Winter in the Hungarian capital is the stuff of fairy tales. Turreted buildings glow behind cobbled streets strung with tiny gold lights, and the scent of sweet rum punch and smoky goulash fills bustling Christmas markets. The cold (temperatures drop to between 2°C and -10°C) merely adds to the magic, and it’s not uncommon to see the city beneath a thick blanket of snow. If you’re planning to spend winter in Budapest, don’t leave without packing these essential items.
A warm hat and chunky scarf are vital for exploring the city’s beautiful streets and outdoor markets in winter. Gloves are also important; stylish cashmere or sheepskin-lined leather gloves are sure to keep you toasty. We’d also suggest packing an extra pair of fingerless gloves for stress-free sampling of Hungary’s traditional sweet street-delicacy, the sugar-dusted kürtőskalács (or chimney cake).
Whether you’re meandering through the market at Vörösmarty Square, or strapping on your skates at the picturesque Műjégpálya ice rink, you will need a snuggly coat. A padded goose down jacket or a dense, woollen number is your best bet. Pack a couple of thick jumpers for layering underneath; on the frost-sprinkled streets it might be below freezing, but dipping in and out of Budapest’s myriad museums and elegant cafes, you’ll soon warm up.
For snowy days and their slightly slushy aftermath, it’s a wise idea to have a pair of sturdy waterproof boots with durable soles. Unless you decide to take the short train to the Buda Hills for panoramic views and a spot of skiing, however, you will probably get away with some warm socks and regular boots with a decent tread, preferably faux-fur-lined for maximum cosiness.
No visit to Budapest is complete without a trip to one of its many outdoor thermal baths. Take away the crowds and add billows of hot steam rising up to a white sky, and you have the truly magical image of the baths in winter. It might require gritted teeth to get from the changing rooms to the water, but at 38°C it’s worth braving the cold. If you can’t quite pluck up the courage to negotiate snow in a swimsuit, visit the elegant art deco pool and steam baths at Corinthia Hotel’s Royal Spa.
As the sun goes down, Budapest comes alive with all manner of cultural offerings – and winter is no exception. From the grand Budapest Operetta Theatre to the contemporary Erkel Theatre, there’s plenty to explore after dark. While there is no official dress code, visitors to both venues tend to don sharp, dark suits and chic evening dresses, so make sure to pack something glamorous.