Christmas Markets, snow on the ground, it doesn’t get much better than 4 days in Budapest in December – read this post to get a list of the best things to do while you’re there.
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Budapest Weather in December
Before our visit, I watched the weather report very closely. I was feeling very optimistic about the possibility of snow. And do you know… the snow gods were on our side. Because it snowed, and it was beautiful, and I can confirm that Budapest in winter was like a dream!
The weather in December is generally between -1°C and +4°C. Yes, it’s cold so pack warm and wrap up. For some reason, I always underestimate how cold it will be when I visit Europe in December. This is probably a result of living too many years in the desert.
While there is a good chance of snow in Budapest in December, it is certainly not a guarantee. But of course when it does snow, you’ll get wet and soggy. That pretty white stuff does melt, in your hair, on your clothes, on your shoes and it seeps in wherever it can. So while snow creates a magical wonderland, it is easier to get around the city if it isn’t snowing.
Where to Stay in Budapest
During our stay, we wanted to be centrally positioned to see the best that this city had to offer… and we wanted to explore by foot. For this reason we decided to stay at the InterContinental Budapest.
This isn’t our normal accomodation of choice, on account of it being such a large hotel. We generally look for smaller boutique style accomodation options. But for the purpose of this quick 4 days city break, this centrally located hotel was ideal to see everything in Budapest.
What we loved about this hotel –
- The Christmas Market was around the corner, and less than a 2 minute walk.
- Service was great, quick and efficient. Checking in and out took less than 10 minutes.
- Breakfast was included in the stay – it was a large buffet style breakfast that catered to every taste.
- And the view! The view from the very large hotel room windows overlooking the Danube and over to the other side of the river. The view towards the magnificent Buda Castle is certainly one to appreciate. And more so, given that you can enjoy it from the comfort of a warm hotel room first thing in the morning (and weather permitting… covered in snow).
Things to Do in Budapest
The city is divided by the famous Danube River, that means there are two sides to explore… Buda and Pest. If you are exploring Budapest on foot, then each of these destinations are walking distance from the hotel recommended above.
There is plenty to keep you busy on this side of the city for the day. So get an early start and make your way across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Take a funicular up to Buda Castle or take in an early morning walk.
Budapesti Történeti Múzeum
In the middle of the Castle District you will find the Budapest History Museum. Within large grand rooms there is plenty to keep you reading. This is in fact, a great way to get an understanding of Budapest and of course Hungary’s past. Naturally, this will set you up to explore the rest of Budapest as it provides an introduction to the city.
Buda Castle Labyrinth
Now here is an intriguing little place. If you fancy some myth and legend, take a visit to the Labyrinth. This underground cave was reportedly once the holding cell for Vlad Dracula. This being said, there are conflicting opinions surrounding where he was actually held. Some say that, he was captured and held further out of the city. So you’ll need to visit for yourself and be the judge. Check here for the official Buda Castle website for more details about the Labyrinth and for updated entrance fees.
Inside, as it suggests, is a labyrinth of interconnected tunnels. Think of it perhaps as a mix of historical displays and theatrical Dracula inspired accounts. And if you feel like a psychological challenge, talk a walk through the unlit tunnel. Put your phone torch away and walk unguided in complete darkness through and around. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I think I settled for something in between!
In the Buda Castle District the Fisherman’s Bastion is a great look out point across to Pest. It gives a 180 degree view over the city and is a good for an early morning stroll. The archways create a perfect photo opportunity.
A walk up through the park to the top of Gellért Hill is another perfect destination if you are looking for views and photo candy. The walk will get your heart rate up, but nothing too strenuous. The Liberty Statue stands to command at the top overlooking and protects her city.
We recommend making the walk before sunset to catch the city in the golden hour. The yellow light perfectly bounces off the landscape and provides a sight worth a photo or two.
There are many baths to try in Budapest. The Gellért Thermal Bath, Rudas Baths or the Széchenyi Thermal Bath to name just a few. Aside from the health benefits, they are a perfect way to warm up and to rest those tired feet and muscles.
We decided to check out the Gellért Thermal Bath after catching the sunset from Gellért Hill. Following a quick walk down the hill, we arrived on dark. This is a busy complex, but well organised. When you arrive you’ll purchase your tickets, and a compulsory swimming cap, then head off to the changing rooms.
When you are suitably dressed, you enter the bath and immediately see the large grand pool at the centre. Jump in here, or check out some of the other baths available. We enjoyed the room to the right of the large central bath. The temperature was perfect and there is plenty of people watching to keep you entertained.
And despite the freezing temperatures outside, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the baths outside. There is something pretty romantic about thermal bathing in Budapest in the evening, while sitting outside as the steam rises around you. Ofcourse if you are feeling super brave, take a sauna followed by a freezing plunge pool. Brrrrrrrrrr!
For more information and reviews of the thermal baths in Budapest, check this post from Jagsetter!
Parliament Building District
A street back from the Danube on the Pest side of the city is the Parliament Building District. A walk around this district is pretty and there are some grand buildings and statues to admire. We visited this area after snowfall and it became even more magical.
Shoes on the Danube Bank
If you walk towards the Danube river, lined along the bank is the tribute Shoes on the Danube. During war times Jewish were marched to the Danube, told to remove their clothes and shoes, and stand by the river’s edge. They were consequently shot. Today, an exhibit reminds us of these terrible atrocities, brass shoes lined along the Danube represent the unfathomable events of the past.
House of Terror
Further from the city centre is the House of Terror and this was a very interesting exhibit. The name had me somewhat puzzled to begin with, and only on further research did I understand. This museum serves as a memorial and tells the story of the horror on 60 Andrássy Avenue during the regime of terror.
This memorial was a place of great interest… and of course terror. You start the story from the top floor. An elevator transports you to the beginning and you’ll make your way through each room and instalment or exhibit if you will. The stories and accounts of this time are told with exceptional vividness. Finishing in the basement complex of this town house, you see firsthand the terrifying rooms and conditions in which prisoners were held.
You may prefer to take a taxi to this part of town, unless you don’t mind a 25 minute walk.
The Ruin Bars – Szimpla Kert
Budapest is famous for their ruin pubs. The scene changes regularly, but to give you an idea on some of the best, then check this Time Out post here on the 9 best ruin pubs. On their list is Szimpla Kert, and this is the one that we had the pleasure of visiting.
This is a very funky and vibrant place to visit, grab yourself a beer and find a corner to chill and take it all in. There is plenty to look at, the rooms, terraces and walkways all weave in and out of each other, creating a very creative space.
The live bands are constantly changing so there is an ever diversifying music scene. And every Sunday from 9am till 2pm you’ll find their popular Farmer’s Market. We’d highly recommend Szimpla Kert for an afternoon through to evening as a fun place of interest.
Christmas Markets in December
Now you see I saved the Budapest Christmas Markets till last, as they deserve their very own space.
We have visited many European Christmas Markets in our travels and Budapest were certainly among our favourite. Very close to the InterContinental Hotel you’ll find the square lined with Christmas Market stalls, a large stage and christmas tree. In fact you’ll probably smell it before you see it.
The food options were outstanding. Giant dishes of simmering goulash soups and cooking vegetables are a sight to behold! I’m sure it goes with out saying that while you are there you MUST try a goulash. The grilled sausages, the breads, the stuffed cabbages leaves, paprika potatoes and the hashbrowns, they are all so so good. Pair it with a warm cup of mulled wine and you’re good to go. To finish it off don’t miss the chimney cake, they are a personal favourite.
The shopping is also very good and you’ll find unique stalls with many vendors selling their goods. We always look for small and local business stalls when we visit places like this, as we believe supporting local is best. We walked away with plenty of special purchases that were unique to Budapest.
Our 4 days in Budapest was everything we’d hoped and more. It was the perfect weekend getaway and a fantastic European destination to see Christmas Markets at their best.
If you LOVE Christmas Markets as much as we do, then check out the Christmas Market scene in Bucharest.