Budapest is one of the top destinations for a relaxing weekend. Its beautiful architecture, ruin cafes, hot spas, and hearty food draw tourists from all over the world. To avoid the crowds, you might want to go in the winter months instead of the summer. But you might need a few tips to keep warm if the weather isn’t as tourist-friendly as you’d like it to be.
1. Hike to the Citadel and buy some gluhwein
No matter which side of the city you are staying in, the “Buda” or the “Pest,” hiking up to the Citadel might be a good place to start exploring the city. Located on the more historic “Buda” side, the citadel is located on top of Gellért Hill that allows a gorgeous view over the entire city including the Parliament Building, the Danube River, and all of Budapest’s famous bridges. Once you get to the top there are even little kiosks selling warm drinks.
2. Make a pit stop at Matthias church
While exploring the city on foot in winter, you might need to make a few stops inside to warm your bones. The beautiful Matthias church, located in Budapest’s castle district, is a late-Gothic style building with intricately painted interiors. On Sunday evenings the church hosts free organ concerts played on the hundred-year old “King’s Organ.”
3. Jump in a warm bath at a famous Budapest spa
Budapest is filled with natural thermal spas, but the three most known are the Széchenyi, Gellért, and Rudas. Each have their own specific charms, but they will all achieve the same purpose of cleansing and relaxing your body. Even in the middle of winter you can enjoy a warm bath in an outdoor pool with beautiful architecture and enjoy the benefits of healing waters.
4. Drink palinka at Szimpla Kert ruin bar
After a long day of exploring and relaxing, try a strong Hungarian drink at Szimpla Kert ruin bar. Budapest is famous for DIY bars and clubs pieced together inside of abandoned buildings in its Jewish Quarter. Szimpla Kert is a two-level gathering place with separate bars for wine, beer, food, and hookah, a large garden courtyard, graffiti over all the walls, and a DJ later in the evenings. If you try to enter on a weekend night, be prepared for long lines.
5. Drink coffee at the cafe next to New York Cafe
Like many tourists to Budapest, you might be attracted by the glamour and glitz of the New York Cafe located inside the Boscolo Hotel. But to avoid the lines (which can be seen at any time of day), try for a coffee at the cafe right across the street called Híradó Kávézó. The coffee and the pastries are just as good and you won’t miss any time exploring by waiting in a ridiculous line.
6. Go ice skating at City Park Ice Rink
In between Heroes Square and Vaydahunjad Castle lies the City Park Ice Rink, which is one of the largest and also the oldest outdoor skating rinks in Europe. Tickets can be bought at the Neo-Baroque style visitors center which was built in 1895 and recently renovated. It is open almost every day from the beginning of November until the end of February with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s.
7. Light a candle at the Cave Church
Visit a unique church whose entrance was built into the side of Gellert Hill in the 1920s by Pauline monks. The church has served as a monastery, healing temple, and asylum in its lifetime. After lighting a candle, make sure to make a trip across the Liberty Bridge and snap some photos of the epic Gellert Hill.
8. Take a tour of the Dohány Street Synagogue Complex
This synagogue was recently awarded the European Heritage Label because of its historic significance for the Jewish community in Europe. The warm colors of The Moorish Revival style architecture, influenced by Islam, Africa, and Spain, are a contrast to a cold Hungarian winter. It is the biggest synagogue in Europe and second biggest in the world.
9. Have a dinner with friends at Mazel Tov
Mazel Tov, a hip restaurant in the Jewish Quarter, might be the best place in the city to end the day with some friends. Mazel Tov has a similar feel to the ruin cafe Szimpla Kert with its DIY interior and relaxed atmosphere. But the food and drinks are that of a high quality restaurant, featuring traditional Jewish cuisine as well as fusion dishes. Make sure to make a reservation, as the tables are usually booked during the popular eating times on the weekends. You won’t regret it.
10. Eat a goulash soup at Castro Bistro
No trip to Budapest would be complete without a meal of goulash, especially in the winter. Castro Bistro is a community restaurant with top quality Hungarian dishes that will fill your stomach. Pair your meal with an earthy Hungarian wine and you will forget you were ever cold.
This piece was co-authored by Beppe Simone.