I’ve recently come back from a three week stint in Europe, visiting my boyfriend and doing a bit of skiing in the French Alps. Even though I’ve spent a winter and a half in Budapest before, I was a bit apprehensive about going in the middle of January. The last time I was there during winter in 2012, January and February winter brought with it massive snow storms and -20 degree weather. Not exactly ideal conditions to be visiting.
In reality, it wasn’t that bad and I had a great time exploring the city. Here’s why:
Weather might be a strange reason to be in Budapest in the winter, but hear me out. I lucked out and had a couple of gloriously beautiful days, along with a couple of rainy and miserable days. They weren’t without some biting cold winds though. Taking you hand out of your glove for a couple seconds meant instant frozen fingers. However, I think it is a lot more pleasant to be wandering around outside in the cold than in the 35 degree heat that you get in the summer in Budapest. Plus, when you get too cold, there are plenty of cafes and bars around the city to warm up in with a cup of mulled wine (or something stronger if you desire).
Speaking of cafes, Budapest in the winter is the perfect time to be cafe hopping. There are so many interesting places to check out like the cafe set in a beautiful room in the middle of a book store or perhaps the Japanese influenced Cat Cafe. During the day a lot of ruin bars turn into cafes and seeing them during the day is a completely different experience. If coffee isn’t your thing, order lemonade. I don’t know what Hungarians do that make it so tasty, but they make good lemonade.
I did a lot more of the conventional tourist activities on my visit this time around. Everywhere I went, there were minimal tourists. The city, felt much emptier compared to the hustle and bustle of the spring and summer. My visit to the Synagogue, Europe’s largest, was very quiet. There were only a handful of people in the building and there was no one else on my tour (included in the price). Just me and the tour guide. A similar thing happened at the Parliament building – I didn’t have to purchase tickets ahead of time and the group I was with was very small.
Take Advantage of the Baths
Budapest is known as the city of baths. It is built above a lot of thermal water and winter is the best time to take advantage of it all. I spent a morning soaking in the baths of Gellert and it was heaven. Nothing warms you up from the inside out than sitting in a pool of 38 degree water. Even a day later, I could still feel the relaxation seeping through my bones and muscles.
Visiting Budapest in the winter lends a sense of authenticity to the city. Without the mass influx of people visiting, it is just you, a couple others and the locals. You really get to see the city – the real Budapest, without the razzle and dazzle that comes with summer and beautiful weather, to distract you. You see the grit, you see the good and the bad and you see what makes the city tick.
Do you like traveling in the winter? Why or why not?