How to spend winter in Budapest

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Winter in Budapest is full of Christmas lights, window displays, shopping, and much more than just spending a few hours inside the cozy restaurants and clubs and bars. From outdoor skating to seasonal food festivals, there’s so much fun for everyone at this time of the year. And don’t forget that Budapest is absolutely spectacular in winter, so don’t be afraid to admire all the snow-covered trees in the best parks of Budapest, like in the City Park, Kopaszi Dam or Margaret Island, or sitting in the hot thermal water in one of Budapest oldest spas while it’s snowing outside. In fact, there’s so much to see and do so that it can be tough creating an itinerary that covers everything the city offers. So I did some planning for you how to spend winter in Budapest. Here are some of my favorite can’t-miss winter experiences.

Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival

Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival is the most popular winter event in Budapest. It takes place in the most spectacular Vörösmarty Square in the heart of Budapest, from November 10 to December 31, 2017. This is a wonderland display of quality arts and crafts. Folk artisans and craftsmen sell their goods; a lot of them are handmade, created from natural and organic materials. At the same time, this Christmas market provides gastronomic attractions. Visitors can taste traditional Hungarian food and the most popular, typical winter drinks like mulled wine, which helps you to survive Hungary’s cold winter. This Christmas market gives you a perfect chance to finish your Christmas shopping while having lots of fun.

Christmas Fair and Advent Feast at St. Stephen’s Basilica

The Christmas Market and Advent Feast at St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, one of the most popular holiday-welcoming event in the city, awaits visitors between November 24, 2017 and January 2, 2018. There is a small ice rink in front of the Basilica which is part of the Christmas market in that square. It’s a great fun activity for all ages. Children up to age 14 can use it for free. Did you get hungry after the exercise? No problem. The city’s best food trucks and street food vendors offer Hungarian culinary delights like lángos, chimney cake, roasted sausages, roasted chestnut or the famous goulash soup, no matter the cold weather.

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker at the Hungarian State Opera

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker has for decades been an essential part of the Hungarian State Opera’s run-up to Christmas. The newly buffed-up show follows classical ballet traditions while still conforming to the requirements of 21st century dance and set design. The spectacular ballet show is one of the highlights of classy Christmas holidays in Budapest throughout December. Not to be missed, if you love the most Christmas ballet and story of all time.

Please note that the Opera House is closed for restoration until 2019. Until the reopening of the Opera House, the second venue of the Hungarian State Opera, the Erkel Theatre welcomes audiences and fans of opera, ballet and classical music.

New Year’s Eve Horse Race

One of the funniest ways to start off your New Year’s Eve celebration is to attend the horse races at Kincsem Park in the 10th district of Budapest in the afternoon before heading to your choice of New Year’s Eve party. It’s been a local tradition since 1999. The main reason for the popularity of the event – among many others – is the actors-driven horses and local celebrities on the spectator terraces. This farewell party of the year starts at 2 pm and finishes at 7 pm. It includes several horse races and betting excitement of the big prizes, live music, fireworks and of course, lots of mulled wine protecting against cold weather. So why not try your luck one last time in the old year betting on horse trotting races.

Thermal Baths

As winters are cold in Hungary, thermal baths are generally very popular during this time. Being the spa capital of Europe, Budapest offers various opportunities to soak in the hot thermal water. The local culture of bathing goes back two thousand years, excavated remains of bath houses, frescoes and mosaics demonstrate that the Romans discovered and exploited these thermal water resources. Now it’s your turn to discover the two most popular baths in Budapest. And what is more, not only indoor bathing, but taking an open air warm bath at Széchenyi Spa or Gellért Spa is a highlight for many visitors during winter. If you’re brave enough, visit the above-mentioned baths on a chilly day and dive under the steaming waters of its outdoor thermal pools. The contrast of cold air and hot water does wonders for your body.

Ice skating in City Park

Budapest is home to many ice skating rinks, and each has its own perks. Ice skating at the City Park Ice Rink with the majestic Vajdahunyad Castle as a fairy-tale backdrop at Heroes’ Square might be the quintessential winter activity in Budapest and it’s one of the most iconic places of the city as well. The lake in front of Vajdahunyad Castle is used for boating in the summer and is transformed into Europe’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink in the winter. This is the place where most Budapesters learnt skating, where no matter how clumsy you are, there is always someone to try to pick you up from the ice and collect your bits and pieces and help stay on your feet. After some laps around the rink, warm up with a cup of hot chocolate or sip a steaming mulled wine drink at the rinkside café.

Mangalica Festival

After last years’ huge success, when pig-crazy people went so mangalica wild that they were literally stepping on each other’s toes, I am happy to share the good news with you, that Mangalica Festival is back in downtown Budapest, in Szabadság tér between February 9 and 11, 2018! Mangalica breeding has seen a revival in recent years and its meat is becoming increasingly available and popular in Hungary. The festival will feature more than 30 breeders of mangalica and distributors of products made of mangalica meat. You will be treated to many kinds of bacon, hams, sausages, salamis, pork stews, along with traditional Hungarian specialties like strudels, pálinka and mulled wines. So why not join the wintertime barbecue party of gourmet pork products at the annual Mangalica Festival in Budapest. 🙂

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