While Budapest is enchanting in any season, the Hungarian capital truly shines during the winter months. It’s a time of year when the scent of strong coffee beckons from cozy cafes, Christmas markets pop up in historic squares and the Art Nouveau architecture becomes even more alluring as snow settles on the skyline. Here are some of the top reasons to visit Budapest, known as “The Pearl of the Danube,” during the winter.
You can warm up in iconic buildings
From the neo-Gothic parliament building and UNESCO-listed Buda Castle to the world-renowned Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest has no shortage of striking sites to admire. The impressive mix of architectural styles tells the story of the city—which includes a period of Roman rule, Turkish occupation and a stretch of time when Buda and Pest were separate cities. While these landmarks are lovely to look at from the outside, stepping inside to appreciate their grand interiors is the perfect way to warm up on a brisk winter day.
The artistry of these architectural marvels (and distinction of the city’s other unique attributes) isn’t lost on Groups Tour Consultant Marissa, who counts Budapest as her favorite city. “Budapest is magnificent from a visual standpoint,” she says. “Even after the destruction of WWII, the city shines on along the banks of the Danube, with incredible Gothic and Renaissance architecture. The cuisine is excellent, the culture and language are fascinating and the weather is mild, even in the winter. I always say it’s better to be there in the winter than home! It’s such a cool and underrated place.”
There are Old-World cafes to discover
Turkey’s 16th-century occupation of Hungary marked the beginning of a deep-rooted coffee culture in Budapest, which flourished in the 19th century and still endures today. Inside the city’s historic coffeehouses, which include New York Café and Alexandra Book Café, ornate furnishings bring Budapest’s Golden Age to life. They’re the places to go to sip fresh-brewed coffee alongside decadent pastries while people-watching beneath chandelier light. Admire Renaissance artwork and vaulted ceilings as you walk in the footsteps of all the intellectuals who have found inspiration inside these iconic institutions.
Not only are the cafe options almost endless, but according to Customer Relations Representative Dana, the city’s low prices make them the perfect places to get out of the cold and indulge. “Because things in Budapest are so affordable, you could easily spend a day shopping or sampling food without breaking the bank,” she says. “Popping into local shops or cafes (or pubs!) to peruse their selections could easily take up a few hours, give you some insight into Hungarian culture and keep you warm without ever emptying your wallet. How often can you go to Europe and say that?”
You can dip into a thermal bath
Budapest is often called “The City of Baths,” and for good reason. Here, over 100 natural hot springs bubble up from the earth into bathhouses and thermal spas around the capital, providing more than enough opportunities for a relaxing soak. While this bath scene was popular in Roman and Turkish times, it’s still a cultural mainstay—and there may be no better way to shake off a winter chill than by dipping into a warm, mineral-infused bath.
Different bathhouses and spas are scattered throughout the city, and as Customer Relations Representative Dana points out, getting to them during free time is easier than you might think. “Budapest’s public transit is easy to navigate, so it’s simple to get from one end of the city to the other, even in chilly weather,” she says.
A Christmas market stroll is enchanting
Like most European cities, Budapest doesn’t skimp on Christmas festivities. From November to January, sparkling displays anchor the skyline, the tantalizing scent of holiday noshes drifts from quaint wooden stalls and every corner of the city bursts with seasonal cheer. If you want to get in on the action, make your way to St. Stephen’s or Vörösmarty Square to sip forralt bor (Hungarian mulled wine), munch on chimney cake or pick up some traditional scented ornaments. Or, join the locals in the Central Market Hall, an indoor marketplace where you can find souvenirs and try some of Budapest’s famous desserts, including cakes known as krèmes.
For Customized Itinerary Specialist Emily, Budapest’s seasonal celebrations were a true highlight of her tour. “The Christmas markets felt very authentic,” she says. “The city itself is spectacular to look at so visiting during the holidays just added to the charm. In St. Stephen’s Square, I stumbled upon a spectacular light show on the facade of the basilica, then visited the famous Gerbeaud coffeehouse in Vörösmarty Square. Gerbeaud is stunning inside and there are a ton of dessert choices.”
Have you ever visited Budapest on tour during the winter? What was your favorite free-time activity? Tell us in the comments below!