Winter in Budapest is a magical time of year. From snow-capped sightseeing to soaking in thermal baths and ice skating on the city’s frozen lakes, here’s how to get the best out of Budapest this winter
Budapest may be most famous as a summer destination, but the city in the snow is a sight worth travelling for. When Budapest’s lakes freeze over and its historical castles receive a dusting of white snow, the whole city takes on a new appearance that’s, quite simply, breathtaking; picture a charming winter scene in a snow globe and you’re almost there. And as it’s quieter during winter in Budapest, there are also fewer people to get in the way of your explorations. From ice skating at City Park Lake to the thermal baths of Budapest and even a warming glass of Hungarian wine, here’s how to get the best out of Budapest this winter.
During the summer, Budapest’s lakes are places of relaxation, but in the winter when the waters freeze over, they develop a whole new character and become action-packed ice skating rinks. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, there are plenty of opportunities for ice skating enthusiasts to strap on their skates and take to the ice. As one of the oldest and largest rinks in Europe, City Park Lake is the most famous. It’s also one of the most picturesque, set in the shadow of the magnificent Vajdahunyad Castle.
Don’t shy away from sightseeing in fear of the freezing temperatures. Some of Budapest’s most monumental buildings look that bit more spectacular with a coating of fresh power. Every year when the snow starts to fall, the castle district is transformed into a picture-perfect winter wonderland fit for a king. The snow-capped Royal Palace alone is worth venturing outside for. Throw in the Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion and you’ll be so awe-struck you’ll forget about the cold.
A visit to the famous thermal baths of Budapest is a highlight for most visitors, but the experience is even more satisfying during winter. If you’re feeling brave, visit Széchenyi Baths on a chilly day and submerge yourself under the steaming waters of its outdoor thermal pools, where the contrast of cold air and hot water does wonders for the body. Alternatively, steer clear of the crowds at the lesser-known (but equally striking) Ottoman-style Veli Bej baths, the oldest Turkish hammam in the city. You can even treat yourself a massage while you’re there.
Sometimes, no matter how many layers you put on, nothing warms you up more effectively than a steaming glass of mulled wine. Luckily for visitors, wine o’clock lasts all day during winter in Budapest. Follow the lead of the locals and sample some of the country’s specialty Hungarian wine at Doblo Wine Bar in the Jewish Quarter and DiVino Wine Bar near the Basilica. After a couple of glasses, you’ll be roasting right down to your toes.
When the snow really begins to fall, it’s time to leave the city and head up the mountain. Normafa Hill, located just 30 minutes from the city centre, is a popular winter sports haven in the Buda Hills. Grab your skis or sled and make the most of winter in Budapest with an adrenaline-fuelled day out. After the long walk up the hill, refuel with some strudel and mulled wine at one of the many local shops.
Cold temperatures offer the ideal opportunity to take advantage of Budapest’s myriad indoor attractions. Museums make a great shelter from the cold. From the Budapest History Museum to the Museum of Fine Arts, there’s plenty on offer across the capital. When the sun goes down, go to a concert at St Stephen’s Basilica or enjoy a night of opera or ballet at the illustrious Hungarian State Opera House.