Winter in Budapest can plunge the thermometer into the negatives, but even if your breath turns into steam, there’s plenty to help you forget the cold. Around the holidays, the city buzzes with activity both indoors and out. Whether it’s sipping mulled wine at a street market, soaking in a hot thermal bath under the snow, skating over a frozen lake or escaping indoors to a museum, December in Budapest is a lot of fun.
Shop at the Christmas markets
Mini winter wonderlands perfumed with the spices of mulled wine pop up in virtually every public space in Budapest in the lead-up to New Year’s Eve celebrations. If you want to shop for local design and crafts, head over to the city’s oldest and best-known Christmas market on Vörösmarty tér. Plenty of food stalls offer everything from pulled pork and stuffed cabbage to lángos (deep-fried dough with sweet toppings), and there are free concerts too. You can also snap a few festive photos at the market spread out under St Stephen’s Basilica, especially during the evening laser projection on the cathedral.
Visit the reopened Museum of Fine Arts
If you prefer to escape the cold and stay indoors, while away the hours at the Museum of Fine Arts, housed in a stately neoclassical building on Heroes’ Square. This wonderful museum has been closed for the past few years but it finally reopened in November 2018 after being fully renovated. Browse the huge collection of foreign art, ranging from classical Greek and Roman periods to the Old Masters collection of Western European paintings dating from the 13th to 18th centuries. Make sure you visit the stunning Romanesque Hall that had been closed to the public for the past 70 years.
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Go ice skating in City Park
Trek up to City Park to Europe’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink, situated on the western edge of the lake in the shadow of the 19th-century Vajdahunyad Castle. This setting is especially romantic after the sun goes down, when the castle is beautifully lit up. You don’t have to worry about bringing your own pair of skates – they are available for hire here (800Ft per hour). If you want to avoid the crowds, plan a visit on a weekday morning; also note the rink closes in the afternoon between 1pm and 5pm (2pm and 4pm on weekends).
Have a soak in the thermal baths
Budapest is a city of thermal baths. You can warm up under the steamy cupolas of the historic 16th-century Turkish baths, or head over to the grand Széchenyi Baths in City Park, where water temperature is up to 38°C. It might be freezing outdoors, but sitting in the steaming pools for hours playing chess it’s easy to forget the cold – until you have to get out and grab your towel, that is. The good news is that Széchenyi Baths have a huge indoor area, too. Keep in mind that they are always open for men and women together, so you’ll need to bring a swimsuit or rent one (1200Ft).
Get locked in a room-escape game
Did you know that Budapest is the home of the escape-game craze? Ever since Parapark opened in a basement under a ruin bar in the VIII District, dozens of such games have popped up around the city. All you need to do is find your team and choose a theme that appeals to you. This could be Ancient Egypt, solving a crime, sci-fi settings, stopping a nuclear reactor from going into meltdown – you can try virtually anything. The idea is that you get locked inside a room with your team, and you have an hour to get out by solving a series of logic puzzles and tasks before the time runs out.
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