Ah Budapest, the capital of Hungary. With the hills of Buda, the vibrancy of Pest and the mighty Danube River flowing between, Budapest is a fantastic destination. Depending on your interests, there are plenty of things to do in Budapest. The city is rich in history, has a fantastic nightlife and delicious foods, and you’re surrounded by beautiful architecture. I lived in Budapest from 2011 – 2013, and these are my favorite things to do in Budapest when taking visitors around the city, and what I look forward to doing on each return trip to the city.
1. Visit Fisherman’s Bastion
Wandering around Fisherman’s Bastion is like walking into a fairy tale. 7 turrets rise up above the terrace, giving it a medieval feeling. Among the archways you’ll be rewarded with great views of the Danube River, the nearby Margaret Island and the rest of the city. While here, you can also visit the nearby Buda Castle and Matthias Church. It’s by far one of the best things to do in Budapest.
2. Climb Up Gellert Hill
For a great view of the city, a walk up Gellert Hill is a must. Paths crisscross on their way up the hill before you’re rewarded with a view overlooking the city. Go right before sunset to see the city come alive with lights. At the top, there is a citadel you can explore as well.
3. Wake Up With a Shot of Pálinka
Pálinka is a Hungarian fruit brandy made from fruits found in the region like peach, plum or sour cherry. You can take it like a shot, or if you’re enjoying an expensive pálinka, do as the Hungarians do and sip. It is common to start a meal with a shot of this. The older generation likes to start their day with a shot or use it to cure a hangover or any minor illnesses. But a word of warning; this stuff is potent!
4. See the Mummified Hand of Hungary’s First King
Inside St. Stephen’s Basilica you can find the mummified right hand of Stephen I, Hungary’s first king. Even if you don’t seek out this relic, the inside of the basilica is ornate and beautifully decorated. As the tallest building in Budapest (equal in height to the Hungarian Parliament building), you can climb up the 364 steps to the dome for uninterrupted views of the city below.
5. Take a Ride on Metro 1
Hop on the third oldest underground subway system in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which runs underneath Andrássy út from the city center to City Park. You’ll be charmed by the small yellow trains and the decorative stations, but beware of the doors. They slam shut with such velocity you don’t want to get your fingers caught.
6. Explore the Hungarian Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament Building is the third largest parliament building in the world. The inside is just as grand as the outside with wall to wall lush carpet, gold decorations and beautiful stained glass. You can access the inside only via guided tour – be sure to bring your passport! You can book a guided tour here. On that tour you get to see the parliamentary chambers and the jewels, including the Holy Crown of Hungary.
7. Go Ruin Bar Hopping
No visit to Budapest would be complete without a visit to a ruin bar. Old buildings and unused spaces were converted into bars filled with eclectic furnishings and decor. Each ruin bar is slightly different, and it’s worth stopping for a drink or two as you explore their various rooms. The most well-known is Szimpla, but there are a lot more bars to be explored in the city’s 7th district.
8. Head to Memento Park
After the fall of communism, Budapest removed the vast majority of its communist-related statues. Today, over 40 of them are on display at Memento Park, just outside of the city. Here, you can see statues of Lenin, Marx, Engels and Hungarian communist leaders. A wander through the park will give you a look into an important part of Hungarian history.
9. Eat Your Way Around the Central Market Hall
The Central Market Hall is full of vendors selling vegetables, fruits, meats, baked goods and other foods. Upstairs, you can find a section of food stalls with ready to eat meals. Alternatively, you can put together a picnic basket to enjoy along the banks of the Danube River nearby.
10. Visit the Largest Synagogue in Europe
Located in Budapest’s 7th district, the Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world, seating 3,000 people within its walls. Not only is it a place of worship, also in the synagogue complex is the Jewish Museum, a memorial park and cemetery.
11. Soak in the Thermal Baths
After a night of bar hopping, one of the best things to do in Budapest is to soak in some history. Literally. Budapest is built over thermal waters and the city is filled with spas and baths. The two most popular options are Széchenyi, located in City Park, or Gellert, at the base of Gellert Hill. Both offer a variety of pools at different temperatures inside and out. To make the most of your visit, be sure to follow these tips.
12. Walk Across the Chain Bridge
Officially called the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, this iconic bridge was the first permanent bridge that connected the Buda and Pest sides of the city. There is no better way of appreciating the full span of the bridge than by walking across it and enjoying the views on either side.
13. Watch a Ballet or Opera
Get a glimpse inside the beautiful Opera House in Budapest with an inexpensive ticket to the ballet or opera. The balcony tickets are sold for as little as 600 HUF (approximately $2 USD), which comes with a limited view, or you can spring for the more expensive balcony tickets at 1500 HUF (~$5 USD). You need to purchase your ticket online, but be fast because these tickets sell out fast.
Tours You Might Enjoy
Below are some popular tours in Budapest that you might enjoy doing.
- 1.5-Hour Budapest Night Cruise on the Danube
- 3-Hour Sightseeing Tour of Budapest
- Budapest Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
- 2 Hour Bike Tour of Budapest
Where to Stay in Budapest
Here are our top recommendations of hostels and hotels in Budapest. All are centrally located, highly rated and have excellent facilities.
- Best Hostel: Pal’s Hostel
- Best Budget Hotel: Hotel Erzsébet City Center
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Hotel Moments Budapest
- Best Luxury Hotel: Corinthia Hotel Budapest
Don’t forget to also take a look at Airbnb. They have many accommodation options available in Budapest, and many of them are cheaper than your average hotel. Click here to get $40 off your next booking with Airbnb.
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