Spring is fast approaching (if you’re a meteorologist, it has already begun), but there’s still time to book a Winter break in Budapest. There’s always a long list of good reasons to visit Hungary’s capital (see our guide to Budapest for inspiration), but Winter brings with it a special set of reasons. So, here’s our list of 11 reasons why you should visit Budapest in Winter.
1. It’s cheaper! Pocket the cash or indulge in a spot of luxury
Our first reason why you should visit Budapest in Winter is affordability. Budapest is easy on the wallet at any time of year, but during the low season (Jan-Feb), it’s particularly cheap. If you’re visiting in Winter, it’s likely you might be able to afford a few more stars when it comes to accommodation. We found a great flight+hotel deal, meaning we could stay in the lavish five star Corinthia Hotel and still keep well within our budget. You’ll be surprised just how cheaply some rooms go for, so search around for deals.
2. Eat lots of steaming hot Chimney Cake
Hungarians go a bit mad for Chimney Cake (or Kürtőskalács). So much so, they’ll happily queue up in the cold for a solid half an hour waiting for their cake to cook. Upon tasting one for ourselves, we totally understood why. Crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, Chimney Cake is wonderfully light and tasty. Cakes are cooked to order (with lots of tasty toppings to choose from) over hot coals so expect to wait.
3. There’s fewer visitors – fewer crowds and easier to arrange last minute cheap flights
What with it being low season, there are fewer tourists, meaning shorter queues and smaller crowds. This makes visiting Budapest in Winter also feel more authentic, which is what a lot of travellers aim for when visiting new places. Also, since there are fewer people wanting seats on planes flying into and out of the country, it’s much easier to find cheaper fares at the last minute. We found a great deal with WizzAir.
4. Skate on Europe’s Largest Outdoor Ice Rink
Among Budapest’s many seasonal draws is Europe’s largest outdoor ice skating rink (the Műjégpálya). Set on the fringes of the massive City Park, overlooking Vajdahunyad Castle (and round the corner from Szechnyi thermal bath) there are fewer prettier spots in the world to double salchow. Skates can be rented on the spot and prices are very reasonable. See the opening website for times as they’re changeable.
5. Crawl the Ruin Pubs
It’s never difficult to find a reason to crawl Budapest’s collection of unique, friendly, often-crazy, never-boring Ruin Pubs. When it’s freezing outside though and you’re sipping on a boozy drink, they feel even more welcoming. An added bonus is that there’s typically no dress code, so you can wear as many woolly garments as you like and there’s no risk of getting cold as you move between pubs.
6. Beautiful picture-perfect scenery of Budapest in Winter
Nothing makes Budapest’s abundant collection of Art Nouveau architecture look all the more beautiful than a covering of snow. The city particularly sparkles the day after snowfall, when the clouds have cleared, the skies are blue and the sunshine bright. Snow only falls when a very particular set of criteria is met and is therefore notoriously difficult to predict. Chances are pretty good though for snow to fall during your Winter visit, and with the option of last minute cheap flights, you can just take off to Budapest when the forecast predicts it.
7. Hiking, skiing, snowboarding and riding through the Buda hills
There aren’t many capital cities in the world that can boast having skiing and snowboarding resorts on their doorstep. The hills on the Buda side of the Danube aren’t as high as those in neighboring Slovakia, but there are still options available. Getting to the slopes is a short and easy bus or train ride away. You can also take to the hills on an ingenious transport loop which includes a children’s railway (more on that coming soon) which takes in pretty landscapes.
8. Enjoy a steamy soak in a outdoor thermal bath
The thermal bath houses all over the city are best enjoyed in cold weather. While you still have to endure the chilly air to actually get from the changing rooms to the warm water, the pay off is worth it. There isn’t much that can trump soaking in 39 degree water as steam rises off of the surface and snow falls all around you. When you visit, make sure you don’t make plans for later that day. Once you’re in the water, you won’t want to leave.
9. Good excuse to drink mulled wine/hot chocolate to warm up
Mulled wine is available everywhere in Budapest during Winter. It’s even available in some cafes. The temperature of the wine and the warmth from the alcohol is sure to keep you toasty and in good spirits as you continue exploring the city.
10. Great excuse to eat lots of comfort food, e.g. goulash and cakes
It’s impossible to visit Budapest in Winter and not eat goulash. It’s the national dish and it’s sold everywhere. Expect more of a soup than a stew (the rest of the world doesn’t know how to cook it right) and expect to be thoroughly satisfied. If there’s still room after your goulash, fill in the gaps with some cake. Dorbostorta is Hungary’s signature sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel. It’s as yummy as it sounds.
11. Twinkling Winter lights and Christmas Fayre
Budapest lays on a spectacular show when it comes to Christmas lights. Even the smallest pedestrian streets in the centre of town get decorated. The authorities lean towards white or gold lights, unifying the overall look and feel. Add in a covering of snow and you have a city that feels quite magical. In the lead up to Christmas, Deák Ferenc square plays host to a Christmas Fayre selling traditional Hungarian dishes and a selection of hot mulled drinks. The Christmas lights are meant to be switched off on 6 January, but on our visit, they stayed on for a few days afterwards. Perhaps the authorities were feeling particular festive.
Did we miss anything off of our list? Are you now tempted to visit Budapest in Winter? Let us know in the comments below.