18 Best Things to Do in Budapest, Hungary
In this blog post and the ones that follow, I will be telling you about the top must-visit attractions and things to do in different cities in Europe to help you make the most of your trips and stress less when it comes to planning!
The first on the list is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities; Budapest (pronounced Boo-Da-Pesht). United by 3 unified cities, with Buda and Obuda on the west bank of the Danube and Pest on the east bank, Budapest is a stunning city that’s known for its rich historic landmarks, gorgeous architecture, and its relaxed, laid-back energy.
There are so many things to do and see in this sophisticated city; from the thermal baths to the ruin bars to the delicious local dishes, in this article, I have compiled a list of the top 15 things you can visit and do in Budapest, Hungary.
USEFUL TIP: try to book tours and tickets in advance in order to avoid unpleasant surprises. Consider the Budapest City Card for unlimited use of public transport, free entrance to museums, a guided tour, and discounts.
Be ready, Budapest is going to exceed all of your expectations!
Everybody, strap yourselves in because Giorgy aka G-Extreme is about to share the Best Things to Do in Budapest (Hungary)!
NOTICE: The information here is updated as best we can in light of COVID-19. Please check before you go anywhere what modifications have taken place to avoid any inconvenience!
1. Buda Castle
What is it?
This breathtaking baroque-style castle sits atop Castle Hill, surrounded by the touristic area known as Várnegyed (Castle Quarter), which is famous for medieval, Baroque, and Neoclassical houses, churches, public buildings, and monuments.
Buda Castle is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is packed with history as it has been destroyed and reconstructed over the ages. It also contains the Hungarian National Gallery, the Castle Museum, and the National Széchenyi Library.
Not only is the castle mesmerizing on the inside, but it also has a gorgeous view of the Parliament Building, the river Danube and the Bridge connecting Buda and Pest.
Hey Goofball! If you want a fun and quick way to visit the castle without having to do the gym and find yourself exhausted after climbing all the way to the top on foot; I’d suggest you take the short cable car funicular railway. You just pay €5.50 (back and forward) and get to the top just in 10 minutes!!! I mean, why not?
2. Fisherman Bastion
What is it?
The Fisherman Bastion, built between 1895 and 1902, is one of Budapest’s most famous and important neo-Gothic attractions offering a mesmerizing panorama on Castle Hill (offering a magnificent view of the Danube, Margaret Island, and of course Pest) one gets of Budapest from up there.
For unforgettable views in a fairy-tale setting, this large terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style is located in the castle of Buda and it gets its name from the legend that said that this part of the castle was protected by the guild of fishermen.
Its seven high-pitched stone towers symbolize the seven chieftains of the Hungarians who founded Hungary in 895 are also a must-see when you visit the Bastion! While up there, pop into one of the city’s most famous patisseries (200-year-old Ruszwurm Confectionery)
3. Parliament Building
What is it?
One of the city’s most famous landmarks – The Hungarian Parliament Building is the largest building in Hungary, home to hundreds of parliamentary offices, and is celebrated for its gothic revival architecture.
If you’re interested in the history of Hungary, you should definitely take the 45-minute guided tour of this remarkable neo-Gothic building. This expert tour guide is going to offer you some insight into the history of the building and the political history of Budapest, have the opportunity to see some of the 691-room buildings famed for their Gothic Revival architecture, ornate statues, and gorgeous paintings. Of course not to miss seeing the Royal Crown!
Okay, all right, not only this impressive building looks fantastic from every angle, you have to have a look from the other side of the Danube… you would see the whole building in its full glory then! If you then combine it with a dinner cruise; speechless!
4. Take a Danube River Cruise
What is it?
The Danube River splits the city into two parts, Buda and Pest, and it offers an amazing view of the main sights on both sides.
If you’re heading to Budapest and have no clue where to go, the Danube River is a great place to start.
It’s also recommended that you take this river cruise at night to experience the breathtaking view of the lights twinkling on the banks of the Danube. You can book a guided tour where you will be provided with facts about the history of Budapest, or you can book a dinner cruise if you’re looking for something a bit more romantic.
5. Danube Promenade – The Shoes on the Danube Bank
What is it?
A heartbreaking memorial to 3’500 people killed by fascists in Budapest during the Second World War.
This short interesting stretch of the Danube walkway, starting from the Elizabeth Bridge to the Chain Bridge, is a great way to see most of the famous sights in the capital. Maybe you’ve heard of “The Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial”? This is one of the most heartbreaking and unforgettable landmarks in Budapest –
This poignant sculpture made up of 60 pairs of cast irons shoes designed by Can Togay and Gyula Pauer, is located on the Pest side of the Danube Promenade and was built on April 16 2005 to pay tribute to the Jews who were massacred by fascist Hungarian militia belonging to the Arrow Cross Party in Budapest during the Second World War. The victims were ordered to remove their shoes and were shot by the edge of the river where their bodies fell.
Along with the Shoes on the Danube, you have an interesting look over the Buda Castel, the Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill, and the Fisherman’s Bastion. It also offers more than just sightseen; restaurants, a range of different sculptures (the Little Princess), cafes, and more to discover!
Advice: when leaving parliament it is recommended that you continue a little along the Danube to see the shoes on the banks of the Danube.
6. Soak in the Széchenyi Baths
What is it?
Did you know that there are 118 mineral pools in Budapest? If you don’t know where to start off, The Szechenyi Spa Baths are one of the best and largest “medicinal” bath centers in Europe and it’s situated in the biggest green park in Budapest. It also happens to be the city’s first bath, dating back to 1913. The spa has more than 10 pools with different temperatures, massage rooms, saunas, steam rooms, and even a beer bath.
Did you happen to say massage? Giorgy happened to do a massage and some beauty treatments available at an additional fee. BTW I came out reborn.
It’s the perfect place to visit if you want a relaxing and rejuvenating experience while still enjoying Budapest’s historic landmarks. If you’re looking for a fun wild experience, The Széchenyi Baths also turn into a Sparty at night where your bathing experience will be complemented with live music and visual effects!
Hey Goofball! If you prefer a less touristic and uncrowded thermal Spa, you should check out the Gellert Bath and Spa center. The choice is yours.
7. St. Stephen’s Basilica
What is it?
St. Stephen’s, located in the heart of Pest, is the largest church in Budapest and the most important church building in whole Hungary.
It is named in honor of Stephen, the first King of Hungary, and is now one of the most significant tourist attractions in Budapest. Because this is a holy site, you are asked to cover your knees and shoulders if you plan on entering the church which btw can hold up to 8’500 people.
This neoclassical building houses a gorgeous interior with awe-inspiring paintings and mosaics decorating the walls and ceilings. The admission fee is well worth it, climbing up the stairs and accessing the church’s dome for a 360° view of Budapest’s city center (weather permitted).
Fun fact: Admission is not 100% free (a donation of 200 HUF is strongly encouraged) or, why not treat yourself to an organ or a string concert in St. Stephen’s Basilica.
8. Margaret Island
What is it?
Margaret Island, or Margitsziget, is a 2.5 km long island that sits in the middle of the Danube, just after the parliament, between the Margaret Bridge and the Árpád Bridge. People named is also the city’s green lung.
It’s the perfect spot to just lay back, relax, and take a little walk in the green. Along with notable medieval ruins and a small aviary, it houses a small Japanese Garden with a mildly thermal fish pond and a tiny zoo featuring a wide range of exotic waterfowl among other animals.
Its most popular attraction, though, is the dancing music fountain which pairs dancing water jets with both music and an impressive light show.
Hey Goofball! You can decide to explore this beauty on foot, or there are a number of companies that rent pedal carts, or other self-powered vehicles, in order to explore the island properly. Or, if you are extreme, go on the 5.5 km running track to escape the hustle and bustle of the city!
9. Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker
What is it?
The Hospital in the Rock, or Sziklakorhaz, is a fascinating and moving museum that’s located beneath the Buda Castle district.
It was built in a 10km long natural cave system to serve as a secret military hospital and bunker during WWII. The hospital was later used to produce vaccines against typhus by the Vaccine-Producing Institute.
In 2007, the Hospital was renovated and became a museum and is currently the biggest Hungarian waxwork exhibition with more than 40 realistic re-creations and historical displays with wax figures. To make the best of this impressive place and know more about its history, it’s recommended that you book a guided tour.
Hey Goofball! Keep in mind you are not allowed to take any pictures while inside of it, therefore ain’t pictures.
10. The Hungarian State Opera House
Even if you’re not a fan of the opera, like Giorgy, a visit to this enchanting neo-renaissance building opera house is a must.
The stunning architecture and interior décor are worth the trip alone; from inside, the building is decorated with beautiful sculptures and paintings, and Statues of the world’s greatest composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi embellish the entrance.
If you’re in luck, you can enjoy a variety of impressive performances, including Opera and ballet; remember this is considered one of the best in the world for operatic performances!
11. Széchenyi Chain Bridge
What is it?
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is a chain bridge that spans the River Danube linking Buda to Pest, the western and eastern sides of Budapest. Designed by English engineer William Tierney Clark and built by Scottish engineer Adam Clark, this bridge was considered an architectural wonder at the time and its significance still remains to this day.
This bridge is historically important, completed in 1849, is now a symbol of bringing people together from the east to the west. It takes about 15 minutes to stroll across; so you can enjoy the exquisite view of the river, especially at night.
12. The Great Market Hall
What is it?
The Great Market Hall or Central Market Hall, is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest, Hungary where you can pick up the best local produce and handicrafts.
It’s a restored neo-Gothic 19th-century building that holds more than 100 stalls over 3 floors and it’s the perfect chance for you to get a taste of Hungarian local food and enjoy some wine tasting as well. It’s also a great place to pick up some authentic Hungarian souvenirs for your loved ones.
The Market Hall consists of 3 floors. It is on the ground floor that we think the most interesting part is located: dozens and dozens of fruit and vegetable stands and endless paprika!
13. Heroes’ Square
What is it?
Heroes’ square, or Hősök tere, is a major square in Hungary and is mostly symbolic and marks the end of Andrassy Avenue.
The square is known for its iconic statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars, who are believed to have led the Hungarian people from central Asia to the Carpathian Basin, and other important Hungarian national leaders, as well as the Memorial Stone of Heroes, which is intended to commemorate those who have died defending Hungary.
Along with a variety of other historic Hungarian figures, atop the central pillar is the Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian crown. This impressive building is located between the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art on the right, so you can check these out as well while you’re there!
Hey Goofball! If you want to make the best out of your visit to Budapest, this might be a great way to explore the city in a short amount of time; Budapest Segway Tour.
14. Budapest’s Ruin Bars
What is it?
Budapest’s ruin bars are the jewel of Budapest’s nightlife and are an important checkpoint in the Budapest experience.
These bars are located in the Jewish quarter (also known as the seventh district) the city’s epicentre of cool, where you can take a Pub Crawl (a tour through the bars in town) if you want to experience different places and meet different people, or you can simply hang out at Szimpla Kert, Budapest’s best and oldest ruin bar.
Szimpla Kert was established in 2001 and set the trend for the rest of the bars. It was once an abandoned factory and now it has a large open courtyard, a top floor filled with unique furniture, cocktail bars, music, and even an old, stripped-down Trabant (a communist car) to have a drink in.
Hey Goofball! Pssst… this is located in the huge, dilapidated building with an open courtyard and a labyrinth of rooms decorated with eclectic furniture, edgy artwork, and mind-bending communist memorabilia… don’t forget to have a look around too; its worth a visit itself along with a shot of Unicum (traditional Hungarian herbal liqueur)!
15. Dohány Street Synagogue
What is it?
The Dohány Street Synagogue was built between 1854 and 1859 and is Europe’s largest place of Jewish worship and one of the largest in the world, with a capacity of 3000 people.
Designed in the Moorish revival style, this synagogue is a wondrous sight to see: stunning architecture and interior decor are worth the trip alone. The synagogue complex is also home to the Heroes’ Temple, the cemetery, the Memorial park, and the Jewish Museum, granting your tour with the rich history of Jews in Hungary.
Tip: skip the line at the Synagogue by purchasing your ticket now!
16. Budapest Secret Walking/Biking Tour
What is it?
Showing you the best of Budapest’s quirkier, lesser-known sights by walking or biking around.
Keep at least a half-day free for this kind of tour, leading you to tranquil private gardens usually closed to the public and more hidden side of Budapest.
Hey Goofball: purchase your ticket now!
17. House of Horror
What is it?
Building of the central office of AVO, the Communist secret police which nowadays is the house of a poignant museum commemorating the victims of the fascist and communist regimes.
The House of Horror is located in building number 60, Andrassy Avenue, of four floors full-field with a really interesting collection of first-hand accounts from survivors. I was shocked because this museum is going to blow up your mind completely on the discovery of the reality behind fascists and communist history.
Tip: If you need to visit something softer than this museum, I suggest you have a visit to the Flippermuseum!
Here I am sharing some useful tips for getting around the city:
- Getting Around: The metro system makes it extremely easy to get around and also cost-effective (single ticket costing about $1.68 or a pack of 10 which are around $1.40 a ticket);
- Understand the Money: being part of the European Union doesn’t mean using the Euro. Indeed Hungary is still using Hungarian Forint (HUG) which ~300 is equivalent to 1 USD. The conversion is not easy to figure out, so bear in mind when you’re getting money! Also, carry some cash on you as a lot of places do not accept cards.
- Sample the Local Dishes: have you ever heard of getting hungry in Hungary? Once you try it, there is no way back! Who doesn’t have a soft spot for fried bread and cheese named after Langosh the traditional Hungarian snack?
- Tipping is Customary: unlike other places in Europe, it is standard to tip the service at restaurants and bars in Hungary. More like the USA!
Budapest is one of Europe’s richest and most interesting cities, and whether you’re a solo traveler, traveling with your partner, or your family, this city is full of beautiful parks, incredible architecture, hip bars, and food will for sure find something to pique your interest.
These are my picks for the best 17 things to do in Budapest if you decide to visit! Keep in mind Budapest is becoming more and more popular with European travelers and backpackers alike!
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