided to explore a new country in Europe every Christmas. The magic of the festivities is best felt while walking on the charming cobbled stone streets, lit with fairy lights, huge Christmas trees, embellished with snow and delightful advent markets. In 2018, I chose Budapest to spend my holidays as it seemed to have everything that is perfect for the Christmas season - vibrant markets serving delicious food, hot wine, streets with stunning medieval architecture that are best explored on foot and the chill in the air that only makes it more authentic (yes, I love the cold!).

I spent 4 days here which seemed just the right amount of time, with a little extra to explore cute Hungarian villages not too far from the city. Here's my suggested itinerary for Budapest in winter - a great mix of historical, cultural and festive experiences. Oh, and of course, the nightlife!

How cold is it in December?

Although it wasn't snowing (a few flakes here and there don't really count), it was chilly in Budapest in winter! Thermals, woollen socks, and warm, comfortable shoes are definitely recommended. Layer up, it can be very windy; a warm beanie, gloves and neck warmer will help.


Day 1: Explore Buda

If you don't already know this, Budapest is formed of two former independent cities - Buda and Pest, which were united in the late 19th century and today, the two parts are on the opposite sides of the river Danube and are connected through several bridges, one of which is the famous historical Chain Bridge. While Pest is on flat terrain, Buda is rather hilly.

Budapest in winter
View from Gellert Hill

Hike up the Gellért Hill

Thanks to the hilly terrain in Buda, you can be rewarded with some extremely gorgeous views of the city and the river from several vantage points. One of these is the Gellert Hill. However, this place is not only a popular viewpoint, but it also has historical significance. Named after Hungary's first missionary who was thrown from the top of the hill by pagans as rebellion, Bishop Gellert's statue is now erected on the hill and can be seen from afar.

Budapest in winter
Hiking up Gellert Hill

Gellert Hill is a great place to start your tour of Budapest as it provides you with a bird's eye view of the entire city. It helps you place all the important sites laid out right in front of you like a map! The climb up from the Elisabeth Bridge, although a bit steep in places, doesn't take more than 20 min, with a quick stop at the statue of Bishop Gellert (known as the Gellert Monument), all the way up to the citadella where you have the Statue of Liberty.

Budapest in winter
Statue of Liberty at the Citadella at Gellert Hill
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If you wish to, you could explore the museum at Citadella (for a fee), which I chose to skip. Also, if you prefer not to climb, you can take a bus to the top.

Buda Castle Hill

If you walk over towards the Chain Bridge, you'll find yourself right in front of the funicular that'll take you up to the Buda Castle. Alternatively, you can climb the Royal Steps that'll lead you to the New-Renaissance Garden and from here, you can take an escalator up to the castle.

Budapest in winter
The Royal Palace

Although it was originally built in the 13th century, the current version of Buda Castle is an 18th-century Neo-Baroque style structure that was destroyed from the inside during WWII. However, most of it has been restored now and converted into several museums (Hungarian National Gallery, History Museum and National Library) which can be visited for a fee.

I'm not much of a fan of museums, to be honest, so I planned to skip them and just walk around, exploring the cobbled stone streets lined with 17 - 19th-century houses. I happened to arrive at the Presidential Palace right when the changing of the guards' ceremony was beginning so I stood there to watch that. Although not as dramatic and large scale as the one at Buckingham Palace, it was interesting to watch the routine and how beautifully it was choreographed.

Budapest in winter
Changing of Guards ceremony at the Presidential Palace, Buda Castle Hill

From here, I continued my walk towards the Trinity Square to visit Matthias Church, a distinctly Baroque building that was established initially in the 11th century in Gothic style but went through several architectural upgrades since. It also served as a mosque during the Turkish rule. The church is named after King Matthias Corvinus who was married here. A building that is as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside, Matthias Church looks brilliant when it is lit up at night so if you're here late evening, I'd suggest you stick around to enjoy some amazing night views of not only the church but also Fisherman's Bastion and Pest, across the river.

Budapest in winter
Matthias Church, Buda Castle Hill

Right across from the church is the famous Fisherman's Bastion. With a very unique architecture that combines neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque styles, Fisherman's Bastion's white-walled structure looks straight out of a fairytale. It was built in the early 20th century and was guarded by the Fisherman's guild, hence the name. The viewing platform provides gorgeous views of the river Danube and the architectural masterpieces lining it, including the Parliament Building and the Chain Bridge.

Budapest in winter
Fisherman's Bastion Buda Castle District

Budapest in winter
Fisherman's Bastion Buda Castle District

Budapest in winter
Fisherman's Bastion Buda Castle District

Once again, I recommend staying here until the sunset as the place lights up beautifully at night and the views of the city from the top at night are some of the best you'll ever see. The Parliament Building, one of the most iconic buildings in Budapest, is visible directly in front from here and the night views are dramatic!

Secret tip: A cafe/ restaurant on the top of one of the towers of Fisherman's Bastion has outdoor seating with superb views. Even in the winter, this is a good place to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or hot wine.

Budapest in winter
Matthias Church at night

Fisherman's Bastion at night

Budapest in winter
Terrace Cafe atop Fisherman's Bastion

Dinner cruise on the Danube

I highly recommend you to take a cruise on the river Danube. Although there are several options available (cocktail cruises, dinner cruises, etc), I loved the experience I chose - a dinner cruise with Hungarian folklore performances by Silverline Cruises.

This 3-hour cruise included a 4-course meal with drinks, a band of musicians with Hungarian folk dancers in their local costumes and unparalleled views of the Hungarian Parliament building, Buda Castle, Chain Bridge and Gellert Hill (apart from other iconic riverside sites) at €85. Although it was freezing, a little tour to the upper deck to get some amazing pictures was something I could not resist doing!

Budapest in winter
Chain Bridge, Budapest

Buda Castle
Buda Castle in the backdrop

Budapest in winter
Parliament Building, Budapest

Budapest in winter
Folklore Performances on Silverline Dinner Cruise

Recommended hotel to stay in Budapest: Novotel Budapest Danube


Day 2: Explore Pest

Start your day by visiting the historical Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. The synagogue's compounds include a Jewish Museum, the Heroes' Temple, the Jewish Cemetery and the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park. Although it is rare to have a cemetery next to a synagogue, during WW II, more than 10,000 people died in the vicinity of the synagogue which led to the building of the cemetery in its compound. There is a charge of €15 to visit the synagogue.

Budapest in winter
Dohány Street Synagogue

The Jewish Quarter (behind the synagogue) is a great place to walk around by yourself. If you're into museums, the Jewish Heritage Museum could be something that would interest you. You'll come across several kosher sweet shops and restaurants as you explore the surrounding area - such as the Kazinczy Street, home to another smaller yet authentic synagogue.

As you walk, you'll soon hit Andrássy Avenue, often referred to as Hungary's Champs-Elysee. A wide lane replete with classy 19th-century homes and palatial facades, boutiques, bars and cafes, do pop into one of the cosy ones for a great breakfast or simply some hot wine to beat the cold.

Walk to St Stephen's Basilica, the largest church in Budapest which also holds the sacred mummified hand of St Stephen, the first Christian king of Hungary. In December, the courtyard of the church is turned into one of the largest Christmas Markets in Budapest.

Budapest in winter
St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

As you continue to walk towards the river, you will cross the Budapest Eye, a Ferris Wheel similar to the London Eye (but nowhere close in terms of its magnitude) which could be yet another way of getting some good views of the city from a vantage point. Finally, as you reach the riverside, you will see the grand Hungarian Parliament Building, the third largest parliament building in the world. This iconic building is a key addition to your itinerary for Budapest in winter due to the sheer magnificence of its architecture.

Budapest in winter
Hungarian Parliament Building

If you would like to visit the Parliament Building, it is only possible to do it through a guided tour. This can be booked online (best to do it in advance during peak seasons), lasts for about 45 min and costs about €17.

As you exit the Hungarian Parliament Building, you will see as you walk towards the Danube one of the most moving memorials in Hungary - the Shoes on the Danube. 60 pairs of rusted period shoes cast out of iron, in all sizes, belonging to men, women and children pay tribute to the Holocaust victims who were gathered on the banks of River Danube in 1944 by the brutal Arrow Cross Militia, forced to strip naked and then shot in the back at close range, for their bodies to fall into the river and be washed away with no signs.

Budapest in winter
Shoes on the Danube, Budapest

From here, head to Vörösmarty Square, the heart of Budapest downtown. A popular public square that hosts a range of concerts and events throughout the year, this is also where you will find the most important and popular Christmas Market in Budapest. During the summer, this is a great place to shop, try some local foods and just enjoy the great vibe. During the holiday season, the square transforms into an open extravaganza, with food stalls selling the famous 'Chimney Cakes' or Kürtőskalács, hot wine, roasted chestnuts and kolbász (smoked sausages).

Budapest in winter
Christmas Market at Vörösmarty tér, Budapest

At night, head to Gozdu Udvar, a very unique place that is buzzing in the night. A passageway that once connected the courtyards of several residential buildings, it is now home to several pubs, open markets, and restaurants and a great place to mingle with the locals. Located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, it is one of the favourite hangouts of the locals as well as tourists and is quite a lively place in the evenings.

If you visit on a Saturday, you can catch the crafts and vintage market here from 2 - 8 pm.

Budapest in winter
Gozdu Udvar, Budapest

Budapest in winter
Gozdu Udvar, Budapest


Day 3: Explore Pest

There is a lot more to explore on the Pest side of Budapest in winter.

Start your day by visiting the Heroes Square, located at the entrance of the City Park, at the other end of Andrassy Avenue. BuiltErected in the late 19th century to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of Hungary, the largest square in Budapest is flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts and Hall of Arts on its either side and the Vajdahunyad Castle in the backdrop. The Millennium Monument in the middle of the square with Archangel Gabriel in the centre and the seven chieftains of the Magyar Tribes to its either side is quite impressive.

Budapest in winter
Heroes Square, Budapest

In winter, the ground in front of Vajdahunyad Castle transforms into a skating rink and its courtyard into a Christmas market. Light music, Christmas foods and hot wine make for a great atmosphere here and the perfect place for a picture, with the intriguing architecture of the castle in the backdrop. The castle was made bringing together several medieval architectural styles together - the Romanesque, Gothic Renaissance, and Baroque. In the summer, an artificial lake surrounds the castle, making it one of the most fairytale-like buildings in Budapest.

Budapest in winter
Skating rink in front of Vajdahunyad Castle

Budapest in winter
Vajdahunyad Castle entrance

Budapest in winter
The dried-up artificial lake

Right across the castle, you will find the famous Szechenyi Baths, the most recommended place to visit in Budapest in winter! Although there are several other baths to visit in the city, the Szechenyi Baths are popular because they provide the option of dipping into the hot thermal springs water both in the indoors as well as outdoors with as many as 18 pools, a good arrangement of private as well as public changing rooms, steam and sauna and restaurants, making it a great place to enjoy a relaxing day.

The neo-Baroque palace that houses the baths was built way back specifically for this purpose, as the concept of spa baths goes back to the early Roman settlers through the 16th century Turkish occupiers. The medicinal natural hot springs are the perfect place to be, especially in the cold. A fee of  €20 allows you unlimited access to the baths along with a locker. 

Budapest in winter
Szechenyi Baths

It is not recommended to spend more than 20 minutes in the hot spring waters at one go as the geothermal waters aren't good for the skin if exposed for long. You can also enjoy the use of steam and sauna while you're there, or massage therapy, grab a bite at one of the restaurants or simply relax in one of the indoor pools.

For more information about the Szechenyi Baths, click here.

In the evening, I recommend you to try out yet another experience that is unique to Budapest - visit a ruin bar. The story behind the name goes as such - in 2001, a bunch of men went looking for good places for cheap drinks. They happened to find dilapidated, unused buildings, half destroyed and with scribbled texts on the walls, and that was the beginning of a new concept - ruin bars. These derelict buildings were converted into lively and buzzing places where locals and tourists come for inexpensive drinks, food and chatter.

One of the most popular and older ruin bars in Budapest is Szimpla Kert, a two-floor space that is chaotic, busy and loud. Several counters serving beers and other drinks, chairs to sit wherever you'd like and walls with graffiti are what you'll find in this intriguing place.

Budapest in winter
Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar, Budapest

Budapest in winter
Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar, Budapest

Budapest in winter
Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar, Budapest


Day 4: Visit a charming Hungarian village

Whenever I travel to touristy places like Budapest, I always take out some time to do non-touristy offbeat things. And because I am not much of a city person, exploring a charming village in Hungary was the perfect plan for me.

What can be better than stepping back into time, visiting a place that is laid back and slow paced, with friendly locals and buildings that look like the ones you read about in storybooks? Located between Budapest and Lake Balaton, Székesfehérvár is one of the oldest Hungarian towns with clean, colourful and traffic-free streets. The cobbled stone streets of the town centre, with cute sculptures strewn across the lanes, souvenir shops and a little Christmas market of its own, and an extremely adorable architecture, Székesfehérvár is easily reachable from Budapest by a train (station: Budapest-Déli). The journey costs as little as €5 and lasts for about 50 minutes. 

Budapest in winter
Székesfehérvár

Budapest in winter
Székesfehérvár

Budapest in winter
Székesfehérvár

Budapest in winter
Székesfehérvár

Budapest in winter
Székesfehérvár

In the evening, head back to Budapest city. I recommend you visit one of the rooftop bars in Budapest in winter, for the amazing views, vibe and the experience. If you're not a fan of the cold but still like vantage points with unparalleled views, you will love 360 Bar. Their giant igloos keep you warm while still providing a view of the city through the transparent walls.

Budapest in winter
360 Bar, Budapest

Enjoy a nice, romantic walk along the river before you head back to your hotel. Budapest is undoubtedly much prettier in the night than it is during the day. All iconic monuments and sites are brilliantly lit at night, making it one of my favourite night-view cities in the world!

Budapest in winter
Chain Bridge at night, Budapest


Optional: Day trip to Normafa Park

If you're looking for some adventure in Budapest in winter or you're a skiing enthusiast, you might want to head to Normafa Park, a winter wonderland in Hungary that is not too far from Budapest. A great place for hiking, children's activities, skiing and other snow sports, Normafa is best enjoyed when there is snow. Click here to check before you head there to know about the current weather.



Also visiting Prague? Click here to read about 10 things in Prague that you'll fall in love with.

58 thoughts on “What to do in Budapest in winter”

  1. Budapest has been on my list for the longest time. Though I admit that I never considered it in winter. Buda castle and Fisherman’s bastion have always fascinated me. Did you do any caving here? I believe it is quite mysterious

  2. Killer post! I even went to Budapest and didn’t do half of the things you mentioned…now I need to go back. I will say that we also head to the highest point in the city on each visit to get a lay of the land, great tip!

  3. I’m blown with the scenic view of the lights at night. From the church to those amazing structure of the castles, it is so stunning to see. thanks to your great secret tip having a hot wine on top of that one of the towers of Fisherman’s Bastion, I haven’t experienced winter and thus, having a hot wine is so new to me.

  4. I’ve read a bunch of posts on Budapest in the summer but never in the winter! There is something about Budapest in the winter that makes it look even more beautiful and magical than it normally does. Fisherman’s Bastion in particular looks gorgeous in the winter. And that cafe/restaurant at the top of Fisherman’s Bastion sounds lovely! Thanks for sharing that secret tip with us. I would love to visit Budapest during Christmastime (or anytime really, but especially during the holidays!)

  5. It is so refreshing to see Budapest minus the crowds in winters. It is one of my cities in Europe. Exploring a new European country every Christmas is a great idea. The best thing I would be looking forward to would be taking a dip in that hot thermal spring.

  6. Wow! So much beautiful architecture in Budapest. And I know I would have the baths on my agenda! Not sure I’d go in winter though. Thanks, you piqued my interest to see Budapest.

    1. Haha not sure about being better than Blue Lagoon, I haven’t been to Iceland and cannot compare. But it was quite awesome, given the cold weather.

  7. Whoa! There’s almost nobody in your pic of Fisherman’s Bastion. When we went it was so crowded!!!
    Did you manage to do any of the cave tours? We didn’t manage to climb the Gellert hill though.
    Székesfehérvár looks incredibly cute!

  8. Europe in winter, may it be during Christmastime or afterwards (like now in January or February when it finally snows) can be very beautiful! We usually stay in Europe in winter, so could only recommend you to visit Europe over and over again in winter! haha… Anyway, it looks like you had a great time exploring Budapest during winter. We visited during Spring several years ago, and must admit that we didn’t like this city very much. Perhaps because we had too high expectations (we really wanted to go to Prague, but didn’t make it so ended up in Budapest), or perhaps it was kinda chilly there and we were looking for nicer weather… Anyway, we’ll return in 2020 (mainly for work) and will definitely give it another chance. It’s good to know about the restaurant on the top of one of the towers of Fisherman’s Bastion. We stayed in Buda last time, but didn’t know about this restaurant or bar (perhaps it didn’t exist back then?), but will definitely go there next year. We’ll also try to make a day trip like you did, and visit some small Hungarian villages. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Cheers, hope you like it this time. I did love Prague more though, to be honest, but it is way more touristy than Budapest. Or maybe because I visited Prague during the summer when it was the peak season.

  9. Exploring a new European country every Christmas! That is such a great idea and inspiring me to do the same. 🙂 I have heard so much about Budapest and the place looks just as beautiful as I had imagined. The Hungarian Parliament Building is surely iconic and looks grand.

  10. Lovely views of the city that has always fascinated me! I like the clear sky of the winter. I’d love to go for that hot spring but I wonder how it looks so blue and clean and why can’t Indian hot springs look like that. LOL

  11. I thought I was in Disneyland with your photos of the Bastian. How pretty is it. I love Xmas markets especially the hot wine. Great tip re the Terrace Cafe, will certainly do that when I visit. Thanks.

  12. Keep the tradition going to travelling every Christmas. Europe must be beautiful at that time, I have only seen it in the movies or pictures, still have to travel to Europe. Your itinerary seems just perfect. Four days is just the right amount to time to explore a city.

  13. I never would have thought to visit Budapest in winter, but it looks and sounds so magical I might have to try it! I’d love to take that river cruise; so beautiful with all the buildings and bridges illuminated. A dip in the Szechenyi Baths sounds like a wonderful way to take the chill off…I just worry that I wouldn’t want to get out! I’m definitely putting a winter trip to Budapest on my wish list.

    1. Haha, I had a hard time leaving the baths as well. It’s recommended not to spend more than 20 min at a time in there but I kept taking short breaks and going back inside.

  14. I am on my way to hungary as I type this!! So glad I came across this amazing post. I would love to discover a hungarian town – the view from Gillert is amazing, & great recommendation for the sky bar! Thanks for the post!

  15. Budapest is always a lot of fun come sun or snow, and you managed to do a lot on your trip! The ruin bars look like a great place to chill and drink beer of course. Fisherman’s Bastion would be a must of mine and thank you for that extra tip on the cafe on top of the tower! Budapest really is a great city, and I never tire of looking at photos of the Parliament building either!

  16. The dinner cruise on the Danube sounds really nice. I think I would also choose the one with the Hungarian folklore performances. The Hungarian baths would be so nice to go in during winter too. Thanks for all the great ideas 🙂

    1. Given how hot the water in the thermal baths is, I cannot imagine going to them in the summer. They’re perfect for winter, I think!

  17. Budapest is one of my favorite cities and you captured it so well!! It sure is cold but there is SO much to do and with all the spa, easy to get warm and relax! Did you get a chance to check out the other thermals bath? Gellert was my absolute favorite!! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I checked out the pictures of all to compare and chose Szechenyi baths. If I had more time, would’ve visited others. Thanks for the recommendation of Gellert, will try it out next time 🙂

  18. I have been to Hungary a few times. My father is Hungarian. You do a good job of highlighting all the key spots to see in Hungary. One thing that we did that you do not mention is to go below the palace to see the hospital and bomb shelter that existed for decades. It is quite unbelievable what they created under there. You can also buy an original gas mask.

  19. Budapest is one of my favorite destinations in the whole world! Such a gem and for us Americans, super affordable. I loved going to the Szechenyi Baths, though I never would have considered what it would be like in winter. That would definitely be an awesome experience! I enjoyed your story and visit a lot. 😉

  20. I want to visit Budapest badly. I tough to do the same and go during the winter, but I couldn’t manage it. I am used to dream to go to the thermal bath while it is snowing. it is my fantasy. I didn’t know there are two parts Buda and Pest. That is interesting. my

  21. Okay I’m officially dying to see Budapest after reading this. I had never considered wintertime, but clearly I need to think again. There are so many historic sights that it seems impossible to run out of things to do even in the winter. And, the Vajdahunyad castle looks straight out of a fairytale.

  22. I love Budapest! I haven’t visited in winter though, although I did go to Prague in winter which was also beautiful! The parliament building is one of my favourite buildings in the world, and the views from the river and Fisherman’s Bastion are absolutely stunning – especially at night!

  23. I’d have to agree that the cold makes the holidays feel more real/authentic! Gillert Hill also sounds like a fantastic place to see everything – great tip! Must have been so cool to watch the changing of guards’ ceremony. I would love to visit the Shoes on the Danube. Budapest is just truly amazing 😍

  24. I too love touring European countries in winters. I have fond memories of my vist to Greece. Budapest looks wonderful in winters and magical at nights.Loved your suggestion to visit a village.

  25. Which month did you visit Budapest…I see you got some lovely blue skies for winter. Its such a lovely city and so under-talked about. We went for a day trip from Vienna but I would love to go back again. Have not seen the spas yet.

  26. I love the idea of exploring different places at Christmas. We loved Budapest in May. So interesting to see it in the winter. We did love the views from the hills on the Buda side. It would be great to enjoy hot chocolate or hot wine in a cafe by the castle. We loved our night cruise but it looks like it was cold for you. But the weather made a visit to the Christmas markets perfect. But not as good as enjoying the thermal baths! Glad you enjoyed Budapest in the winter.

  27. I did not realize that Budapest is a wonderful Christmas destination. We will definitely consider this during our next Christmas trip. I don’t really mind hthe chilly weather since the view makes it really worth it. Thank you for sharing this.

  28. I love Budapest! My husband is Hungarian and we go there as often as we can. A few years ago I’ve spent an entire winter month in Budapest and I agree with all your recommendations. I particularly liked the warm waters of the Szechenyi Baths. I’ve never been to the 360 Bar though. I’ll check it out next time I’m in Budapest.

  29. I visited Budapest in the early summer and loved everything, so it’s an added treat to see how it shines in the winter as well. We stopped in the ruin bar during the day – not nearly as photogenic. Love that you visited the village too.

  30. Hey, Medha,

    It is interesting how Europeans, including me, prefer to escape cold European winter to places with warmer weather. And people coming from warmer climates do the opposite – they come to Europe in the winter as they see it as a white snowy wonderland.

    Coming from Croatia, I have visited Budapest several times. And yes, Budapest is beautiful. I especially love the Danube and the bridges. And my fav place to have a cup of coffee in Budapest is New York cafe. So if you haven’t visited the New York cafe yet, I recommend to put it on your list for your next trip to Budapest.

    Anyway, you made a great round-up of Budapest!

    xoxo Milijana

  31. Oh you have reminded me how much I loved Budapest! I loved the views down over the Danube from Fisherman’s Bastion. We enjoyed walking back down the hill via the Castle Ramparts. I visited Szimpla Kert waaaayy back when it wasn’t a tourist destination like it is now – such a great bar!

  32. Budapest is one of my favourite places in Europe as it’s such a beautiful city with a rich history. Visiting in Budapest in winter would be amazing, as I’ve only visited in autumn and spring.

  33. Fantastic post! Definitely alot to do in the winter in Budapest, and with plenty of layers it looks like it would be worth exploring the architecture there – wow! The dinner on the Danube sounds divine, as well as walking through that cute Hungarian district. Bookmarked for future visit.

  34. You make winter less cold with your post! I would follow the the first thing
    you recommended: take a dip in that hot thermal springs. It is definitely something different that I cannot find easy to other snowy places.

    1. That was the highlight of my trip 😉 And you really cannot enjoy them as much during the summer as you can in the winter.

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