Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, is a place rich in history, architecture, and culture. This thriving metropolis of close to 2 million inhabitants seamlessly marries the old and the new, intertwining its medieval roots with a modern, cosmopolitan vibe. Budapest is often referred to as the ‘Paris of the East’ for its stunning architecture and vibrant energy, and it’s no surprise that it’s a top European destination. As a vibrant and thriving city with a rich and complicated history, there’s plenty to see, do, and taste in this magnificent city. So, let’s get into our exploration of the best things to do in Budapest.
Popular Tourist Attractions in Budapest
The Hungarian Parliament Building
One of the most iconic buildings in Budapest, the Hungarian Parliament Building is a marvel of Gothic Revival architecture. Located along the banks of the Danube River, its imposing structure is a sight to behold, particularly when lit up at night. The guided tours inside the parliament offer a fascinating glimpse into Hungary’s political history.
Perched high above the city on Castle Hill, Buda Castle is a historical palace complex that once housed Hungarian kings. Today, it’s home to the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum, both of which offer unique insights into the city’s past. Don’t miss the breathtaking views of the city from Fisherman’s Bastion, a neogothic terrace located in the castle complex.
Top Things to Do in Budapest
Exploring the City’s Thermal Baths
A unique feature of Budapest is its thermal baths, courtesy of the natural thermal springs underneath the city. The most famous of these is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, Europe’s largest medicinal bath. Spending a day here is not only a unique experience but also a great way to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
Cruising the Danube River
No visit to Budapest would be complete without a cruise on the Danube River. Whether it’s during the day or at night when the city’s landmarks are beautifully lit, a river cruise provides a unique perspective on this incredible city.
Must-See Places in Budapest
St. Stephen’s Basilica
This stunning neoclassical church is not only one of the most important religious buildings in Hungary but also home to some incredible views of the city. Climb to the top of the dome for a panoramic vista of Budapest that’s sure to leave you awestruck.
The Dohány Street Synagogue
As the largest synagogue in Europe, the Dohány Street Synagogue is an architectural masterpiece and a poignant reminder of Budapest’s Jewish history. The adjoining Hungarian Jewish Museum and Holocaust Memorial make this a must-visit site for history buffs.
Best Places to Visit in Budapest for First-Time Visitors
At the end of Andrássy Avenue, you’ll find Heroes’ Square, a grand plaza adorned with statues of Hungarian kings and leaders. It’s also a stone’s throw away from the City Park, where you can enjoy a relaxing stroll or visit the famous Vajdahunyad Castle and the Széchenyi Thermal Bath.
Central Market Hall
For food lovers, the Central Market Hall is a culinary paradise. Here, you can sample traditional Hungarian dishes, browse local produce, and pick up some unique souvenirs.
Best Places to Visit in Budapest for Families
Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden
One of the oldest zoos in the world, the Budapest Zoo is an excellent place for a family outing. It boasts a wide variety of animals and beautiful botanical gardens, providing both education and fun.
This tranquil island in the middle of the Danube is perfect for family picnics or leisurely walks. With playgrounds, a small zoo, and even a water park, Margaret Island offers a host of family-friendly activities.
Best Places to Visit in Budapest for Couples
The City Park’s Ice Rink
In winter, the ice rink in the City Park is a magical spot. Skating hand-in-hand with your loved one under the stars, with Vajdahunyad Castle as your backdrop, is nothing short of a fairytale experience.
Dinner Cruise on the Danube River
Enjoy a romantic dinner cruise along the Danube. With the city lights twinkling in the backdrop and a delicious meal in front of you, it’s a perfect evening for any couple.
Best Places to Visit in Budapest on a Budget
Walking Tour of Budapest
Free walking tours are a great way to explore Budapest without breaking the bank. They typically cover the major sights and provide a wealth of information about the city’s history and culture.
For a cost-free activity with a big payoff, hike up Gellért Hill. At the summit, you’ll find the Liberty Statue and unparalleled views of Budapest.
Best Day Trips from Budapest
Famous for its castle, thermal baths, and red wines, Eger is a charming town that makes for a perfect day trip from Budapest. Don’t forget to sample some of the local Egri Bikavér, a robust red wine blend also known as ‘Bull’s Blood’.
The largest lake in Central Europe, Lake Balaton, is less than two hours from Budapest. It’s perfect for a summer getaway, with beaches, vineyards, and quaint lakeside towns.
Hidden Gems in Budapest
The Hospital in the Rock
This former secret emergency hospital and nuclear bunker is now a museum, showcasing a less-known side of Budapest’s history during WWII and the Cold War.
The Ruin Pubs of Budapest
Tucked away in the city’s Jewish Quarter, these unique bars, set in abandoned buildings, are filled with eclectic décor and a buzzing atmosphere.
Off-the-Beaten-Path Places in Budapest
This might seem like a morbid suggestion, but Kerepesi Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Hungary, filled with ornate tombs and quiet paths. It offers a peaceful respite from the bustling city.
The Children’s Railway
Run almost entirely by children under adult supervision, this narrow-gauge railway in the Buda Hills offers a unique experience and a scenic ride.
Best Places to Eat in Budapest
New York Café
For a taste of old-world elegance, visit the New York Café. Often referred to as the world’s most beautiful café, it serves classic Hungarian dishes in an opulent setting.
Street Food Karavan
Located next to Szimpla Kert, one of Budapest’s famous ruin pubs, the Street Food Karavan is a must-visit for food truck-style dishes from around the world.
Nightlife in Budapest
Budapest’s nightlife is infamous, and no place encapsulates it better than Szimpla Kert. As the city’s first ruin pub, it offers a unique nightlife experience amidst its quirky and eclectic decor.
For live music enthusiasts, the A38 Ship, a concert venue on a renovated Ukrainian stone-carrier ship, is an absolute must-visit. Its diverse program features both Hungarian and international artists.
Budapest, with its beautiful architecture, vibrant culture, and rich history, is a treasure trove of experiences. No matter your interest there are so many things to do in Budapest – be it food, history, culture, or simply enjoying beautiful vistas – Budapest has something for everyone. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready for an unforgettable trip to this gem of Eastern Europe.
Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Budapest
Budapest experiences a full range of seasons, with each offering its own unique charm. For milder weather and fewer crowds, spring (March-May) and fall (September-November) are excellent times to visit. However, Budapest in winter is especially enchanting, with snow-covered landscapes and bustling Christmas markets.
While you can get a good sense of the city in two to three days, it’s best to spend at least four to five days in Budapest. This allows time to see the main attractions, explore off-the-beaten-path locations, indulge in the city’s gastronomy, and even enjoy a thermal bath or two.
Yes, Budapest is generally safe for tourists. Like in any major city, it’s important to take basic precautions, particularly when in crowded areas or at night. Always be aware of your surroundings, and keep your belongings secure.
The official currency in Budapest is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). While some places accept Euros, it’s recommended to have Forints on hand for small businesses and markets. Credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants, and most shops.
Yes, English is commonly spoken in Budapest, particularly in tourist areas, hotels, and restaurants. It’s always appreciated if you can learn a few basic phrases in Hungarian, but it’s not essential for getting around.
Absolutely! With plenty of parks, interactive museums, family-friendly attractions like the Budapest Zoo, and Margaret Island, Budapest offers a wealth of activities for families.
Budapest’s food scene is a culinary delight. Traditional Hungarian cuisine is hearty, with dishes like goulash, langos, and chicken paprikash. Budapest’s street food scene is also vibrant, and its café culture is world-renowned. Budapest is also famous for its unique ‘ruin pubs’.
Yes, the tap water in Budapest is safe to drink. This is great from both a budget and environmental perspective.
Budapest has an excellent public transportation system, which includes buses, trams, and a metro system. The city is also quite walkable, particularly in the center. Other popular modes of transport include biking and even boat rides along the Danube.