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 must-do activities for your trip to Budapest:
1. Take a guided tour through the center of Budapest
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; 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, discovering its true history and meaning.
Therefore, my recommendation is that you do one of the guided tours that I have selected in this article: 16 Best Day Trips and Tours from Budapest, even more so if you visit Budapest for one day or even two days, which is just enough time to get to know the main attractions of the city.
With these tours you can discover the city center, the Hungarian Parliament, the Jewish quarter, the Buda Castle, St. Stephen's Basilica or the Chain Bridge, among many other things.
2. Visit the Buda Castle
To visit Buda Castle and the Castle Quarter in Budapest is to step into a journey through the history, architecture and culture of one of Europe's most captivating cities. This historic complex, located on Buda Hill, is an architectural treasure that harbors centuries of influences and transformations.
The structure of the castle combines elements from different periods and styles, from Gothic to Baroque. There you can tour the different parts of the building, such as the Budapest History Museum, which houses a collection of historical artifacts that tell the history of the country.
Walk through the labyrinth of streets of the Castle District
The Castle Quarter, which surrounds Buda Castle, is a maze of cobblestone streets, charming squares and restored historic buildings. There you will find art galleries, cafes and restaurants offering authentic Hungarian cuisine.
- Price: Entrance to the castle exhibitions has an initial cost of approximately 9 euros per person.
- Opening hours: Every day from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
- Location: Szent György tér 2, Budapest.
3. Relax in a spa
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 decor and outdoor pools make the experience unique.
Going to Budapest in winter with several degrees below zero and bathing outdoors in a steam pool is something you will never forget. It is also a great plan if you want to add it to your list of things to do at Christmas in Budapest.
You can buy your full-day ticket online for a Budapest spa, either the Széchenyi Spa or the Géllert Hotel Spa.
4. Visit the Hungarian Parliament
The Hungarian Parliament is unmistakable; the first time you visit the city it is impossible that your eyes do not go to this huge building which is also the largest in the country. Its facade is impressive and its night views a real privilege for the eyes, but seeing the interior is not far behind.
I recommend a guided tour of the Parliament to learn interesting details about the political organization of the country in addition to appreciate its luxurious rooms in whose decoration and architecture are mixed neoclassical, Renaissance and Baroque styles. You can also find out here how to get tickets to the Parliament.
5. Enter St. Matthias Church
About tastes and opinions there is nothing written, but if you could only enter one of the buildings in Hungary, on a personal level I would recommend this church. Located on the edge of Buda, the exterior is in neo-Gothic style and already catches the traveler's attention for the harmony of its forms, but the interior... is incredible.
When you enter 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 mosaics and walking through the arcades of this church is like walking down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.
6. Walk along Vaci Utca and Andrassy Avenue, Budapest's two most famous thoroughfares.
Touring Váci Utca and Andrássy Avenue in Budapest will allow you to discover the local idiosyncrasy in two emblematic arteries that capture the essence and history of the city. Váci Utca, a pedestrian street in the heart of the Old Town, is a bustling commercial epicenter.
Andrássy Avenue, on the other hand, is an elegant thoroughfare that stretches from the city center to Heroes' Square. Known for its architectural beauty and historical significance, this avenue is home to numerous historic buildings, luxury stores and cultural sites.
Both Váci Utca and Andrássy Avenue offer visitors a multifaceted view of Budapest. One of the best alternatives to get to know them is to opt for one of the best bike tours in Budapest.
7. Explore the St. Stephen's Basilica
Exploring St. Stephen's Basilica is a must-see experience in Budapest. This majestic cathedral, dedicated to Hungary's first king, St. Stephen, is an emblem of the city and a masterpiece of neoclassicism.
One of the highlights is the reliquary of the right hand of St. Stephen, which is located in a side chapel and is an object of devotion for the faithful. There you can also ascend the dome to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
Details of interest
- Price: Tickets have an approximate initial cost of 6 euros per person.
- Hours: Every day from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
- Location: Szent István tér 1, Budapest.
8. Cross the Chain Bridge
If you want to see the most representative image of Budapest, you can not miss the popular Chain Bridge. Located above the river, this iconic bridge connects the two parts of the city: Buda and Pest. As you cross its ornate arches and admire the unmissable views, you will enjoy a unique perspective of the capital.
This bridge, which was built in the 19th century and rebuilt after World War II, combines functionality with architectural beauty. Its intricate details, elegant guardian lions and characteristic hanging chains make it a visual masterpiece that is also one of Budapest's best attractions at night, when it is illuminated by artificial light.
In addition to its historical and aesthetic value, this bridge will also offer you the opportunity to explore both sides of the city. In Buda you can climb Castle Hill and discover the historical and cultural treasures that surround it. In Pest, you will find yourself in the heart of the city.
9. Take a cruise on the Danube
The Danube River is the soul of Budapest and the reference point to be located in the city as it is the one that separates the two banks corresponding to the two parts of the city: Buda and Pest.
To enjoy the river in Budapest, and you visit the Hungarian capital in summer is best to take a cruise on the Danube. Some include dinner, specifically many of the night curceros, others offer live shows and others are simpler and are limited to a walk through the main points of interest in the city.
10. Visit the Budapest Opera House
Located in the heart of the city, the Hungarian National Opera is an architectural pearl that combines neo-Renaissance grandeur with a rich musical tradition. The site is also a cultural center that has been a focal point of the Hungarian arts scene for more than a century.
Its facade and magnificently decorated interiors, such as the auditorium with its dome and ornate balconies, provide a spectacular backdrop for performances. Attending an opera or ballet performance there is an experience that will transport you to another era and immerse you in the magic of music and stage performance.
Details of interest
- Price: It will depend on the shows, but you can get tickets from 22 euros per person.
- Hours: Depends on the shows.
- Location: 22 Andrassy ut Avenue, Budapest.
11. Don't miss the Heroes' Square
Heroes' Square is located at the end of Andrássy Avenue and is one of the central points of the city. Flanked by majestic buildings and monuments, this site pays tribute to the historical leaders and figures who have shaped Hungary. This monument is a symbol of national identity and pride, and an essential stop for anyone interested in Magyar culture.
Heroes' Square is also a meeting point and venue for events and celebrations. From open-air concerts to cultural festivals, the square comes alive on various occasions throughout the year.
12. Cruise through the city on one of the sightseeing buses
Once you have closed the transfers from the airport to the city of Budapest, and you are organizing your trip, I recommend that you consider purchasing the Budapest Card, with which you can enjoy free public transport.
However, if what you want is not to miss any of the sights of the city of Budapest and enjoy the sights of this city comfortably and without crowds or walking, the option of making a tour of Budapest by tourist bus is something to value. No matter how much you walk through the center, there will always be more distant tourist spots that you can see during a guided bus tour with panoramic views.
13. Stroll through the Central Market
During a visit to a city, there is always someone who prefers to go shopping and others who are more inclined to go sightseeing or enjoy the gastronomy (guilty). The plan to visit the 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 merchants of the city whether they sell fabrics, prepared food, fruit, juices or handicrafts.
14. Visit the City Park
Budapest City Park, covering more than 100 hectares, is one of the largest urban parks in Europe and a place where locals and visitors can escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy nature in all its splendor. There you can also find the Vajdahunyad Castle, a structure that combines elements of different architectural styles.
Its extensive trails are perfect for walking, jogging or cycling, while the wide lawns are ideal for picnics and games and, during the warmer months, for enjoying special events and festivals. In addition, the park is home to the Széchenyi Bath, one of Budapest's best-known thermal spas.
15. Take a stroll around Margaret Island
Walking around Margaret Island will allow you to find an oasis of serenity and nature in the middle of Budapest. This river island is a haven that offers a variety of outdoor activities, lush forests and panoramic views that will allow you to unwind and relax.
In addition, the island is home to monuments and attractions, such as the Fountain of Music and the Open Air Theater, which add an artistic and cultural tinge to the experience. You can also explore the Dominican Monastery and the Water Tower, which provide a connection to the city's history and architecture.
16. Visit the Fisherman's Bastion
Visiting the Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest is like stepping into an architectural fairy tale that combines medieval elegance with an unparalleled panoramic view of the city. This neo-Romanesque structure viewpoint , located on Buda Hill, is one of Budapest's landmarks.
Trinity Square, at the base of Fisherman's Bastion, is an enchanting space featuring an equestrian statue of King St. Stephen and the Matthias Church, an architectural jewel in its own right. You can get there in the hop on-hop off buses of Budapest.
17. Take a break at Vorosmarty Square
Whether you want to relax or find some respite between excursions, taking a break at Vörösmarty Square will allow you to experience the beauty of this iconic public space. Located in the heart of the historic center, this square is a popular meeting place for locals and visitors alike.
Vörösmarty is famous for being home to Café Gerbeaud, a historic Budapest coffee house. Sitting on its terraces and enjoying a coffee or a delicious cake is a typical local experience.
18. Enter a "ruin pub"
Surely you have heard the name Szimpla Bar; it is one of the most famous ruin pubs in Budapest, but it is 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 an interesting decoration and a special charm.
19. Explore the Shoe Monument
Located on the banks of the Danube River, this unique and moving monument consists of a series of cast iron shoes scattered along the riverwalk. Each pair of shoes symbolizes the Jewish people who were executed at this location during the Nazi occupation, when they were forced to shed their shoes before being murdered and thrown into the river.
The Shoe Monument is a striking reminder of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust and a tribute to the thousands of lives lost in the genocide. The empty shoes evoke a sense of loss and emptiness, but also a call for remembrance and recognition of the tragedy that occurred at this site.
20. Get to know the Jewish Quarter and enter the Synagogue
Getting to know the Jewish Quarter of Budapest will allow you to enter an area rich in history, culture and authenticity that reflects the vibrant Jewish identity of the city. This district, located in the heart of Pest, is a testament to the Jewish community of the capital over the centuries. Despite the historical vicissitudes and challenges it has faced, the Jewish Quarter has maintained its unique character.
One of the highlights of the Jewish Quarter is the Great Synagogue of Budapest. Next to it is the Temple Garden, a memorial space honoring the victims of the Holocaust.
21. Discover the Soviet sculptures of Memento Park
If you want to learn about the Hungarian past that was dominated by the Soviet occupation, you can't miss Memento Park. This open-air museum preserves an important fragment of Hungary's political and cultural history and houses a collection of monuments and sculptures that once adorned the streets of Budapest during the communist era.
Memento Park features a variety of sculptures depicting political figures and symbols of the communist era, such as Lenin, Marx and proletarian heroes. These works, once revered as symbols of the regime and relocated there after the fall of the Berlin Wall, now serve as visual reminders of a controversial political past.
Details of interest
- Price: Tickets have an initial cost of approximately 5 euros per person.
- Hours: Every day from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm.
- Location: Balatoni út - Szabadkai utca sarok, Budapest.
22. Visit the House of Terror
Visiting the House of Terror in Budapest will allow you to enter a place of deep historical introspection that narrates the horrors and oppressions that marked the 20th century in Hungary. This memorial museum, housed in a building that was once the headquarters of the Hungarian political police and later the Nazi Gestapo, offers an intense and moving experience.
Through interactive exhibits, authentic documents and personal testimonies, the House of Terror offers a raw and poignant perspective of the struggle and suffering experienced by the Hungarian people. This site offers a tribute to the lives lost and an invitation to reflect on the dark events that occurred here.
The exhibits are arranged in a striking and visceral manner, allowing you to understand the brutality of the totalitarian dictatorships and the devastating impact they had on society. Admission to this museum is included among the attractions of the Budapest Card.
Details of interest
- Price: Tickets have an initial cost of approximately 7 euros per person.
- Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 18.00 hours.
- Location: Andrassy Avenue ut 60, Budapest.
23. Visit the exhibits at the Rock Hospital Museum
If you are interested in alternative experiences, you can't miss the Rock Hospital Museum. This site offers intriguing exhibits that will allow you to learn about the history of an enigmatic subway hospital. The museum is located on the premises of a hospital built during World War II, in the natural caves and tunnels under the Buda Castle.
The exhibition offers a poignant insight into life in Budapest during the darkest moments of history, as the hospital cared for wounded victims and refugees during air raids and sieges. The exhibits feature recreated spaces including operating rooms, treatment rooms and patient rooms.
Medical objects and tools from the period, along with photographs and documents, provide a vivid view of how the hospital functioned under extremely difficult conditions.
Details of interest
- Price: Tickets have an initial cost of approximately 10 euros per person.
- Hours: daily from 10.00 am to 7.00 pm.
- Location: Lovas út 4/C, Budapest.
24. Take a tour through the Art Noveau buildings of Budapest.
Taking a walk to discover the Art Nouveau buildings in Budapest will immerse you in an era of elegance and architectural creativity that left a lasting mark on the city. Known in Hungarian as Secession, Art Nouveau flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Hungarian capital boasts a collection of buildings that reflect this unique aesthetic.
One of the most emblematic buildings is the Palace of Arts, located in Heroes' Square. This building boasts an intricate facade and decorated dome that are notable examples of Art Nouveau.
The Museum of Decorative Arts, designed by Ödön Lechner, is another architectural monument of Art Nouveau. Its colorful ceramic facade and organic motifs are representative of the style. Other notable buildings include the Royal Palace, the Brüdern Building and the Gellért Spa, all of which feature architectural details that capture the essence of Art Nouveau in Budapest.
25. Taste a good goulash
Enjoying the gastronomy of each country is a tourist experience in itself. In this case, although for different tastes, in Hungary you will find a variety of hot dishes, different, at a very low price and with an excellent quality. Don't miss this post in which I leave you the best gastronomic tours of the city.
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, a hot fried bread with toppings on top that will remind you of a kind of pizza.
26. Discover the Godollo Palace and the surroundings of Budapest
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, by taking day trips from Budapest, a different part of the Hungarian landscape. From a visit to the Gödöllo Palace, the favorite of Queen Sissi, to an excursion through the villages of the Danube Bend; the variety is served.
Or even if you have more time to be in Budapest - for example if you have three days in Budapest, four or if you are lucky to have five days in the Hungarian city -, and want to know another European capital, I leave you this post to inform you about how to get from Budapest to Bratislava.
The best excursions from Budapest
I leave you a list with the best excursions to know also the surroundings of the city:
- Excursion to the Puszta from Budapest with equestrian show
- Excursion to the Lake Balaton and Herend from Budapest
- Excursion to Szentendre from Budapest
- Excursion to Vienna from Budapest
What time of the year is the best time to travel to Budapest?
If you are deciding on when to go to the Hungarian capital to enjoy the most of its spectacular views, I leave you a selection of the best plans by months of the year:
- 10 things to see and do in Budapest in February
- 10 things to see and do in Budapest in March
- 10 things to see and do in Budapest in April
- 10 things to see and do in Budapest in August
- 10 things to see and do in Budapest in September
- 10 things to see and do in Budapest in October
- 10 things to see and do in Budapest in November
- 10 things to see and do in Budapest in December
You can not miss this post where I will tell you 10 tips you should follow on your trip to Budapest.