See also: Where to stay in Budapest
On any traveler’s checklist the city of Budapest remains a favored destination and it’s not difficult to understand why because the capital city of Hungary is beauty, personified. Every corner, every nook is a perfect setting for your next Instagram post and wanderlust drives millions every year to visit this sanctuary of history, culture and art. Honeymooners, wanderers, grandparents and young travelers crowd the streets of this breathtaking city. Here are 30 best things you can do while you’re in Budapest:
Feel the Power at Heroes’ Square
The heroes’ square is one of the most photographed places of Budapest and has been declared as a world heritage site. It was built in the year 1896 to mark the thousandth anniversary of the Maygar Conquest. The main attraction of the square is the tall Millennium monument under which stand gorgeous statues of equestrians. On one side of the square, you can find the museum of fine arts which displays some of the most exquisite European art including Raphael, Rembrandt and Rubens. There is also an adjoining park named Varosliget where you can stroll around or enjoy a picnic.
Step Into the Past at Danube Promenade
In 2005, film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer created a tribute along the walkway of the River Danube for all the people killed during World War II. In the 1940s, Budapest was being ruled by an anti-Semitic and fascist party known as the arrow cross that shot and executed 20,000 Jews along the shores of the Danube River and let their bodies be washed by the water. Before they were mercilessly shot, they were made to take off their shoes and you can find the recreation of such shoes on the walkway.
Pay Your Respects at St. Stephen’s Basilica
All through Monday to Friday, the largest church of Budapest is open to the public. The neoclassical building is dedicated to the country’s first king, St. Stephen and houses the mummified right hand of St. Stephen. The best aspect of the basilica is going to the very top using a flight of stairs and taking in the wonderful views of the surrounding city as well as having a cup of steaming coffee at their terrace café. Besides admiring the architecture, you can also attend the church for its choir music and inspiring sermons.
Feel the Pain of the Past at the House of Terror
Once you find out that this is housed in the former headquarters of the country’s Nazi Party, you might understand why it’s named ‘the house of terror.’ The museum starts with telling the painful past of the Second World War when the arrow cross party tortured and killed over 80,000 Jews and the eventual decline of the Nazi party. Then, it takes the visitor through the history of the communist regime during the cold war and showcases a piece of the Berlin Wall. You will be taken inside the hall of tears, interrogation rooms and execution rooms.
Enter a Disney Movie at Fisherman’s Bastion
Built in the 16th century as a part of the Buda castle, the fisherman’s bastion looks straight out of a Disney movie owing to its Gothic revival and neoclassical architecture blending seamlessly into one another. The seven spires in the bastion represent the seven Maygar chieftains who helped set up the country of Hungary. Besides its opulent architecture, the monument is also known for the breathtaking views of the city it provides and is the ultimate tourist paradise.
Take a Stroll Around Memento Park
The year 1989 marked the end of the communist rule in Budapest but there were still numerous statues and public works of art left behind that celebrated the venomous era of the cold war. The city government decided in 1993 to create the memento park which would house these works of art from the communist era without glorifying or demonizing them. The park contains as many as 40 statues from a painful past and the most fascinating statue is of Stalin’s giant boots replicated after the statue’s takedown during the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
Shop Without Breaking the Bank at Ecseri Flea Market
The ecseri flea market is considered better than any modern-day supermarket and the final price of products depends on your bargaining skills. The market sells a slew of items such as photo frames, vintage cameras, souvenirs, clothing, furniture, crockery, stained glass items, children’s dolls and folk art, among many others. The vendors are flexible with the price and you must check for products with the highest quality. There are also great places to eat and dine at the Chinese market and Fehervari Street such as soup bars and traditional Hungarian dishes.
Support Local Farmers at the Great Market Hall
In the year 1897, Budapest’s largest and arguably the most beautiful food hall was set up and despite suffering wreckage during the Second World War, its beauty was later restored. The high ceilings and colorful façade lined with orange bricks gives it an ethereal look and locals use the market for their daily grocery shopping. As a tourist you can purchase other items such as souvenirs, glassware, Hungarian dolls, you can try dessert wines such as Tokaji Aszu, Mangalitsa salamis, pickles and paprika such as Szeged or Kalocsa. The entire Hungary can be found here, under one roof.
Epicentre of Authority, the Parliament Building
Constructed in the year 1902, this is the world’s third largest parliament building containing more than 600 rooms. The neo-Gothic architecture of the building gives it the look of a breathtaking palace and not a government building. You can see stunning views of the parliament either from the Danube cruise or you can take a guided tour of the building where you will get to see the main entrance stairs, a lobby, the hall, the House of Lords and an exhibition of the Hungarian crown Jewels.
Admire the Architecture at Dohany Street Synagogue
A world heritage site, the Dohany street synagogue is also referred to as the main or the great synagogue and this is because of its Moorish inspired building that gives it an oriental look and distinguishes it from other synagogues in Budapest. The glorious rose windows line the walls that have detailed oriental-Byzantine decorations and numerous columns give it a regal touch. The twin towers on each side of the main entrance door are breathtaking and give the perfect opportunity for a photo. This is among the top 10 most visited sites of Budapest.
Be a Tourist at Andrassy Avenue
The Andrassy Avenue was started in the year 1885 and is a boulevard situated in the center of the city. The avenue which is named after a former Prime minister is divided into four parts which are Elizabeth square, Oktogon, Kodaly Korond, Bajza Utca and Heroes’ square. Once known as the Mussolini square, today you can shop from among the most up market boutiques including Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Gucci and Ermenegildo Zegna, among a few others. The state opera house located within the long avenue is the most visited attraction of the boulevard.
Getaway From the City at the Buda Hills
The Buda hills offer a calm and refreshing getaway from the crowded city of Budapest and have numerous pathways, trails and Parks for a visitor to enjoy. Getting to the top of the hill from Zugligeti Ut is half the fun as you will get to ride a chairlift that may look risky but is a traditional form of an amusement ride and will take you to the hills in a matter of fifteen minutes. Once you’ve reached, you can visit the Erzsebet viewing tower and the children’s railway tour as well as the Szechenyi-hegy.
Learn About History at Hungarian National Museum
Founded in the year 1802, the neo-classical building of the Hungarian national museum will have you admiring its architecture that includes a striking portico coupled with multiple statues and paintings. The museum contains seven permanent displays that delve into the history and archeology of the country and one of the exhibitions traces the entire history of Hungary starting from the Avar period, the age of Arpads to Transylvania and fall of the communist regime in Hungary. You can see an exhibit showcasing the roman stone inscriptions and another one, displaying relics from post Second World War.
Have a Picnic at Margaret Island
An island located in the middle of River Danube is the ultimate natural paradise for the busy city of Budapest and dates back to the middle ages when it was known as the rabbit island. The water tower of the island has the architecture of art nouveau and hosts photography exhibitions as well as provides for breathtaking views of the surrounding area. There is also a thermal bath known as Palatinus where you can cleanse yourself and visit the ruins from the past historical monuments. The Japanese Garden and the musical fountain are tourist magnets and worth your time.
Get Serenaded at the State Opera House
Commissioned to be built by Emperor Franz Joseph and constructed in the year 1884, the state opera house of Hungary is one of the most prestigious musical institutions in the world as well as the most gorgeous owing to its neo-Renaissance architecture. The opera house seats 1200 people in its regal auditorium and provides guided tours during the day to learn about the history of the house and its significance. In evenings, you can attend a world class performance in the opera house without breaking the bank as the tickets are often of affordable prices.
Cleanse Your Soul at Szechenyi Thermal Baths
More than 100 years old, the Szechenyi thermal baths is a natural hot spring and is one of the largest and most popular of all the baths in the entire Europe. The thermal bath has a total of 18 pools which are open all through the year and include a large outdoor pool, an indoor geothermal pool, the saunas, a gym and a bar that serves refreshing pints of beer and a variety of snacks. You can enjoy an aroma therapy message at affordable prices and the special Szechenyi bath massage.
Live Your Fairytale at the Buda Castle
Built in the thirteenth century, the Buda castle was commissioned by King Bela IV who helped glorify his reign with the blending of Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture. The castle has gone through many facets of history but it was eventually destructed during the Second World War and has since lost its authentic touch. The Hapsburg steps will take you to a legendary fountain surrounded by statues of fishing children and inside, the lion courtyard is surrounded by the national gallery and museum. Among the colossal medieval ruins, you will find the statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy.
Read a Book at Szabo Ervin Library
Located inside the Wenckheim Palace is the lesser-known but nonetheless visually striking Szabo Ervin library whose mansion rooms have been converted into reading rooms by the City council in the year 1931. The former home of a Hungarian aristocrat of the 19th century, the reading rooms were once the dining area and the smoking room. Today, you can tuck away in a warm corner surrounded by dark wood, authorial book shelves and glittering chandeliers and have a unique experience, unknown to many tourists.
Feel the Magic at House of Houdini
A small building with alluring gems located inside, the house of Houdini honors the life and legacy of escape artist and magician, Harry Houdini who was born in Budapest. The museum displays the fascinating life of the artist and showcases his letters, journals, memorabilia, artifacts, clothing and his world famous handcuffs. Once you’ve toured around the enthralling exhibition, you will get to witness a 15 minute captivating magic performance which lives up to the craft of Mr. Houdini.
Think Deep at the Budapest Cave Church
The Budapest cave church that was once supposed to be the home of a Maygar hermit monk is tucked inside the Gellert Hill and is currently run by Pauline monks. A place of historical significance and spirituality, the cave church has had a disturbing past and was reopened after the fall of the Berlin wall and consequently, communism in the year 1989. Today, you can survey some mind blowing artifacts here such as a replica of the black Madonna of Poland and has become the third most visited church of Budapest in the recent times.
Drink a Beer at the For Sale Pub
While, the pub is not for sale but many of its food items and drinks are. The unusual yet cozy interior of the for sale pub is covered in every corner with notes left behind by their satisfied customers such as business cards, advertisements, paintings, notes and drawings, among many others. The pub might be small in size but most often has a waiting line outside of it because it serves authentic Hungarian dishes such as schnitzel and goulash as well as varieties of beer. Here, you too can leave your mark.
Cool Down at the Gellert Spa and Bath
The natural spring water of Gellert Bath was discovered in the 15th century but it was only in the year 1918 that the spa and bath was opened to the public. This beautiful art Nouveau building is located inside the legendary Gellert hotel and is one of the most famous and historically significant baths of Budapest. Here, you can choose from among their 10 pools and even try their geothermal pool where they serve beer and snacks or you can book a massage at their spa or simply enjoy a hot sauna in order to rejuvenate your soul.
Shop Till You Drop at the Jewish Quarter
The Jewish quarter of Budapest has been through quite a transformation, from being a wartime ghetto in the Second World War to becoming the most densely populated and culturally significant area. Here, you can visit a number of restaurants, shops, cafes and art galleries. The shop selling vintage designer clothes from the 80s with a touch of Hungarian culture is known as Ludovika and you can visit Printa for its collection of shirts, posters, bags and their design shop as well as a café. Restaurants such as Mazel Tov famous for their za’atar sticks and Dobrumba serving Middle eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. If you want to have a fun night out, you can visit a dive bar called beat on the brat.
It’s ironic how a place for eternal resting can bring calm and peace to the people who visit it and this is proven right when you walk around the absolutely enchanting Kerepesi cemetery. The lush green overgrowth of grass and other green plants is made even more alluring by the huge mausoleums, tombs and baroque sculptures that line each side of the pathway. Some of the famous people buried here are revolutionary leader Lajos Kossuth and Jozsef Antall as well as other figures from the Hungarian struggle for freedom. Due to its unbelievable beauty, you will be tempted to take a few photos but remember to be respectful after all, people rest here for eternity.
An Oasis of Art at Epreskert Garden
The Epreskert Garden is one of the lesser known places of Budapest on this list but nonetheless its historical prowess isn’t lacking but has been ignored by most of the general public. In the 1870s, this Garden was a mulberry field and artist Adolf Huzsar started his studio right outside the Garden which started an art movement where famous sculptors, painters and their students began to landscape the area and transform it into an oasis for culture and art. Even though, today it no longer holds the same artistic rigor that it did more than a century ago but as you stroll around, you will be able to see the striking sculptures and other works done in the 19th century.
Visit a Ruin Pub at the Szimpla Kert
Szimpla Kert is by far the most well-known and the oldest ruin pub in Budapest and has an eclectic interior and a view of the alternate Hungarian lifestyle. Here, people visit to enjoy a beverage with their friends that are generally a choice between cocktails and beer or they can eat a warm meal and some fresh baked goods. You can attend live concerts here and some of them are free of cost and on Sundays, they set up a farmers and flea market where you can purchase fresh produce such as fruits, vegetables and cuts of meat. They also have a library and multiple workshops as well as independent film screenings and weekend brunches.
Visit a Lost City at the Aquincum
Aquincum is the ancestor of the Budapest city and it was the capital of Pannoia which was part of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. The ruins of this lost city were discovered by a wine maker in the 18th century and since then; an entire city has been rediscovered due to archaeological efforts. Aquincum is situated in the oldest part of the City known as Obuda and contains the remains of mosaic floors, tombstones, water-organ, statues and an Amphitheatre. Here, you can visit both parts of the ruin which includes a baroque side and a modern side. This area also hosts an annual music festival known as Sziget.
Eat Your Heart Out at Kispiac Bistro
Located in the financial district of the city, the Kispiac bistro is known for serving the most authentic and hearty Hungarian dishes. The bistro is located around liberty square and the parliament building which means it attracts a significant amount of tourists and you should leave for it earlier in order to avoid waiting outside. A clean-cut and contemporary space serves native dishes such as wild boar stew, pork knuckles, roasted pork belly, baked potatoes, veal liver with a paprika sauce, roast chicken and flavorful duck dish. You must visit with an empty stomach and leave with a satisfied stomach.
When Religion and Art Meet, the Matthias Church
The Matthias Church was built in 1255 in the Castle district and is the city’s first parish Church. The building was converted into a mosque in the 16th century when Turks invaded Hungary and today, very little of the original building remains but the long spire of the exterior and the white color lend to its breathtaking beauty and eclectic nature. You can visit the Bela tower which is named after King Bela IV and has vibrant mosaic tiles in the window and the Matthias tower which has a mind blowing Gothic relief at its entrance. Inside the church, you can marvel at the neo-Gothic architecture, gorgeous frescos and baroque undertones that make the interior look exquisite.
Travel at Your Own Risk at the Castle Hill Funicular
A funicular is a cable railway system and the first one to be built in order to connect the side of Buda with that of Pest was the one of Castle hill. The funicular is located at the bottom of the castle hill and you board a funicular from the Szechenyi chain bridge which was opened in the mid nineteenth century and has a 40 degree incline which adds to the fun and excitement of travelling. The funicular and railway was almost destroyed during the World War II bombings but was later restored and provides for spectacular views of the Danube River and the western part of the city.
A city that seems straight out of a fairytale is sure to rejuvenate your soul and the cold winds combined with the lush green environs will help you rediscover your inner self. Budapest is a city that belongs to no one yet feels as though we each keep a part of it when we return back home.