15 best things to do in Budapest in December

Hungarian Parliament Building at Sunrise

In my opinion, the Hungarian capital of Budapest shines brightest in the chill of the winter months. There are so many magical things to do in Budapest in December, and I’m going to share my favourites in this guide.

I’ll uncover the top activities that make Budapest a must-visit destination during this wonderful time of year.

As the winter frost dusts the grand architecture and the Danube River meanders through the twinkling city, Budapest transforms into a picturesque scene straight from a storybook.

From the architectural splendour of the Hungarian State Opera House to the inviting warmth of a traditional chimney cake workshop, I simply adore Budapest in winter.

It’s a blend of cultural richness and, if you’re visiting Budapest in December, heaps of festive joy.

Whether you’re meandering through its world-class museums, sipping on fine Hungarian wine, or dancing the night away in its unique ruin bars, the city offers an array of experiences that are as diverse as they are enchanting.

If you prefer a video to an article, then I’d recommend watching my Budapest vlog on YouTube (and please do subscribe if you’d like more of this content!):

Let’s dive into the best things to do in Budapest in December and the wider winter months.

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Author Bio: Jessie Moore

Jessie Moore is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

1. Shop and dine at the Christmas markets

I simply have to begin with one of the most popular things to do in Budapest in December.

At this time of year, the city is transformed into a festive wonderland, especially evident in its vibrant Christmas markets. 

Snowy Christmas Markets Budapest

The most famous of these is located at Vörösmarty Square, a magical place filled with wooden stalls and twinkling lights. While the St. Stephen’s Basilica market dazzles with its majestic backdrop.

You can browse a wide array of traditional Hungarian crafts and unique Christmas gifts. Or go for a skate around the Christmas tree on the ice rink.

After shopping and skating, I’d recommend indulging in the culinary delights like kürtőskalács (chimney cakes), hearty goulash, and mulled wine.

I really don’t think a December visit to Budapest is complete without immersing yourself in the festive atmosphere of its Christmas markets.

Book a Christmas walking tour with Basilica entry.

2. Go ice skating

Address: Budapest, Olof Palme stny. 5, 1146

Opening hours (can vary):

  • Monday – Friday: 09:00 – 13:00, 17:00 – 21:00
  • Saturday: 10:00 – 14:00, 16:00 – 21:00
  • Sunday: 10:00 – 14:00, 16:00 – 20:00

For a truly magical winter activity, I’d really recommend a spot of ice skating in Budapest.

Ice Skating in Budapest

The City Park Ice Rink, situated in front of the stunning Vajdahunyad Castle, is one of the largest and oldest in Europe.

Believe me when I say that skating here, with the castle as a backdrop, feels like gliding into a fairytale.

Suitable for all ages and skill levels, it’s a delightful way to enjoy the crisp winter air.

3. Explore Vajdahunyad Castle 

Winter opening hours: 

  • Mondays: Closed
  • Tuesday – Friday: 10:00 – 16:00
  • Saturday – Sunday: 10:00 – 17:00

Vajdahunyad Castle, set within the scenic City Park (Városliget), offers a historical journey through Hungarian architecture.

During December, the castle, a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles, is often lightly dusted with snow, adding a truly magical dimension.

Vajdahunyad Castle

A walk through the castle grounds is like stepping back in time, and the seasonal decorations undoubtedly add to its charm.

4. Relax at the thermal baths

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Budapest, often called the ‘City of Baths’, is renowned for its thermal springs. These baths, fed by natural thermal springs, are a huge part of Hungarian culture.

In the winter months, these baths offer a warm sanctuary, making a visit one of the best things to do in Budapest in December. 

Here are some of the best thermal baths to visit in Budapest:

  • Széchenyi Thermal Bath. The largest and most popular thermal bath in Budapest, it features 18 pools and a large outdoor bathing area. 
  • Rudas Bath. My personal favourite because of the rooftop hot tub that offers stunning views of the city. 
  • Gellért Thermal Bath. I’d recommend visiting this one for its beautiful Art Nouveau architecture. 
Rudas Bath

Imagine soaking in steaming hot water while snowflakes gently fall around you – that’s exactly what I experienced during my visit.

The only challenge is getting in and out of the outdoor pools in the cold; best to just grit your teeth and move as fast as possible! 

5. See a performance at House of Music

The House of Music can be found in the heart of City Park – I actually stumbled upon it by a happy accident when I was going for a snowy stroll.

It’s a contemporary architectural marvel dedicated to the musical arts. In December, the venue hosts an array of concerts and performances, ranging from classical to modern genres.

House of Music Budapest

Attending a concert here is not just about the music; it’s also about experiencing the impressive acoustics and innovative design of the building.

I’d also recommend visiting the excellent multimedia exhibition of the history of music in Hungary.

6. Visit St Stephen’s Basilica

Opening hours: 

  • Basilica:
    • Monday – Saturday: 09:00 – 17:45
    • Sunday: 13:00 – 17:45
  • Panoramic Terrace & Treasury:
    • Monday – Sunday: 09:00 – 19:00

Book: 

The iconic St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest; believe me when I say that it is utterly breathtaking inside. It’s a lesson in architectural and spiritual grandeur.

This neoclassical marvel, named after Hungary’s first king, boasts a majestic dome that offers panoramic views of the city.

In December, the Basilica becomes even more enchanting with its Christmas decorations and impressive lights projected onto the façade each day after sunset. 

Insider tip: If you only want to visit – and don’t want a guided tour – you have to buy your ticket from the ticket office next to St Stephen’s Basilica. Frustratingly, you can’t buy them online ahead of time. 

7. Take quiet moment in Ervin Szabó Library 

Address: Budapest, Szabó Ervin tér 1, 1088

Opening hours: 

  • Monday – Friday: 10:00 – 20:00
  • Saturdays: 10:00 – 16:00
  • Sundays: Closed

For those seeking a moment of tranquillity, I think the Ervin Szabó Library is a real hidden gem.

Located in a historic palace, this library blends Baroque and modern elements, creating an oasis of calm in the bustling city.

Spend a quiet afternoon exploring its ornate rooms and vast collection of books. It is a truly beautiful place to explore.

The peace and quiet here is a welcome respite from the winter cold – if you’re taking photos, just make sure you’re respectful to those there to study and read.

8. Have brunch at New York Café

Address: Budapest, Erzsébet krt. 9-11, 1073

Opening hours: Daily 08:00 – 00:00

Dubbed the ‘Most Beautiful Café in the World’, the New York Café is a must-visit for its opulent décor and luxurious atmosphere.

A breakfast or brunch here is not just a meal but an experience, as you dine under the grand chandeliers and amidst frescoed ceilings and gilded columns.

Their renowned pastries, rich coffees, and exquisite dishes make for a memorable culinary adventure.

New York Cafe Band

I have to say though – as beautiful as it is (and it is truly beautiful), its popularity has made it a tourist trap.

You will likely have to queue for at least an hour to get in (you can’t book) and I felt like my breakfast was a very rushed affair.

My advice would be to get there before it opens – it’s worth a small wait but I don’t think it’s worth a one hour wait. 

Read more about my honest thoughts of the New York Cafe in the caption of my reel

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9. Enjoy an evening river cruise

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I can’t think of a better way to spend a December evening in Budapest than with a river cruise on the Danube.

Buda at Night

As you glide along the river, Budapest’s landmarks like the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, and Chain Bridge are illuminated, creating a spectacular backdrop.

Most cruises offer dining and live music, making it an ideal setting for a romantic or relaxing evening.

Wrapped in the warmth of a blanket, watch the city’s lights reflect on the water.

10. See the Buda Castle District at sunrise

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The Buda Castle District is breathtaking at any time of day – but my favourite time to visit is at sunrise.

The early morning light bathes the historic buildings in a gorgeous golden hue, offering a serene view of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stroll through the cobbled streets of Castle Hill, explore the Royal Palace, Matthias Church, and the Fisherman’s Bastion.

Buda Castle District

The quiet of the morning, coupled with the incredible views of the city awakening, makes this a truly magical moment.

11. Tour the Hungarian State Opera House

Address: Budapest, Andrássy út 22, 1061

Embarking on a tour of the Hungarian State Opera House is a foray into architectural and cultural elegance.

This neo-Renaissance masterpiece, adorned with frescoes, sculptures, and gold embellishments, offers a glimpse into Hungary’s rich operatic history.

Hungarian State Opera House

During December, the Opera House often hosts special performances, but even without a show, I’d really recommend one of the guided tours.

Explore the opulent halls, the grand auditorium, and learn about the legends of Hungarian opera.

12. Explore the city’s museums

Budapest’s museums are wonderful hubs of art, history, and culture.

First up, the Hungarian National Museum delves into the country’s history, from the Roman times to the present.

For art lovers, I’d recommend a visit to the Hungarian National Gallery, located in the Buda Castle. It showcases a vast collection of Hungarian art and is well worth a visit.

Meanwhile, the House of Terror Museum offers a poignant look into the country’s turbulent 20th-century history.

Each museum provides a warm escape from the chilly December weather, with fascinating exhibits that tell the story of Budapest and Hungary.

Other Budapest museums worth considering (including some very niche options!) are:

Insider tip: If you plan to visit multiple museums and attractions in Budapest, then I’d recommend getting the Budapest Card. It covers public transport and over 30 of the most popular attractions and tours in Budapest.

13. Enjoy the nightlife at Budapest’s ruin bars

The iconic ruin bars of Budapest, nestled in the old Jewish Quarter, are a unique nightlife experience.

These eclectic bars, set in dilapidated pre-war buildings, are adorned with quirky, mismatched furniture and vibrant art.

Szimpla Kert ruin bar

Szimpla Kert, the pioneer of ruin bars, is a labyrinth of rooms each with its own atmosphere.

The ambiance is electric, with live music, DJ sets, and a diverse crowd, making it a perfect spot to warm up on a cold December night.

14. Indulge in some Hungarian wine tasting

Hungary’s wine regions, such as Tokaj and Eger, are renowned for their exquisite wines. In Budapest, numerous wine bars and cellars offer tastings of these local specialties. 

December is an ideal time to indulge in this experience, savouring varieties like the sweet Tokaji Aszú or the robust Egri Bikavér.

Wine tasting in Budapest

Expert sommeliers guide visitors through the tastings, pairing wines with Hungarian cheeses and charcuteries, making it an educational and delicious experience.

I’d really recommend a visit to Eger if you have time – it’s one of my top picks of day trips from Budapest

15. Hungarian Chimney Cake Workshop

For a hands-on culinary adventure, I’d suggest participating in a Hungarian Chimney Cake Workshop.

Kürtőskalács, a traditional sweet pastry, is especially popular during the festive season.

Hungarian Chimney Cake

These workshops teach the art of making chimney cakes from scratch – rolling the dough, winding it around a spit, and baking it over an open flame.  You can then coat your creations in sugar, cinnamon, or nuts.

I think it’s the perfect way to immerse yourself in Hungarian culture – plus you can enjoy a warm, freshly-made treat on a cold December day.


Do you have any more suggestions for fun things to do in Budapest in December? Let me know in the comments below.

For more Hungary travel inspiration, watch my Budapest vlog or discover other Hungary articles:

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Jessie Moore
Jessie Moore

Jessie is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

Find me on: Web | Instagram

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Want up to 25% off hotels?

Subscribe to my newsletter and get immediate access to my guide on how to save money on flights and hotels. Our weekly emails are filled with adventure inspiration, insider travel tips and exclusive discounts.