Conventions

Winter in Hungary



Hungary looks magical in winter. If you are lucky, you can see the city covered in snow, which is a special experience. Budapest and the countryside are perfect places to recharge.

Icy pleasures

Hungary is a beautiful place. In addition to its natural beauty, it has rich cultural heritage.

 

The tourists love the city even in colder winter months; the city reveals a special face in this period. Officially, spring and summer are considered as sightseeing season, but in the period from December to March a myriad of programmes, things to see and interesting things to do are offered to the visitor.

 

The winter season is slower and calmer, which is especially nice if you want to leave the daily stress behind for a while. Ice skating is an excellent activity for this—especially if it’s in Europe’s largest outdoor skating rink. It’s located in a wonderful environment, in the City Park. The skating rink’s reception building, which looks like a small palace, and the figures gliding on the ice are such a lovely sight that those who did not think of putting on skates spend a long time watching them on the nearby bridge, even when the weather is cold.

 

On the other side of the skating rink Vajdahunyad Castle strengthens the feeling that this scene is from the illustration of a book of fairytales. If you long for a rare natural experience, you need to visit the frozen Balaton. You will be surprised at the buzz that characterises the neighbourhood of the Hungarians’ favourite lake at this time of the year.

 

Life in coffeehouses

Hungarian people love spending time in friendly cafés, and both Budapest and the country towns are full of those.

 

Besides the modern specialty coffee shops, there are several traditional institutions which are inherent in the cultural traditions of Hungary: in past times, the figures of the literary and art scene of the cities virtually lived their lives in these places. You can still feel something of the old-fashioned attention and intimacy that used to characterise Europe before World War II.

 

When walking around Budapest’s Jewish district you should have a slice of flódni with your coffee. The layers of this traditional Jewish cake consist of poppy seed filling flavoured with nuts and orange peel, grated apple and home-made apricot marmalade. It looks spectacular, but its taste is even better and complex.

A handful of roasted chestnut

In Hungary, it is important to find a way to warm yourself in winter months. Stop in the street in front of the metal stove of one of the many pop-up chestnut sellers, and buy a portion of hot roast chestnut! It will be hard to resist, as the smell is tempting from far away.

 

The sellers do not have a fix place and time: they usually show up in the busiest spots, traffic nodes and around railway stations. Enjoy the taste and smell of the chestnut evoking the winter holiday season, then head back to explore the city!

 

Opera or ballet?

Hungarians are very proud of their world-famous musicians and opera singers as well as their opera house and classical theatres. When winter comes, and the decorated Christmas trees appear all around, the Nutcracker is always on the repertoire. What is the Radio City Christmas Rockettes Show for New York, that is the Nutcracker for Budapest. The favourite of every generation: it has to be seen at least once in a lifetime.

 

Festive lights

In wintertime, Hungary dresses up in festive lights: many streets are decorated at this time, but the most beautiful avenue in Budapest, Andrássy út, is awarded with the most spectacular lights.

 

In the evenings during the Christmas season, the serious-looking St. Stephen’s Basilica entertains the people gathering in the square, enjoying the atmosphere of the advent market, with a laser show.

 

Some of the public transport vehicles also receive a little of the Christmas atmosphere: tram line two is unrecognisably dazzling in this period. Santa’s Trolleybus, lit with thousand of small lights, runs at this time as well.

 

You can travel together with Santa Claus, and you can give him your donation so that he can deliver it to those living in the poor areas of the country. These are the most atmospheric vehicles of the city. The Christmas decorations of the country towns rivals those of the capital city, and the smaller villages are particularly charming with their decorated houses.

Snowy landscapes

Lake Velence is Hungary’s third largest lake. In winters, if it’s cold enough, this romantic place transforms into a natural skating rink. It’s easy to access from Budapest, and you will enjoy it even if you don’t ice skate, but just join those strolling.

 

However, you don’t even have to leave the city: Normafa is a popular hiking place on the Buda side, where families go skiing and sledging. Or just for the sake of the view. The bobsleigh track in Visegrád, located near Budapest, is open all year round, while the snowy tracks of the Mátra Mountains, the highest point of the country, are also filled with people doing sports and sledding.

 

The waterfalls in the Bükk Mountains are spectacular as the cold days transform them into ice curtains. The caves in the neighbourhood of Lillafüred can be visited in winter as well.

For body and soul

An active day spent sightseeing can be followed by a day of total indulgence. Wherever you go in Hungary, you will find a swimming pool or spa within easy access. You have nothing to do: just stretch, relax and enjoy the massage of your choice. There aren’t many things better than cleaning your body and soul in a steam bath or a sauna in a winter afternoon.

A bad day for the pig

One of most typical village events in the countryside is pig slaughter. It has a real ritual: the event starts early in the morning, and the sausage will be made by the time the sun goes sown.

 

The purpose of pig slaughters is not only to fill the pantry. On these occasions, families and groups of friends gather to enjoy each other’s company. You may be lucky if you know a Hungarian family or person who invites you to such an event. If there’s no chance of that, you can participate in an event like this within the framework of a public programme.

 

Prepare yourself: you will taste lots of things, as many foods are prepared on these occasions. It’s safe to say that you will get to know the most popular dishes of traditional Hungarian kitchen, and perhaps you will join the sausage making too. If you are attracted to kitchen pleasures, you can learn in the half-day workshops of the Budapest cooking schools how to make a real goulash or traditional leavened bread.

The most funniest winter activity in the countryside is the pig slaughter

The end of winter

The most colourful and creepy as well as interesting celebration of the winter season is Busójárás. This is a carnival season tradition Mohács—situated in southern part of Hungary—to scare away winter. The marchers wander around the streets of Mohács, making a big noise. They wear special costumes and accessories. Their self-craved masks are made with artistic sophistication, they hold in their hands oversized rattles and other tools able to make noise, so that the noises scare away the harmful powers of winter and make way for spring and renewal. If successful, they ignite a huge bonfire in the evening.

Weather

Hungary’s winter is the most difficult to forecast, as it tends to surprise us each year. It can be unusually mild, accompanied with heavy snowfalls, its dampness can be bone-chilling, but it can also be sparklingly bone dry with crystal blue clear skies.

 

There’s nothing to do but to consider the average and acknowledge that you should pack a variety of clothes for the trip. The average values: January is the coldest month, the average daytime temperature is below 0 °C (32 F) degrees. Snow in the cities melts in a few days, but if you are lucky enough to experience a snowfall, you can admire the sight of the white capital city!

Our tip

Prepare with layered wear, windproof hooded jacket. It’s not at all sure that you will actually need it, but if you do, think of the good advice we gave you!