I find it quite difficult to write an unbiased post about the things to see and do in Budapest, the capital of my own country. Since I have lived far from my home country for almost a decade now, I can’t help feeling a lot of nostalgia, but at the same time being somewhat an outsider, going home year by year, I have been able to appreciate the progress my capital has gone through for the last years.
There are many things that still require improvement, however, for the recent few years the city has become much more organized. The public transport has become much more modern and efficient, an endless number of well-recognized restaurants have made international food from any imaginable countries available to the inhabitants of the city (many of the restaurants being inexpensive) and numerous bars have become a topic of conversation and subject of appreciation amongst fellow travelers.
Hence, it is even hard to limit myself to a certain number of things to do in Budapest, as there are so many of them. In this subjective list I give you a selection, exactly 20 reasons to visit Budapest, of the things I find most delightful. I would recommend you to do at least some of them, when you travel to Budapest the next time either it will be your first time or you have already acquired taste of the Hungarian capital.
- Best things to see and do in Budapest
- 1. Enjoy the views of Budapest
- 2. Visit one of the most beautiful parliaments in Europe
- 3. Visit Budapest’s Royal Palace
- 4. Take a ride on Tram Number 2
- 5. Explore the memorial park around the National Theater
- 6. Enjoy one of the many thermal baths of the city
- 7. Walk around the City Park
- 8. Visit the unique Matthias Church
- 9. Travel back in history taking a ride on the first underground line of the continent
- 10. Enjoy the atmosphere of Budapest’s many famous markets
- 11. Imagine yourself as one of the Hungarian revolutionaries of 1848 on the steps of the National Museum
- 12. Cross as many bridges over the Danube as possible
- 13. Look down on the city from the Fisherman’s Bastion
- 14. Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica and encounter the mummified right hand of the first Hungarian king
- 15. Hop on a boat for a river cruise on the Danube
- 16. Visit the largest synagogue in Europe and enjoy the inspiring atmosphere of the Jewish Quarter around
- 17. Watch an opera concert in one of Europe’s most prestigious opera houses
- 18. On a sunny day, go for a picnic to Margaret Island!
- 19. Walk along Andrássy Avenue and meet the Hungarian kings on Heroes’ Square
- 20. Enjoy the ruin bars of Budapest
- +1. Excursions from Budapest
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Best things to see and do in Budapest
1. Enjoy the views of Budapest
Breathtaking views of the city and the Danube can be appreciated from several points in the Buda Hills. The most amazing is that from Gellért Hill, but the views from Buda Castle are also pretty spectacular.
2. Visit one of the most beautiful parliaments in Europe
The beauty of the fascinating neo-gothic Hungarian Parliament on the bank of the Danube River can be appreciated from either close or the other side of the river. When you visit Budapest, it is also worth dedicating some time to visit the interior. The Assembly Hall is simply marvelous, it’s quite often said in Hungary that we wish our politicians deserved this beautiful working place. By the way, the Hungarian crown jewels can also be found in the Parliament building.
3. Visit Budapest’s Royal Palace
There’s no building that represents better the turbulent history of Hungary than the neo-baroque palace on top of the Castle Hill. Occupied and destroyed several times, now it’s the heart of the Budapest World Heritage Site. The castle area can be visited for free, you need to pay only to visit the museums there.
4. Take a ride on Tram Number 2
When you visit Budapest for the first time, if you want to enjoy perfect views of the Buda Hills and the Danube, there’s no better option than taking this tram, which was chosen to be one of the 10 most amazing tram routes of the world, and it is available using a normal public transport ticket. An amazing deal for such a scenic ride!
5. Explore the memorial park around the National Theater
The new National Theater of Hungary and the Palace of Arts were built at the beginning of this new millennium, and they show a more modern side of Budapest. Both these modern buildings and the memorial park in the surroundings deserve some exploration, and walking here is one of my favorite things to do in Budapest. The construction of this area had a lot of controversy back then, but this area has become a local favorite ever since.
6. Enjoy one of the many thermal baths of the city
Amongst the major attractions of the city we find the thermal baths, and the city is addressed with the title “City of Spas” amongst the visitors. There are as much as 15 public thermal baths in the city, most of them in beautiful buildings like the Hotel Gellért or the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. What I find the most amazing thing to do in Budapest is to try the exterior part of these spas in winter, when the thermal baths are surrounded by a vapor cloud because of the freezing temperatures.
7. Walk around the City Park
One of the most pleasant things to do in Budapest, if you want get away from crowded places, is a walk in the City Park, the largest green area in central town. Apart from the tranquility of this wooded area, you can find many not so frequented tourist sights here, such as the Vajdahunyad Castle with a small pond around or the statue of Anonymus, the first Hungarian medieval chronicler. If you look for some romanticism, take a boat ride on the small pond.
8. Visit the unique Matthias Church
The neo-gothic Matthias Church that served as a wedding church in the glorious era of King Matthias is well worth a visit both from the outside and on the inside. The peculiar colored roofs and interior decorated with artistic glass walls and beautiful frescoes all contribute to the charming character of the building.
9. Travel back in history taking a ride on the first underground line of the continent
Another trip back to the 19th century, which only costs you a single metro ticket, is taking a ride on the Yellow Underground Line (Line 1). The UNESCO World Heritage metro line, which the locals simply refer to as “the underground”, has been operative since 1896, and is the oldest underground of continental Europe (it was opened a few years after the metro in London).
10. Enjoy the atmosphere of Budapest’s many famous markets
If you want an immersion into local culture, when you visit Budapest, a great way is to visit one of the many markets of the city. The Central Market Hall with its beautiful building is probably the most frequented one amongst tourists, and although there is a quite extensive part that sells Hungarian souvenirs, most of the market still serves as a local market. Although it’s quite touristy, you can also try some of the local favorites on the upper floor.
11. Imagine yourself as one of the Hungarian revolutionaries of 1848 on the steps of the National Museum
The neoclassical Hungarian National Museum, which is the main museum of Hungarian history, is mostly remembered for its role in the Hungarian revolution of 1848-49. On 15th March 1848 the 12 points were read on the steps of the museum, which was the first act of the revolution against the Habsburg Empire. The museum has become a symbol of our national identity, so if you close your eyes, you might imagine yourself in the middle of a revolutionary march.
12. Cross as many bridges over the Danube as possible
Budapest is also famous for the beautiful bridges over the Danube, which connect hilly Buda with flat Pest, the two significantly different parts of the city, which were actually two cities till 1873. The most impressive one probably is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, but the others are also worth your time. Crossing the bridges lets you see the city and the Danube from a different perspective, so it’s really one of the great things to do in Budapest.
13. Look down on the city from the Fisherman’s Bastion
The neo-gothic style Fisherman’s Bastion is the most beautiful lookout terrace in the Castle Hill area. It consists of seven towers, representing the Hungarian 7 clan leaders who brought the Hungarian people to their actual homeland. The views of both Pest and the Danube are amazing from here.
If you want more information about the historical sights in Budapest, you can read here about the most important sights of the Old Town.
14. Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica and encounter the mummified right hand of the first Hungarian king
The neoclassical St. Stephen’s Basilica, the principal church of Hungary, is an impressive building from the outside, which can be contemplated from the square in front of it. The interior decoration with mosaics is also precious, but the main attraction on the inside is the mummified right hand of St. Stephen, the first Hungarian Catholic king. The hand has been kept in the church and it’s taken out for a procession on 20th August every year to commemorate the foundation of the country. The acoustics of the basilica is also world famous, therefore it’s almost mandatory to attend a classical music concert inside like an Organ Concert in Saint Stephen’s Basilica.
15. Hop on a boat for a river cruise on the Danube
The Danube literally cuts Budapest in half, why wouldn’t you take advantage of the possibility of seeing the most fascinating sights from the river itself? Hence, one of the things to do in Budapest that I can really recommend you is hopping on a boat, and enjoying Budapest from the Danube. Since quite recently there has been boats integrated into the public transport network, which represent the most budget option. However, if you fancy, you can also opt for different kinds of river cruises, and you can even have a romantic dinner or party on one of the available cruises. If you look for an excursion from Budapest, you can take these boats to get to several important historical sights, such as the medieval village of Szentendre or the Castle in Visegrád.
Danube Sunset Cruise
Danube River Cruise with buffet
Budapest Folk Show & Dinner Cruise at 10pm
16. Visit the largest synagogue in Europe and enjoy the inspiring atmosphere of the Jewish Quarter around
The Dohány Street Synagogue is situated in the heart of the Jewish Quarter in Budapest. This impressive synagogue is known to be the largest one in Europe. There’s also a small Jewish cemetery next to the synagogue building. The neighbourhood around is one of the most vibrant ones in the city with dozens of bars (some of them in building ruins), which provide a really cool atmosphere, especially in summer, when the terraces are filled with people.
17. Watch an opera concert in one of Europe’s most prestigious opera houses
The Hungarian State Opera House, one of the gems of the neo-renaissance architecture of the Austria-Hungary era is a beautiful building and it’s worth taking a guided tour to visit the concert hall, even if you can’t get to attend an actual performance. When you visit Budapest, if you feel attraction to this genre, don’t miss out on attending an opera here, since the acoustics of the building is considered one of the best ones in the world and the program is really top class.
Looking for more tips? Check out here some alternative plans for you to check out in Budapest.
18. On a sunny day, go for a picnic to Margaret Island!
There are certain historic monuments or activities that you can skip when you visit Budapest, but spending some time on Margaret Island should be really on the top of your list of things to do in Budapest. It is easily accessible by tram, there are some interesting medieval ruins on the island, facilities to do sport, bars to have a drink in one of the terraces, but the best thing to do is to find a spot on one of the green areas and enjoy a picnic there.
19. Walk along Andrássy Avenue and meet the Hungarian kings on Heroes’ Square
Andrássy Avenue is another one of Budapest’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which features beautiful mansions on both sides (many of them foreign embassies nowadays) along with fancy restaurants, cafés and luxury shops. The avenue leads you to the magnificent Heroes’ Square, where you can find the Millennium Memorial built for the 1000 year anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin. The monument features statues of the most important personalities of Hungarian history, many kings amongst them. For art lovers, the Museum of Fine Arts situated on one side of the square also deserves some time, the Spanish collection with paintings of Goya and Velazquez is especially attractive.
20. Enjoy the ruin bars of Budapest
After so many monuments and historical sights, you will surely want to have some fun, and what better thing to do in Budapest at night than having a few drinks in some of the world famous ruin bars? From the many options you don’t know which one to pick, do you? There are several companies that offer you a tour around some of these ruin bars, based on our experience, we recommend you to try Pub Crawl Budapest that offers you a great tour around the best ruin pubs and awful lot of fun.
+1. Excursions from Budapest
If you have already got to visit most of the sights in Budapest, you can also consider some of the great day trips you can do to explore the rest of Hungary. Here are some of the greatest day tours you can book:
Danube Bend Day Trip: Esztergom, Visegrád & Szentendre
Lake Balaton and Herend Full-Day Trip
Puszta Day Trip with Equestrian Show
Gödöllö Palace and Horse Show
Where to stay in Budapest
There are far behind us the times when accommodation was cheap in Hungary, but you can still find quite reasonable options to sleep in Budapest without spending as much money as in Western Europe. The best areas are situated close to one of the metro stations or the main tram lines, from where you can get to the attractions in relatively short time.
Some of the best budget options we can recommend are Oasis Guest House and Flow Hostel, which are both rather cheap and close to the city center. Either D8 Hotel or Hotel Moments are great medium range options. There are also many great luxury hotels in Budapest. Our picks would be the majestic Queen’s Court Residence or Corinthia Hotel Budapest, which will become a memorable part of your visit to the city. If you look for accommodation, you can also check out this guide with some nice places to stay in Budapest.
How to get to Budapest
There are several options to get to the city center from Budapest Aiport. You can either take bus 200E, which is a regular bus that takes you to the last station of metro line 3 in Kobanya-Kispest or you can take 100E (special ticket required), which will take you directly to the city center. If you don’t want to lose time, you can also opt for this cheap transfer in Budapest.
How to get around in Budapest
The public transport network in Budapest is quite good, and although distances are long between different areas, you can get from one place to the other quite quickly. Nevertheless, if you want to feel really comfortable and don’t want to walk too much, you can also consider this Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour.
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