There’s no denying it: summer is Budapest’s peak tourist season. Most travelers who make their way to the Hungarian capital do so when the weather is hot, and music festivals are around every corner. Which leads some tourists, more accustomed to sunny days on Margaret Island, to ask a question. Are there even things to do in Budapest in December?
Luckily for them, and for you, the answer is an emphatic yes. While it might be a tad less well-known, Budapest in December offers a whole host of fun, exciting activities. Some of them, in fact, you’d never even have the chance to see otherwise. Without further ado, then, here’s a quick look into all that winter in Budapest has to offer!
Recently renovated and reopened to the public, the Hungarian State Opera’s lavish home on Andrassy Avenue is a perfect place to spend an evening in Budapest in December. If you’re interested in a true musical experience, Puccini’s La Bohéme is on offer in the first half of the month. And if you’re heading to the Hungarian capital closer to New Year’s Eve, you can catch a performance of Strauss’ Der Fledermaus.
As is usual at this time of year, the Opera also has some festive performances on offer as well. For lovers of both Christmas and ballet, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is sure to delight. And for those interested in a truly unique, yet truly festive time, there is something special being performed this Christmas season. This is none other than Handel’s Messiah, as reworked by Mozart—known as the “German Messiah.” Set to words in Hungarian by poet and linguist Ádám Nádasdy, this is one performance you truly won’t be able to see anywhere else.
And, if you’re traveling with children, keep in mind the Opera’s youth programs. These include, among others, an “opera kindergarten,” and a painter’s workshop.
Nothing says Christmas in Europe like a Christmas Market in a beautiful city. While it might not be the most famous on the continent, Budapest’s Christmas Market is certainly in the running for most beautiful, and most enjoyable. Located in several spots throughout the city, the Christmas Market’s beating heart is located on Vörösmarty Square in downtown.
If there is one classic thing to do in Budapest in December, this is it. Check out one-of-a-kind handmade goods, try delicious Hungarian snacks, and wash it all down with a warm mug of mulled wine. It doesn’t get any more festive than this.
If you’re in the mood for more outdoor adventures in Budapest this December, then keep walking down Andrassy. Once you’ve passed the Opera, rows of Christmas lights and decorations, you’ll eventually find yourself on Heroes’ Square. Look right, and you’ll find yourself face to face with one of the true gems of winter in Budapest—ice-skating in the City Park.
As you skate around the rink, located at the end of the park’s pond, you’ll have some great experiences, and amazing views. If there’s anything more picturesque than skating next to a park, a grand monument, and a castle, we’ve yet to hear of it.
When the weather outside gets truly frightful, though, there’s times when you just want to hunker down indoors. Fortunately, in Budapest, being inside in December doesn’t equal being bored.
With dozens of museums located throughout the city—and beyond—you have plenty of options. Far from being boring or stuffy, many of these museums are fascinating, dynamic institutions. In terms of things to do in Budapest in December, nothing else quite combines learning and fun.
While, as we’ve noted, there are plenty of museums to choose from, we do have a few suggestions to get you started on your way.
For world-class paintings, sculpture, and more, be sure to check out the Museum of Fine Arts. Recently reopened after a years-long renovation project, this Museum features a great collection of works by both Hungarian and internationally renowned artists. And the renovated building—particularly its famed Romanesque Hall—is a work of art in and of itself.
Another great spot for both history and contemporary art is the Kiscelli Museum. Located in a former monastery-turned-barracks atop a hill in Buda, it seems easy to overlook. However, what’s inside this little treasure box is truly extraordinary. Both its regular galleries, and its frequently-changing temporary exhibitions, showcase a mixture of Budapest history, and forward-thinking art made by visionaries of the present.
For more history, be sure to check out the famed National Museum, located in the heart of Downtown. And to gain greater understanding of the darkest moments of Hungarian history, the Holocaust Memorial Center is a powerful, moving, and unforgettable experience.
If you really want to warm up during your stay in Budapest, you really can’t do any better than a visit to one of the city’s many thermal baths. Scattered throughout the city, these literal hot spots have been around for centuries. Their roots go back to the Romans, and a few still operating today first opened for business during the Ottoman occupation 500 years ago.
You may have heard more about Budapest’s baths in the context of summer “sparties” and other warm-weather revelries. However, there’s really nothing that can beat a warm bath on a cold winter’s day. For example, spend an afternoon in the art nouveau glamour of the Gellert Spa, located within a grand, century-old hotel.
Or head just a bit further up the Danube to the Rudas Baths. There, you can venture outside to get a view of Budapest from the comfort of a rooftop hot tub. Or, alternately, you can head downstairs, to the Turkish baths that have been serving the residents of the city since their construction in 1550. No matter what, you’re in for a treat.
Last, but not least, there’s also one bath worth checking out, that, at least in winter, is no longer a bath. That’s because, this winter, the Palatinus Baths have been transformed into Lumina Park! Located on Margaret Island, this is a unique, nighttime light and sound attraction. Explore a fantastical, multimedia display inspired by the sights and sounds of locations all over the world. A true light in Budapest’s dark winter nights, Lumina Park is great for children and adults alike.
Would you like to spend the holidays in Budapest? Book a room now and try out every program opportunity in December mentioned in our article!