Few cities in the world offer as much winter charm as Budapest in December. Sure, the Hungarian capital is cold and snowy, but it's also a festive time in the city, beginning with St. Nicholas Day on December 6 and stretching all the way through to Christmas and New Year's Eve. Throughout the month, there's often a light layer of snow blanketing the city's many bridges, towering churches, and the imposing Parliament building, only adding to the holiday magic humming through the streets.
December may not seem like the ideal time to visit Eastern Europe, but Budapest has plenty of activities and events to keep your mind off the cold. Mikulás (Saint Nicholas) visits children on December 6, delivering candy and small gifts placed in shoes that are left overnight on windowsills. Holiday events include the famous Christmas market in Vorosmarty Square, a New Year's Eve fireworks show on the banks of the Danube River, the classic Nutcracker Ballet, and more. In between events, warm up in one of Budapest's many thermal baths or by sipping on a hot glass of mulled wine.
Budapest Weather in December
December in Budapest is cold, and temperatures drop throughout the month as the days get shorter and the bitter frost creeps in over the final days of fall. However, Budapest weather can also be variable and unpredictable. Count on it being chilly, but be aware if it's supposed to be clear skies or stormy during your trip.
- Average high: 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius)
- Average low: 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 degree Celsius)
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. However, winter storms do occur, sometimes bringing up to 15 inches of precipitation in a single day.
What to Pack
Pack for winter weather, focusing on layers that work with a variety of pieces. If you are traveling from cold areas of the U.S., the clothes you bring are generally the same as what you would need at home in December. In addition to long pants or jeans, pack long socks, tights, or even thermals to wear underneath. Bring layers that are easy to remove as you are sightseeing, like a heavy jacket and sweater. Winter accessories like a warm hat, scarf, and gloves are necessary. For shoes, pack ankle boots that are comfortable enough for many hours of walking and also offer some type of water-resistance in case it snows.
December Events in Budapest
The Christmas holiday dominates special events in December, and if you're in Budapest, you'll experience the magic of December 25 in a decidedly European way. Take an invigorating evening walk to see Budapest's stunning architecture and bridges over the Danube lit up in Christmas dress for a memorable holiday with many interesting photo opportunities.
- The Budapest Christmas market: The country's oldest holiday market takes place in Vörösmarty Square through January 1, 2020. A great place to find Christmas gifts from Hungary, the event is also a lot of fun to roam around in search of food and free live music. Visit the 19th century-style Great Market Hall for more local Christmas gift options.
- Concerts in St. Stephen's Basilica: Attend a concert in the city's largest church and one of its most attractive neo-classical buildings. The 2019 program includes the award-winning musician Miklos Teleki playing the historic organ in the church.
- New Year's Eve: Celebrations fill Budapest on December 31. Parties, galas, and midnight fireworks on the banks of the Danube River, coloring the sky above the Hungarian Parliament and St. Stephen’s Basilica, are traditionally included in the lineup of events for this fun night. Ring in 2020 at the New Year’s Eve Gala Celebration in the Danube Palace (Duna Palota, built in 1885), which features a five-course dinner, wine, a classical concert and dancing, champagne toasts, and more.
- The Nutcracker Ballet: Book a ticket in advance for Tchaikovsky's classic winter ballet show in the Hungarian State Opera House, which is also the home of the National Ballet Institute.
December Travel Tips
- Christmas in Hungary is celebrated from December 24–26. Expect most small shops, cafés, and attractions to be closed.
- Trams in Budapest are covered in fairy lights during the winter months. Hop on Tram 2 for a festive December activity along the Danube to take in the city's most beautiful sites. The streetcars are illuminated in the blue and white lights through early January.
- Budapest resembles a fairy-tale city throughout December, as it's lit with more than 1 million light bulbs. To see the most festive route, walk through Vörösmarty Square, Váci utca, Erzsébet Square, Oktogon, and Liszt Ferenc Square.
- Budapest is called "the city of spas" for its vast number of thermal baths. For a unique winter experience, visit the open-air Szechenyi Baths while it's snowing to take a dip in the snowfall.