What to Do in Winter in Budapest

Don’t let yourself be put off by the cold weather though as Budapest is far less packed this time of year, the prices are even more favourable than in the high season and there are some special winter activities that can’t be done at any other time.

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Royal Castle Photo: David Lillywhite, Flickr

 

Obviously wearing plenty of warm layers is strongly recommended if you visit in winter but if you start to get too chilly you can always pop into any of the numerous cafés or bars dotted around the city center where you can warm up your frozen fingers.

Or, if you prefer, there are more than 200 museums with a wide range of topics awaiting you which will also provide a warm hideaway from the cold.

During the winter months temperatures can easily fall below 0 degrees Celsius (32 Fahrenheit), even during the day, but it rarely dips below minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 Fahrenheit).

In the last decade the amount of snowfall has been decreasing so unfortunately there is a smaller chance to be able to admire charming Budapest in its typical romantic winter scene with a crisp layer of snow.

Christmas Markets

In you visit Budapest any time between mid-November and the beginning of January, you can be part of some lively outdoor scenes thanks to the Christmas markets in the city center. With the festive illuminations and the decorated shop windows the city really comes into its own around Christmas.

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Winter Illumination, photo: my friend Bús Mónika

Enjoy the holiday mood and keep yourself warm while lingering among the wooden market stands. The three most famous markets are located in the city center quite close to each other.

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Winter Dishes Photo: Natures Fan, Flickr

 

Ice Skating

A remarkable winter activity is certainly gliding on the popular outdoor ice rink in the City Park (Városliget) just next to the impressive Heroes Square. The open air artificial ice rink is more than 140 years old and is overlooked by the spectacular Castle of Vajdahunyad, which provides a scenic background for the skaters.

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Ice Skating in Városliget (City Park) with Vajdahunyad Castle in the background, Photo: Virag

 

You can rent skates in the neo baroque building next to the rink for a fee and a deposit, but be aware that the rink closes in the early afternoon.

Opening hours from mid November till mid February:

Monday – Friday: 9 am-1 pm and 5 pm-9 pm

Saturday: 10 am-2 pm and 4 pm-9 pm

Sunday: 10 am-2 pm and 4 pm-8 pm

Other sites close to the ice rink are; Millennial Monument on Heroes Square, Museum of Fine Arts (lately closed because of renovation), Kunsthalle (Műcsarnok), Vajdahunyad Castle, Zoo and Széchenyi Bath

Thermal Baths

After the active ice skating in chilly weather who wouldn’t want to submerge themselves into hot thermal water and enjoy a more passive indulgence? In this case the most feasible option is Széchenyi Bath as it is a short 5 minute walk away from the ice rink.

It’s pretty amazing to sit in one of the outside pools when the temperature is low and the hot thermal water is steaming around you. Somehow it has a magical mystical charm and if you are lucky snowfall gives added value to the extraordinary experience.

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Széchenyi Bath in Colder Weather, Photo: Andy Nugent, Flickr

 

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Széchenyi Bath with Snow, Photo: Philip Clifford, Flickr

 

Gellért and Rudas baths are also good options to get acquainted with local bathing culture.

Don’t forget your bathrobe, or to rent one, if you are one who feels the cold, as in some baths you have to walk a few meters in your swimsuit in the open air before you can plunge into some of the hot pools. Plastic sandles or flip flops are also recommended in winter time.

In Rudas a bathrobe or a bigger towel may come handy even more so as you have to take a few steps outside to reach the rooftop pool that offers an amazing view. It would be a pity if you missed out on that pool because of the chilly weather.

The thermal baths are open 365 days a year.  Here you can read more about my three favourite ones.

Concerts, Ballet, Opera and Theater Performances in Winter Mood

In the Hungarian State Opera (Andrássy út 22) it is traditionally the Nutcracker ballet with the wonderful music of Tchaikovsky that is on almost every evening in December as well as some matinees. Book your tickets well in advance as there is a high demand for these performances.

On the first day of the year there is a New Year Concert held in the Opera House. It is best to book your tickets well ahead for this too.

 

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Hungarian State Opera House, Photo: Miroslav Petrasko http://www.hdrshooter.com

 

For musical and operetta lovers I suggest checking the program for the Operetta Theater (Budapesti Operettszínház – Nagymező utca 19) for seasonal performances.

For those who prefer classical music, you should take a look at the program for the Franz Liszt Music Academy (Liszt Ferenc tér 8). This institution pleases not just the ears but also the eyes. The beautifully designed and lavishly decorated Art Nouveau building is dedicated to music. About Art Nouveau architecture in Budapest more info here.

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Main Hall of the Liszt Music Academy, photo: my cousin Mészöly Nóra

Organ concerts in the always gloomy Saint Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István tér 1.) are held four times a week all year round. You can reserve your tickets in advance or buy it at the cashier before the concert.

 

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Saint Stephen’s Basilica, Photo: Miroslav Petrasko http://www.hdrshooter.com

The Basilica is one of the most significant churches in the country and is exceptionally rich artistically. Reliefs, statues, paintings and mosaics decorate the third highest building of Hungary.

 

 

About the authors: Virág and János

Virág, a native of Budapest, and János, who’s been living in the city since 1997 are real fans of the capital of Hungary and try to awake the enthusiasm of others. They are dedicated to helping tourists to make most out of their stay.

Here you can read more about them: http://katonaapartments.hu/

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Which Bath to Choose in Budapest?

Visiting any of the baths is a great way to get fresh and well again after all the walking you do while sightseeing in our fabulous capital. You just can’t beat this type of relaxation.

If you have never been to any of the baths in Budapest, there are three that I would highlight to learn more about the Hungarian bath culture.
Rudas, Széchenyi and Gellért, all three have unique features and will surely be memorable. If you have already been to these three baths you should visit some others, like Veli Bej and Király.

 

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Lobby of Gellért Bath, Photo: Miroslav Petrasko http://www.hdrshooter.com

 

General Rules and Procedure

Different baths have different rules and procedures. I’ve collected some that are probably common to all baths.

The prices and the services available are displayed in English at the entrance. In some baths the hosts and hostesses will give you a hand.

In most baths you will receive a ‘wrist watch’ to wear which will grant you access into the baths as well as being a ‘key’ to your locker, which magnetically locks and unlocks.

If you are a rather bashful type you can choose the individual changing cabins instead of the shared locker rooms. The changing cabins are more private and comfortable but cost a bit more.

Before entering the pools showering is obligatory and, also, a step through a foot bath is required.

Shooting photos in baths is not allowed.

What to Pack

– Bathing suit/swimming trunks – Anything from speedos to board shorts for men and bikinis or one piece outfits for women.

– Flip-flops or plastic sandals – Not required, but advised as you have to walk between the pools some of which may be outside.

– Your own towels – You can also rent towels but depending on the bath the rented ones are rather like bed sheets (bathing sheets) and their absorbency is almost zero.

– Soap and shampoo

– Plastic bag to pack your wet towel and bathing suits in after the baths

– Swimming cap for lap pools (for lane swimming) – They can also be bought on site or rented with a deposit. It is usually only the lap pools where it is obligatory to wear, so for bathing it’s not necessary.

– A bathrobe in colder weather may be a good idea as getting from one pool to the other in chilly weather is a quick dash without a robe especially when you visit the outside pools as well.

Rudas Bath

Who Should Go?

Rudas is primarily about relaxation. This bath is most suited to adults without children as the services of Rudas Baths cannot be used by under 14s. Those with children should choose either Széchenyi or Gellért or one of the beaches in the summer time, eg. Palatinus on Margit Sziget (Margaret Island). Here even just toilet trained children are allowed into the pools.

For the night owls I suggest the night bathing every Friday and Saturday night from 10:00 PM until 4:00 AM but unfortunately the sauna world is not available during this time.

If you plan to visit with livelier friends, I suggest Széchenyi. The Saturday night SPARTY is probably for you. (Continue reading below for more information on SPARTIES).

What Not to Miss in Rudas

The oldest and youngest parts of the complex are the most interesting ones: The 500 year old Ottoman octagonal indoor pool and the brand new roof top pool. In the latter, you will surely be amazed by the view; you can enjoy a soak in the warm water whilst watching the sunset and the lights of Budapest. You will even see the spectacular Parliament building from the rooftop terrace.

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Octagonal Pool in Rudas Bath, Photo: Ted Sullivan

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Roof top pool in Rudas Bath, photo: Virag

During colder months it may be a bit uncomfortable to get to the rooftop pool as you have to walk through the outside terrace.

In fact, walking around Rudas can be a bit confusing as there are a few zigzagged pathways and stairs but it’s worth it when you find hidden rooms like a steam room or a salt chamber. You definitely don’t want to miss those.

If you get a bit peckish during your visit, there is a very nice restaurant that serves gourmet food and lovely teas and coffees. If you go during the week between 11am and 5pm they often have a lunch time menu which you pay for as part of a ‘special ticket’ which includes both the lunch and your entrance. Ask us for the ticket during your check-in.

How to Get to Rudas

Rudas is only just outside the city centre so it doesn’t take long to get there. From Ferenciek tere metro stop cross Erzsébet híd (Elisabeth Bridge) with bus number 7 or 107 (907 or 973 at night) and get off at Rudas Gyógyfürdő or you can walk across, it won’t take longer than 5 minutes, take a left at the end of the bridge and the bath is along the river front.

Warning about Rudas

The 500 year old octagonal pool covered with a cupola (a domed roof) is just for males only or females only during the weekdays (Monday and Wednesday and Thursday for males, Tuesday for females). The other parts of the bath can be used by both sexes during the whole week. For mixed groups the best time to visit is on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays so that all can enjoy the historical part of the bath.

Széchenyi Bath

Who Should Go?

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Thermal Pool in Széchenyi, Photo: Thierry Kennes

The water of the bath is not recommended for children under the age of 14, although children can still enter Széchenyi. In the case of very young children and babies, he/she can enter the pools only if toilet-trained. However, your children will surely enjoy the thermal outdoor activity pool with a jacuzzi and whirlpool.

Have you ever thought about dancing in the pool? Does it sound weird? Well, on Saturday nights, Széchenyi is open for those who are looking for a special party experience in the hot water. These parties called SPARTIES are mainly suited to young adults but it’s definitely worth going there, whatever age you are, because of the amazing venue and the visuals. Check their timetable as the Sparties are not held every Saturday.

What Not to Miss in Széchenyi

Look for the elderly Hungarian men sitting in the water and playing chess. Quite an odd attraction of the baths but whenever I have been they are always there in the warmest outside pool on the right hand side.

You may not think it but it’s a fabulous feeling to sit in the hot baths outdoors in cold winter weather with the mist floating over the water and when snow falls this adds to the experience.

Also, I find the ornamentation of the lobby at the back side of the building wonderful; the whole building is filled with lots architecture of its time.

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Lobby at the Back of Széchenyi, Photo: Virag

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Lobby at the back of Széchenyi, Photo: Virag

How to Get There

Széchenyi bath (Széchenyi Fürdő) has its own stop on the yellow metro line (metro no. 1) and it’s not hard to miss as the building is bright yellow.

Other Sights in the Vicinity of Széchenyi

There are many other attractions near the bath which you could visit before or after you experience the baths such as Heroes Square (5 minute walk), Vajdahunyad Castle (3 minute walk), the Zoo (2 minute walk) or Műcsarnok Museum (5 minute walk)

Gellért Bath

Who Should Go?

This bath is suitable for everyone except babies. There is an outdoor children’s pool and a wave pool which are suitable for kids and the adults can enjoy the steam rooms and saunas. Note that the wave pool is only available through the summer months.

What Not to Miss in Gellért

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Swimming Pool in Gellért, Photo: Carlos Espejo

The Gellért Thermal Bath built in a Secession (Art Nouveau) style opened its gates in 1918 so you can enjoy the beautiful architecture and wonderful Art Nouveau ornaments.

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Thermal Pools in the Gellért Bath, Photo: Sergey Melkonov, Flickr

 

 

 

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Lobby of Gellért Bath, photo: Sergey Melkonov, Flickr

 

Don’t miss the outside wave pool in warmer weather and the steam baths all year round.

How to Get to Gellért Bath

Take metro line 4 till Gellért tér stop or from Pest side cross Szabadság híd (Liberty Bridge) on foot and the bath is located within the building of the four star Gellért Hotel with the entrance on the Gellért Hill side. Gellért hotel is a rather grand building so it’s easy to spot.

Other Sights in the Vicinity

Like with Széchenyi baths, Gellért baths also has many other attractions nearby like the Cave Church (2 minute walk), Gellért Hill and the Citadel (15-20 minute walk up to get to the top) or Great Market Hall (10 minute walk) on the other side of river Danube.

Contact us: http://katonaapartments.hu/

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Your Shoes Were Made for Walking: Jewels of Budapest by Foot

Day trip from Budapest to Szentendre

Hungarian Local Food Products


About the authors: Virág and János

Virág, a native of Budapest, and János, who’s been living in the city since 1997 are real fans of the capital of Hungary and try to awake the enthusiasm of others. They are dedicated to helping tourists to make most out of their stay.

Here you can read more about us: http://katonaapartments.hu/