10 Things to Do in Budapest in December

The Hungarian capital shines in December thanks to Christmas and other festivities that make the last month of the year one of the best times to visit. Get to know it!

Carlos Bleda

Carlos Bleda

9 min read

10 Things to Do in Budapest in December

Budapest, Hungary | ©Jorge Franganillo

Located on the banks of the Danube, the Hungarian capital looks especially beautiful during the month of December, a time when the festive atmosphere fills its streets, mainly due to two events: Christmas and St. Stephen's Day, Hungary's bank holidays.

To make the most of the city and both events, I have prepared this list of the 10 best things to do in Budapest in December. Ideas ranging from experiencing the Christmas atmosphere or celebrating one of its national holidays to taking a dip in the open air in the middle of winter or watching a play. Read on to find out more!

1. Take a dip in the Széchenyi Spa waters

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

Budapest was recognised in 1934 as the city of spas for having the most thermal springs in the world. It is customary to visit Budapest' s many spas and bathe in their medicinal waters in the open air even in December. Despite the cold, many of the thermal baths have their waters at more than 20 degrees, even though the ambient temperature is below freezing. It's easy to experience this unique experience in Budapest.

There are several spas, but the most famous and world-renowned is the Széchenyi Spa. So, book your ticket for the Széchenyi Spa and enjoy the experience. Its open-air thermal baths are the largest in Europe and are located in the city's main park in a beautiful neo-baroque building. It's quite an experience to take such a bath in the middle of December.

Book your ticket to the Széchenyi Spa

2. Celebrate St. Stephen's Day

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

Right after Christmas, on 26 December, one of Hungary's most important holidays is celebrated in honour of King Stephen, the first king to rule the country. The celebrations of this feast mingle with those of Christmas, but with certain peculiarities.

The focal point of the holiday is, of course, St. Stephen's Square and its famous basilica. The basilica is one of Budapest's main monuments and 26 December is its most special day, when it looks more beautiful than ever, thanks also to the Christmas markets that take place on its squares at this time of year. The basilica is home to what is known as St. Right Hand, the right hand of King Stephen, who was granted special powers. On 26 December, 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 things to do in December on this feast day. And if you want the full experience, you can book an organ concert at St. Stephen's Basilica.

Book an organ concert at St. Stephen's Basilica

3. Visit Budapest's famous Christmas Markets

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

You can't 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 throughout December these markets are set up in the main squares of the Hungarian capital.

The three most important ones to visit are the market in Vörösmarty Square, the one in the park of the Town 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 packed with stalls selling local products, handicrafts, gifts and many other things such as shows, skating rinks and even 3D projections like the ones on the façade 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

Of course, in the month of December, Christmas means that there are plenty of things to do in Budapest. It's not only on the most important dates, the Christmas atmosphere can be felt all month long. In addition to the Christmas markets, one of the best things to do at this time of year is to enjoy the illumination and decoration of the city.

The whole city and its monuments dress up in their best clothes to look more spectacular than during the rest of the year. The best places to enjoy the lights and the Christmas atmosphere are the shopping streets of Andrassy Avenue and Fashion Street. The shops and businesses along these streets contribute to the postcard-perfect atmosphere by decorating their shop windows and becoming the hub of the city.

The :::link|text=Buda Castle|element=sc-157-2581:::, St. Stephen's Basilica or the Parliament, in fact I recommend you to take a tour of the Parliament of Budapest to see all its splendour and enjoy the experience to the fullest. Highly recommended! There is a reason why Budapest is one of the best Christmas destinations in Europe.

Book a Budapest Parliament Tour

5. Night Cruises on the Danube River

Cruise on the Danube| ©FreeShoupJose
Cruise on the Danube| ©FreeShoupJose

It's true that the cold weather doesn't invite you to book a Budapest night cruise, but take it from me when I say that it's worth spending some chilly weather to see Budapest lit up 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, fares and schedules, but in any case and despite the cold, don't miss the opportunity to see Budapest from the waters of the Danube.

Book your Budapest night cruise

6. Take a tour of Budapest on the Christmas tram

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

The tram is one of the main means of getting around Budapest and in December it has a special characteristic. Not even public transport escapes the Christmas spirit and the tram is decorated with thousands of Christmas lights as if it were a Christmas tree. In addition, it extends its timetable at night to offer night-time tours to see the city illuminated. One of the best night-time activities in Budapest without a doubt.

It is a tourist attraction exclusive to December and also maintains the normal ticket prices of only €1.05. This special tram runs on line 2 and passes along the banks of the Danube to give passengers spectacular views of the Hungarian Parliament and other landmark buildings.

Another way to tour Budapest in comfort and get an overview of the city is with the Budapest sightseeing bus, where you will also learn many of the stories and curiosities of the Hungarian capital.

Book the Budapest sightseeing bus

7. Ice skating in City Park

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

Another tradition linked to December and winter in Budapest is the ice skating rinks. The inhabitants of the Hungarian capital love to skate on ice, so several rinks are set up all over the city.

The largest and best known is the City Park rink in front of 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 here to train. The rink is open from November to January and you can skate there with friends or family for a very cheap price.

Adults can skate for less than €10 including skates and children for less than €3. 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 9am to 8.30pm. Getting to the park is easy. Tram lines 47 and 49 stop at the gates of the park. You can also reach the park by bus or on foot from the city centre, which is about 20 minutes away.

8. Taste the typical Hungarian gastronomy of the time.

Typical Hungarian goulash| ©stu_spivack
Typical Hungarian goulash| ©stu_spivack

Hungarian cuisine is largely 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 of year 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 grill.

Christmas sweets also take centre stage at this time of year. The advantage that December has in relation to gastronomy is that Christmas markets are used to set up countless stalls where you can try this delicious food. Another option is to take a gastronomic tour of the city and take shelter from the December cold in the restaurants.

9. Take shelter from the cold in the spectacular cafés

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

Budapest has a long-standing coffee tradition and is home to some of Europe's oldest and most famous coffee houses. In the Hungarian capital, having a coffee or a sweet is a rite of passage, and there are a few 'temples' worth noting.

  • The first is the famous New York café. A spectacular café that has been open since 1895 and is worthy of a royal palace, it is located in the Boscolo Budapest hotel and is one of the most beautiful cafés in the world. But its prices are also luxurious.
  • Another highlight is the Gerbaud patisserie on Vorosmarty Square, the best place to enjoy a sweet treat.
  • The Lotz Hall Terem café on Andrassy Avenue, very close to the Budapest Opera House.

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

10. Enjoy the legendary Nutcracker Ballet

Nutcracker Ballet| ©HungaroTour
Nutcracker Ballet| ©HungaroTour

Budapest has one of the most important opera houses in Europe. On its spectacular stage the best works in the world have been performed, but in this case I highlight one that has special importance in December. This is Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. This work whose story is inspired by Christmas is one of the most important works related to this season and the Hungarian National Opera in Budapest has one of the best performances of this famous ballet in the world.

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

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


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 of between 5 degrees Celsius maximum and minimums down to around -3 degrees Celsius.

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

The advantage is that the likelihood of rain is low, although the chances of snow are high. In any case, even if the weather is cold, with a good coat and the right clothing you can visit the city without any problems.

Book a guided tour of Budapest

Budapest in December and prices in Budapest in December

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

Budapest experiences one of its strongest tourist seasons in December. This is due to the Christmas season, as the city is one of the most popular Christmas destinations in Europe. The number of tourists is high, so hotel bookings are almost full and queues at monuments are longer.

Consequently, prices are on the rise, but Budapest, despite being a capital city, is not characterised by high prices compared to, for example, Vienna, another pearl of the Danube.

Book a pub crawl and party tour

What to pack when visiting Budapest in December

Luggage| ©nappy
Luggage| ©nappy

To make sure the cold weather doesn't get in the way of enjoying all there is to see in Budapest in December, here's a short list of what to pack for your December visit:

  • The essential item is a good coat. Preferably made of waterproof material in case it rains or snows.
  • As well as warm clothes, don't forget accessories such as gloves, hats and scarves. Don't forget a mackintosh in case it rains. The umbrella is best left behind as Budapest is a windy city.
  • The Danube is responsible for some humidity, so a thermal T-shirt is the best way to avoid being affected by it.
  • In Budapest it's likely to be windy, so a windbreaker in your suitcase is a good idea.
  • Footwear is also important. Prioritise shoes that are comfortable and waterproof.

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