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Best things to do in Budapest

I am sure that Budapest will not leave you indifferent: often underrated next to Vienna or Prague, the Pearl of the Danube has a lot to offer to its visitors. Here's all about it!

Alex Grande

Alex Grande

Sep 30, 2021 • 5 min read

Best things to do in Budapest

Panorámica de Budapest | ©Kate Kasutich

The "Pearl of the Danube" or "Paris of the East" are some of the nicknames that Budapest receives: the city is a small jewel sheltered among big sisters of renown like Vienna or Prague that has nothing to envy to the rest of European capitals. Here is a list of the 10 essential activities for your trip to Budapest:

1. Take a guided tour of the city center

St. Matthias Church | ©Keith Yahl
St. Matthias Church | ©Keith Yahl

At the end of a trip many images will come to mind, but in a while will we know what they mean? Will we remember the names of the places? Probably not and that is because visiting a city and knowing it is not the same thing; the difference between both concepts is in a guided tour in which an expert teaches us to look at the city as a local would do it, discovering its true history and meaning.

Therefore, my recommendation is that you take one of the guided tours I have selected in this article: Day Trips and Excursions from Budapest. This way you can discover the city center, the Hungarian Parliament, the Jewish quarter, St. Stephen's Basilica, or the Chain Bridge, among many other things.

2. Relax in a spa

Interior of the Géllert Spa | ©Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose
Interior of the Géllert Spa | ©Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose

What in any other city might be a "filler" activity, in Budapest becomes a must-see at the level of the Parliament or the Danube River. The spas in this city are simply breathtaking: sumptuous decoration and outdoor pools make the experience unique. Going to Budapest in the freezing cold of winter and bathing outdoors in a steamy pool is something you will never forget.

You can buy online your full-day ticket for a Budapest spa, either the Széchenyi spa or the one at the Géllert Hotel.

3. Take a cruise on the Danube

Cruise on the Danube as it passes Budapest | ©Adam Jones
Cruise on the Danube as it passes Budapest | ©Adam Jones

The Danube River is the soul of Budapest and the reference point to locate in the city since it is the one that separates the two banks corresponding to the two parts of the city: Buda and Pest.

To enjoy the river of Budapest, it is best to make a Danube river cruise some include dinner, others live shows and others are simpler and are limited to a walk through the main points of interest in the city.

4. Visit the Hungarian Parliament

The Parliament from the Danube | ©Cor Oosterbeek
The Parliament from the Danube | ©Cor Oosterbeek

The Hungarian Parliament is unmistakable; the first time you visit the city it is impossible for your eyes not to be drawn to this huge building which is also the largest in the whole country. Its facade is impressive and its night views a real privilege for the eyes, but seeing the interior is not far behind either.

I recommend a guided tour of the Parliament to learn interesting details about the political organization of the country in addition to appreciating its luxurious rooms in whose decoration and architecture are mixed neoclassical, Renaissance, and Baroque styles.

5. Tour the surroundings of Budapest

Gödöllo Palace | ©Károly Szántai
Gödöllo Palace | ©Károly Szántai

The city of Budapest has a lot to offer to the traveler, but the surroundings are not far behind. The geographical location of this city allows you to discover a different part of the Hungarian landscape, taking a day trip from Budapest. From a visit to the Gödöllo Palace, Queen Sissi's favorite, to an excursion through the villages of the Danube Bend; variety is served.

6. Cruise through the city on one of its sightseeing buses

Sightseeing bus | ©Albert Lugosi
Sightseeing bus | ©Albert Lugosi

If what you want is not to miss any of the points of interest of the city of Budapest and enjoy the sights of this city comfortably and without agglomerations or walks, the option of touring Budapest on a Hop on Hop off bus is something to consider. No matter how much you walk around the center, there will always be more distant sights that you can see during a guided bus tour with panoramic views.

7. Enter the San Matías church

Interior of St. Matthias Church | ©Anne and David
Interior of St. Matthias Church | ©Anne and David

About tastes and opinions there is nothing written, but if you could only enter one of Hungary's buildings, on a personal level I would recommend this church. Located in the Buda Ring, the exterior is neo-gothic style and already attracts the attention of the traveler by the harmony of its forms, but the interior... is simply incredible.

Entering the Catholic Church of Matthias, also known as the Church of Our Lady, you have difficulty deciding in which corner to fix your eyes. All the walls are covered with mosaic and walking through the arcades of this church is like walking down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.

8. Stroll through Central Market

Budapest Central Market | ©BriYYZ
Budapest Central Market | ©BriYYZ

While visiting a city, there is always someone who prefers shopping and others who are more inclined to go sightseeing or enjoy gastronomy (guilty). Visiting Central Market is ideal for both types of travelers because it is a point of interest in itself. It is not the typical tourist market, although you will also find souvenir stalls; it is rather a meeting point for all the humble traders of the city whether they sell fabrics, prepared food, fruit, juices, or handicrafts.

9. Try goulash

Typical Hungarian goulash | ©stu_spivack
Typical Hungarian goulash | ©stu_spivack

Enjoying the gastronomy of each country is a tourist experience in itself. In this case, although there are different tastes, in Hungary you will find a variety of hot dishes, different, at a very low price and with excellent quality.

The one you will have heard most about is goulash: a soup seasoned with paprika that may contain meat or vegetables, but its real flavor is in the broth. Even if you're not too attracted to the contents, you have to try the soup just as you have to try the official snack of the city: langos, hot fried bread with toppings on top that will remind you of a kind of pizza.

10. Enter a "ruin pub"

Ruin pub in Budapest | ©Daniel Edwins
Ruin pub in Budapest | ©Daniel Edwins

You've probably heard the name Szimpla Bar before; it's one of the most famous ruin pubs in Budapest, but it's not the only one. At night, the city is transformed leaving aside its stately air to bet for a more alternative and daring one. Different dilapidated buildings in the city have been converted into alternative bars, with interesting decoration and a special charm.

Things to do in Budapest