Budapest is one of the most complete imperial capitals in Europe. The city dazzles all tourists both when visiting it by day and by night. Surely in this beautiful city you will not get bored, there are so many things to do and places to see in Budapest that you will not be disappointed. You will be able to find large castles, beautiful palaces, dazzling views, relaxing spas and exquisite food. It is also a city where getting around is very easy and most of the attractions are relatively close. Additionally, Budapest is not an expensive capital.
To help you enjoy Budapest to the fullest, below I detail the 15 best activities to do in this magical city.
1. What to see in Budapest: The Parliament of Budapest.
What would it be like to travel to Budapest and not visit the Parliament. This immense neo-Gothic building is one of the most iconic images of the city and there is no doubt.
The Parliament was built between the years 1884 and 1902. The architect Hungarian who built it was Irme Steindl who sadly went blind shortly before the building was finished.
The stunning parliament with 268 meters long, 123 meters wide and 96 metres high, occupies 18K square meters. It is so big that it could fit almost 50 buildings. It is the largest building in Hungary and the second largest parliament in the world behind the Parliament of Romania. The interior is clad in marble and gold, decorated by 152 statues and motifs of Hungarian fauna. Also, the building has 27 entrance doors and 29 stairs.
The Parliament’s facade faces the Danube River, however its main doors are facing Kossuth Square. The Prime Minister’s office is located in the north wing, while the President’s offices are located in the south wing.
Without any doubt, the Parliament is one of the main attractions to see in Budapest. Both to admire it from the outside and from the inside too. You will get the best views of the Parliament from the Danube bank on the Buda side or from the Fisherman’s Bastion.
To enter the parliament it is necessary to buy a ticket and reserve your turn. So, it is essential to do it with anticipation because usually tickets are easily sold out. The entrance price is € 17 for EU citizens and € 34 for non-citizens. My recommendation, if you are not a direct citizen, is to hire a Budapest tour with entrance to the Parliament. This option will be much more convenient.
2. What to see in Budapest: Crossing the Danube river by the Chain Bridge.
The current city of Budapest is the result of the union of two cities, Buda and Pest. In the past, both cities were separated by the Danube river. People could only cross from one city to another by boat or by walking in winter when the river froze.
Nowadays there are many bridges that allow to cross the Danube river. However, the Chain Bridge (officially called István Széchenyi in honor of its promoter) is the oldest and most important of all.
The bridge opened in 1849 in a style based on the Tower Bridge in London. At the moment of its inauguration, it was the longest suspension bridge in all of Europe. However, the Chain Bridge that exist today is an exact reproduction of the original. The reason is that, in 1945, the Nazis destroyed the bridge with the intention of stopping the advance of the Red Army.
The bridge is of great importance for the city of Budapest as it was the first permanent bridge linking Buda and Pest. Consequently, the Chain bridge become a key factor in economic recovery for the city and the entire country.
The bridge is 375 meters long and 15 meters wide with two big towers. Their facades are decorated with the Hungarian coat of arms. And on their bases there are four lions that guard the entrance and exit of the bridge.
There is a false legend regarding the suicide of the sculptor of lions after listening to criticism from citizens that lions did not have tongues (they actually have). However, it is known that the sculptor lived many more years after the inauguration.
Without any doubt, the Chain Bridge is one of the most beautiful postcards in the city and a must-see when we are in Budapest.
3. What to see in Budapest: Fisherman’s Bastion another must-see in Budapest.
The Fisherman’s Bastion is a very nice walk between terraces and stairs. From this place you can enjoy one of the best views of Pest and the Parliament.
This neo-Gothic terrace is located really close to the Danube river, on the Buda hill. It was inaugurated in 1902 after 20 years of construction. The name is a tribute to the group of fishermen who defended the city from this same place in the Middle Ages. As for the seven bastion towers, they are a representation of the seven Magyar tribes, who were the first to settle in what would now be Budapest.
In the same place there is one of the most important churches in the city, the Matthias Church and in front, you can find a great monument to Stephen I, the first Hungarian king.
Both the Fisherman’s Bastion complex and its nearby streets are a must see. The whole area is full of artists, cafes, souvenir shops and restaurants. So in addition to the architectural beauty you can also enjoy a very pleasant atmosphere.
At any time is nice to visit this place. However, visiting it in the afternoon and enjoy the sunset until the city lights up at night, is a must do in Budapest.
4. What to see in Budapest: the Matthias Church in Budapest.
Matthias Church is one of the most important in Budapest, as it was the site of great events in Hungarian history, such as coronations of kings and royal weddings.
Actually its original name is “The Church of Our Lady” in honor of the Virgin Mary, patron saint of the city of Budapest. Its construction was in the 13th century, although its original style is not preserved, since the church underwent major modifications over the years. In particular, and for this reason his current nickname, it was King Matías Corvino who reformed the church in the Renaissance style at the end of the 15th century. However, the style that we can see today is a Neo-Gothic creation by the architect Frigyes Schulek between 1873 and 1896.
It should be said that there was a period when the church became a mosque. It was when the city of Buda was invaded by the armies of the Ottoman Turks. However, 150 years later, the Germanic army regained the kingdom, expelled the Turks, and transformed the mosque back into a Christian church.
From the outside its two towers stand out. The smallest, the Bela tower, in honor of the founding king. And the highest, the Bell tower, where the bells are located, including the 4.5-ton bell of Christ. However, the most striking feature of the church is the ceiling, decorated with multi-colored tiles, and very much like the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.
Inside, its beautiful stained glass windows, its pulpit, the frescoes, the figures carved in stone and the decorations on the murals stand out.
To enter the Church to pray, it can be accessed for free. Otherwise, you have to pay a ticket (€ 5 for adults). If you want to go up to the bell tower it is another 3.5 €.
5. What to see in Budapest: The Buda Castle.
The Buda Castle, or Royal Palace, is one of the most beautiful postcards to see in Budapest. Located at the top of the Buda Hill, the Castle is easily visible from any point on the Danube River. Especially at night, when everything is illuminated accompanied by the chain bridge at your feet.
Built in the 14th century, it was the residence of the Hungarian kings for almost 700 years. However, its architecture did not always have the neoclassical style or the imposing size that we see today. The castle suffered several damages due to the different wars that happened in Budapest. The current large size is the product of a reconstruction of the second half of the 19th century, and the neoclassical style is the product of a new reconstruction after the Second World War.
Today it houses the National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Library. However, even if you do not feel like entering the Castle, you can walk around its streets, its patios, but above all you can enjoy incredible views. Both the Buda Castle and its surroundings, which reaches the Fisherman’s Bastion, is a highly recommended area to walk and enjoy. The streets of the neighborhood with its businesses, cafes and restaurants are a walk with a very bohemian air.
To go up to the castle there are several options. The fastest is by funicular (approx. € 4) from the square where the chain bridge ends. You can also take bus 16, from the same place. Or, the most athletic, walk up the stairs or down the slope to the left of the funicular.
6. What to do in Budapest: Walk on Andrassy Avenue.
Andrássy Avenue (Andrássy út) is the most beautiful and most important boulevard in Budapest.
It was built in 1872 at the will of Count Andrássy (hence its name) with the intention of competing with the boulevards of Paris. So much was the success of Andrássy út that in 202 it was declared a World Heritage Site due to the beauty of the facades that form the avenue.
It is almost 3 km long, joining Heroes’ Square and Erzsébet Square, on the avenue you can find many restaurants, cafes, luxury shops, and most importantly, the Opera Theater.
Walking along the Avenue, enjoying the beautiful architecture of the buildings, the attractive businesses, the outstanding restaurants and the tempting cafes, is a highly recommended activity. We can do it on the way to the city park or even back. Either way, the avenue is worth walking.
7. What to do in Budapest: Visit the Varosliget Park.
Varosliget Park, or also known as City Park, is one of the green spaces preferred by the inhabitants of Budapest. Furthermore, Varosliget Park is said to be one of the first public parks in the world.
At the end of Andrássy Avenue you will find Heroes’ Square, the main entrance to the park. The square is dedicated to the men who lost their lives for the freedom of Hungary, and the statues of the monument represent the seven leaders of the Magyar tribes.
Beside enjoying many green spaces, in the park you can also do several activities. For example, you can visit the beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle, navigate an artificial lake or skate in winter. Also you can relax in the famous Széchenyi baths, visit the Budapest Zoo or enjoy several more activities.
So, the Varosliget park, in addition of being a place where you can relax and rest, you can also enjoy all kind of activities.
8. What to do in Budapest: Take a bath in the spas of Budapest.
Budapest is also known as the “City of Spas”, a title more than deserved since it has almost 120 springs of water at temperatures between 20ºC and 80ºC.
The best known are the Széchenyi, built in 1913 in a modern Renaissance style, which are reputed to be the largest medicinal thermal baths in Europe.
The Széchenyi baths, located in the City Park, have more than 15 pools at different temperatures. We can find indoor and outdoor pools. However, those located outdoors are the largest and most attractive.
The model of the building represents Hungary at the “Mini Europe” model exhibition in Brussels.
These are not the only baths to visit in Budapest, the Gellért and Rudas spas are also very famous. There are many spas to choose from, but before going to one it is advisable to find out if it is mixed or only for men or women.
So now you know, after seeing the most interesting places in the city, you also have to make time to relax and enjoy taking a dip in the thermal baths of Budapest.
9. What to do in Budapest: Have a beer in the Ruin Bars.
The Ruin Bar in Budapest are located in District VII, the most hipster, vintage, trendy or whatever you want to call it. In this area you can find shops with exclusive designs, restaurants, craft beer bars and street food stalls. But undoubtedly the most attractive are its Ruin bars, which as its name suggests are old premises, ruined buildings and factories converted into alternative bars. The most striking thing about these bars is the decoration that could be defined as anything goes.
There are several Ruin Bar, Instant, A38, Akvárium Klub, but without a doubt the most famous to see in Budapest is the Ruin bar Szimpla Kent, located on Kazinczy utca 14 street.
Already at the entrance of this bar, some ribbons hanging like those of the refrigerators await us. Once inside, it resembles a small convent, full of rooms each decorated differently. On the walls and ceilings we can find everything, old televisions, bicycles, trumpets, dolls, paintings, even in the middle of the patio there is a car in the middle. In each room there are different atmospheres with their music and bar, some just for drinking, others for eating too. They have beer that is produced on the premises, some sandwiches and hamburgers with potatoes. For around € 5 you can have dinner with a beer included.
It is worth it to force yourself, after a day of sightseeing, to go and enjoy these crazy atmospheres of the ruin bar and have a few beers, perhaps you can also enjoy live music.
10. What to see in Budapest: St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest.
St. Stephen’s Basilica is named in honor of the first Hungarian king Stephen I. Its construction lasted more than half a century because in 1868 the dome collapsed. After overcoming these problems, it was finally inaugurated in 1905.
In addition of being the largest church in Hungary, allow to house up to 8,500 people, the Basilica also has the largest bell in the country.
Among its attractions, inside St. Stephen’s Basilica there is oneof the most important and sacred relics in the country: the right hand of Esteban I (La Santa Diestra).
Also, when visiting the basilica you can go up to the right tower. From the top you get beautiful panoramic views of Budapest. The ticket price to climb to the top of the tower, by stairs and by elevator, is approximately € 1.5.
11. What to do in Budapest: Stroll through the Central Market.
A good option to take advantage of when we are hungry and need a break is to approach the central market. A huge covered market at the end of the Váci utca pedestrian street.
This market is divided into two floors. On the ground floor is where you will find mainly the shops with gastronomic products, the meat stalls, bakeries, fishmongers and greengrocers with hundreds of bell peppers, among others.
On the other hand, on the upper floor there is a wide variety of stores where you can find traditional shops for jewelry, dolls, toys, tablecloths and embroidered shawls. In addition, on the second floor are the typical Hungarian food stalls and bars. You can try both the traditional Goulash or the famous Langos, a kind of Crepe (fried bread), which can be accompanied with any ingredient, sweet or salty. Whichever option is chosen, it will surely be very cheap.
During World War II the building was seriously affected and in the early 1990s it was declared in ruins. Later it was restored and today it is a place that can be seen and enjoyed in Budapest.
12. What to see in Budapest: the Jewish Synagogue in Budapest.
The Jewish Synagogue in Budapest is the largest of its kind in Europe and the second largest in the world. It was built between 1854 and 1859 and measures 53 meters long and 26 wide. It has a huge capacity of 2,964 people.
The interior is a beauty, divided into three large naves with two balconies. The decoration has many golden details, all illuminated and full of carving wooden benches. However, the ark in the center of the room is the main attraction supported by the large pipe organ.
At the back of the complex there is a large garden containing a tree in honor to Raul Wallenberg, a brave man who saved many Jews from Nazi persecution. Engraved on each leaf of the tree is the name of a murdered Jew.
During World War II, the Nazis made the Synagogue and its surroundings a Jewish ghetto that later became a concentration camp. From this place many Jews were sent to the death camps. The Jews who did not go to the camps, more than 2000 died of hunger and cold in this place. To conmemarate them, their bodies were buried in the Synagogue cemetery.
Along with entrance to the Synagogue you also have access to the guided tour in your language. The tour go through Jewish Museum, the Temple of Heroes, the Jewish Cemetery and the Memorial dedicated to the Holocaust.
Although the entrance fee may seem a bit steep the Synagogue is a highly recommended place to see in Budapest. Not only for the architecture and beauty of its building, but also for understanding the history and horrors that occurred within its walls.
13. What to do in Budapest: Try Hungarian pastry in one of its traditional cafes.
The Hungarians’ passion for pastry meant that in Budapest you will find many of the most beautiful classic old cafes in Europe.
The vast majority of the traditional Budapest cafes emerged between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, with the establishment of the communist regime and its austerity, many of them did not survive. For those that did survive there are some in particular that you should visit and at least try one of their delicacies.
New York Cafe.
The first one you should visit in Budapest is the “New York Cafe”. Located on Erzsebet korut 9-11, it is the cafeteria of the Hotel Boscolo, a Hotel from 1895. Recently reopened, after a period of big restoration, this cafeteria will make you feel like royalty in a palace. Even though the cafeteria is so large, the entire place is decorated in the best Versailles style, frescoes painted on the walls, full of golden details and the most classic furniture. Although it is not the cheapest, it is really worth the experience of enjoying an exquisite pastry in such an impressive place.
The most famous pastry in Budapest is the “Café Gerbeaud”. Founded in 1858, it became the most traditional cafeteria in the city. Located in Vörösmarty tér 7 square, the place has several interior rooms, all of them very elegant, with their wooden furniture, large chandeliers and their classic style that dates back to the 19th century. In this cafeteria you can taste some of the best recognized pastry delights in Budapest. Although like the New York Cafe, you have to be prepared to pay a few more florins but totally well paid.
In the same vein, you can visit “Café Central de Budapest”. This is a café with a long history and where great artists have passed. Also the “Lotz Hall Terem”, a cafe on the second floor of a bookstore (Alexander Bookcafe), it’s another palatial style option.
In particular, on the Buda side of the city, my recommendation is a small but very cozy cafe called “Walzer Cafe”. The location is Táncsics Mihály u. 12, very close to the Fisherman’s Bastion.
14. What to do in Budapest: Walk along the Danube river.
Like most of the great European capitals founded on the banks of a river, Budapest has the Danube.
Along the riverside on Pest side you will have a good view of the National Gallery, the Buda Royal Palace, the History Museum, Gellert Hill and the Fisherman’s Bastion. In addition, you will find on your way different statues and monuments. For example you can see “the shoes” (remembering the barbarism of the holocaust), the little princess (made by the Hungarian Lászlo Morton inspired by his 6-year-old daughter), the painter and the girl with her dog. Also, it is nice go up to the Parliament door and take some beautiful pictures.
On the other hand, walking on the side of the Buddha you will be able to enjoy the Parliament in all its splendor, the Chain Bridge, the Liberty Bridge and the Margaret Bridge.
Certainly walking along both banks of the Danube river it’s an activity that you definitely must do in Budapest. Specially at night when the city lights give that special touch to the buildings.
And why not, if you are tired of walking, or want to experience the city from another place, taking a boat trip on the Danube is a very good option. You decide, during the day enjoying the sun or maybe at night, with the buildings and bridges illuminated.
15. What to do in Budapest: Climb the Gellért hill.
On the Buda side there are several points from which you can see much of the city from the heights. However, one of the most outstanding places is the Gellért Hill. With an altitude of 235 meters, from here you can see the Danube in all its splendor. The origin of the name comes from the death of Bishop Gerardo Sagredo, who was assassinated on this hill by a group of pagans during the 11th century.
At the top of the hill you will find the citadel. An old fortification built by the Habsburgs in 1854 as a surveillance building. Nowadays it bacames a military bunker musem, there is also a restaurant and some a small market.
Also on the same hill you will be able to enjoy the Statue of Liberation, almost 40 meters high, built as a memory of the Soviet conquest of Hungary during the Second World War. However, the best of the hill is its magnificent views of Pest. It is recommended to walk along the hill at sunset since you will be able to see how the entire city of Budapest lights up.
To go up to the Citadel there are several paths that can be done on foot. The more common ones begins at Elisabeth Bridge and the other at the Szent Gellert square.
Excursions from Budapest.
The Hungarian capital is really close to two other major capitals, Vienna and Bratislava. So,you can take a trip or an excursion from Budapest and visit Bratislava in one day, see the best of Vienna or enjoy the beautiful Bucharest.
On the other hand, if you want to visit more of Hungary, you can also take an excursion to the cities of Esztergom, Visegrád and Szentendre or the towns of Lake Balaton.
How many days to see Budapest?
There are many places to see and things to do in the city of Budapest so, the most recommended is to visit Budapest in three or perhaps four days. However, if your less time, I think that with 2 days you can do enough tourism in Budapest.
What to eat in Budapest?
Clearly we cannot leave Budapest without first having tasted Goulash, the national and most traditional dish in the country. Goulash is a hot soup with meat, potatoes, carrots, onions and obviously paprika!
Other highly recommended traditional hungarian dish is Csirkepaprikás. A stewed chicken with paprika and sour cream accompanied with potatoes or rice.
Or if we want to eat something on the go, Langos are the best choice. It’s a hot fried bread covered with ingredients to taste. For example, grated cheese, tomato, onion, garlic butter, ham, etc.
As for the sweet, the Kürtóskalács are very common. A kind of cone of sweet, hot and sugary dough, which you can fill with whatever you want. The most common is to put cream, chocolate ice cream and all kinds of toppings.
Where to eat in Budapest?
Some of the most recommended places to eat in Budapest where you can find traditional Hungarian dishes and a family atmosphere, are Menza Budapest (Liszt Ferenc tér 2) or the Hungarikum bisztro (Steindl Imre 13) in the center. Altough the values are a little higher than the average, they are worth it in quality and service.
If we are a little tight on the travel budget, there are also cheaper places with good traditional too. The best in the city center are Frici papa (Király 55) or Gettó Gulyás (Wesselényi 18).
Also an option for lunchtime where we can eat traditional and cheap dishes is the Central Market at the end of Váci Utca street (Vámház krt. 1-3).
Where to stay in Budapest?
Many times people wonders where to stay in Budapest, the decision of choosing between Buda and Pest. The truth is that most of the tourist attractions are relatively close to the city center. Although, they are almost equally distributed between Buda and Pest.
So, the best decision would be to stay in Pest. The reason is because there are more accommodation available and therefore, prices are more affordable. Also, during the night the movement is more active in this part of the city and we will have more options to eat, walk and transport.
As for which Pest place to stay, the best and most efficient area would be the one that forms the square between the Vörösmarty tér, Deák Ferenc tér, Astoria and Ferenciek tere metro stations. If you can stay in that excellent place if not, the closer the better. Always try to be close to the M1, M2, M3 or M4 metro lines. Some examples, the Lipótváros neighborhood, Belváros, Terézváros (very close to the train station), Erzsébetváros, Palotanegyed, Józsefváros or Magdolna.
In my case I chose Corvin Apartment Budapest. A small but nice apartment with all the amenities on the Pest side, very close to the M3 metro line.
So what do you say now, would you like to visit Budapest? If you know any other activity to do or place to see in Budapest, you can leave me a comment. Also if you have any questions you can ask me and I will try to help you.