December in Budapest: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Puppets for sale at Budapest Christmas Market

KMGS Photography/Getty Images

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 thermal baths.

It's a unique place to visit in Europe at any time of year. During your December visit, the weather will be cold and snowy, and it's a festive time. On December 6 for St. Nicholas Day, Mikulás (Saint Nicholas) visits children with 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.

illustration of Budapest in December with some tips from the article
 TripSavvy / Chloe Giroux

Budapest Weather in December

Winter in Budapest is variable and unpredictable, and December is no exception. While it's cold, December is also snowy with storms sometimes bringing up to 15 inches of precipitation in a single day.

  • 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. If you find cold invigorating and light snow like a glistening frosting on the city, you will love Budapest in December.

What to Pack

Pack for winter weather, focusing on layers that work with a variety of pieces. If you are traveling from most areas of the U.S., the clothes you bring are generally the same as what you would need at home in December. Think jeans, wool or cotton sweaters that can be worn underneath a cardigan, opaque tights if you plan to wear a skirt or dress, wool or cashmere socks, a scarf, gloves, and a medium-weight coat. For shoes, pack ankle boots that are comfortable enough for many hours of walking. If you like to wear hats, take along a fedora, knit hat, or beret; you will have plenty of opportunities to use them in Budapest at this time of year. 

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 2019 concert in one of the city's most attractive neo-classical buildings. On December 12, 19, or 28, enjoy hearing the church's organ played by the award-winning musician Miklos Teleki.
  • 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 through 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 of 2020.
  • 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.
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