Hungary was the very first country I ever visited, back when I was just 15 years old.
I received the opportunity to go to Budapest on a school trip, and I jumped at the chance. Years later, I found myself having dreams of the beautiful streets in this city, so I knew I had to go back. Lucky for me, I could simply jump on a train and be in Budapest within several hours.
As always when I travel by train, I choose a hotel close to the station, in district 7. It is a former Jewish quarter that still has a lot of kosher shops. There are plenty of antiquities, art, and handmade souvenirs sold in small shops here. The pubs and bars are very hip, and it looks like a modern part of the city hidden between the ruins. My recommendation is to visit the colorful “ruin pubs” if you come to this part of Budapest.
There is so much to do in Budapest, from architecture to museums, food, and nightlife. Three days will not cut it if you want to see everything, try to stay in Budapest for at least seven days. To me, the biggest advantage of Hungary is that you can visit nearby countries within hours, and you can make a road trip to the Balkans and Central Europe easily.
Today, I’m excited to share with you the absolute best things to do in Budapest! Let’s get started.
Dohány Street Synagogue
This beautiful synagogue is one of the largest in the world, even though the Hungarian Jewish population is much smaller than it was before World War II. The interior and the garden were both restored in the ’90s, and the majority of it was financed by Hungarian Jewish people that live outside of Hungary today.
The most beautiful and heartbreaking memorial in the garden is the weeping willow memorial. On the metal leaves, you can read the names of some of the victims of the Holocaust. Another memorial in the garden is dedicated to Swedish diplomat Roual Wallenberg who helped hundreds of Jews escape ghettos and survive.
The synagogue was built in the 19th century in the gorgeous Moorish Revival style. It is also known as the Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue, and it can fit 3000 people at once. You can also visit the Jewish Museum if you want to learn more about the history of Jews in Hungary.
To enter the synagogue you have to follow the dress code, which is for ladies to be covered, and for gentlemen to wear headgear. Also, you can’t bring food or drinks inside, and they have security at the entrance that will check you out. The ticket price is 5000 FT for adults, 1700 FT for children aged 6 to 12, and 11,300 FT for a family of at least four (2 adults and at least 2 children).
Many consider this parliament building the most beautiful parliament in the world. You can get the best view if you are standing on the opposite side of the river, or from the boat when you take the river cruise. Don’t miss out to see it in the evening after it lights up when it is the most stunning.
This incredible building was built in the Gothic Revival style, and it was finished in 1902. The Hungarian name Országház means “House of the Country” or “House of the Nation”, symbolically. It is the largest building in the country and consists of hundreds of offices.
If you want to see the inside of the building you can do it daily. Of course, not the entire building is available on the tour but the part you will see is very impressive. The security will search your bag at the entrance and they will ask for a photo ID, ideally a passport.
Ecseri Flea Market
If you are someone who loves seeing local markets this one will not disappoint you. I don’t usually buy much on flea markets when I travel, mostly because of the luggage space, but if I buy souvenirs I do it on markets like these.
I’ve seen some items with great prices, including antiquities, books, and second-hand clothing items. You can also buy vinyl, vintage toys, porcelain, jewelry, even furniture. You can spend the entire morning here just browsing without buying anything, but among all that “trash” you will probably find some treasure too.
Most of the vendors will tell you the story behind the item if you ask for it, but avoid this market on weekends, as it gets very busy with locals. If the price seems too high it must be because they know you are not local, you can also ask for a lower price, maybe they give in, who knows.
This is not just another city pool! It is more like you are swimming through the museum. It is a spa center in a stunning historical building that features an open-air pool with waves, an effervescent swimming pool, a Finnish sauna, and a variety of other saunas and plunge pools.
You can get an excellent massage for as little as 5500 FT. They offer different spa treatments, including private bathing, aroma massage, couples massage, and more. You can buy a package or just an entry ticket that costs 5900 FT on weekdays, and 6200 FT on weekends.
The spa was built in art nouveau style in the early 20th century, but it was severely damaged in World War II. Although later it was partially renovated, the complete renovation was done only in 2008, and since then it is open every day and available for a full day of relaxation.
At the end of Andrássy Avenue, you will find magnificent Heroes’ Square. It features depictions of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars, a huge monument that is best seen from afar because of its size. These heroes are believed to be the ones who brought Hungarians from central Asia to the Carpathian Basin.
The dominant in the landscape of the square is the central pillar and on top of it is the statue of Archangel Gabriel holding a Hungarian crown. On both sides, there are different historical figures from the Hungarian past. The best is to Google the names of these figures ahead of time or while you are standing there.
On each side of the square is one museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art. Be careful when taking photos not to wander on a busy street as the traffic here is very hectic. Nearby is the City Park, one of the most beautiful places to relax in the city center.
Central Market Hall
The Great Market Hall is the main marketplace in Budapest. Locals are daily buying groceries here, but it can be swamped with tourists too. You can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, meat, and more.
The groceries are sold on the lower floors, and handmade souvenirs are found on the upper floors. Here you can get chess boards, jewelry, glassware, leather products, and more. If you visit this place make sure to pick up some delicious fresh langos from local vendors.
The building was finished in 1897, and it is located in the heart of the city. If you want to experience this market with a guide there are plenty of tours available, including food tasting tours, photo tours, and history tours.
Margaret island is the green oasis in the middle of the city, surrounded by the Danube, and overlooking Budim and Pesta on each side of the shore. It is 2.5 km long and it is covered in parkland, walking paths, and recreational facilities anyone can use.
You can rent pedal carts, golf carts, electric vehicles, or bicycles if you want to explore the island. Another way is to walk or run on a 5.5 km long running track. If your priority is to relax, get a day pass to the spa in Esana hotel, and disconnect from the world.
Interesting places to see on the island are the music fountain that moves as the classical music plays, and the medieval ruins. To get the best view of the island and the city you can climb the water tower, built in 1911 in Art Nouveau style. The ticket costs 600 FT.
This tiny island is also home to thermal baths, Palatinus Strand. It features a thermal pool, wave pool, and water slides. If you come to Budapest in the summertime it is definitely worth a visit. The daily ticket costs 3200 FT on weekdays and 3600 FT on weekends.
The island is easy to access, you can walk or take a tram to get there. For fans of walking, a visit to the Rose garden and Japanese Garden is a must. You can enjoy the amazing smell of flowers, meditate or read a book away from a city crowd. It is incredible how many amazing things had fit on this small island.
Buda Castle Funicular
Buda Castle Funicular is the second oldest funicular of its kind in the world, and it was built in 1870. It is completely operated by a system of weights and counterweights that help raise or lower the carriages. It is a fast and most interesting way to go up the hill, and it offers beautiful views of the river.
They ride slower than they could because it is a tourist attraction and they want to give you additional time to enjoy the views. It is open daily from 7.30h to 22h, and the ticket costs 1400 FT one way or 2000 FT for the return ticket.
The Buda Hills
Do you need to escape to nature after spending several days in the city? In Budapest, you don’t have to go far. Buda Hills is the largest green area in Budapest, and numerous hiking and biking trails range2-course from easy to medium difficulty.
The area has a lot of picnic spots where you can have lunch, take a break and gain some energy to continue your adventure. If you are hiking with kids or don’t want to walk through the park, check out the Children’s Railway. A surprising fact about this railway is that its staff are children 10 to 14 years old. Of course, there are also responsible adults present who make sure everything is safe and secured.
Once a royal palace, today this impressive historic building is home to the Hungarian National Gallery and The Budapest History Museum. It was first built in the 13th century, but the building that is there today, in baroque style, was finished between 1749 and 1769. The castle was damaged during World War II, but it was later renovated in a simplified Stalin Baroque style.
The castle district, featuring the castle and the streets filled with baroque and neoclassical churches, buildings, houses, and monuments are protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. to get the best sense of the history that passed through these streets it is a good idea to get a local guide or join one of the walking tours.
The Hungarian National Gallery is a perfect location for art lovers. You can see paintings from old masters to modern artists. When you finish looking at incredible art, climb up to the Dome, which offers amazing scenic views of Budapest. The ticket for this museum costs 3200 FT, and if you want the audio guide it is additional 900 FT.
The Budapest History Museum houses the most important archeological excavations and historic artifacts in Hungary. Some of the artifacts are 40,000 years old. You will spend a few hours looking at these pieces of history and enjoying the beautiful rooms and hallways of the castle. Tickets are 2000 FT for adults.
Being in a city that has a magnificent river and not enjoying it would be a shame. Take at least one hour to walk on this beautiful promenade that stretches from the Elizabeth Bridge to the Chain Bridge. From the promenade, you can see famous buildings, beautiful architecture, and boats sailing on the river.
You can even see Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion, and the Liberty Statue. Along the promenade, there are plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafes where you can have lunch or hang out with friends. At Szechenyi Istvan Square you will notice various sculptures, including the Little Princess.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
When you finish the walk on the promenade, go over to the Chain Bridge, which opened in 1849, after the Hungarian Revolution. This prominent construction has attracted visitors from all around the world.
If you walk across the bridge in the evening you will see a lot of younger locals drinking with friends while sitting on the side of the bridge. It might look scary to you, but to them, it is a regular night out.
For those couples that love romantic walks, crossing this bridge can be a highlight of the trip to Budapest. Even though it takes only a few minutes to walk across the bridge, you can take your time and soak in the views, sunsets, and wind.
Andrássy Avenue is to Budapest what Champs-Élysées is to Paris, a huge boulevard in the city center with popular restaurants, stores, and busy traffic. This street starts at Erzsébet Square in central Pest and goes all the way to Heroes Square. Since 2002, this street has been declared a World Heritage Site.
In this street, you will see a lot of embassies, mansions, townhouses, and even the Hungarian National Opera House. The afternoons and evenings in this boulevard are very busy with many pedestrians walking down the street, shopping, and visiting bars. If you want to avoid the crowd you can use the metro which has several stops on this street.
Liberty Statue at Gellért Hill
If you are into history and know about the communist regime in Hungary, you will understand why this statue is so important. It is the most prominent statue from the communist era in Hungary, and it symbolized liberation from fascism. It is dedicated to the Soviet troops who sacrificed their lives helping Hungarians liberate their country in World War II.
The location of the statue is amazing, with breathtaking panoramic views of the city. The statue leans on the Citadel, which is a hotel and a restaurant. It is very interesting to be inside the stone building of that shape, if you have time go in for a coffee or lunch.
House of Terror Museum
Hungary has a piece of the dark past, that is considered a horror that many Hungarians cannot believe even happened in their country during World War II. This unique museum is dedicated to showing Fascist and Communist regimes from the 20th century.
The museum is housed in the building that once was headquarters to the Fascist Arrow Cross Party. It was also used for the torture of political prisoners by the State Security Services of Hungary. The scariest part of the building is the basement where so many people were tortured and killed.
Be prepared to read horrific testimonials of the surviving victims, it is not easy to handle. The ticket is 3000 FT, but if there are any temporary exhibits they are free.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
The name of the basilica comes from its first king, Stephen, whose hand you can see on display here. It is the most important holy site for Hungarians, and if you are going inside you have to cover your shoulders and knees. Also, be respectful and quiet as many people come here to pray.
The basilica has a dome you can climb and from where you can see the spectacular view of the city. If you check the event calendar you can see a classical or organ music concert here, and it is an amazing experience because the basilica is very acoustic. The entrance to the church is free but if you want to go to the dome, it is 1500 FT.
Hungarian State Opera House
I didn’t have the opportunity to go on a show here, but knowing how great their artists are, next time I will have to catch the ballet or opera. The building is gorgeous, built in Neo-Renaissance style in 1884.
In front of the building, you will see the status of the two most prominent Hungarian composers, Ferenc Erkel and Ferenc Liszt. Tickets are very affordable and start at 500 FT. You can also opt for a guided tour of the theater, but make sure to book in advance because they are not scheduled every day.
The most picturesque place in Budapest is Fisherman’s Bastion. Although it looks older it was built during the late 19th century as a panoramic viewing platform for the city. The building resembles medieval castles and it belongs to a neo-Gothic style.
The name comes from the Guild of Fishermen, which once was the first line of defense for the city. Seven towers represent seven historic Magyar tribes that were founders of today’s Hungary.
It is certainly one of the best viewing points in the city, and especially beautiful at sunsets. There is a cafe in the Bastion, and also a small chapel. The entrance is free of charge.
In the center of Buda Castle District, right in front of the Fisherman’s Bastion, there is a beautiful church from the 13th century, Matthias Church. The history of the church is as impressive as its architecture. It was so many times ruined and rebuilt so that we could see it in its glory today.
The roof of the church is very colorful and looks similar to St. Mark’s church in Zagreb, which was built at the same time. The entrance to the church is 2000 FT, and if you want to climb the tower it is an additional 2200 FT.
If you know somebody who is blind or you wonder what it feels like to not be able to see, this exhibition will show you the life of completely blind people. You will get to experience the everyday life of a blind person, which will make you more sensitive to people with disabilities.
The exhibition includes a garden, supermarket, bar, and other regular places where you can find yourself during the day. A registered blind guide will take you through the completely dark rooms. In the end, you can eat dinner in the dark served by a blind waiter.
This is truly a unique experience and the entrance costs 2900 FT during the week, and 3400 FT on weekends. The Italian invisible dinner costs 7900 FT for a 2-course meal, or 9300 FT for a 4-course meal. The other option is Indian dinner which is the same price. If you purchase the dinner the price includes the tour as well. Guidance in foreign language goes up by 900 FT for a tour, and for dinner, it is 5000 FT spread across the group.
Danube river cruise in the evening
If there is one thing I would suggest you do while in Budapest it would be a river cruise! Not just that you will get to see the city from a different perspective, but also if you go in the evening you can see the city lighting up, have a drink or try traditional Hungarian dishes, while listening to music and enjoying the views.
This two-hour cruise will show you what Budapest is all about. Snap photos of the Parliament, Chain Bridge, and Buda with the Castle while tasting goulash, paprikash, Steudel, or vegetarian gnocchi with spinach.
Another prominent monument from the communist era, Memento Park is home to statues that were removed from other places in Hungary. Like many other countries, Hungary is not in favor of its communist past, and giving a new home to these pieces of art was much better than destroying them.
The park was opened in 1993, and since then it shows spectacular monuments that are dedicated to the city’s history. The park has a small museum that has exhibits about Secret Police, communism, and other information about that period.
Hungarian National Museum
For those who love museums, this place has to be on the bucket list. You will spend hours going through the numerous halls and rooms filled with historic artifacts, art, archeological discoveries, sculptures, religious relics, and so much more. It is the home of the entire history of Hungary and the best place where you can understand this country.
The museum is surrounded by gardens and in the evening you can see locals hanging out there with their friends. The museum is an impressive building in neoclassical style and it is very photogenic, reminding me of The Met in New York. The admission is 2600 FT.
Aquincum Museum and Ruin Garden
To any history buffs that love ancient history, this is going to be their favorite place in Budapest. Here you can familiarize yourself with Hungarian ancient history when in the place of today’s Budapest was Aquincum, a Roman city.
It was an important military base for the Roman Empire, with a perfect strategic position on the Danube River. You can walk around the ruins, admire the old architecture, or take a guided tour if you want to learn more about Roman history in this part of the world. The ruins feature a gladiator amphitheater as well as a Roman bath.
Except for the permanent exhibit you can also see some temporary exhibits or festivals, depending on the time of the year you are visiting. For example, in September the museum organizes a Roman Festival. Museum tickets cost 1900 FT, and the archeological park alone is 1500 FT.
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
Have you ever been to a city for such a short time you couldn’t physically see everything in one day? It happened to me before, and that is why I know from personal experience that a hop-on hop-off bus is a perfect solution for those short visits, or if you don’t want to walk from one place to another.
You can choose from 24, 48, and 72-Hour tickets and go to as many landmarks as you want in that time frame. The bus has an open-top so you can enjoy the view while riding on the bus. But be careful and check the weather beforehand in case you need a raincoat or a hat.
Budapest is a place I know I will visit many times in my life, because of its laid-back vibe, rich history, and awesome people. The city is made up of 3 unified cities, with Buda and Óbuda on the west bank of the Danube and Pest on the east bank. It feels like walking back in time, but also experiencing modern-day Hungary.
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