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At the end of November, I spent 4 days in Budapest. Even though Budapest is definitely gaining more fame, winter definitely isn’t the most popular time of the year to visit this city. It may be a little colder, but Budapest in winter has a special charm. One that I really enjoyed! Visiting Budapest in winter also gives you the opportunity to participate in some special activities and see the city from a whole new perspective. In this blog post, I’m giving you 10 reasons why you should also check out this beautiful city during the colder season 😉
1. Relax in the Thermal Baths
What better place to spend a cold winter day than a thermal bath? Budapest (aka City of Baths) has 123 natural springs and many of those are used to power the famous bathhouses. I think that winter is the perfect time to enjoy these steaming pools. Even when it’s freezing outside, the thermal pools will still sit at a comfortable 30-40 degrees Celcius.
Most baths have both indoor and outdoor pools. Some main outdoor swimming pools will be closed during this period of the year – but often you can find one or two hot spas outside that are still operating. If you visit Széchenyi Thermal Baths, you can enjoy the two big outdoor baths.
Try to avoid weekends, as the prices go up but it’s also a lot busier than during the week. Make sure to bring a swimsuit (nude bathing is no longer accepted, except at Rudas Baths), slippers and a towel. If you forget any of these, you can rent/buy them at the pools but be prepared to pay 5x the original price.
A day ticket includes access to the pools, saunas and steam rooms. You can, however, book extra services like massages, pedicures and other amenities. We got a 20-minute massage at Gellert Baths and it was AMAZING! Highly recommend it, especially if you’re walking through Budapest for a few days.
2. Stroll around Budapest’s Christmas Market
If you’re visiting Budapest during November or December, the Budapest Christmas Market should be on your list. They open from mid-November till the first of January. Which is longer than most European Christmas Markets, which close straight after Christmas.
Budapest has multiple Christmas Markets, but the main ones to check out are near St. Stephen Basilica and Vörösmarty Square. They are located closely together, so it’s easy to visit both during the same afternoon/evening. The Christmas Markets are pretty typical for European markets. You will find tons of stands selling crafts, mulled wine and tasty street food. They make up for a great afternoon of Christmas fun.
3. Skate on Europe’s biggest ice rink
The Christmas Markets have a few little ice rinks (like the one near St. Stephen Basilica), but Budapest has more to offer to skate lovers. The ice rink in Budapest City Park is one of the biggest rinks in Europe. Located close to Heroes’ Square and in front of Vajdahunyad Castle, it’s easily accessible and has a stunning backdrop. The rink is open until February and you can rent skates for 2000 HUF.
4. Eat all the Chimney Cakes
One of my favourite traditional Hungarian treats: the Chimney cake. This sweet pastry can be bought all year round but is traditionally a real winter treat. Made of strips of dough rolled around a cylindrical spit. Covered in sugar, it’s baked above hot charcoal. You can get them in all sorts of flavours, including coconut, poppy seeds, vanilla, almond, cacao and my personal favourite; cinnamon.
There are quite a few variations available, some chimney cakes come filled with ice cream (I had one of these in Prague during the summer – delicious in the hot summer weather!), with a layer of chocolate inside or just plain. You’ll be able to find chimney cake shops all across Budapest and at the Christmas Market.
5. Visit The Central Market Hall
The stunning central market hall is a sight you can see all-year-round, but with the added Christmas decorations it makes a perfect stop when visiting Budapest in winter. Fresh produce, traditional Hungarian items, souvenirs and tons of street food – make sure to go to the Central Market Hall on an empty stomach 😉 If you make your way to the first floor, you can find many places to grab some tasty Hungarian dishes or a beer. Perfect for a quick lunch to warm up. The Central Market Hall is located very close to Gellert Baths. We grabbed some food at the market and then continued our afternoon relaxing in the thermal baths.
6. Winter is cheaper & quieter
Winter is by far the cheapest time to explore Budapest. Tourist peak season has gone by and it leaves the city nice and quiet. For four days and five nights, we paid just over £300 each for the entire trip (check out my Budapest Cost Breakdown post for more info on that). Accommodation is usually a lot cheaper outside of peak season, which can save you quite a bit of money.
Plus, it’s a lot quieter! I don’t even want to imagine the crowded in the summer time at sights like Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle. I honestly don’t mind getting up early to avoid the crowds at sights I really want to see. But when you only have a few days, you only have a few mornings. We visited Budapest at the end of November and were able to enjoy all the sights without too many tourists throughout the entire day. Fisherman’s Bastion was fine during the afternoon – and so were other sights and restaurants too. I also felt like we got to see a more authentic Budapest due to the lack of tourists, which was a great feeling.
7. Enjoy the hearty Hungarian Cuisine
Sign me up for a cup of hot, steaming goulash soup after walking through the chilly (but beautiful) streets of Budapest any day. Isn’t this just the perfect winter dish? Hungarian cuisine has some of the tastiest, heartiest dishes, which are simply perfect when you’re visiting during the colder months.
Hungarian street food is something the country does really well. With the Christmas Markets scattered across the city, winter is a perfect time to try some of these dishes.
8. Find some real gems in the vintage shops
To my surprise, Budapest has a really good vintage/thrift scene! While walking to the Dohány Street Synagogue, we stumbled upon tons of amazing second-hand shops with some really cool stuff. From vintage clothes and accessories to old stamps and pins. I love browsing through these types of shops to find some hidden gems. One of them reminded me of my grandma’s attic, filled with the most unique items. Check out this list of best vintage shops in Budapest.
9. Warm up in the Ruin bars
Hidden in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter, the famous Ruin bars can be found. They are popular with both locals and tourists and are a unique place to enjoy a lovely alcoholic beverage to warm up from the cold weather. Szimpla Kert is probably the most popular ruin bar, also being the pub that started the trend back in 2001. Even if you’d rather not drink anything alcoholic, the ruin bars are definitely worth a visit because they’re such a unique part of Budapest.
10. Visiting one of Budapest’s museums
Hide from the cold in one of Budapest’s best museums. Especially if you’re visiting for more than a few days, I’d highly recommend planning in some time to check out either the House of Terror or the Hungary National Museum.
The exhibitions in the House of Terror focus on the fascist and communist regimes that ruled over Hungary in the past. It’s definitely not easy to see everything in the museum, but I think it’s important to face the reality of those horrible times. By learning about them, we can hopefully avoid similar things from happening in the future. The Hungary National Museum has some lighter exhibitions, showing you the best of the country’s art, archaeology and history.
All in all, I really enjoyed my four days in Budapest during the end of November. Let me know if you’ve ever been to Budapest during the winter and what you thought about it!