26 things to do in Budapest, Hungary Travel Guide
Budapest is indeed one of the most underrated and charming city in Europe. When we were there, we experienced much fewer crowds, great weather and friendly locals. Furthermore, Budapest in Hungary (like Portugal), is one of the more inexpensive cities in Europe, making it a great destination for students on exchange, or just travellers who would like a more bang-for-buck Europe experience.
All you need to know about Budapest, Hungary
Hungary's capital city is actually made up of the gradual union of three cities: Óbuda, Buda and Pest. The oldest of the three is Óbuda, located on the West bank of the Danube River together with Buda, and Pest located on the East bank. Considered by many visitors as one of the most beautiful city in Europe, much of the city has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
How to get into Budapest, Hungary?
Budapest is well-connected by train to its neighbouring cities. Great for day or short trips from Vienna or Bratislava, you could grab yourselves a Global Eurail Pass to visit Budapest in Hungary. We took the train from Vienna and arrived right in the city centre. You can read more about our experience here.
Alternatively, you could take a flight into Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (Budapest Nemzetközi Repülőtér), which is located just 30 minutes away from the city centre. It is the largest commercial airport in Hungary and serves as a base for Ryanair and Wizzair. Budapest Airport has convenient public transport connections. To get into the city centre, the cheapest way is to take bus 100E or 200E. You could purchase a ticket from the ticket machine before boarding the bus (350 ft). For those with lots of luggage, you may also wish to consider taking the private transfer. It is not too expensive and gets you straight to your accommodation!
How to travel within Budapest, Hungary?
It is easy to travel within Budapest via its public transport. Metros are superbly convenient and takes you to most of the attractions. The public buses are also clean and is a great add-on to your metro rides. When in Budapest, it is super helpful to grab a Budapest City Card that allows you unlimited travel on all the public transportation in the city and also entrance to a variety of attractions. First-timers who prefer a more guided experience could go on a Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour.
What to do in Budapest, Hungary?
With its rich culture and history, Budapest is an artistic city with a wide variety of things to see and do for all kinds of visitors. From thermal baths to ruin pubs, everyone should be able to find something they love.
So let's find out the best things in Budapest, Hungary!
1. St Stephen's Basilica (Szent István Bazilika)
St Stephen's Basilica is an amazing huge church in Budapest. The exterior looks mammoth and is a great icon in the city centre. As compared to other attractions and churches in Europe, they are extremely underrated so you won't find huge crowds.
You do not have to pay to enter the cathedral but should you wish to find a guided tour, these are also available. Do enquire them at the entrance!
Besides visiting the cathedral, you could also attend an organ concert in the beautiful interior. It is definitely nothing like listening to the organs resounding in the huge cathedrals.
St. Stephen's Basilica
Budapest, Szent István tér 1, 1051 Hungary
Nearest metro: Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út
2. Hungarian State Opera House (Magyar Állami Operaház)
The Hungarian State Opera House was first opened way back in 1884, following a commission from Emperor Franz Joseph. The Neo-Renaissance building holds up to 1,200 people and is considered to be one of the best in the world for opera performances. Unlike the Vienna State Opera House, it is much more affordable to watch an opera here! Should you not find time to watch the opera, you could also enter the opera house for a guided tour.
When we were there, the Hungarian State Opera House was under reconstruction so we weren't able to marvel at the actual architecture. Nonetheless, it is still an amazing place to visit for lovers of music!
Hungarian State Opera House (Magyar Állami Operaház)
Budapest, Andrássy út 22, 1061 Hungary
Nearest metro: Opera
3. Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház)
The Hungarian Parliament Building sits on the Pest side of the Danube River Bank. It is designed and constructed in the Gothic Revival style and is one of the largest edifices in Hungary.
You can enter the Parliament Building via a guided tour, where you get to see certain parts of the building that is open to the public. There will be an extensive security check since this attraction is an extremely important one in the city!
Home to hundreds parliamentary offices, the building looks so impressive from every angle. But, the best way to see the entire building is to look at it on the other side of the Danube River, or even to see it on the Danube River Cruise.
We went on an evening cruise and it was amazing! Read more about our experience here. To get on the river cruise, you can purchase your tickets in advance online in the various links we've included or just head to the river bank (right in front of Budapest Marriott Hotel), select your tour operator and cruise away! We would definitely suggest booking your cruise in advance as they do get crowded and you may not be able to get the timeslot of your choice! =/
Pro Tip: For those who have already gotten themselves the Budapest City Card that offers you unlimited transportation all over Budapest for 24/48/72/96/120 hours, you'll be glad to know that you'll get an additional 20% off your tickets should you grab the Danube River Cruise by Legenda!
Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház)
Budapest, Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3, 1055 Hungary
Nearest metro: Kossuth Lajos Tér
4. Shoes on the Danube Bank (Cipők a Duna-parton)
After the Hungarian Parliament Building, walk over to the side of the building where you'll find the Shoes on the Danube Bank! This stretch of the walkway from Széchenyi Chain Bridge is such a scenic walk. Somewhere in the middle, you'll find this monument commemorating the 3,500 people, 800 of them who are Jews, who were killed by the fascist in Budapest during World War II.
The sculptor, Gyula Pauer, created sixty pairs of shoes out of iron on 16 April 2005. These shoes range from heels to shoes appropriate during that period. The shoes are actually attached to the stone embankment.
When you are here, be considerate and do not take inappropriate pictures such as posing in-between the shoes, touching them, and looking happy. When we were there, there was an inconsiderate traveller who was doing so and was ticked off by unhappy locals.
Shoes on the Danube Bank (Cipők a Duna-parton)
Budapest, Id. Antall József rkp., 1054 Hungary
Nearest metro: Kossuth Lajos Tér
5. Szechenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd)
Szechenyi Chain Bridge is a picturesque and historic stone bridge that connects Buda and Pest. You can walk on the bridge to get from the Pest side to the Castle Hill Funicular or just to take in the sights. You'll get to see the Danube flowing below you, the grandiose Parliament Building on the Pest side and Buda Castle on the Buda side.
Szechenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd)
Budapest, Széchenyi Lánchíd, 1051 Hungary
Nearest metro: Vörösmarty tér
6. Buda Castle (Budavári Palota)
Buda Castle is the historical castle complex of the Hungarian Kings in Budapest. Now, it houses both the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. The Buda Castle is the first Hungarian attraction that is named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To get to Buda Castle, you'll have to take the fastest option, the Castle Hill funicular, the second oldest funicular in the world. Weights and counterweights are used to help raise the carts up and down the hill.
When up on Castle Hill, you'll be able to marvel at an amazing view of the Danube River, a spectacular view of the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, and at the various attractions on Pest! :)
Buda Castle (Budavári Palota)
Budapest, Szent György tér 2, 1014 Hungary
Nearest metro: Vörösmarty tér
7. Ruszwurm Bakery
A short walk away from Buda Castle, you'll find the quaint castle district. When you are here, you have got to try Ruszwurm Bakery cakes! While many head to the most beautiful New York Palace Cafe or the famous Cafe Gerbeaud, here's a hidden gem!
Like the coffeehouse culture in Vienna, Budapest's cafe culture centres around allowing people to sit, relax, and people-watch. Sitting outside the cafe also grants you a splendid view of Matthias Church as you sip on your coffee and enjoy your pastries.
While many would tell you to try the Dobos Cake, we found that not many would like the dry texture of the cake. Instead, try the Ruszwurm Cake - a square shaped pastry filled with delicious cream.
Read more about Ruszwurm Confectionery in our blogpost here!
Ruszwurm Cukraszda (Ruszwurm Confectionery)
Budapest, Szentháromság u. 7, 1014 Hungary
8. Matthias Church (Mátyás Templom)
Unlike all the other churches and cathedrals you've visited in Europe that dates all the way back to the Middle Ages, Matthias Church is a stunning church that is off-the-beaten-track. Especially after taking that stroll from Buda Castle and being greeted by this church peeking out in-between the buildings is absolutely a delight.
Similar to the Mezquita of Cordoba, the Matthias Church was turned into a mosque when the Turks occupied Buda in 1526. The artefacts within the church was taken away, precious ornate furnishings destroyed and the altars and paintings were replaced with whitewashed brick walls. Only after the Turkish era, the Matthias Church was rebuilt on the remains in a Baroque style.
How to get to the Castle Hill District?
To get to the Castle Hill District, you could take bus 16A from Szell Kalman Square (M2 metro station) or bus 16 from Deak Square (M1/M2/M3 metro lines), or take a 10 to 15 minutes walk from the Castle Hill Funicular.
Matthias Church (Mátyás Templom)
Budapest, Szentháromság tér 2, 1014 Hungary
9. Fisherman's Bastion (Halászbástya)
Right beside Matthias Church is the Fisherman's Bastion. Initially built in the 19th century as a decorative fortification lookout tower for the best views in Budapest, it is now one of the top Budapest attractions. It looks like a real Disney castle from the Disney logo (only better)! The towers used to be real castle walls where you get to take photographs from, and when up at the towers, you'll get a splendid panoramic view of Budapest.
Discover more of Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion on a Buda Walking Tour!
Fisherman's Bastion (Halászbástya)
Budapest, Szentháromság tér, 1014 Hungary
10. Gellert Baths
Still on the Buda side, is the Gellert Bath. Known as one of the most beautiful indoor bath, have a great time soaking in the thermal waters on a cold winter day or head out to the outdoor pools for a splashing good time!
We visited Gellert Baths when we were in Budapest and had a relaxing afternoon in the thermal pools and in the sauna! Read more about our experience at the Gellert Baths in our previous blog post here: Gellert Spa and Bath Experience in Budapest, Hungary.
Should you wish to visit Gellert Bath, it is definitely recommended to get skip-the-line tickets online as it can get pretty crowded during the summer.
Gellert Thermal Bath (Gellért Gyógyfürdő és Uszoda)
Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4, 1118 Hungary
Nearest metro: Szent Gellért tér
11. Gellert Hill Cave (Gellérthegyi Barlang)
Just round the corner of Gellert Thermal Bath and up a little hill, you'll find the Gellert Hill Cave. The natural cave, formed by thermal springs, actually also houses a catholic church. Unlike your typical church with high ceilings, it has a cool and rustic charm. Interestingly, the church wasn't exactly located within the cave in the beginning but people actually sat outdoors on the terrace. That is probably why the Cave Church is called the Rock Church (Sziklatemplom) in Hungarian.
During World War II, this church was used as an asylum and hospital. After the war, the new Communist regime meant that the church had to be completely sealed and only reopened in 1991. To get into the Cave Church, there is a nominal fee that you will have to pay at the entrance. You could also get the audio guides to understand a little bit more about the history of the church.
From the outside of the church, you'll also get a stunning view of the Danube!
Gellert Hill Cave (Gellérthegyi Barlang)
Budapest, 1118 Hungary
Nearest metro: Szent Gellért tér
12. Liberty Statue (Szabadság szobor)
After the hill cave, you may just want to take a hike up to the Liberty Statue and the Citadella. Bring along a good pair of walking shoes as the incline of the hill is quite real! There are proper walking paths and staircases up to the Liberty Statue but it may get you to work up quite a sweat! Should you not want to walk, your best bet is to get a ticket on the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour that takes you to the Citadella!
The Liberty Statue is actually within the Citadella and is one of the few prominent Communist statues which was left intact after the fall of communism and transition to democracy. Erected in 1947 to commemorate the Soviet troops who died while liberating the country, the engraving of the Liberty Statue was altered so that it included commemorating everyone who sacrificed their lives of the freedom, independence, and prosperity of Hungary.
Liberty Statue (Szabadság szobor)
Budapest, 1118 Hungary
Nearest metro: Szent Gellért tér
The Citadella is an area where you'll get to enjoy unparalleled views of Budapest, which makes the climb worth every sweat and perspiration!
As the main attraction of the Gellert Hill, the Citadella was built by the Hapsburgs (European ruling family) following the failure of the Hungarian War of Independence. At that time, it was thought that its strategic location would help in controlling both Buda and Pest if any uprising should occur in the future. Until 1897, there were troops stationed at the Citadella. Thereafter, the fortress was used by the Soviet forces in 1956 Hungarian Revolution to situate tanks to rain down fire onto the city.
Budapest, 1118 Hungary
Nearest metro: Szent Gellért tér
14. Szechenyi Thermal Baths and Spa
Besides Gellert Thermal Bath, the other popular one is Szechenyi. Szechenyi Spa is the largest outdoor thermal bath in Europe and the first thermal bath of Pest. Even if many have claimed it to be extremely touristy, it is definitely still a must-visit for first-timers to Budapest. Located within the city's largest park, the Varosliget, a good 20 minutes from central Budapest, the Szechenyi bath is definitely worth your time for a relaxing soak.
To get to Szechenyi, you can take the underground metro to Széchenyi fürdő and take a short walk to the baths. Otherwise, hop onto trolleybus 72. Do take note that the entrance to the baths is actually round the corner. You'll see this unassuming sign but when you enter, the entire place feels vastly different!
When you are there, you can get the tickets at the door or if you don’t want to wait in line, purchase them online for a fuss-free experience!
Read more about our visit to Szechenyi Thermal Bath here!
Szechenyi Thermal Bath
Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 9-11, 1146 Hungary
Opening hours: Daily, 6.00 to 10.00pm
Nearest metro: Széchenyi fürdő
15. Vajdahunyad Castle
Located also within the Varosliget park is the Vajdahunyad Castle. It is quite interesting to be wandering here after soaking in the hot thermal waters! It definitely isn't gonna be as majestic as all the other castles you'll find in places like Vienna, but it is great as a nice stroll through the park!
Budapest, Vajdahunyad stny., 1146 Hungary
Nearest metro: Széchenyi fürdő
16. Heroes Square (Hősök tere)
Heroes Square is a great pit stop as you walk out of the park after your soak in the Szechenyi Thermal Bath. The square is home to a majestic UNESCO World Heritage Site monument that features depictions of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars, who are thought to have led the Hungarians from central Asia to the Carpathian basin. On both sides of the square, you'll also find two art galleries.
Heroes Square (Hősök tere)
Budapest, Hősök tere, 1146 Hungary
Nearest metro: Hősök tere
17. Vaci Street (Váci Utca)
If you're wondering where to go shopping in Budapest, Vaci Street is where you'll want to be! Located right within downtown Budapest, it is also considered one of the world's most attractive pedestrian shopping street. Not only are the streets clean, it also has a lively atmosphere be it shopping in the day or at night. Vaci street used to be where wealthy Budapest's families made their homes but now it is packed with various stores, bustling cafés selling delicious pastries.
Vaci Street runs parallel to the Danube River, you can start your walk from Vörösmarty Square and then down all the way to the Central Market.
18. Vörösmarty Square
This is the main square in the Pest side of Budapest and during the Christmas season, the square is transformed to a large Christmas market with food stalls and souvenir stores all around. It is definitely a must-go if you are in Budapest during the festive season. Be sure to save space in your stomachs for some feasting!
Café Gerbeaud is also located close to the square, you could pop in for a cup of coffee when you are here. Be warned though, they are almost always crowded!
19. Budapest Central Market Hall (Nagy Vásárcsarnok)
At the other end of Vaci street is the Budapest Central Market Hall. It is the most famous marketplace where many locals still visit the place to purchase their groceries. The lower floors hold stalls selling locally grown vegetables and fruits as well as locally sourced meats. On the upper floors, you'll find an assortment of stores selling souvenirs, leather-products, and all kinds of things you need!
Indoor marketplaces like the Central Market Hall were erected in Budapest in a bid to improve preservation of food and the quality of the produce as citizens of Budapest were suffering from foodborne illnesses during the nineteenth century. Even though citizens initially criticised that food prices were much higher in the indoor markets, the market hall has now become an iconic architecture in Budapest for both locals and the tourists.
As you walk along the wide walkways, marvel at the high ceilings of the marketplace. At the basement, you'll also find a German supermarket, Aldi should you not like the traditional market.
The best times to visit the Central Market is on Saturdays as you'll be able to witness locals purchasing food stuffs and it is where the market is most bustling! Remember that the market's closed on Sundays so leave that out of your itinerary if you are in Budapest on Sunday!
Budapest Central Market Hall (Nagy Vásárcsarnok)
Budapest, Vámház krt. 1-3, 1093 Hungary
Nearest metro: Fővám tér
Mondays - 6.00am to 5.00pm
Tuesdays to Fridays - 6.00am to 6.00pm
Saturdays - 6.00am to 3.00pm
Sundays - Closed
20. Dohány Street Synagogue (Dohány utcai Zsinagóga)
The Dohany Street Synagogue is at present, the largest synagogue in the world (outside of Israel), even though Hungary's Jewish population was significantly diminished during World War II. With funding from the Hungarian Jewish diaspora population all over the world, the interior and the garden of the synagogue was restored back in the 1990s.
When we were in Budapest, we tried heading to the synagogue twice but it was closed on both occasions! If you are intending to visit, do check their opening hours beforehand!
Around the synagogue is the Jewish Quarters. It was previously known as the Jewish Ghetto where the Nazis housed the Jews and later turned it into a concentration camp. From this camp, many of the Jews in Hungary were then later sent to the other extermination camps. During World War II, more than 2000 Jews died of the cold and of hunger. Their bodies were then buried in the cemetery right in front of the Great Synagogue. In this cemetery, you'll find a weeping willow sculpture, also called the Tree of Life that was erected in 1991 as a memorial for all the Jews that died during the War. Each of the leaf bears a name of a person who passed away during the Jewish persecution then.
To learn more about the Jewish persecution and the Budapest Jewish Quarters, join this walking tour!
Dohany Street Synagogue (Dohány utcai Zsinagóga)
Budapest, Dohány u. 2, 1074 Hungary
Nearest metro: Astoria
21. Szimpla Kert Ruin Pub
Located within the Jewish Quarters you'll find ruin pubs. In the early 2000s, the ruin bars came to life after the deportation of 10,000 Jews post World War II when the founders of Szimpla decided to make Kazinczy Street the home of their bar, within a condemned building complex. The success of Szimpla then sparked a wave of other bars opening up in the Jewish Historic Quarters, and later on lots of food and beverage options and even affordable international accommodation chains like Ibis Budapest City (which we stayed in!)! This iconic party place is definitely Budapest's most famous nightspot! These ruin bars have even transformed themselves into must-visit attractions that may be even more popular than the Hungarian Parliament Building, the Danube River, and Buda Castle.
Read more about our Szimpla Kert experiences here!
Budapest, Kazinczy u. 14, 1075 Hungary
Nearest metro: Blaha Lujza tér
22. Street Food Karavan
Similar to Szimpla Kert, the Jewish Quarters of Budapest has been revived by the younger generations, becoming an extremely hipster and cool enclave with numerous interesting cafes, takeout joints, independent designer stores, and the now popular ruin bars in dilapidated buildings!
Located just a few metres away on the same street, Kazinczy utca 18, and in-between two old buildings, Street Food Karavan makes a great spot for some pre and post-drinks snacks when visiting the ruin bars!
At Street Food Karavan, all the food stalls are within"food-trucks" which makes it a really cool and preppy concept to get your food. There are sufficient seating area at the back of the stalls although most people were standing around and having their food on the standing tables.
We've covered what you should eat at Street Food Karavan in another blogpost so head on over!
Street Food Karavan
Budapest, Kazinczy u. 18, 1075 Hungary
Opening hours: Sundays - Wednesdays, 11am to 11pm; Thursdays - Saturdays, 11am to 1am
Nearest metro: Blaha Lujza ter
23. New York Palace Cafe
The New York Palace Cafe, located within the New York Palace hotel, is known as the most beautiful cafe in Budapest, Hungary and the rest of the world. Like the coffeehouses in Vienna, Budapest's cafes attracted many literary minds, artists, musicians and poets. In its heyday, the New York cafe was the venue in which Hungary's most influential newspapers were edited on the second floor of the Palace hotel.
The majestic cafe and hotel that you see now wasn't quite the case a few years ago as the site was severely damaged by the two world wars. Thanks to Boscolo Hotels' investment and designer Adam Than, the New York Palace Cafe was able to renovate the depilated building and reopen its doors in 2006. With such a rich history, it is definitely worth a visit to head to the New York Palace Cafe, but you may want to have your food elsewhere and just head and order a cup of coffee. Wondering why that is the case? Read more about our experience at New York Palace Cafe.
New York Palace Cafe
Budapest, Erzsébet krt. 9-11, 1073 Hungary
Opening hours: Daily, 8.00 am to 12.00 midnight
24. House of Terror (Terror Háza)
No, the house of terror isn't a haunted house but instead an exhibition about the successive Communist and Fascist regimes that ruled Hungary in the 20th century. The building itself is historical as it was the former headquarters of the Fascist Arrow Cross party. Later on, it was also used as a prison to torture its prisoners by the Hungarian State Security services. When you participate in the tour, you'll get to see the prisons in the basement. This exhibition is a must-go for history buffs as you'll really get so much information about the Fascist regimes. Although the exhibition is in Hungarian, there are English guides in the form of a paper in which you can take and read it.
The atmosphere created by music and lights also give you a taste of the harrowing experiences that the people faced in the past.
House of Terror (Terror Háza)
Budapest, Andrássy út 60, 1062 Hungary
Nearest metro: Oktogon
25. Margaret Island (Margit-sziget)
Margaret Island sits in the middle of the Danube river and looks a little like the museum island in Berlin. But in Budapest, this island is more of a park where locals head to relax. There are self-powered vehicles in which you can rent so that you can explore the island. Joggers in Budapest also often head to Margaret Island to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city while running around on the rubber-coated running track.
Should you have spare time in Budapest, why not head over for a jog?
Margaret Island (Margit-sziget)
Budapest, 1065 Hungary
Nearest metro: Nyugati Pályaudvar
26. Tisza Shoes (Tisza Cipő)
When in Budapest, a great souvenir for sneakers-lovers are to get a pair of Tisza Cipo shoes! These shoes existed in the Communist regime and has recently made a resurgence as a hip new brand in Budapest and the rest of Hungary. They are not exactly the cheapest souvenir but it is perhaps worth it to bring back a piece of history! Plus, you are unlikely to find these shoes outside Hungary!
Where to stay in Budapest, Hungary?
We spent three nights at Ibis Budapest City. It is conveniently located near Blaha Lujza Ter metro, has several supermarkets nearby, and is in walking distance to many of the Ruin Pubs. It is a basic hotel but it is extremely sufficient for the two of us!
Have you been to Budapest, Hungary? Share with us your experiences here!