8 Magical Things to Do in Budapest in Winter

Visiting Budapest in winter? It’s a magical time to explore Budapest! Here are 8 things you absolutely cannot miss on a winter trip to Hungary’s capital.

When planning our trip to Budapest in winter, I knew it would be cold. That was just a given.

But for every extra layer of wool we wore, we were rewarded with something much more special: a magical city that truly lights in winter and the ability to explore this beautiful European gem with less crowds and at even more affordable prices.

If you’re considering a trip to Budapest this winter, please let me tell you, it is worth it!

Read on for 8 magical things you must experience in Budapest in winter:

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Packing for Budapest in Winter

First things first, yes, Budapest in winter is cold. And we couldn’t have made it through without a few key accessories!

Must-have items from our packing list included:

  • Wool Base Layer | Having an extra merino wool base layer under our clothes was a lifesaver for long days out in the cold! I love this base layer top and midweight bottom from REI, while Matt was equally pleased with this top and bottom from Amazon. For kids, this base layer pair was our favorite (size down for a snug fit).
  • Warm Touch Screen Gloves | I wish I could say I’ve found the perfect warm winter gloves, but I’m still on the hunt. This pair looks quite promising, however.
  • Thick Wool Socks | Also a must! These merino wool blend socks kept our feet toasty and warm no matter the weather.
  • Umbrella | Many of our days in Budapest were misty and rainy. I recommend bringing a compact travel umbrella just in case.
  • Swimsuit | Nope, that’s not a mistake! Budapest has some of the most amazing thermal baths in the world that you’ll definitely want to check out, even in winter! (psst. read on for more details.)

Need help packing?

Be sure to read our full packling list for all the must-haves for Budapest in winter!

READ MORE: The Ultimate Packing List for Europe in Winter

Where to Stay in Budapest this Winter

Though Budapest is a big city split by the Danube River, an efficient public transportation network and walkable streets make it easy to get around no matter where you choose to stay.

Whether in the bustling city center, picturesque Castle Hill, or the trendy Jewish Quarter, you’ll find quality hotel options at:

Prestige Hotel Budapest ($$) | Located in the inner city neighborhood of Lipótváros, the Prestige Hotel is right in the middle of the action. Families staying here will be steps away from the Danube River, Hungarian Parliament and St. Stephen’s Basilica. A central location, separate living room area, and 24-hour room service are all perks families with kids will appreciate.

Compare prices on: Hotels.com | Agoda | Booking.com

Continental Hotel Budapest ($$) | For foodie families wanting to be near the Jewish Quarter, the Continental Hotel offers lots of amenities. Two pools, one indoor and one outdoor, an on-site bar and restaurant, and quick access to public transportation are just a few reasons to call this hotel home.

Compare prices on: Hotels.com | Agoda | Booking.com

Pest-Buda Design Hotel ($$) | Those wanting a relaxing stay in a boutique hotel will appreciate this highly-rated Castle District gem. The stylish Pest-Buda Hotel has been open since 1696, and underwent an extensive renovation in 2016. The hotel also offers an on-site bistro serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and is just steps away from the Matthias Church.

Compare prices on: Hotels.com | Agoda | Booking.com

8 Magical Things to Do in Budapest in Winter

Sure, most people visit Budapest in the summertime, and for good reason! But if you decide to visit Budapest in winter, you’ll be rewarded with lower prices, fewer crowds, and a one-of-a-kind experience.

Include these 8 magical activities in your itinerary to make a winter trip to Budapest feel extra special:

1 | Take a Dip in a Thermal Bath

It may be cold outside, but a dip in one of the many thermal baths of Budapest is a must-do activity in winter!

Despite the chilly temperatures, outside baths are kept to a toasty 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit. And even if you don’t want to brave the outside air, you can enjoy one of the many indoor thermal baths instead.

The most famous (and picturesque) hermal baths in Budapest are found at the Szechenyi Baths in City Park. However, other popular options are available at the Gellert or Rudas Baths near Castle Hill. For a more off-the-beaten-path, local experience, try the Kiraly Baths or Lukacs Baths.

2 | Ride the Scenic Tram no. 2

Considered one of the most scenic tram rides in the world (the tram itself was even named a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Budapest’s tram no. 2 follow a picturesque path along the Danube River.

Running along the riverbank in Pest, riders are treated to close up views of the massive Hungarian Parliament, the Shoes on the Danube memorial, Gresham Palace and the Chain Bridge, as well as glimpses of Buda Castle, Matthias Church, and Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side of the river.

The cost to ride is no more than a public transport ticket, making it the cheapest sightseeing tour in Budapest!

But what makes this tram especially magical in winter are the tens of thousands of twinkling lights its decked out in, inside and out! The so-called “Christmas light tram” is available for rides on select dates throughout the holiday season, so be sure to check the schedule to see if you can hop on one of these festive rides.

3 | Indulge in a Chimney Cake or Two (or three).

My life may have changed forever the moment I tried kürtőskalács, or Hungarian chimney cakes!

This traditional pastry that’s soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside, and coated in a variety of simple flavors, is a street food favorite any time of year. But it’s especially wonderful to warm up your hands while walking the streets of Budapest on a chilly day.

Our favorite was found at the St. Stephen’s Basilica Christmas Market, but you can find them throughout the city all winter long.

4 | Take Pretty Winter Photos at Fisherman’s Bastion

Fisherman’s Bastion, the medieval terrace atop Buda Hill overlooking Pest, is a lovely spot to visit any time of year. But there’s something especially magical about seeing it covered in a dusting of snow!

Get up early and make the trek up to the Castle District for your own imprompru photoshoot. There’ll be much fewer people around than on a sunny, summer day, and it will still be just as picture perfect.

And if you hire a photographer to do the photo taking for you, you’ll have some magical family photos to treasure long after your trip.

While you’re there, be sure to stop at nearby Matthias Church. This stunning piece of architecture is best viewed inside.

5 | Go Ice Skating at City Park

Not only is City Park the largest park in Budapest, but it also boasts the largest ice skating rink in Europe!

Standing in front of Vajdahunyad Castle, the summer boating lake is transformed into a winter wonderland from mid-November until the end of February. It first opened in January 1870, so you’re no doubt skating amidst a piece of history!

Visitors pay a small entry fee (kids 6 and under are free), and you can also rent skates, seal helpers, or even take part in a lesson on-site. Be sure to check their official website for current rates and opening dates.

6 | Take in a Light Show at St. Stephen’s Basilica

If you’ll be visiting Budapest during the magical Christmas season (mid-November to early January), you must take in the city’s most popular Christmas markets. The Christmas Market and Advent Fair which takes place in the square in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, is especially magical, offers handcrafted items, delectable Hungarian dishes, and even a small ice skating rink.

But one of it’s most special offerings is a 3D light show projected on the basilica. A new light show plays every 15 minutes, so there’s always an upcoming one to take in (grab 3D glasses from one of the many stations surrounding the basilica to see the show really come to life!).

7 | Eat ALL the Hungarian Comfort Food

When it’s cold outside, there’s no better way to warm up then with ALL the tasty Hungarian stews, meats, and warm drinks!

Of course, gulyas is Hungary’s signature dish, but other favorites we tried were mushroom cream soup, langos (deep-fried bread dough with savory toppings), Hungarian sausages, and palinka punch (a warm mulled drink with a shot of Hungary’s famous fruit brandy).

Budapest’s Christmas Markets are a great place to sample a little of each, but if you’ve missed the season, don’t dismay! In the Jewish Quarter, eateries like Getto Gulyas serve up classic Hungarian comfort food all winter long.

8 | Go on a Danube River Cruise

Seeing Budapest from the water isn’t just an activity for the summertime!

Many sightseeing cruises depart year-round and offer arguably the best way to view Budapest’s stunning architecture.

Plus, you don’t have to freeze your face off to enjoy it! The nighttime sightseeing tour we joined was equipped with a welcome bubbly drink and cozy blankets for everyone. And when it got just a bit too chilly for the open-air views, we simply moved to the lower, heated cabin to enjoy the rest of the tour!

PS. I highly recommend this tour if you’re looking to book one for yourself!

Have you been to Budapest in winter? What’s your go-to winter activity?

xo laura

planning a trip to budapest?

Here’s a few final tips…

  • Search for cheap flights with Skyscanner.
  • Arriving by train? Reserve tickets with RailEurope.
  • Find family-friendly Airbnbs in Castle Hill or the Jewish Quarter.
  • Or compare hotel prices with Booking.com.
  • Learn basic Hungarian with Duolingo.
  • Book top-rated guided tours and activities with Viator.
  • Be prepared for anything with travel insurance from World Nomads.

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