Budapest is becoming a destination more and more popular with tourists. The fascinating history, romantic architecture and amazing gastronomy all attract foreigners’ attention. This is no different in the winter when the city is cast in an especially lovely light. From ice skating to the excellent Christmas markets, there is so much you can do in the Hungarian capital at this time of year.
CNN has assembled a list with the best activities to do in Budapest during winter.
1. Christmas light tram
The Christmas light tram has now become a tradition in Budapest and some other big cities in Hungary. The festive public transport option puts everybody in a good mood, not to mention the marvellous sights one can see on tram line 2 where the tram mostly operates.
Another great thing is that no special ticket is needed to hop on, a regular ticket (for about 1.2 EUR) is enough to get a ride in December and early January after 5 pm, with the exception of Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
2. Ruin bars
Ruin bars have also become a staple in Budapest. These slightly unusual locations have such a unique atmosphere that they can make a night out unforgettable – especially in the winter, with special tours organised and a number of discounts available.
The first ruin bar of the capital was Szimpla Kert which still holds a special significance. The 6th district’s Ankert is also very popular, not least because of the themed nights they organise every week.
3. Buda Castle and Várkert Bazár
Buda Castle is such an iconic, not to mention beautiful, building of Budapest that it is a must for tourists and locals alike. The Castle Garden, commonly referred to as Várkert Bazár, is fast becoming somewhat of a cultural hub, with a number of exhibitions and outdoor events.
In the winter, it is the Christmas advent calendar that attracts visitors. Local authors, poets, ballet dancers and actors are invited in December to give a performance.
4. Andrassy Avenue and Fashion Street
The beautifully decorated streets and boulevards make shopping fun in Budapest during the Christmas period, too. The Fashion Street and Andrassy Avenue are popular tourist destinations throughout the year, but they may be more attractive during the time of Christmas shopping.
Fashion Street leading to Vörösmarty Square has a number of boutiques, and the displays and installations found here only make the experience more special. Andrassy Avenue, connecting Heroes’ Square and Elisabeth Square, is rich in high fashion shops like Gucci, Rolex or Louis Vuitton. It is also nicely decorated and offers Christmas-themed attractions.
5. River Danube Cruise
If you are short for time, a river cruise is perfect for catching a glimpse of the major sights, like the Chain Bridge, the building of the Parliament, the Buda Castle or Margaret Island. Cruises run both during the day and in the evening. You can choose to simply go on a sightseeing tour or make it an extra special experience by including dinner. Options abound, the decision is yours 😉
6. Spas and thermal baths
Budapest is famous for the numerous thermal baths it has that promise a relaxing and healing experience at the same time. In the winter, it is a lot of fun to soak yourself in the hot thermal water while enjoying the fresh air in an outdoor pool.
The baths and spas of Budapest offer massages, steam rooms and saunas, along with a variety of treatment options. Whichever you choose, you cannot go wrong 🙂
7. Hungarian State Opera House
This iconic building, designed by Miklós Ybl and completed in 1884, has appeared a number of times in blockbuster movies – rightly so. The building is marvellous, both inside and outside, and the lucky ones that are able to get tickets can enjoy high-quality shows like the “Nutcracker” or “The Magic Flute”.
Right now, the building is in the middle of being renovated; however, tours are still available.
8. The ice rink in City Park
Ice skating is such a fun activity during winter, and doing so in a place as iconic as the ice rink in front of Vajdahunyad Castle is such a unique experience. Even if you are not the best skater, the location is still worth visiting.
9. Basilica light show
Saint Stephen’s Basilica is worth visiting any time of the year, but it is especially beautiful in the winter. There are light shows projected onto the building every half hour between 4:30 pm and 10 pm. You can see religious stories told through colourful lights, with the additional experience of sounds.
There are also 3D animation shows that make it look like the building is moving or even falling down, keeping the audience excited. It is truly a must if you happen to be in Budapest.
10. Christmas markets
Last but definitely not least, the famous Christmas markets in Budapest cannot be missing from a winter to-do list. Whether you go to the popular market at Vörösmarty Square or opt for the one at the Basilica newly chosen as the second best market in entire Europe, you will definitely have a great time.
You can enjoy excellent mulled wine, eat chimney cake or choose from an array of local sausages. There are also events organised, and you can browse the goods of the dozens of vendors, looking for the perfect gift to give your loved ones.
Featured image: MTI by Balázs Mohai