December Programs and Things to Do in Budapest
The last month of the year and the first month of the winter season has a lot in store for visitors to Budapest.
Although the weather is cold with average monthly temperature around 2 deg. Celsius, a range of festivals, Christmas fairs, concerts and other activities take place at various spots in the city enticing everyone to brave the unpleasant weather.
Besides, Christmas children are expecting the visit of Santa on St. Nicholas day, 06. December.
Joulupukki, the real Santa comes to Hungary from Finnland for a week.
He can be spotted at various places in Budapest, including Vörösmarty tér.
December ends with awesome New Year parties at various venues: in the streets, on the Danube, in bars and clubs, and hotels.Quick Links: Weather in December – Events, Festivals: Christmas Markets – TIP: Wine Tasting – Design Fair & Auction at Terminal – WAMP Design & Gastro Fair – Christmas Market Erzsébet Sqr. – Advent Sundays at the Várkert Bazaar – Palace of Arts (Müpa) Winter Festival – Advent at the Bálna – TIP: New Year Programs – New Year’s Day Concert
I’ve already mentioned that December is cold with temperatures below zero or a couple of degrees above zero.
On top of the subzero temperatures it is often cloudy and windy.
We usually don’t get much snow in December (in previous years there wasn’t any), though some days there is some rain or sleet.
It’s best to dress in several layers: so do bring warm sweaters, cardigans, or a vest that you can pull on a long-sleeve shirt.
A lightweight but warm coat, scarf, winter cap, gloves are must to make exploring the city in the cold more pleasant.
Warm socks and a comfortable winter boots/shoes (water proof, if possible) can also go on your packing list.
December is all about Christmas and after that, the approaching New Year.
Budapest is home to one of the most charming (and affordable) Christmas markets in Europe that takes place on Vörösmarty Square (11. November 2016 – 01. January 2017.) in the city centre, easily accessible by public transport (M1 underground at Vörösmarty tér, M1, M2, M3 metro lines at Deák tér station, tram 2 on the Pest side of the Danube: get off at Vigadó tér stop).
The event launches around mid-November and is open till 06. January 2016. (after Christmas only the food and drink stalls are open though).Highlights: The market is a great source for quality handmade gifts: knitted hats, leather products, pottery, jewelry, kitchen utensils, homedecor items, culinary delicacies.
The food court offers typical Hungarian and international dishes: stuffed cabbage, grilled and roast meats, sandwiches, strudel, beigli and other pastries and cakes, and of course typical winter drinks: hot wine, punch, grog, tea and coffee.
Concerts, the visit of Santa Claus on 06. December between 15.00-16.00, children programs and playhouse (weekdays: 14.00-18.00, weekends: 10.00-13.00 and 16.00-19.00) are permanent programs each year.Drawback: a bit crowdy and touristy.
Advent Festival & Fair at Szent István Square, Basilica, 25. November 2016. and 02. January 2017.
Opening Hours: Mon-Thurs: 11:30 – 20:00, Fri: 11:30 – 22:00, Sat: 10:00 – 22:00, Sun: 10:00 – 20:00, December 24.: 10:00 – 14:00, December 25. & 26.: closed, December 31.: 10:00 – 22:00
The Advent Festival at Szt. István tér in front of the Basilica is the second most popular festive fair in Hungary’s capital.
The largest church of the city gives a spectacular background to the fair and there’s also a small ice rink (200 sqm).
Lovely wooden cottages offer various local craft products, handmade Christmas bonbons, mulled wine and other drinks, and quality street food from lángos to gourmet burgers.
You can sip seasoned winter drinks in the heated hütte, while watching a spectacular light mapping show on the facade of the Basilica (every 30 minues after sunset). See exact programs on the official website of the event.TIP: View our photos of the 2016 Advent Feast at Budapest’s Basilica on our FB page.
Check out other Christmas markets in Budapest and see also a list of hotels closest to the Vörösmarty Square Holiday Fair!
Address: Komor Marcell utca 1., district IX., getting there: tram 2 or H7 suburban railway, Közvágóhíd stop
Although there isn’t an Xmas market at the Winter Festival at the Palace of Arts, it’s a wonderful event to soak up some festive atmosphere and culture.
An ice rink on 400 sqm and large tent next to it for some exciting programs and a Melody Wheel – an interactive music box – are the highlights of the festival.
Ice Rink Opening Hours
- weekdays: 14.00 – 20.00, weekends: 10.00 – 20.00,
- winter school holiday (exc. bank holidays): 22. Dec – 02. January: every day: 10.00 – 20.00, 24. December: CLOSED, 25-26. December, 01. January: 14.00 – 20.00
Ice Rink Admission: free for one time with a valid Müpa Budapest ticket. Mulled wine,tea, coffee and snacks as well as skate rental are available.
Christmas Tree Installation
The 4-storey high, 5 m- diameter wood tree is lighted up with 110m long string of lights – a sight to behold on the Pest riverbank.
The unique installation is made up of 167 boxes and 45 lightboxes and has 3 entrances, with a lower one for children.
Tent, 04 – 31. December
Tickets: between 500 – 1 500 HUF
The spacious tent set up next to the rink gives home to a range of concerts and other cultural programs including many for children.
See the list of programs here.
Creative Arts Fair in the Museum of Applied Arts, 17 – 18. December, 2016
Address: Üllői út 33-37., IX. district, M3 (blue) metro/trams 4 and 6: Ferenc körút station
Local jewelry designers, ceramists and other craftsmen will offer their products on the 2-day event in the museum’s hall.
Fashion and design lovers will all find something unique to give as a present to their loved ones.
Besides the fair, you can explore the building and the museum exhibits on guided tours.
Venue: Millenáris “D” Building, Kis Rókus utca 16-20, district II., close to Mammut Shopping Mall
Dates: December 04. 11. 18. Opening Hours: 10.00-18.00
Entry: 500 HUF
Although the location of this gastro fair is not central, foodies must drop by anyway.
Take tram 6 or M2 (red line) metro till Széna tér stop and you’ll reach the huge industrial building of Millenáris and park, just behind Mammut Shopping Centre in a few minutes.
The fair has been part of the city’s designer and craft food scene for a couple of years now.
A great place to browse among and buy quality food stuff as well as wonderful designer items: homemade jams, cheese, bread and pastries, chocolates, biscuits, chutneys, oils, spices, herbs, wine and pálinka, designer kitchen utensils.
It’s a whole different experience than shopping in a store or plaza. The sellers who design and make their own items are friendly and happy to talk about their products and craft.
The Magyar Ízek Karácsonyi Vásár is focusing on high quality artisan food and drinks.
You can taste and buy:
- Cheeses by Torockói Sajt, Hankai Sajt or Mirc Nárcisz producers
- Mangalica sausages, salamis, ham, bacon by Mangalica Farm
- Kürtöskalács/Sekler Cake – Try the filled version at Töltött Kürtös with strawberry + whipped cream (890 HUF), Nutella (890 HUF) + whipped cream or with ice cream (990 HUF), of course you’ll find the standard, original cakes as well.
- Oils, spices, mustard, and pasta
- Honey, jam, fruit syrup, fruit juices
- Local cakes, pastries, biscuits, Christmas specialties
- Chocolate and Sweets – Hungarian Christmas bonbons, Gerbeaud cake, Ischler cake
- Hot wine and fruit wines (strawberry, blueberry)
- Craft beer.
See photos about the 2016 market on our Facebook Page.
Opening hours: Sun-Thurs: 12.00 – 22.00, Fri-Sat: 12.00-24.00
All Programs are FREE.
The Whale/Bálna Shopping & Cultural Centre, at a wonderful, scenic location right by the Danube in Pest will host a an Advent festival with concerts, street food, spicy mulled wine and other hot drinks.
A 450 sqm ice rink with skate rental welcomes the active ones till the end of February. Entry is free. Skate rental is 1 000 HUF for 3 hours.
You can also view a ginger bread mock up of Budapest in the Gallery No. 306 (street level) between 21. December 2016 – 29. January 2017. Entry is FREE.
Opening hours of the winter-themed exhibition:
- between 21. Dec – 08. Jan: 11.00-14.00 and 16.00-20.00,
- will be closed on 24., 25., 26., 31. December and 01. January,
- from 09.January 2017: Tue-Sun: 16.00-21.00 (closed on Mondays).
Budapest is the perfect place to be on the last days of 2016 since people will say farewell to the old year at countless parties in bars and clubs, street carnivals, and at home parties.
New Year’s Eve Party on the Danube with Dinner and Open Drink Bar
Date: 31. December, 2016. 19.00
This is no doubts one of the best-value programs for Szilveszter (New Year’s Eve in Hungarian).
Warm buffet dinner, a wide choice in drinks from the open bar, dinner at midnight, raffle, a cruise on the river two times during the night, live music, great atmosphere! Places are limited!Buy Your Ticket Online! Festive Concert with Cimbalom Show, Operetta Songs, Dance Performances by the Danube Chamber Orchestra
Date & Time: 01. January 2017. at 20.00, the concert is 90 minute long (with a break)
Tickets: from 26.5 EUR
Celebrate New Year’s Day in style with
- classical concert spiced up with a Cimbalom play (hammered dulcimer-authentic Hungarian folk instrument)
- operetta songs by the Budapest Operetta Theatre and
- balett dance performances in the elegant, historic Vigadó on the Danube Promenade in Pest.
See more New Year Programs in Budapest!
Budapest is not the nicest in the dreary December weather but it’s still worth exploring the many historic and cultural sights.
If you don’t like chugging along in a cold, windy weather take a boat cruise or go on a bus tour to see the most of the city.
Bus Tours – Hop On/Off Whenever You Like
Hop on a sightseeing bus if the weather is too harsh for walking.
The biggest advantage of these tours is that you can cover the most notable sights (Castle, Parliament, Opera, Heroes’ Square etc.) and attractions within a short time and in convenience.
Professional audio guiding is avalibale in many languages allowing you to learn about the most important facts, historical details about the city’s landmarks.Buy Ticket!
December is a great time to sip fine wines in a
- romantic cellar,
- a modern wine shop in downtown or
- on a cruise boat on the Danube
- or you can explore a small wine region near Budapest (lunch/dinner with transfer)
Riverride – Tour on Water & Road
If you don’t want to eat juts see the sights hop on the unique amphibian vehicle called Riverride.
The yellow boat-bus construction will take you on a 1 hour and 45 minute (half time on water half time on land) city sightseeing tour on the Danube and the roads of the city.
You’ll see the famous landmarks of Budapest and can admire the beauty of the two riverbanks and bridges included in the World Heritage list.
The bus is heated and covered. Live guiding in English and German languages.
- Hungarian Academy of Sciences,
- St. Stephen’s Basilica,
- the Opera House,
- Andrássy Boulevard,
- the Great Synagogue,
- Széchenyi Chain Bridge,
- Buda Castle and more.
Schedule: 01 November – 31. March: every day at 11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 01. April – 31. October: every day: at 10.00, 12.00, 15.00, 17.00
Departure: from Széchenyi tér 7/8. in Pest (at a bus stop in front of an office building next to the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace).
Tickets: adult (from 14 years of age: 7 500 HUF, children (ages 6-14): 5 000 HUF, children under 6: free. Find out more at the organiser’s website.
Each year some of the tram lines, one is tram 2 along the Danube bank in Pest, are decked out in festive lights welcoming the approach of Christmas and the New Year.
The 3500 m long string has 39 500 blue and white LED lights. The interior of the trams is also decorated in holidays theme.
You can travel on these special trams with regular public transport tickets (a single ticket costs 350 HUF) or the Budapest Card (entitles the holder to free use of all public transportation).
The 8 Christmas Tram Lines are:
- tram 2 (Jászai Mari tér – Közvágóhíd)
- tram 4 (Széll Kálmán tér – Újbuda Központ)
- tram 14 (Lehel tér – Káposztásmegyer, Megyeri út)
- tram 19 (Bécsi út/vörösvári út – Kelenfölf vasútállomás)
- tram 47 (Deák Ferenc tér – Városház tér)
- tram 50 (Határ út – Pestszentlőrinc, Béke tér)
- tram 56A (Hűvösvölgy – Móricz Zsigmond körtér)
- tram 59 (márton Áron tér – Szent János kórház)
Departure times: Visit the public transportation company’s, BKK’s, website for up to date information on the trams’ schedule.
Dates: 01-23. December 2016., every day at 14.30
It is a great holiday-themed guided walk tour where you’ll get an insight into Hungarian Christmas traditions while visiting three Christmas fairs and the Pest’s main sights including St. Stephen’s Basilica (interior visit if it’s visitor time for the public), Andrássy Avenue, the Opera House all glowing in spectacular holiday decoration.
A 3-tier wine tasting in a local restaurant is also part of the program: you can take a rest while sipping fine Hungarian wines.
The tour ends at the city’s largest fair at Vörösmarty Square where you’ll be treated a glass of hot wine.
- Adults: 30 EUR
- Students: 28 EUR
- Children: (3-12 years of age): 15 EUR.
Discover the hidden attractions of northern Buda, called Víziváros (Watertown) on foot.
The 1.5-hour tour will lead you through this romantic part of the city, showing you two churches including the moving Bethlehem of Szent Anna Church.
Itinerary: Batthyány-tér – Bem rakpart – Csalogány utca – Fő utca – Batthyány utca – Batthyány-tér
Tickets: adult: 2 500 HUF, students, pensioners: 2 300 HUF
Tour dates in December: Fridays: at 11.00. Meeting point: entrance of St. Anne Church at Batthyány-tér, Buda, district I., (M2 (red) metro
Ice skating is an awesome winter exercise and the largest place to do it is in the City Park, the Városligeti Műjégpálya ice rink. have a go then savour a cup of luxurious coffee in Városliget Cafe.
Opening hours: every day: 09.00-13.00 and 17.00-21.00Holiday opening hours: December 24: CLOSED, December 22-30.: 10.00-14.00 and 16.00-20.00, December 31.: 10.00-14.00 then CLOSED, January 01.: 16.00-20.00, January 02: 10.00-14.00 and 16.00-21.00, January 03:.: 10.00-14.00 and 16.00-20.00
Tickets: Mon-Tue: adult: 1 000 HUF, student, pensioner: 800 HUF, Wed-Thurs all day, Friday morning: adult: 1 500 HUF, student, pensioner: 1 000 HUF, Fri afternoon: adult: 2 000 HUF, student, pensioner: 1 500 HUF, Sat-Sun all day: adult: 2 000 HUF, student, pensioner: 1 500 HUF, free for children under 6.
Another scenic place to slide on ice is in front of the Bálna/Whale Cultural & Shopping centre, located on the pest riverbank between Petőfi and Liberty Bridges. Skating is free, rental costs 1000 HUF for 3 hours.
The riverside location make skating there a wonderful experience.
Open: the ice rink is open throughout winter, Mon-Thurs & Sun: 10.00-20.00, Fri-Sat: 10.00-22.00. Holiday opening hours: December 24.: 10.00-12.00, December 25-26: : CLOSED, December 27-30.: 10.00-20.00, December 31.: 10.00-18.00, January 01.: 10.00-20.00, January 02.: 10.00-22.00.
There’s also a free ice rink (skate rental is also fre eof charge9 in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica as part of the Advent Festival & Xmas Fair.
A classical concert either in a church or in one of the city’s numerous concert halls or a folklore performance are great indoor programs in winter.
The Nutcracker in the Opera House
The Hungarian National Opera House includes the Nutcracker in its December program each year.
Tchaikovsky’s last ballet is an ideal program in the Advent period.
Before the show you can admire the 130-year old building of the Opera on Andrássy út one of the best-known works of architect Miklós Ybl.
Organ Concerts in the Basilica
Dates in December: 01., 15., 22.
The spectacular church of the city, St. Stephen’s Basilica is a regular venue for organ and other classical concerts.
A great way to enjoy the wonderful acoustics, the lyrics of the historic organ, and admire the interior the neo-classical temple in the heart of Budapest.
Music & Wine Gala Concert of the 100 Member Gypsy Orchestra
Date: 30. December, 18.00
Venue: Budapest Congress Center, address: Jagelló út 1-3, Bp., 1123, district XII.
Tickets: from 45 EUR
A New Year Gala Concert of the 100-Member Gypsy Orchestra is a fabulous program to say farewell to 2016.
The 2-part concert of the famous orchestra includes a unique interpretation of popular pieces by Strauss, Rossini, Brahms, Bizet, Liszt and Tchaikovsky.
During the program you can enjoy a wonderful dinner or just snacks and wine.
A wine tasting and folk dance show precedes the concert where you can sample the best of Hungary’s wine regions and wine makers.See Tickets !
Christmas-Themed Exhibition – Castle Garden Bazaar (Várkert), till 27. January 2017.
Address: Ybl Miklós tér 2-6., district I., Buda
Opening Hours: Tue-Sun: 10.00-18.00
Tickets: full price: 1 500 HU
Besides the festive market and Advent Sunday programs mentioned above, the Várkert also hosts a holiday-themed exhibition titled “Angel’s music, candlelight” set up in the Southern Palace/Déli Palota.
It evokes the Christmas traditions of old times: you can see what people used to decorate the pine tree many decades ago and you can also find out about the forgotten symbolism of the holiday.
Address: Olof Palme sétány 5., district XIV., City park (Városliget)
Opening hours: Mon-Sun: 12.00-22.00
This charming cafe in the Budapest’s largest park, the City Park, serves fine coffee drinks prepared from freshly roasted coffee beans.
Try their signature drink the Liget Kávé: a perfect espresso topped with freshly whipped cream and Belgian chocolate flakes and with crunchy homemade biscuit.
You can also indulge in a slice of delicious Sacher cake, Eszterházy cake, or Morello Cherry strudel with vanilla ice cream.
They also serve seasonal daily menu of classic Austro-Hungarian dishes. Their specialty is the “Tányérhús” (tafelspitz), beef slowly cooked in broth.
Address: József Attila utca 12., district V., close to Erzsébet tér in the city centre
Opening hours: Mon-Fri: 8.00-20.00, Sat: 10.00-20.00, Sun: 10.00-18.00
If you miss their stall at the Advent fair in front of the Basilica you can easily find them in the city centre near Erzsébet Square in József Attila utca.
You can’t miss the girls working with a bright red Kitchenaid behind the shop window overlooking the street, creating the most exquisite cakes, pastries, biscuits, macarons, and brownies in town. (Daubner, my other favourite cake shop, doesn’t count because it’s located at the end of the world).
Coffees, teas, Christmas specialties, savoury snacks are all available.
Stepping through the door you’ll encounter an enchanting shop dominated by the fragrant aroma or sugar, vanilla, chocolate, caramel and coffee.
Take a break and treat yourself to a slice of cake and a cup of hot coffee in this little gem of Budapest!
Past December Events
Saturnalia, 06. December, 2016., Aquincum Museum, Óbuda
Address: Aquincum Museum, Szentendrei út 135., district III.,
Getting there: Szentendre Suburban Railway H5, (HÉV), get off at Kaszásdűlő or Aquincum stop
The Saturnalia Festival in Aquincum Museum evokes how people celebrated the coming of winter in antiquity.
You can find out about this ancient pagan feast that preceded Christmas introduced by the Roman Catholic church.
Guided tour in the museum’s garden, Roman gingerbread and herbal tea tasting, participating in an ancient feast, and galanty show ensure an entertaining Sunday afternoon.
You can also try your hands at making antique gifts in the workshop (for that you have to pay a minimal fee to cover the expense of tools and materials).
Advent in Óbuda, 25. November – 18. December 2016.
Location: Óbuda-Main Square (Fő tér) and Szentlélek tér district III.
Opening hours of the Xmas market: Mon-Thurs: 14.00-21.00, Fri-Sun: 10.00-22.00
The Main Square of Óbuda as well as the Szentlélek tér, a 2 minute walk from Main Sqr., turn into a wonderful Christmas venue each year.
A tall Christmas tree, craft fair, and tasty local food offering authentic Hungarian food (stuffed cabbage, Fishermen’s soup, veal paprikash, roast goose, strudel, oven-baked bread, and fragrant winter drinks) welcome everyone in the Advent period.
You can skate on the ice rink for free (skate rental is available for 600 HUF for adults and 400 HUF for children) every day from 8.00 till 22.00.
Don’t forget to view the photo exhibition introducing old Christmas, New Year and other folk traditions, how people lived in the village in winter. Find out more about the Advent Festival in Óbuda!
Address: Ybl Miklós tér 2-6., district I., Buda
Getting there: bus No. 16. or No. 105 (you can get on at Deák F. Sqr. in Pest centre, or at Széchenyi tér at the ChainBridge, get off at Clark Adam tér, then a few minutes walk)
Dates: 27. November, 04., 11., 18. December 2016.
Entry: free to most programs, theatre performances can be attended with tickets (cc. 2 900 HUF)
The finely restored historic building complex, Várkert Bazaar & Royal Gardens at the southern foot of the Castle Hill host a series of programs on Sundays preceding Christmas, between 27. November and 24. December.
Families with kids can choose from lots of things to do: craft workshops, playhouse, interactive performances.
A small ice rink (free to use) makes the event even more tempting and atmospheric this year.
Concerts, folk performances and a wonderful festive atmosphere await everyone at one of Budapest’s top landmarks.
The most spectacular attraction of the event will be Europe’s largest Advent candles installation created by the Hello Wood international art project in front of the Bazaar.
Each Sunday a candle will light up on the wreath marking the approach of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Candle lighting ceremonies: 27. Nov: 16.30, 04. Dec: 16.00, 13. Dec: 18.00, 18. Dec: 18.00.
Find out more about the programs.TIP: Browse our Christmas in Budapest page to see how Hungarian prepare for the holiday! Related: Budapest Programs, Things to Do in November – October Events, Festival, Program Tips – Top Winter Activities & Programs