Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, one on each side of the Danube River, which divides this capital of Hungary. This city's history dates to Roman times, but Buda and Pest were not united into a town until 1873. The city has beautiful art nouveau architecture, sweeping views from spectacular bridges, and, yes, thermal baths. Must-sees are the Parliament buildings, the former Royal Palace and its museums, and Budapest's many cool pubs and gardens.
During your December visit, the gardens will not be at their lush summer best, of course, but the bare trees have a certain minimalist appeal. It's a unique place to visit in Europe, no matter the time of year.
If you're planning a December trip, here's what you need to know.
Budapest Weather in December
Winter in Budapest is variable and unpredictable, and December is no exception. The average high in Budapest in December is 37 F (3 C), and the temperature dips to about 30 F (-1 C) on average overnight. While it's cold, December is also snowy with storms sometimes bringing up to 15 inches of precipitation in a single day.
During the last half of December, frigid weather starts to set in for the winter. It snows often, but it is usually light, and accumulation is rare. If you find moderate cold invigorating and light snow like a glistening frosting on the city, you will love Budapest in December.
What to Pack
You won't need to pack for wide swings in temperature; it's all winter, all the time. Focus on layers that work with a variety of pieces. Some good ideas are jeans, colored jeans, wool or cotton sweaters that can be worn underneath a cardigan, opaque tights if you plan to wear a skirt or dress, ankle boots that are comfortable enough for many hours of walking, socks, a wool or cashmere scarf, gloves, and a medium-weight coat. If you are traveling from most areas of the United States, these clothes are generally the same as what you would need at home in December.
The basic trick is to have layers with multi-uses. Take along a fedora, knit hat, or beret if you like to wear hats; you will have plenty of opportunity for them in Budapest at this time of year.
Backing Basics for Budapest
- Wool sweater
- Medium-weight coat
- Knit hat
December Events in Budapest
Just as in all countries that celebrate Christmas, the end-of-the-month holiday dominates special events in December. If you're in Budapest during December, you'll experience Christmas in a decidedly European way. Don't forget to go out at night to see Budapest's stunning architecture and bridges over the Danube lit up in Christmas dress. It will be a holiday to remember and one with many interesting photo ops.
- The Budapest Christmas market is a great place to find Christmas gifts from Hungary and just a lot of fun to roam around in. It runs throughout December. Visit the Great Market Hall for more Hungarian Christmas gift options.
- December 6 is St. Nicholas Day. On this day, St. Nicholas visits children with candy and small gifts.
- Christmas in Hungary is celebrated from December 24 through 26. Expect most small shops, cafés, and attractions to be closed.
- Celebrate New Year's Eve in Budapest on December 31. Parties, galas, and river cruises are traditionally included in the lineup of events for this celebratory night.
December Travel Tips
- Don't pack Euros. Even though Hungary is part of the European Union, the country does not use the Euro as its official currency. Instead, you'll need to carry Forints. Not all restaurants accept credit cards, so having cash on hand is always a good idea.
- Take public transportation. Budapest is easy to navigate, and tickets for the metro are inexpensive, costing around $1.40 per ride for a pack of 10. The system is among the oldest in the world (second only to London) and is surprisingly efficient.
- Stay warm in a coffeehouse. Budapest is known for its coffee shop culture, which makes a quaint coffeehouse a perfect respite from the harsh winter weather. If you find yourself needing a break from exploring the city, try Centrál for perfect pastries or Gerbeaud for chocolates and tasty coffee.