While Budapest is enchanting in any season, the Hungarian capital truly shines during the winter months. It’s a time of year when the scent of strong coffee beckons from cozy cafes, Christmas markets pop up in historic squares and the Art Nouveau architecture becomes even more alluring as snow settles on the skyline. Here are some of the top reasons to visit Budapest, known as “The Pearl of the Danube,” during the winter.
1. You can warm up in iconic buildings
From the neo-Gothic parliament building and UNESCO-listed Buda Castle to the world-renowned Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest has no shortage of striking sites to admire. The impressive mix of architectural styles tells the story of the city—which includes a period of Roman rule, Turkish occupation and a stretch of time when Buda and Pest were separate cities. While these landmarks are lovely to look at from the outside, stepping inside to appreciate their grand interiors is the perfect way to warm up on a brisk winter day.
2. There are Old-World cafes to discover
Turkey’s 16th-century occupation of Hungary marked the beginning of a deep-rooted coffee culture in Budapest, which flourished in the 19th century and still endures today. Inside the city’s historic coffeehouses, which include New York Café and Alexandra Book Café, ornate furnishings bring Budapest’s Golden Age to life. They’re the places to go to sip fresh-brewed coffee alongside decadent pastries while people-watching beneath chandelier light. Admire Renaissance artwork and vaulted ceilings as you walk in the footsteps of all the intellectuals who have found inspiration inside these iconic institutions.
3. You can dip into a thermal bath
Budapest is often called “The City of Baths,” and for good reason. Here, over 100 natural hot springs bubble up from the earth into bathhouses and thermal spas around the capital, providing more than enough opportunities for a relaxing soak. While this bath scene was popular in Roman and Turkish times, it’s still a cultural mainstay—and there may be no better way to shake off a winter chill than by dipping into a warm, mineral-infused bath.
4. A Christmas market stroll is enchanting
Like most European cities, Budapest doesn’t skimp on Christmas festivities. From November to January, sparkling displays anchor the skyline, the tantalizing scent of holiday noshes drifts from quaint wooden stalls and every corner of the city bursts with seasonal cheer. If you want to get in on the action, make your way to St. Stephen’s or Vörösmarty Square to sip forralt bor (Hungarian mulled wine), munch on chimney cake, or pick up some traditional scented ornaments. Or, join the locals in the Central Market Hall, an indoor marketplace where you can find souvenirs and try some of Budapest’s famous desserts, including cakes known as krèmes.