Resisting the cold grasp of winter is futile. Embrace the season and plan a trip to Budapest this winter! We’ve got 7 fun cold-weather activities to keep you busy.
Sure, cold winter temps often bring dreams of tropical vacations that require packing nothing more than a favourite bikini and sun hat, but a charming European city break can be just what you need to embrace the season. Who doesn’t get a little starry-eyed over twinkly lights and mulled wine? This winter, we’re heading to Budapest, one of our favourite destinations for a winter escape. You’ll need a coat, sure, but the relatively mild temps mean you won’t be stuck shivering in your hotel room. Here are seven fun winter activities that will have you out and about enjoying the Hungarian capital.
Photo courtesy of Expedia
1. Warm up in a thermal bath
Budapest’s unique thermal baths are legendary. The city’s best soaking spots have bubbly baths both inside and out, and they’re open year-round. Whether you brave the outdoors or hang out in a steamy indoor bath, is there anything better than soaking in warm thermal waters in the middle of winter? We think not. Take that, tropical vacay.
So, where should you go to get your soak on? Gellért Thermal Bath, on the Buda side of the city, is one of the prettiest with tons of indoor pools covered in gorgeous Instagram-worthy porcelain tiles. Added perk: Gellért’s attached brewery and restaurant has excellent food for a post-bath meal. If you visit during the week, their fixed price lunch menus are a great value, too.
If you’re going for an extra glam winter retreat, get your swimsuit-clad bod to Rudas Thermal Bath. Head straight to the rooftop hot tub and bask in the beautiful lights of Budapest reflecting on the Danube below. We don’t blame you for feeling like you never want to leave. Good news — Rudas is open until 4:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays, so, uh, you don’t really have to.
2. Hit the ice
In summer, City Park Lake is a serene spot to go boating, but in winter, the lake is transformed into Budapest’s most popular ice skating rink. It first opened in 1870, making it one of the oldest ice skating rinks in Europe, but the very best part about skating here is that the romantic Vajdahunyad Castle creates a backdrop straight out of a fairytale.
3. Christmas markets!
Beginning in November, Christmas markets start popping up all around Budapest. One of the city’s biggest and best is the Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market. Here, you can indulge in mulled wine and delicious Hungarian food, perhaps the definition of comfort food and perfectly appropriate for sweater season. Craving something sweet? A warm, fresh-off-the-coals chimney cake is a must.
4. See a ballet or head to the Opera
Budapest’s gorgeous Hungarian State Opera House is closed for renovations currently, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing what all good holiday travellers do and taking in a fancy show. The ever-popular Nutcracker is one of those holiday traditions that will never go out of style and tickets are still available for Erkel Theatre’s popular production.
5. Cozy up in a famous café
Budapest’s often elaborate cafés and coffee houses have attracted artists and bohemians for centuries… and they still do today. Get a cup of something warming and maybe a slice of fancy Hungarian cake (Dobos torta and Eszterházy torta are two classic Hungarian cakes to try), bring a book or a friend, and while away an afternoon in one of these gorgeous historical relics. For a much-loved classic, try Central Café, where you might be serenaded by a string quartet. For more modern interpretations of these classic intellectual nooks, try Kelet Café (where almost every wall is covered in a collection of books free to read, take, or add to) or Hadik Coffee House.
6. Let loose at a ruin pub
Much like Budapest’s famous thermal baths, the city’s much-loved ruin pubs see no signs of slowing down come winter. Hit these famous pubs any night of the week and you’re likely to find a raucous crowd enjoying the city’s nightlife scene. Szimpla Kert, Budapest’s most popular ruin pub, has excellent hot chocolate — order it spiked or not, and try to snag the most coveted seat in the house, the old Trabant car. If the night crowd isn’t your scene, visit Szimpla on Sundays from 9 am – 2 pm and check out their charming farmers’ market!
7. Ride the holiday tram
Budapest’s tram number 2 is renowned for being the city’s cheapest ticket to a tour of the Danube’s most beautiful sights, but come December, tram 2 goes extra festive for the holidays decked out in twinkling lights. The best part? No special tickets are needed with the cost of a single ride totalling about $1.25.