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10 Things to Do in Budapest in December

The city of Budapest has in December one of its best times. In this month it looks especially beautiful thanks to Christmas and other festivities that make the last month of the year one of the best dates to visit the Hungarian capital.

Carlos Bleda

Carlos Bleda

9 min read

10 Things to Do in Budapest in December

Budapest, Hungary | ©Jorge Franganillo

If we want to travel in winter, everything that can be seen in Budapest makes it one of the best possible destinations. Located on the banks of the Danube, the Hungarian capital looks especially beautiful during that month. Those dates present a lot of festive atmosphere, mainly because of two events: Christmas and St. Stephen's Day, a national holiday of Hungary.

To make the most of the city and its festivities I have prepared this list with the 10 best things to do in Budapest in December. Ideas that range from living the Christmas atmosphere or celebrating one of its national holidays to take a bath outdoors in the middle of winter or watch a play. Read on and discover them:

1. Take a dip in the Széchenyi spa waters

Széchenyi Spa Pools| ©karaian
Széchenyi Spa Pools| ©karaian

Budapest was recognized in the year 1934 as the city of the spas for being the one that has more thermal waters of the world. It is quite a custom to go to its multiple spas to take baths in its medicinal waters outdoors even in December.

Despite the cold, many of these spas have thermal waters at more than 20 degrees to give you a quiet bath even if the ambient temperature is below zero.

To live this unique experience in Budapest is very simple. There are several spas to do it, but the most famous and recognized all over the world is the Széchenyi spa.

Its open-air thermal baths are the largest in Europe and are located in the main park of the city in a beautiful neo-baroque building. It is quite an experience to take a bath of these characteristics in the middle of December.

Tickets for the spas

2. Celebrate St. Stephen's Day

St. Stephen's Basilica| ©Jose A.
St. Stephen's Basilica| ©Jose A.

Just the day after Christmas, on December 26, one of the most important holidays in Hungary is celebrated in honor of King Stephen, the first king who ruled the country. The celebrations of this feast are mixed with those of Christmas, but with certain peculiarities.

The nerve center of this holiday is, of course, St. Stephen's Square and its famous basilica.

The basilica is one of the main monuments of Budapest and December 26 is its most special day, when it looks more beautiful than ever thanks also to the Christmas markets that there are at that time in the square.

In this basilica is preserved known as Santa Diestra, the right hand of King Stephen who was granted special powers. On December 26th many people come to visit the church and venerate her.

Regardless of religious beliefs, visiting the basilica and climbing its towers is one of the best activities we can do in December taking advantage of this holiday.

3. Tour Budapest's famous Christmas markets

Christmas Market in Budapest| ©Liam McKay
Christmas Market in Budapest| ©Liam McKay

It is impossible to talk about Budapest in December without mentioning Christmas and one of its most characteristic elements that attract thousands of visitors to the city: the Christmas markets. From the end of November and during all December these markets are installed in the main squares of the Hungarian capital.

The 3 most important ones to visit are the market in Vörösmarty Square, the one in the park of the City Hall in New Pest and the market in front of St. Stephen's Basilica. The latter is the most famous and important.

All of them are full of stalls with local products, handicrafts, gifts and many other things such as shows, skating rinks and even 3D projections such as those made on the facade of St. Stephen's Basilica.

Book a guided tour of Budapest

4. Enjoy the Christmas lights and the Christmas atmosphere

Budapest Street Decoration| ©Top Budapest
Budapest Street Decoration| ©Top Budapest

Logically, in the month of December Christmas makes that there are many activities to do in Budapest. Not only in the most important dates, the Christmas atmosphere is breathed during the whole month. Besides the Christmas markets, one of the best plans that we can do in these dates is to enjoy the illumination and decoration of the city.

The whole city and its monuments wear their best clothes to look more spectacular than during the rest of the year.

The best places to enjoy the lighting and the Christmas atmosphere are the shopping streets of Andrassy Avenue and Fashion Street. The stores and businesses of these streets contribute to the postcard decorating their windows and becoming the nerve center of the city.

The Hungarian Parliament, the Buda Castle or St. Stephen's Basilica also look special decorations. There is a reason why Budapest is one of the best Christmas destinations in Europe.

Book your visit to the Budapest Parliament

5. Ice skating in City Park

Skating in City Park| ©clarebear483
Skating in City Park| ©clarebear483

Another tradition linked to December and winter in Budapest are the ice skating rinks. The inhabitants of the Hungarian capital love to skate on ice and therefore several rinks are installed throughout the city.

The biggest and best known is the City Park rink in front of the Vajdahunyad Castle in the city park. It has been in operation since 1870 and is one of the oldest in Europe.

This skating mecca is so important that even the Hungarian Olympic figure skating athletes come to train there.

The rink is operational from November to January and you can skate on it with friends or family for a very cheap price.

Adults can skate for less than 10 euros, skates included, and children for less than 3 euros. A very reasonable price for one of the most fun activities to do in December in Budapest.

The rink is open Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 9 am to 8:30 pm. Getting to the park is easy. Streetcar lines 47 and 49 stop at the gates of the park.

It can also be reached by bus or on foot from downtown, since it is about 20 minutes away.

6. Taste the typical Hungarian gastronomy of the period

Typical Hungarian Goulash| ©stu_spivack
Typical Hungarian Goulash| ©stu_spivack

Hungarian gastronomy is a great unknown in Europe, but it is undoubtedly one of the most surprising.

One of its main virtues is that it has unique dishes for every time of the year and especially in December thanks to the Christmas season.

Some of its main dishes for this time are the bean soup with pork known as Jókai-Bablares, the famous Goulash, a stew of meat, paprika and vegetables, and sweets such as Kürtőskalács which is a caramel puff pastry made on the ember.

Christmas sweets also take center stage at this time of year. The advantage that December has in relation to gastronomy is that the Christmas markets are used to install an endless number of stalls where you can taste this delicious food.

Another option is to take a gastronomic tour around the city and take shelter from the December cold in the restaurants.

Book a gastronomic tour of Budapest

7. Ride through Budapest on the Christmas Tram

Christmas Tram in Budapest| ©Accept001
Christmas Tram in Budapest| ©Accept001

The streetcar is one of the main means to move around Budapest and in December it has a special feature. Not even the public transport escapes the Christmas spirit and the streetcar is decorated with thousands of Christmas lights as if it were a Christmas tree.

It also extends its schedule at night to offer night tours to see the city illuminated. One of the best night activities in Budapest without any doubt.

It is an exclusive tourist attraction in December and also maintains the normal ticket prices that cost only 1.05 €. Line 2 is the one that runs this special streetcar and passes along the banks of the Danube to give its passengers spectacular views of the Hungarian Parliament among other emblematic buildings.

8. Take shelter from the cold in its spectacular cafes

Inside Café New York| ©CSILLA ZELKO
Inside Café New York| ©CSILLA ZELKO

Budapest has a widespread coffee tradition and in fact, is home to some of the most famous and oldest coffee shops in Europe.

In the Hungarian capital having a coffee or some sweets is a rite of passage and for this there are some "temples" that are worth mentioning.

The first is the famous New York coffee. A spectacular coffee shop open since 1895 worthy of a royal palace that is located in the Boscolo Budapest hotel and is among the most beautiful cafes in the world. Of course, its prices are also luxurious.

Other places of the most outstanding style are the Gerbaud pastry shop in the Vorosmarty Square, the best place to enjoy the sweet, or the Lotz Hall Terem coffee shop in the Andrassy Avenue very close to the opera of Budapest.

These and many cafes in the city are ideal to take shelter from the December cold with a hot coffee and a unique environment.

9. Enjoy the mythical ballet of the nutcracker

Nutcracker Ballet| ©HungaroTour
Nutcracker Ballet| ©HungaroTour

Budapest has one of the most relevant operas of the European panorama. In its spectacular stage the best works of the world have been represented but in this case I emphasize one that has special importance in December. It is the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky.

This work whose story is inspired by Christmas is one of the most important works related to this time and the Hungarian National Opera in Budapest has one of the best world performances of this famous ballet.

In December there are special passes to see the work and therefore it is a unique opportunity to enjoy one of the best Russian ballets that can be seen. In this link you can see and buy tickets for the passes.

The schedules vary depending on the date but for example in December the work is presented from Thursday to Sunday in a morning show and another in the evening. Generally and as a reference, the morning show is usually from 11:00 to 13:30 and the evening show from 19:00 to 21:30.

10. Night cruises on the Danube River

Danube River Cruise| ©FreeShoupJose
Danube River Cruise| ©FreeShoupJose

It is true that the cold weather does not invite you to take a cruise on the Danube River but take my advice when I tell you that it is worth spending some cold weather to see Budapest illuminated at night with Christmas lights. A night cruise on the Danube is the best, or at least the most different, way to see the city.

In December and for Christmas there are special cruises and many of them include a dinner with concerts on board.

The options are varied as are their prices, rates and schedules, but in any case and despite the cold, do not miss the opportunity to see Budapest from the waters of the Danube.

Book your Budapest night cruise

Temperatures in Budapest in December

Winter Night in Budapest| ©Stefan Munder
Winter Night in Budapest| ©Stefan Munder

December is a predominantly cold month in Budapest. Temperatures drop to a range between 5 degrees Celsius maximum and minimum temperatures of about -3 degrees Celsius.

Most days are cloudy and the wind is quite frequent in this city although it is usually not annoying.

The advantage is that the probability of rain is low, although the chances of snow are higher. In any case, although it is cold weather, with a good coat and appropriate clothing you can visit the city without problems.

The tourist flow and prices in Budapest in December

At a Christmas Market| ©Top Budapest
At a Christmas Market| ©Top Budapest

Budapest experiences in December one of its strongest periods in terms of tourism. This is due to Christmas as the city is one of the most important Christmas destinations in Europe. The tourist affluence is high and therefore the hotel reservations are close to full and the queues in the monuments are bigger.

Consequently the prices grow, but Budapest despite being a capital, is not characterized by having too high prices if you compare it for example with another pearl of the Danube such as Vienna.

What to take in the suitcase to visit Budapest in December

Luggage| ©nappy
Luggage| ©nappy

So that the cold is not an impediment to enjoy Budapest in December, here is a small list of what you should put in your luggage for this task:

  • The essential garment is a good coat. Preferably of a waterproof material in case it rains or snows.
  • In addition to warm clothes, do not forget accessories such as gloves, hat or scarves. Nor raincoat in case it rains. The umbrella is better to leave it because Budapest is a city with frequent wind.
  • The Danube is responsible for some humidity so a thermal T-shirt is the best to avoid being affected by it.
  • In Budapest it is likely that the wind blows, so a windbreaker in your suitcase is never a bad idea.
  • Footwear is also important. Prioritize footwear that is comfortable and that will handle water well.