Budapest in the Winter: 10 Best Things to Do for Your Trip


(CNN) – Budapest is fast becoming one of Europe's top travel destinations, especially in winter, when the Hungarian capital really comes to life.

Offering a cozy winter atmosphere with romantic architectural creations, Budapest offers a scene reminiscent of a classic Christmas movie.

Rich in culture and full of tradition, winter here not only feels like a fairytale, but it looks like one. A series of seasonal delights attract visitors from all over the world to the "Pearl of the Danube", all chasing this magnificent travel experience.

Its Christmas markets and open-air skating rinks help create a perfect winter landscape, while the local spa and spa offer a twist on outdoor swimming.

Here are the top 10 things to do in Budapest during the winter:

1. Christmas shopping

Winter activities in Budapest

The Christmas market in Agios Stefanos Square is set against the background of Agios Stefanos Basilica.

Courtesy Ministry of Tourism Offices of Hungary

The central European Christmas markets are what dreams are all about, but Budapest's offerings are a cut above the rest. Full of wine, Christmas strides, traditional dishes and arts and crafts set the benches on both the Vörösmarty squares and the Stefanos Basilica Christmas markets.

Taking place from November through early January every season, the markets welcome large numbers of visitors from all over the world and offer an authentic Hungarian Christmas experience that you will never forget.

Vörösmarty Square is one of the most popular in Central Europe as well as one of the oldest in Hungary. Famous for traditional Hungarian food such as langos, smoker cakes and local sausages, you will have a wealth of fine art to choose from over 120 benches.

Meanwhile, St. Stephen's Christmas Market is in front of the spectacular Basilica building, with over 160 stalls full of cakes, pastries, arts and crafts, hot wine and traditional Christmas gifts. Admission to both markets is free.

2. City Park ice rink

Hungary's first winter Olympics showcase their speed skills on the Budapest ice rink.

The Budapest ice rink is by far the most famous ice skating destination in the region, if not Europe. Nestled right in front of Vajdahunyad castle on the edge of City Park, skaters flock to the rink every winter from late November to mid-February.

Launched for the first time in 1870, this ice rink is one of the oldest and largest in Europe. It is full of water during the summer months and serves as a boat lake for tourists looking to fly around while basking in the sun.

A breath away from the Heroes Square and the Széchenyi Baths, City Park's ice rink is the perfect way to end a day sightseeing and enjoy the steam in the nearby thermal baths.

Entry fee: HUF 1,000 ($ 3.50) for children, students and retirees, 1,500 HUF ($ 5.25) for adults and 3,500 HUF ($ 12.30) for families (two adults and one child).

Opening hours: 9am to 1 pm and 5 pm to 9 pm

3. Royal light show

St. Stephen's Basilica is truly a beautiful piece of architecture, but what makes it even more pleasing to the eye is the spectacular display of light that takes place throughout the year.

The winter season offers the best lighting experience, where religious stories and myths are told in colorful lights and accompanying sound. The dazzling 3D effects move to the front of the building, often creating the illusion of moving or falling down. Dazzling and innovative, catching the light of the Basilica is a must when visiting Budapest.

The light show takes place every half hour between 4:30 pm and 10 pm during the winter.

4. Swimming pools and thermal baths

The winter activities of Budapest - Loutra Gellért

Gellért baths are always worth a visit, regardless of the season.

Gellért bath courtesy

Budapest is rightly called the "City of Spas", thanks to the 118 natural healing springs emitting 70 million liters of healing water each day to more than twelve healing springs. The Turkish baths here are amazingly beautiful, renowned all over the world for their relaxing and medical benefits.

Taking a dip in the famous Széchenyi baths during the winter is an experience like no other. Jumping from one of the 10 indoor swimming pools to the outdoor swimming area is an unforgettable – and even enjoyable – shock to the system.

Most of the twelve thermal baths and spa baths – such as Rudas baths, Gellért baths, Lukács baths, Király baths, Császár baths and Palatinus baths – house saunas, steam baths and massage rooms, with various treatments available.

5. Hungarian State Opera

Hungarian State Opera House

The Hungarian State Opera House is closed for renovations, but guests can still see parts of the tours.

Courtesy Ministry of Tourism Offices of Hungary

Designed by the renowned architect Miklós Ybl, the Hungarian State Opera, completed in 1884, remains exactly the same as the one built more than 130 years ago.

The impressive building is often used in cinemas and has become a virtual national treasure. Every year thousands of visitors go down to Budapest to enjoy the beauty of the opera, while the lucky ones are able to secure a ticket for a performance.

Ballet and opera fans are turning to this place because of high-quality performances, including "The Nutcracker", "La Boheme", "Billy Elliot", "The Magic Flute" and "Tosca".

The Opera House is currently closed for extensive renovations, but excursions to this impressive building are still available.

6. Christmas light tram

Winter activities in Budapest

Christmas trams are a popular landmark in the city.

Courtesy Ministry of Tourism Offices of Hungary

Covered by over 39,000 lights, the Christmas Light Tram or Fényvillamos will be operational throughout the city from 5pm. every night throughout December and early January.

A peculiar and new attraction, it definitely takes visitors in the spirit of Christmas while taking in the sights of Budapest during the winter months. The 50-year-old Ganz UV tram runs mainly on line 2 of the tram, but runs on other lines to other parts of the city.

No special train tickets are required, fixed tickets are valid for travel. There are no services on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

Tram tickets cost 380 HUF (about $ 1.35)

7. Cruise on the Danube River

The winter activities of Budapest - the Danube River

Winter cruises are an ideal way to see the city during the festive season.

Courtesy Ministry of Tourist Offices of Hungary

The Danube River runs through the heart of Europe from Germany to the Black Sea, while Budapest is one of the prime locations.

Extremely popular in both summer and winter months, tourists from all over the world cross the river to capture landmarks such as the Parliament Building, the Buddha Castle, the Statue of Liberty and Margaret Island, which can be seen from the river.

If you are staying in Budapest for a few days, the best way to get to know the city is to take one of the Danube River winter cruises that last a few hours and extend from one end of Budapest to the other.

Day or night cruises are available and vary depending on the package you choose. The most expensive ones include a three-course lunch or dinner, while the cheaper options consist of a comprehensive sightseeing tour.

Ticket prices start at around HUF 3,800 ($ 13.50)

8. Destruction lines

Winter activities in Budapest

The city's ruins bar often offers refreshments in winter.

Courtesy Ministry of Tourism Offices of Hungary

The ruins of Budapest offer interesting and unique locations that are ideal for having a drink and seeing the city at the same time. Several abandoned buildings and outdoor areas have become bar and restaurant venues that serve reasonably priced food and drinks throughout the year.

Szimpla Kert in the Jewish Quarter was the first disaster bar to be installed in the city, while Ankert in the 6th Quarter provides themed nights throughout the week. There are over a dozen bars being destroyed around Budapest and special excursions are often set up to allow the apocalyptic to get to know the city while tasting local wines and Unicum, a vegetable liquid at the same time.

The winter season is particularly striking, with afternoon drinks and seasonal delights to start the festive season.

9. Andrassy Avenue and Fashion Street

Winter activities in Budapest

Andrassy Avenue is shining bright with Christmas lights.

Courtesy Ministry of Tourism Offices of Hungary

Shopping in Budapest during the winter is a fascinating experience. Not only will you be able to browse the finest boutiques but also enjoy the spirit of Christmas on the beautifully decorated avenues.

Andrassy Avenue and Fashion Street are two of the most popular shopping and tourist destinations at any time of year.

Stretching between Heroes Square and Elizabeth Square, Andrassy Avenue houses Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Rolex to name a few. Covered by thousands of lights, the tree-lined avenue comes to life in the winter months, offering many Christmas-themed sights.

Meanwhile, in Street Fashion, there is a wide variety of boutiques covering the corridor leading to Vörösmarty Square. The busy street has become a huge tourist attraction thanks to its screens and facilities, which help make the winter season a little more special.

Shops here are usually open from 10am. to 9 pm in the winter months.

10. Buddha Castle and Várkert Bazár

Winter activities in Budapest

The view from the fisherman's bastion in the Castle area is even better when the city is covered with snow.

Courtesy Ministry of Tourist Offices of Hungary

The Buddha Castle and the Várkert Bazár are the jewels on the roof of Budapest. The picturesque Buddha Castle is a powerful, beautiful and imposing city-facing building, while the castle garden or the Várkert Bazár combines art and nature with a selection of bars and restaurants and a venue for outdoor events.

Both venues offer concerts, literary events, theater and ballet productions throughout the year, but the winter season is the centerpiece of the Christmas calendar. Throughout December, the castle features performances by local poets, writers, actors and ballet dancers.