Budapest is an ancient city full of color and culture. First settled by the Celts in 1 A.D., it is located four hours southeast of Prague and is the historic capital of Hungary. The Danube River divides Budapest into the west side, still referred to as Buda, and the eastern side, Pest. The river continues into the Central European countryside, separating east and west. This landlocked Central European country shares its borders with Ukraine and Romania to the east and Slovakia to the north. The remaining boundaries buttress Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia.

Budapest is also a city of distinct seasons and dramatic weather changes. The warm summer days bless Budapest with deep blue skies, but winter brings deep snowfalls, covering the cobblestone streets.

Exciting any time of the year, choosing when to visit primarily depends on why you are going.

Overall, the best times to visit Budapest are from March to May and September to November. These months are known as the shoulder seasons – when the weather is ideal and the city isn’t too inundated. Tourist season is generally considered Mid-May to Mid-September when festivals and tours are in full swing. A handy pocket travel guide should save time and treasure if you are unfamiliar with Central Europe.

Avoiding high season is the goal of many. However, sticking to just the off-months, visitors will miss some of the best faces of the capital city. When researching your Budapest travels, consider a bit of advanced planning to ensure a smooth and memorable trip.

Winter in Budapest

Winter in Budapest exudes old-world charm. But because of the cold weather, November is often too snowy for walking or general sightseeing, and winter temperatures hover near freezing 32°F (0°). However, the city’s famous Széchenyi Spa thermal baths with private changing cabins are popular, and hotel discounts are available. 

Budapest has plenty of museums, concert halls, and theaters to keep everyone occupied throughout the low season. There are also numerous dining choices and energetic nighttime festivities.

A must-see museum is The Hungarian National Gallery, housed in the main wing of Buda Castle on the banks of the Danube River. The National Gallery contains an extensive collection of Hungarian history and art. Sculptures, relics, and paintings date from the time of the Magyar invasion in the early 9th century through the present day. 

No matter how cold the temperature, Hungarians love to ice skate. Budapest has four ice rinks, but the most famous is the Varosligeti Castle Outdoor Ice Rink Palace in City Park. The public lake is a simple boating lake in the summer. The lake transforms into the perfect ice skating and skiing venue during the winter. 

Christmas Markets

Deep into the winter months, as December nears, Budapest comes alive with the Winter Solstice. Hungarian music fills the streets throughout the Christmas season. The various Christkindlmarkets are in full splendor. The city’s oldest Christmas Market is in Vörösmarty Square – at the heart of town. Here shoppers stroll through vendor booths and snack on roasted chestnuts, and drink warmed Gluvine – a mulled or spiced wine. St Stephen’s Basilica (St. Istvan Bazilika) also holds a Christmas Market in St. Stephen’s Square, directly in front of the 250-year-old church. 

As Christmas comes to a close, thoughts turn to the new year. A musical celebration and a gala ball to welcome the new year, the New Year’s Concert at the Pesti Vigadó concert hall is one of the city’s most festivities.

Later in January, the temperature is still cold, but that doesn’t stop Budapest International Circus Festival in City Park. International and local circus acts and troupes gather for this gymnastic extravaganza.

Spring in Budapest

Budapest’s weather in the spring is pleasant. The daily average high is 62°F (17°C), while the nights remain chilly, around 38°F (4°C). But the warming temperatures bring promise and encourage walks through Budapest’s expansive parks and lunch al fresco. Spring starts with the first blossoms of the almond trees on Gellért Hill for many Hungarians. The blooming flowers and trees add fragrance and color to their city, beginning in March and April. 

Visitors to the ancient capital can enjoy life outdoors, but it’s still early enough in the season to avoid the large crowds.

Hungarians celebrate Easter as one of the harbingers of spring. So it is only natural that the Budapest Spring Festival begins in April. This 18-day festival includes over 200 events at multiple venues. Culture seekers will find everything from opera and theater performances to classical concerts, jazz, world music, and contemporary circus shows.

Later in the month, other outdoor festivals take place, like the new Jewish Art Days, which celebrate Jewish culture through sophisticated artistic performances, are popular. Hotels are still affordable, but reservations and pre-planning are a good idea.

Each May, the Budapest 100 commemorates the history and architecture of the city. Historic buildings are open, and admission is free to the public.

Summer in Budapest

The warmest time in Budapest is in the summer – from June to September. The city’s average temperature reaches 82°F (63°C), and it receives only a few days of rain each month.

While Budapest is famous for its summer festivals, this is also the peak season for tourism. Hotels and tours are at their busiest. And restaurants and tickets are all at a premium.

Summer in Hungary is marked by a Night of the Museum festival. A nationwide celebration is held on the eve of the Summer Solstice. There are 106 locations in Budapest that host concerts, guided tours, and interactive events. And 250 museums open across the country, closing at dawn.

Perhaps one of Budapest’s best-known landmarks is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge – an iron suspension and pedestrian bridge that connects Széchenyi Square on the Pest side and Clark Ádám Square in Buda.

July sees the return of the Hungarian Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Hungaroring in nearby Mogyoród. The F1 specialty race track is 15 km from the heart of Budapest. 

As the summer heats up, try some refreshing fun. The city’s indoor water theme park is one of the biggest in Europe – Aquaworld Resort Budapest. The family-friendly hotel sits on the outskirts of Budapest, at the Pest abutment of Megyeri Bridge.

Sziget Festival

But nothing in Budapest can beat the all-out five-day celebration of the Sziget Festival, held each August on Óbuda island (Óbudai-Sziget). Obuda Island is the largest of the Danubian Islands and sits off of the west bank, just north of the city. It is host to the outdoor international music festival and celebrates sustainable travel.

St Stephen’s Day, also known as Constitution Day, is August 20th and is a Hungarian national holiday. It is also “the day of the new bread,” referring to the tradition of cutting bread to celebrate the harvest. Usually the last large outdoor affair of the summer, it is marked by picnics and fireworks displays on the Danube Banks.

budapest travels chain bridge

Margaret Island, Budapest

If the bustle of the high season crowds begins to try your patience, a day in the public park of Margaret Island may be the solution. This secret island has a unique history

Originally a hunting reserve, it was first named Rabbit Island. In the 11th century, Hungarian King Béla founded a nunnery and sent his 11-year-old daughter, Margaret, to reside there.

Margaret Island is connected to Budapest by Margit hid (Margaret Bridge). Hiding in the middle of the Danube River, between Buda and Pest, verdant Margaret Island is a 238-acre – one square kilometer – getaway within the city.

While open year-round, summer and spring are the best times to visit Budapest’s Margaret Island. In winter, it is open but covered in snow. Pedestrian paths navigate around the parkland, a small zoo, a fascinating water tower, and the ruins of a 13th-century Dominican convent. The island’s Palatinus Strand or outdoor baths are popular with thermal baths and a wave pool. Many visitors enjoy the Japanese and Rose gardens on opposite sides of the island. And if one day of exploring this hidden gem isn’t enough, the island has three hotels, a restaurant, and a beach club. 

Fall in Budapest

The Fall in the Hungarian capital is exceptionally breathtaking. The changing colors make hiking in the low mountain range of Buda Hills a memorable experience. On the Buda side of Budapest, visitors can walk through the city, choosing from several areas, including Buda Hill and Castle Hill. Or take a break from walking and ride the Zugliget Chairlift up János Hill for spectacular views. Temperatures in the Fall range from 73°F( °C) to 39°F ( 2°C) as the days grow shorter. 

Fall is also a time of year when the Castle District comes alive. This Neo-Baroque-style structure gives its name to the surrounding district of picture-perfect cobbled streets, colorful buildings, and panoramic views of the city below. Walking to Buda Castle can be challenging – all uphill. Many tourists prefer taking public transportation or the  Funicular –a 95-meter vertical railway track with small compartments.

The Castle District holds many wonders, including Matthias Church. This distinctly Baroque-style Roman Catholic Church replaced an 11th-century church. Matthias Church was completed in 1269 and served as a mosque during the 16th-century Turkish reign.

Another location at Buda Castle is the Fisherman’s Bastion, a multi-spired building built in defense of the city in the late first century by the Fisherman’s Guild. The unique baroque turrets remind many of Cinderella castles.

In addition to breathtaking architecture, Budapest is famous for its harvest festivals. 

In September, the city gives way to the Budapest Wine Festival. This four-day fete is held at Buda Castle on the west bank of the Danube River, a World Heritage site. This distinctly Hungarian celebration includes wine tastings, charity wine auctions, lectures, food pairings, and music concerts. 

And not to be bested, this is the month that beer lovers extol the ‘perfection of beer.’ Budapest Beer Week gathers over 60 Hungarian microbreweries and guest breweries from the Czech Republic and Germany to sample craft brews in various pubs and outdoor bars.

The Castle District’s Budapest Pálinka and Sausage Festival is a grand October party with fruit brandy and sausages. The Fall is also time for CAFe Budapest – Budapest’s Autumn Festival. A free, multi-day celebration of contemporary art and design. 

October 23rd is also an important national holiday that marks the 1956 revolution.

And on November 1st, All-Saints Day, Hungarians pay homage to their loved ones. Traditionally, on this day, people visit graves and celebrate their ancestors’ lives in quiet and solemnity before Advent begins.

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