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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Christmas Markets in the Center of Budapest

Christmas Markets held annually in the city center open in mid-November and end either on Christmas day or on the 6th January.

Vörösmarty tér

This is the most well-known Christmas market and has been chosen as one of the 10 most attractive Christmas fairs in Europe.

 

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Chrismas Stands at Vörösmarty tér, Photo: Budapest Moments, Flickr

 

No wonder, the location can’t be more central, the decoration is very festive, there are two stages which host various events to entertain all ages, the merchants sell delectable products and the food stalls will enchant you with the seasonal scents and tastes.

On the stages there are varied performances, like concerts (folk, world music, jazz, blues, soul, etc.), held every day; at the weekend, from late morning till early night, and evenings only during the week.

Each year there is also a heated area for children interested in arts and crafts. These free activities are usually held on weekdays in the afternoons and during the weekends in the mornings (10 am – 1 pm) and also in the afternoons (4 pm-7 pm).

Every Sunday afternoon the candles of the huge Advent wreath are lit, a very festive way countdown to Christmas.

Visiting the market is also a great opportunity to purchase some festive presents for your beloved ones like jewellery, ceramics, books, CDs, DVDs, musical instruments, wooden and other toys, puppets, horn goods, calendars, graphics, clothes, hats, caps, bags, leather products, knives, glass products, decorations, etc. As well as being a good source for seasonal  and artisanal food products, like gingerbread, honey, artisan chocolate, artisan cheese, tea and fruit wines.

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Christmas Market, photo: Budapest Moments, Flickr

If you’re feeling hungry, there are many food caterers offering delicious Hungarian and international Christmas dishes and other seasonal delicacies.

 

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Food Stall, Photo: Kirk Siang, Flickr

 

You can taste the indispensable stuffed cabbage that’s one of the most common Christmas dishes in Hungary. Mangalica pork sausages, homemade filled Hungarian flat bread baked on an iron griddle and cabbage in a rye loaf are some other classic dishes that can be tasted here.

Alternatively, you can grab a lángos (fried dough) most commonly topped with sour cream and grated cheese, but there are many other versions for the topping.

Another festive snack not to be missed are roast chestnuts.

For the sweet-toothed I suggest kürtőskalács (chimney cake) baked and caramelized above charcoal fire. The glazed surface is crunchy and the dough underneath is fresh, soft and warm.

Although it can be bought all year round, the seasonal flavourings, like ginger or poppyseed-raisin, will bring you into a festive mood.

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Chimney Cake (Kürtős kalács) Photo: Simon Q, Flickr

For a winter warmer try a strawberry wine, cherry grog or the traditional mulled wine.

The Christmas fair on Vörösmarty tér isn’t just about enjoying food and drink and buying gifts but also provides an opportunity to make donations to those in need. Look for the charity booth if you are interested in donating.

For further information a tourist information point is set up with printed materials and the staff speak foreign languages.

How to get there

Vörösmarty tér is a 5 minute walk if you head north from our apartments on Váci utca.

From the Castle district on Buda side take bus 16 and get off at the terminal (Deák tér).

From Heroes Square and Széchenyi Bath take metro no. 1 until the terminal (Vörösmarty tér).

If you are on the Pest side next to the river Danube, take tram no. 2 and get off at Vigadó tér stop.

St Stephen’s Basilica

This Christmas market is held in front of the St Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István tér).

The facade of the Basilica gives an amazing backdrop for the market and set up in the middle of the square there is usually an ice skating rink for children.

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Christmas at Basilica, photo: Kirk Siang, Flickr

 

Almost every evening there is an Advent or Christmas concert held in the church that helps to put you in the festive mood.

 

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Gingerbread, Photo: Budapest Moments, Flickr

 

How to get there

Szent István tér is a 10 minute walk from our apartments heading north.

From the Castle district on Buda side take bus 16, get off at the terminal (Deák tér) and cross Erzsébet tér.

From Heroes Square and Széchenyi Bath take metro no. 1 until Deák tér stop and then cross Erzsébet tér.

If you are on Pest side next to the river Danube, take tram no. 2 and get off at Széchenyi István tér stop. Walk along Zrínyi utca and the Christmas market will be at the end of the street.

Bálna Cultural and Commercial Center

There is a third Christmas market held in Bálna, a cultural and commercial center on Pest side next to the Danube shore between Petőfi and Szabadság bridges. (Address: Fővám tér 11-12. ) This is the smallest one.

Bálna offers cultural programs, concerts, art galleries and a marketplace all year round.

In wintertime, each Sunday, a market called Antik Placc is held in the building where antiquarians and designers sell their products. It’s an indoor event accompanied by concerts and different activities for children and adults.

Gingerbread City is a contemporary Christmas statue. Anyone who is willing to participate in this social art can reserve a plot, and exhibit his / her own home made gingerbread building to the public by placing it on its plot at the city building reception. The illuminated Gingerbread City is open usually from mid-December till the end of January and the entrance is free.

 

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Photo: Zsolt Madarász (2015

 

 

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Photo: Zsolt Madarász (2015)

 

There is also an ice skating rink set up on the terrace of Bálna which has a great view of the river Danube, the bridges and Gellért Hill.

How to get there

Bálna is a 10 minute walk from our apartments heading south. Walk downstream along the river Danube and you will arrive at Bálna just after the green Szabadság-híd (Liberty Bridge).

You can also take tram no. 2 that runs along the river on Pest side. Get on at Március 15. tér and get off at Zsil utca (2 stops). It’s easy to spot the tram at this time of year as it is lit with Christmas lights and takes passengers between its two terminals Jászai Mari tér and Közvágóhíd.

From Heroes Square and Széchenyi Bath take metro no. 1 until Deák tér stop. There change to metro no. 3 and get off at Kálvin tér stop. Walk for about 5 minutes towards the green Szabadság-híd (Liberty Bridge) and then turn left and after a short walk Bálna will be in front of you.

If you are on Pest side next to the river Danube, take tram no. 2 and get off at Zsil utca stop.


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/

Hungarian Local Food Products

If you want to live like a local during your stay in Budapest, I suggest you to try out these products that can be bought in any supermarket or even in smaller food shops anywhere in the city. You can also take them home as a present to your loved ones.
They may love or hate you for that.

1. Erős Pista (Strong Steve)

A very popular Hungarian sauce that is made of minced raw red hot paprika.
Hungarians use Erős Pista in gulyás soup (beef and vegetable), fish soup and pörkölt (stew).
In restaurants they will put it on your table and you can add it to your dish.
Édes Anna (Sweet Anne) is a mild version of it. You can buy both in a glass jar.
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Anne and Steve, Photo: Virag

2. Paprika (Bell Pepper) Powder

There is a hot and mild version mainly from two areas of Hungary: Szeged or Kalocsa. Some have a simple packaging (plastic), others are wraped in a textile bag with some traditional Hungarian embroidered motifs on them.
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Selection of paprikas, Photo: Virag

3. Pick or Herz Téliszalámi (Winter Salami)

This very tasty pork product is a Hungarian speciality and is seasoned mainly with pepper and paprika. It’s name derives from the fact that it was formerly produced solely in winter. The reason for this is that in those times cooling was unavailable in warmer weather. The product must be first cured in cold air and then smoked on beechwood in order to extract water. During smoking a special grayish white noble mold is formed on the casing of the salami.
For a wide selection of Pick products visit the Pick store in Kossuth tér close to the entrance of the metro station. This store is next door to the Parliament building.
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Herz and Pick salamis on the same shelf, Photo: Virag

4. Pálinka

Pálinka is a traditional Hungarian fruit spirit that is solely made from fruit, like plum, apricot, pear, cherry and apple, but it can be made from any fruit. It is not allowed to be sweetened or coloured.
The spirit contains at least 37.5% alcohol, so a shot may be enough to cheer most of us up.
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Pálinka, Photo: Virag

5. Negro Cough Drops

The black negro candies that are used as cough drops have existed since the 1930s. The Negro (”NAY-GROW”) is Hungary’s leading brand of hard candy. They have a taste similar to anise but the ingredients are a well kept secret.
Its slogan is well known to all Hungarians: Chimney sweep of the throat. An old fashioned chimney sweep can be seen on its packaging sweeping a chimney.

The traditional negro is black, but negro exists in other colours and flavours as well; like honey (yellow) or black currant (red) and the extra strong negro is white.

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Cough drops, Photo: Virag


6. Túró Rudi

This sweetish-sourish cottage cheese roll with a chocolate coating is a favourite of all Hungarians. I noticed that non-Hungarians find it a bit bizarre and not all are enthusiastic about it, although it is worth a try.
Look for it in the fridge of any shop and choose the original one which has a red packaging with white dots.
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Favourite of all Hungarians, Photo: Virag

7. Gesztenyepüré = Chestnut Puree

My Hungarian friend living in the US misses it so much.
You probably wouldn’t expect it but it has a sweetish taste. We eat it with whipped cream. It’s a dessert that doesn’t need too much preparation and it’s not risky either, as everybody likes it.
It’s a frozen product, so if you want to take it home with you, it must be well wrapped in many layers of paper.
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Chestnut puree, Photo: Virag

As you can see, living and eating like Budapest locals is both fun and easy.

If you have further questions about this or traveling in Budapest, please contact us.

http://www.katonaapartments.hu

info@katonaapartments.hu

These posts may also interest you:
Facts about the quality of Budapest’s tap water
Four Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making in Budapest
Three Day Visit Itinerary for Budapest
18 Suggestions for What to Do in Budapest in Rainy Weather


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/