Photo: © iStock/neirfy
Budapest might be a summer break favourite, but the city under snow is an awesome sight worth travelling for. Picture a sparkling, turreted winter wonderland in a snow globe and you’re pretty much there. From ice skating at City Park to parties under the stars in the outdoor thermal baths, here’s how to get the best of Budapest this winter.
Get Festive at the Christmas Markets
A winter visit to Budapest wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of the city’s Christmas markets. You’ll find the oldest and largest on Vörösmarty Square from early November to New Year’s Eve. With artisanal trinkets, traditional food stalls (try a sugar-dusted kürtőskalác pastry), free concerts and vats of mulled wine, it’s sure to get you in the festive spirit. In the evening, the nearby market outside the glittering St. Stephen’s Basilica is a great choice thanks to great arts and crafts, while style-conscious foodies should head to the WAMP Christmas Design and Gastro Fair for gourmet delights and cool, one-of-a-kind gifts.
Take a Dip in the Thermal Baths
Steamy and glowing with lamplight, Budapest’s famous thermal baths get a dose of magic in winter. If you’re feeling brave, visit Széchenyi Baths on a frosty day and take a welcome dip in the 38-degree waters of its outdoor pools. At the end of December, things liven up at Széchenyi with its annual pre-New Year’s Eve Magic Bath Party – complete with laser shows, inflatable bars and DJ sets. Over the other side of the river, Lukacs Baths hosts more regular (and equally unruly) “sparties” throughout the season.
Get Your Skates on at the Ice Rinks
Once the cold hits in Budapest and the lake waters freeze, ice skating takes over from the boating and picnics of the warmer months. The largest open-air rink in Europe, City Park Ice Rink (Városligeti Müjégpálya) is the most famous in Budapest. It’s also one of the prettiest, sitting at the foot of the fairy tale Vajdahunyad Castle. There’s a smaller rink at the Basilica Christmas Market for those who fancy a break mid-shop.
Soak Up Some Culture
Take the opportunity in the chilly weather to have a wander round one of Budapest’s myriad indoor attractions. From the Budapest History Museum to the Hungarian National Gallery, there are plenty of cultural shelters from the cold across the capital (and you can visit most of them for free with a Budapest Card). Several of the city’s ruin bars double up as vibrant arts centres – for a bit of alternative culture (and a spot of lunch) try the stylish Mazel Tov or Púder Bárszínház with its fun décor.
Head to The Mountains for Some Winter Sports
When the snow really begins to fall, it’s time to leave Budapest’s urban offerings and head up the mountain. Normafa, a short train ride from the city centre, is a lively winter sports hub in the Buda Hills. Snow-bunnies can hire skis or a sled in town and take to the slopes for an adrenaline-fuelled day out. Refuel afterwards with some hot strudel and mulled wine at one of the lovely little hillside cafés.
Warm Up with Mulled Wine
Wine o’clock runs from morning ‘til night during winter in Budapest. The selection at the Christmas markets will do the trick, but for a cosy sit down get yourself over to one of the city’s best bars. Just across from the Basilica fair you’ll find Porta, a tiny café-bar with snug blankets and mugs of spiced mulled merlot. Ruin bar Ellátó Kert serves up a sweet option on their heated open terrace, and down the road is the elegant (and more upmarket) Doblo Wine Bar. After a couple of glasses you’ll be roasting right down to your toes.