As with the rest of the year, there are a lot of things to do in Budapest in December. What makes December special
are the holiday festivities. Budapest Christmas is a big deal, with Christmas Markets around the city, ice skating rinks ready for skaters, Hungarian pastries and treats available all over, and special concerts.
Of course, Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve are highly celebrated in Budapest, too. Unfortunately, we could not find any winter solstice celebrations while we were there, but let me know if you do!
We spent the month in the Hungarian capital and found what to do in Budapest in December could fill a book. You can still do almost all of the year-round Budapest activities and just add the Budapest things to do in December.
Things To Do, Budapest December
- Budapest Christmas Markets
- Lighting of the Advent Wreath
- Celebrate Mikulas Day
- Children’s Christmas Programs
- Ice Skating
- Nutcracker at the Opera House
- Organ Concert at St Stephan’s Basilica
- Ride a the Christmas Tram
- Celebrate Hanukkah
- Winter Danube Cruise
- Soak in Thermal Baths
- New Year’s Eve Parties
Budapest Christmas Markets
Let’s start with the Christmas Markets because this is why we chose to travel to Budapest in December in the first place.
In squares around the city, there are little and big Christmas Markets. If you haven’t been to a Christmas Market in Europe, you need to get this on your list. The first European Christmas Market we attended was in Zagreb, Croatia and from there we were hooked. I wish we more of these in the U.S.
Music, arts and crafts, food, hot wine, and decorations all create a feeling of hygge that we strive for in the winter months.
If you want a souvenir, make sure to get your hot drinks in a real mug (also nice since a lot of the drinks come in styrofoam cups). You can reuse the mug and take it home to remember your time at the markets.
The Advent Bazilika market around St. Stephan’s Basilica is probably the biggest. Find little huts selling food —both Hungarian and international — crafts and gifts, and of course, forralt bor, or hot mulled wine. In the evenings, they project a light show on the side of the church, which is really fun and festive to watch.
The most popular and oldest Christmas Market in Budapest takes place on Vörösmarty Square. This is one of the things to do in Budapest at Christmas you won’t want to miss, but it can be really crowded. Aim for a weekday during the day if you can. The food huts here are huge and some of them are actually display kitchens to give you a glimpse of traditional Hungarian food.
We enjoyed wandering around the city and strolling through the markets as we came to them, but you can also do a Budapest Christmas Market tour. I think this would be a great way to get the most out of the markets if you are only there for a short time.
The Budapest Christmas Markets seem to be separate from one another, without an overriding organizer. That’s cool, but it makes it hard to figure out where they all are. As far as I can tell, here is a list of the Budapest Christmas Markets:
- Vörösmarty Square
- Deák Ferenc Street (Fashion Str.)
- Gozsdu Court
- St. Stephen’s Basilica
- Fővám Sqr. (Great Market Hall)
- Whale (Bálna)
- Várkert Bazaar
- Allee Shopping Centre
- Advent in Óbuda
There are also some smaller markets in neighboring towns and villages. In my post about day trips from Budapest, I recommend visiting Szentendre and Esztergom, both an easy train or bus ride from Budapest. And they have Christmas Markets! You can visit both in one day.
Gödöllő is about 30 kilometers away and also has a lovely Christmas Market near the Baroque palace. (From Örs Vezér Square, take the HÉV commuter train to the Gödöllő Szabadság)
If you are looking for more details on planning a trip to Budapest, or want to include other cities in your tour, we recommend these guidebooks for Budapest.
Lighting of the Advent Wreath
If you are visiting Budapest in December, you should try to see the lighting of the Advent wreath. On each of the four Sundays before Christmas, one of the candles on the horizontal wreaths in the Advent Markets is lit. It happens at 4:00 pm (which is after sunset, by the way. days end really early here).
We attended the lighting of the wreath in Vörösmarty Square and it was a lovely experience. A religious figure (priest? minister?) said a blessing in hungarian and then lit the candle with a little blow torch. After a chorus sang and even led the group in some carols. The singing last at least an hour.
Even though we had no idea of what anyone was saying, it felt special to be part of it. A little bit like the time we visited the Silent Night Chapel in Austria.
Celebrate Mikulas Day
December 6 is the feast day of Saint Nicholas known as Mikulás in Hungarian. Traditionally, Hungarian girls and boys get a visit from the Hungarian Santa Claus on this day, along with small gifts and sweets.
You can see Santa Claus in Budapest at some of the Christmas Markets on December 6.
Children’s Christmas Programs
One of the top things to do in Budapest in December for kids is participating in a Children’s Christmas Program.
Several of the Christmas Markets have special workshops and activities for kids. One we really like is at the Vorosmarty Christmas Market in a heated, wooden and glass playhouse. Families can enjoy puppet shows, music and dance performances, and craft workshops inside the playhouse. There are arts and crafts workshops as well.
Our kids made hanging Christmas decorations with chestnuts, dried fruit, and leaves. There was also someone helping children decorate cookies, and it looked like there were several other crafts to make and take. And it was free. Once again, we didn’t speak the same language as the women who worked there, but they were so nice and patient.
For more things to do in Budapest, winter activities like ice skating can’t be missed. There are several skating rinks around the city, the largest in City Park.
The City Park Ice Rink is open to the public and you can rent skates. It’s situated next to Heroes’ Square with Vajdahunyad Castle as the backdrop. Not only is it the largest ice rink in Europe, it is one of the oldest and quite scenic. And popular.
Unlike City Park Ice Rink, some of the other ice rinks in Budapest are free (with a small fee for skate rental). Bálna Budapest Ice Rink is the largest free rink in the city and has lovely river views.
Csepel Ice Corridor (Csepeli Jégpark) is especially cool. It’s a bit out of town, but worth it to skate along the winding path in the trees between two rinks.
The Óbuda ice skating on the north side of Budapest is part of a the Óbuda Christmas Market and quite charming.
Another large rink is part of the Müpa Winter Open Air Festival at the Müpa Palace of the Arts.
Hungarian Cookies and Pastries
One of the best things to do in Budapest in December is try some of the mouthwatering Hungarian pastries and cookies.
Make sure to try mézeskalács cookies. They are similar to gingerbread and usually cut into classic Christmas shapes like angels, bells, and stars. Sometimes they look like gingerbread houses. The lacy white icing is quite decorative.
Tasting Beigli is another of the classic things to do in Budapest in winter. It’s a rolled pastry of sweet yeast bread stuffed with poppy seeds or minced walnuts. We’ve seen them filled with fruit, as well.
We are very fond of the Chimney Cakes. They are cooked on a spit and then coated in the topping of your choice (we recommend cinnamon).
Nutcracker at the Opera House
Unfortunately, the famous Hungarian State Opera House was closed for construction on our visit to Budapest. Once the renovation is complete, this will be one of the top places to visit in Budapest in December to see the Nutcracker.
The Opera House is a beautiful neo-Renaissance building constructed in 1884. Not only is it pretty to look at, it’s said that it has some of the best acoustics in Europe.
Get your tickets early as they do sell out.
Organ Concert at St Stephan’s Basilica
Whether or not you see one of the famous organ concerts here, you definitely need to go inside St. Stephan’s Basilica and see the interior. The neoclassical building is the most important church in Hungary and one of the three tallest buildings in the country.
There are four concerts in December played on the huge organ.
You can also attend classical music concerts or combine your concert with a dinner cruise on the Danube River.
Ride the Christmas Tram
The Budapest Christmas Light Tram is one of the city’s iconic trams festooned with 40,000 LED lights. There are several tram lines that run with lights, but the most scenic is Route 2, which runs along the Danube River. The lights turn on about 4 pm.
Other routes with occasional Christmas Trams are Number 14 M from Káposztásmegyer/megyeri út to Lehel tér M (M3 metro station), Number 59 from Márton áron tér to Szent János Kórház, and Number 49 Tram from Kelenföld Train Station (M4 metro) to Deák Ferenc tér.
There’s also Santa’s Trolleybus — a red trolleybus covered in lights.
Both the tram and the trolley cost their regular fares.
Given that Budapest has one of the highest Jewish population in Eastern Europe, and a history of atrocities against Jews, being able to celebrate Jewish traditions and holidays is especially important.
There are several ways to celebrate the Festival of Lights in Budapest. The times and dates vary from year to year, of course, but there are open air festivals, menorah lighting ceremonies, feasts, and other Hanukkah events in Budapest each year.
Each night of Hanukkah a huge menorah is lit at 6pm in Nyugati Square. There is live music, sufganiyot doughnuts, and dreidel games. There are several menorah lighting ceremonies around Budapest.
This is also a good time to take a tour of the Jewish Quarter or other important Jewish sites and synagogues in the city.
There are several free walking tour options in Budapest. While the tours are free, the guides work for tips, so don’t be stingy. Both Original Budapest Tours and Free Tour Budapest offer walking tours of the Jewish Quarter.
A Danube River Cruise is always fun, but it’s especially good for what to do in Budapest at Christmas, New Year, or any day in December. Seeing Budapest from the water is a must when you are visiting.
Seeing the monuments all lit up and the reflections on the water, along with tasty food, drinks, and dancing is one of the top 10 things to do in Budapest in December.
There are special Christmas Eve and Christmas cruises.
Budapest sits on top of something like 125 hot springs. We are big hot water fans and go to hot springs in Montana all the time. The ones in Budapest are a lot more ornate, elaborate, and expensive and they top the list of Budapest things to do in winter.
The two most popular Budapest thermal baths are Széchenyi and Gellért Baths. Széchenyi Baths is in the City Park and is probably the one you have seen photos of with the yellow buildings behind the outdoor pool. It’s the largest bath in the city.
Gellért Baths has gorgeous art deco architecture and a Turkish interior. Both are very popular and it’s worth getting a skip-the-line ticket so you don’t have to stand around waiting to get in.
For a quieter, if slightly less iconic experience, try the The Dandár Baths. It’s cheap and family-friendly.
New Year’s Eve Parties
Budapest goes big on New Year’s Eve (Szilveszter in Hungarian) with parties around the city. If you like to get a little crazy, this is what to do in Budapest in winter. You’ll find street parties, concerts, horse races, and more.
During the day you can watch the annual equestrian events at Kincsem Park and at midnight, fireworks light up Budapest’s skies.
If you want to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Budapest with a big group of revelers, try the open-air street parties in Vörösmarty Square, Szent István Square, or Nyugati Square. The ruin bars will have big festivities, as well.
Some of the thermal baths host big “sparties” or spa-parties.
Cruising on the Danube is a fun way to toast the old year. There are several tours that should fit your mood, whether it is refined or wild.
Budapest Hotels Near Christmas Markets
Best Places to Stay in Budapest
Whether you are looking for a luxury hotel in Budapest, a moderately priced hotel, or an Airbnb, we have the best Budapest accommodations listed below and they are all near Christmas Markets and other fun things to do in December.
Luxury Hotels Budapest (5 Star Hotels in Budapest)
Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace
Arguably the nicest hotel in Budapest, the Budapest Four Seasons is located a short distance from Széchenyi Chain Bridge (0.2 mi), Castle Hill (0.4 mi), Parliament (0.5 mi), Gellert Spa (1.1 mi), and Fisherman’s Bastion (0.6 mi), all of which are on this Budapest itinerary.
The view from the Budapest Four Seasons in outstanding – it overlooks the Danube River, the Chain Bridge, and Castle Hill.
The more than a century old, art-nouveau building was restored and converted into a lavish 5-star hotel with 179 rooms and suites in 2001.
The hotel has the most elegant and expensive Presidential Suites in Budapest, but the other guest rooms are also nicely finished and have all the amenities.
Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace features a concierge and room service, to help make your stay more enjoyable. The property also boasts a pool and an on-site restaurant.
The Four Seasons Budapest is the perfect Christmas hotel because if it’s proximity to the main Christmas Markets, but also because it has it’s own Christmas Market in the lobby.
Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest
The rooms and suites are luxuriously outfitted. The new design of the Premium Grand Deluxe Rooms and Premium Junior Suites by noted British designer Alex Kravetz draws inspiration from the color scheme of nature: the rich gold of the sun, the deep blue of the clear sky and the fresh green of meadows.
The Kempinski Hotel is on Elizabeth Square and right in the middle of inner Budapest.
For Christmas Market visitors, you can’t get much closer to the markets than this. The Deak Ferenc Street market is in front of the building.
More Luxury Hotels in Budapest
Budapest Boutique Hotels and Mid Range Hotels
There seem to be a lot of boutique hotels in Budapest – we saw them everywhere. If you really want a low cost option for hotels, you’ll need to stay outside the inner city, but since location is everything, I’ve chosen the best affordable hotels in inner Budapest.
Hotel Clark is a 4-star hotel on the banks of the Danube near the Chain Bridge on the Buda side of the river below the castle.
The hotel offers a spacious, panoramic fitness room overlooking the Danube, a Finnish dry sauna, an á’la carte restaurant, and a private garage on site. The staff is reported to be very friendly and accommodating.
Hotel Zenit Budapest Palace
Hotel Zenit has a great location in inner Pest, not far from the Danube (which you can’t see from the hotel, but can easily access), and walking distance from all the Budapest sights. The rooms are basic, but plenty large and very clean.
It features a restaurant serving international cuisine and a wellness area with a fitness room and a sauna.
Other Boutique Hotels and Mid Range Hotels in Budapest
These are all located in District V, the inner city.
Vacation Rentals in Budapest
Since we tend to spend a long time in one location, we like to stay at vacation rentals where we can make a little home away from home. Even if you only plan to be in Budapest a couple nights, you might appreciate having your own space, a washing machine, and a kitchen.
We stayed at an Airbnb in Budapest. If you use my link for your first booking on Airbnb, you’ll get $55 off and I’ll get a little money toward our stays, too.
You can also find lots of great Budapest vacation rentals through VRBO/Homeaway.