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From Castles To Cafes: 29 Things To Do In Budapest

Budapest, Hungary’s capital city, often falls off the radar when it comes to European travel destinations. However, the city has been gaining traction among tourists who are discovering its wealth of attractions and activities. With so much to see and do, you won’t want to leave without experiencing some of the best Budapest has to offer. From cultural landmarks to outdoor adventures, there’s no shortage of options. If you’re planning a trip or simply curious about what this city has in store, here are 27 reasons why Budapest should be at the top of your travel list.

Take a Walking Tour

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Embarking on a walking tour of Budapest is an unparalleled way to experience the city’s rich history and cultural heritage. The capital has a unique dual identity, with Buda and Pest once being two separate cities until their unification in the 1800s. Moreover, the city bears scars from World War II and the tumultuous periods of communist and fascist rule that followed. This complex past has resulted in a plethora of fascinating stories to uncover.A local guide can enhance your walking tour experience by providing insider knowledge and insights into Budapest’s intriguing history. Not only will you gain a deeper understanding of the city, but you may also discover new attractions and activities to add to your itinerary. Many free walking tours are available, with some focusing on specific areas of the city to avoid the extensive Buda hill. While it is customary to tip your guide at the end of the tour, the cost-free nature of these excursions makes them an attractive option for budget-conscious travelers.Budapest is a city that truly has something for everyone, and taking the time to explore its streets on foot is an excellent way to soak up its unique atmosphere. With so much to see and do in this captivating Hungarian metropolis, it’s little wonder that Budapest remains a top destination for travelers.

Visit Fisherman’s Bastion

The Fisherman’s Bastion stands proudly at the summit of Buda Hill, gazing out over the Danube River. This historic bastion occupies the site where ancient castle walls once stood, distinct from the adjacent Buda Castle. While the bastion and walls are already photogenic attractions on their own merit, they’re even more breathtaking when seen from a panoramic vantage point, offering an unobstructed view of the city below.

Visitors can explore most areas of the site without charge, but for those seeking to ascend to the highest points of the turrets, a ticket is required. The cost is a modest USD $2.75, and the elevated sections are open from 9:00 am until 7:00 pm.

Admire the Interior of Matthias Church

Visiting Matthias Church, situated adjacent to Fisherman’s Bastion, is an unmissable experience in Budapest. The significance of this landmark lies not only in its historical importance but also in its breathtaking architecture.

As the site where kings of Buda were crowned, the church’s ornate decor is a testament to its royal heritage. The exterior is a feast for the eyes, with intricate details and patterns that will leave you mesmerized. Be sure to take in the stunning tiled roof from the bastion walls.

Step inside, and you’ll be treated to an equally impressive interior. The unique design and ornate features are nothing short of awe-inspiring. You could easily spend hours exploring every nook and cranny, discovering new details and marveling at the craftsmanship.

A hidden stairwell awaits discovery at the front left corner of the church, offering a different perspective on this already breathtaking structure. It’s easy to miss, but well worth seeking out.

Despite not being a fan of visiting churches in general, I found Matthias Church to be one of my absolute favorites in Budapest. The cost of admission is more than justified by the time you’ll spend soaking up the history and beauty within.

See Buda Castle

Perched atop Buda Hill, Buda Castle is often mistaken for Fisherman’s Bastion, its adjacent counterpart. The two are distinct entities, despite their proximity. A leisurely 15-minute stroll separates the castle from Fisherman’s Bastion.

Buda Castle now houses two esteemed institutions: the Budapest History Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery. While these cultural attractions warrant a visit, the panoramic views of the Budapest skyline make the walk down to the castle well worth the effort.

After exploring the castle’s premises, take a stroll along its walls. The winding path zigzags up and down the hill, forming a maze-like configuration that requires attention to ensure you’re not overestimating your walking distance or underestimating the return climb.

Explore Castle Hill

Perched above the Danube, Buda Hill is an iconic landmark that dominates the Budapest skyline. As you explore the city, its imposing presence is impossible to ignore. And it’s here that some of Budapest’s most alluring attractions converge in a compact area, beckoning visitors to linger. Following a visit to the storied Matthias Church and the scenic Fisherman’s Bastion, take a leisurely stroll through Castle Hill’s charming streets, discovering hidden gems amidst this residential quarter where hotels and restaurants are scarce. The lack of commercial developments only adds to the area’s unique charm, making it an absolute delight to explore.

Ride the Buda Castle Hill Funicular

While once a vital part of Budapest’s public transportation network, the Buda Castle Hill Funicular has evolved into a beloved tourist attraction. The hill itself is no trivial matter, with its steep incline making walking up quite an ordeal. Taking the funicular, however, offers a far more scenic and comfortable experience than relying on buses.

As you ascend to the top, the ride treats passengers to breathtaking views of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and the city’s sprawling landscape. Visitors typically board the funicular at its base near the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and enjoy the ride up from there. The attraction operates from 8:00 am until 10:00 pm daily, with a round-trip fare of 3,000 Ft (approximately $8 USD).

Thermal Baths

In Budapest, a city steeped in thermal history, the iconic spas, or thermal baths, are an absolute must-experience. With over 100 options to choose from, visitors are spoiled for choice. Among the most popular and revered are the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath and the Gellért Baths.

To fully appreciate these natural wonders, be sure to pack your swimsuit, as well as flip-flops and a microfiber towel – though all three can be easily acquired at the pools themselves if needed.

Széchenyi Medicinal Bath

Széchenyi Thermal Bath is a stunning destination that has been open since 1913. The iconic yellow exterior and ornate decorations make it an Instagram-worthy spot. With three outdoor pools and 15 indoor pools, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to relax and rejuvenate. One of the outdoor pools is designed for lap swimming, while the others offer varying temperatures for a unique experience. You can easily hop between them all. The interior pools have distinct temperature profiles, with most being cooler than their outdoor counterparts.In addition to the pools, you’ll also find a sauna and steam room on site. While spa services are available, they’re not as popular here as they are at other baths, likely due to the many pool options. If you can, purchasing tickets in advance is recommended to avoid long lines of tourists trying to get in. The pools do tend to fill up quickly by mid-morning.A worthwhile tip is to splurge on a cabin when buying your tickets. This will grant you access to a private changing room where you can store your belongings and change out of your swimsuit comfortably. It’s the perfect way to ensure a stress-free day at Széchenyi Thermal Bath.

Gellert Baths

While the Gellert baths offer a distinctly different experience, one that leans more towards a luxurious spa atmosphere. If you’re seeking to unwind with a thermal bath and then indulge in some pampering services afterwards, Gellert is likely your best bet. They place significant emphasis on promoting their spa services, setting them apart from other locations. Furthermore, the indoor pools at Gellert boast an ornate design that surpasses those found at Széchenyi, adding to the overall sense of relaxation and indulgence.

Visit and tour the Hungarian Parliament Building

The Hungarian Parliament Building is a breathtaking structure situated along the riverbank, offering picturesque views from both sides of the water. While its exterior architecture is undeniably impressive, visitors should also consider exploring the building’s interior through guided tours. To ensure availability, booking in advance is highly recommended as English-language tours tend to sell out quickly.

Cruise on the Danube River

As my Hungarian friend suggested, taking a river cruise in Budapest was an unforgettable experience. The city’s architectural beauty is magnificently showcased from the water, with iconic landmarks like the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, and Fisherman’s Bastion standing out in all their glory. From this unique perspective, it’s easy to grasp the full layout of the city and its many wonders.

What’s more, Budapest knows how to make a dramatic impression by lighting up its buildings at sunset or night. If you’re lucky enough to time your cruise accordingly, you’ll be treated to an unforgettable spectacle.

While a walk along the Danube bank offers a similar view of the city’s grandeur, it can’t compare to the thrill of cruising along the river itself.

Take a Food Tour

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When it comes to Hungarian cuisine, it’s often difficult for us to replicate the authentic flavors at home. This is where a food tour in Budapest comes in handy. By joining a guided tour, you’ll gain insider knowledge from a local and discover some of the city’s best-kept culinary secrets. The experience is especially rewarding if you’re gluten-intolerant, as Budapest has plenty of options to cater to your dietary needs. In fact, there are even dedicated gluten-free Hungarian restaurants serving up delicious dishes that go beyond just the usual alternatives.

Have a Drink at a Ruin Bar

Tucked away in Budapest’s historic Jewish quarter lies a treasure trove of unique bars, each with its own distinct theme or atmosphere. What sets these establishments apart is their origins – they were born from the rebirth of abandoned buildings in the area. Rather than modernizing to keep pace with the times, the owners deliberately preserve the charm of being nestled within the ‘ruins’, a feature that has become an integral part of their allure.

Visitors can craft their own personalized bar crawl by visiting a few of these hidden gems or opt for a guided tour led by a local who’s passionate about showcasing their favorite haunts. The result is a one-of-a-kind nightlife experience that blends the old with the new, perfectly capturing the essence of Budapest’s ruin bars.

Watch a Classical Music Concert at St. Stephen’s Basilica

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the largest in the city, is a striking contrast to Matthias Church in Buda. While both are worth visiting, St. Stephen’s shares similarities with other European basilicas. The sheer scale and grandeur of this magnificent cathedral make it a must-see destination.

For a unique evening experience, consider purchasing tickets to an organ or classical music concert. These events take place regularly within the basilica’s majestic walls, offering a one-of-a-kind opportunity to appreciate the cathedral in a new light. Not only is this a budget-friendly option, but it also provides a memorable activity to enjoy during your evening visit.

Shop in Great Market Hall

The Great Market Hall in Budapest is a behemoth of a market, boasting two floors of goods and grub. The ground floor is where locals go to stock up on essentials – produce, meats, and the like. However, amidst the everyday fare, you’ll also find souvenir stalls peddling paprika and traditional Hungarian sweets. It’s a great place to pick up some unique local treats.The first floor’s more laid-back atmosphere gives way to a frenetic pace on the second floor, where vendors of all sorts vie for your attention. You’ll find an array of trinkets, bags, postcards, and other knick-knacks to bring back home, making it the perfect spot to shop for souvenirs.And if you’re looking for a quick bite or a leisurely lunch, the food stalls on both floors are happy to oblige with street-food-style Hungarian eats.

Remember World War II at the Shoes on The Danube Memorial

Budapest’s history is marked by dark episodes, and World War II is a somber reminder of the city’s troubled past. One of the most poignant memorials is the Shoes on the Danube Bank, which honors the Jews who lost their lives by firing squad along this very riverbank. The tragic irony lies in the fact that before being executed, victims were forced to remove their shoes so they could be reused or resold. Today, visitors can see over 60 pairs of shoes lining the water’s edge, a powerful reminder of the devastating consequences of war. This haunting memorial is situated near the Hungarian Parliament building, serving as a poignant tribute to the lives lost in Budapest during World War II.

Walk Across Széchenyi Chain Bridge

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge holds a special place in Budapest’s history as the first bridge to span the Danube River. Although it’s currently closed to pedestrians, visitors can still catch a glimpse of its iconic structure from various vantage points throughout the city. If you’re keen to see the bridge up close, look out for trams and buses that cross over it in 2023. Alternatively, consider using the Margaret Island Bridge as a temporary replacement, which also provides access to the scenic Margaret Island.

Check out Margaret Island

A tranquil oasis in the heart of the city, Margaret Island is an idyllic destination that’s sure to delight visitors during warmer months. This charming island, situated between Buda and Pest along the Danube River, offers a refreshing respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Take a leisurely stroll through the beautifully manicured Japanese gardens, explore the remnants of ancient convents that once called the island home, or indulge in a rejuvenating soak at the unique thermal baths. Unlike other thermal baths, those on Margaret Island are more akin to a waterpark, providing a fun and unconventional twist on the traditional bathing experience.

Stroll Andrássy Avenue

Along Andrássy Avenue, you’ll find a stunning pedestrian promenade reminiscent of the iconic Champs-Élysées in Paris. As you stroll along, take in the intricate decorations adorning the buildings, each one an architectural gem designed to reflect the original purpose of the structure. The street’s unique character is reflected in its ornate facades, which were crafted to represent the various businesses that once called these buildings home. This singular charm has earned Andrássy Avenue a place among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites for the city, a testament to its enduring cultural significance.

City Park & Vajdahunyad Castle

In the vicinity of Széchenyi Medicinal Bath, visitors will discover City Park and Vajdahunyad Castle, an expansive green space that offers a serene escape from Budapest’s urban chaos. As you stroll through the park, you can’t help but notice the intricate architecture of the castle, which was constructed in a style reminiscent of Hungary’s rich history of castle building. Interestingly, this majestic structure has no connection to battles or defensive purposes; instead, it now serves as a museum, providing visitors with a fascinating glimpse into the country’s past.

Visit Vörösmarty Square

Vörösmarty Square is the heart of Budapest’s urban landscape, situated near the renowned Fashion Street that boasts an array of upscale boutiques. This charming pedestrian-only zone becomes alive with activity, yet its compact size makes navigating effortless.

As you stroll along the square, you’re free to indulge in some retail therapy, relax and take in the vibrant atmosphere while observing the city’s eclectic crowd, or treat yourself to a bite at one of the many restaurants or cafes in the area. The allure of Vörösmarty Square lies in its ability to seamlessly blend shopping, socializing, and people-watching, making it an absolute delight to explore.

Tour Dohány Street Synagogue

Located in the heart of Budapest’s historic Jewish Quarter, the Dohány Street Synagogue stands as the second-largest synagogue globally, after its New York City counterpart. Its grandeur and ornate details are a testament to its rich history. Due to the sensitive nature of the site, visitors must join a guided tour to explore its interiors. To avoid disappointment, it’s essential to book tickets in advance, as they often sell out quickly.

Interestingly, the synagogue complex also houses the Hungarian Jewish Museum, providing an additional layer of cultural and historical significance to this already remarkable destination.

Walk along the Danube River

Winding its way through the heart of Budapest, the Danube River serves as a natural divider between the city’s two distinct halves. This majestic waterway is also home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its banks boasting stunning views and rich history. For an unforgettable experience, take a leisurely stroll along the riverbank on either side. The Pest side offers breathtaking vistas of Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion, while the Buda side provides a unique perspective on the majestic Parliament building.

Hike (or Ride) up Gellert Hill and See the Citadel

For nature enthusiasts and adventure-seekers alike, Gellert Hill in Budapest offers an unparalleled hiking experience. The hill’s summit is home to the Citadel, an ancient fortress boasting breathtaking views of the city below. Visitors can also marvel at the iconic Liberty Statue atop the hill. But that’s not all – the base of Gellert Hill hides a unique gem: Hospital in the Rock, a former nuclear bunker turned hospital situated within a natural cave system.

See Heroes Square

Nestled adjacent to City Park, Heroes Square is a picturesque open space that has garnered significant attention for its two most prominent attractions: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Millennium Monument. Visitors often find themselves pausing briefly at this locale while en route to the park itself. During the winter months, the surrounding area transforms into a bustling ice skating rink, offering an additional draw for those in search of seasonal entertainment.

Brave the House Of Terror

In the city of Budapest, where World War II left its mark, The House of Terror serves as a poignant reminder of the fascist and communist regimes that once ruled with an iron fist. This somber museum is not just a historical relic; it’s a testament to the resilience of humanity in the face of oppression.

The building itself has a dark past, having been used by both regimes as a place to detain and interrogate prisoners. Visitors can explore the very torture cell that was once used to extract confessions from those who dared to defy the authorities. But this isn’t just a morbid curiosity; it’s an opportunity to learn from the past in the hopes of preventing similar atrocities from happening again.

While The House of Terror is undoubtedly a challenging experience, it’s one that’s well worth undertaking. By confronting the darker aspects of Budapest’s history head-on, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the city and its people. It’s a powerful reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope for a better future.

Ride the Eye in Erzsebet Square

Erzsebet Square, situated in close proximity to Vörösmarty Square, is a popular destination that boasts the Budapest Eye, Europe’s largest Ferris wheel. This iconic attraction operates from mid-morning until 11 p.m. or midnight, allowing visitors to enjoy breathtaking views of the city at sunset or under the stars.

Day Trip to Szentendre

While Szentendre may be considered a suburb of Budapest, it’s an enchanting town that offers a refreshing respite from the hustle and bustle of the Hungarian capital. Just a 40-minute train ride away, this charming destination is easily accessible for a half-day excursion. The quaint streets, lined with quaint shops, provide a serene atmosphere that’s distinct from the urban landscape of Budapest. Here, you can slow down and experience Hungary in a more intimate way.

Eat a Chimney Cake

Imagine indulging in a sweet, donut-like pastry that’s cooked to perfection around a cylindrical shape, only to be revealed as a tall, steam-filled tube when removed from its cooking vessel – reminiscent of a chimney releasing its pent-up vapors. These chimney cakes can be dressed up with an assortment of toppings or filled with creamy goodness, making them a delightful treat for the senses. You might stumble upon them at street vendors or specialty stores throughout the city, where they’re cherished as a traditional Hungarian delight. While I was excited to try these treats, unfortunately, I couldn’t find a gluten-free option – a minor drawback from fully immersing myself in this scrumptious tradition.

Take a Day Trip to Gödöllő

Although Gödöllő isn’t technically part of Budapest, it’s still a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the region. This charming town is just a short train ride away from the city center, making it an easily accessible day trip or weekend getaway. One of the main attractions in Gödöllő is the stunning Palace of Gödöllő, which holds a special place in history as the favorite residence of Empress Elizabeth of the Hapsburg Empire. Visitors can take a guided tour of the palace and gain insight into the empire’s rich past, as well as learn more about Empress Elizabeth herself. This fascinating piece of Hungary’s cultural heritage is not to be missed.

Visit During Advent for a Festive Experience

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Budapest’s Christmas markets are a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the magic of the holiday season in Europe. Year after year, these markets consistently rank among the best in the continent, with some even claiming that Budapest takes top honors. One of the most popular and largest markets can be found in the square in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, where visitors can browse traditional stalls offering everything from handmade crafts to delectable treats. The festivities extend beyond the market itself, as scheduled music and light shows illuminate the basilica’s exterior. While the winter weather may be chilly, the warm atmosphere and festive ambiance more than make up for it, making Budapest an ideal destination for a Christmas getaway.

Enjoy Exploring all of the Things to do in Budapest

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Budapest, a treasure trove of experiences, is often overlooked by travelers despite its wealth of attractions. This eastern European gem deserves more than just a passing glance, but even with limited time, it’s possible to get a taste of what the city has to offer. With a well-planned itinerary, you can efficiently explore many of Budapest’s top sights in just one day. However, if time permits, take your time to uncover all that this captivating capital city has to offer. Take a stroll along Andrássy Avenue, embark on a scenic Danube River cruise, unwind in one of the city’s famous thermal baths, and revel in the picturesque surroundings of Hungary’s capital city.