Have a trip planned to the beautiful Hungarian Capitol coming up? Well if so then here is your comprehensive guide to fun things to do in Budapest, Hungary.
Or maybe this is your first time hearing about Budapest. I remember the first time I heard of Budapest. I was in a hostel in Munich speaking to some Australians about how epic and beautiful the Hungarian capitol was.
Fast forward after two visits to Budapest, and moving there for 9 months I can tell you they were right.
While in. this post I cannot possibly list and tell you everything there is to do in Budapest. I hope to outline to you the best attractions in Budapest and experiences. Much less touristic than its’ nearby eastern European destination Prague, Budapest can be a culture shock to some. This guide will give some tips to ease the cultural gap and make your experience more enjoyable.
In this list, you will find all the things to do in Budapest when you visit, amazing activities, places to eat, and possible day trips that will give you a better understanding of the culture and history of Hungary.
By no means is this a complete list of things you must do, because Budapest is a city to be experienced by keeping your head up, walking around, and taking in the beautiful architecture. There is always something that will present itself for you to do in Budapest because in this city there is never a dull moment. Trust me! Day or night you will be kept busy.
My number 1 tip for Budapest
My best and number one tip for someone coming to Budapest, Hungary for the first time is to go with the flow and be openminded to new experiences and the unexpected detours as they present themselves.
In a nutshell, here is a Budapest travel guide from a former expat that lived there. Budapest is known for its’ rich architecture, lively nightlife, and the Budapest Thermal Baths. Many areas of the city are protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is my favorite city and I hope you find plenty of enriching experiences in Budapest and things to do in this spectacular city!
Read on to see how to make your journey in Budapest exemplary with the best things to do in Budapest!
Quick country rundown and Budapest travel tips
Budapest is the capital of Hungary and located in Central Europe bordering Austria, Slovakia, Serbia, Romania, Croatia, Ukraine, and Slovenia.
Hungary is known for many familiar things, such as Paprika, the Rubik’s cube, Tokaji wine, Unicum, Palinka, famous chess masters, and Harry Houdini the famous illusionist.
There are many international flights to Budapest, Hungary. With budget airlines, such as Wizz air and Ryanair it is an affordable destination from many places in Europe. However, trains and busses are also very cheap and for closer destinations like Bratislava, Slovakia, or Vienna, Austria. The Budapest train station connects you to many places in Eastern and Western Europe.
Szentendre, Siófok, Sopron, Pécs, Eger, Szeged, Esztergom, , Tokaj, and Visegrad.
Prague, Bucharest, Krakow, Zagreb, and Ljubljana.
Budapest weather has its’ extreams. Weather for Budapest Hungary will be extremely hot in the summer months- June through August- and is very crowded. The pleasant time to visit is either March through May during the Spring or the shoulder season in September through November.
Hungary is a part of the European Union as well as the Schengen area. So those traveling on EU passports can travel freely through this central European country. Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand can enter the country and stay for 90 days with just a passport. Here is a resource by the European Commission that explains more about the visa requirements for different countries.
Short History of Budapest Hungary
Budapest is a city united from three cities in 1873: Buda, Óbuda, and Pest. However, its’ history goes back all the way to a Celtic settlement called Aquincum (~41-54 A.D.), that became the Roman capital of lower Pannonia. Since then the city has been pillaged by Mongols in the 1200s, ruled by the Ottomans for 150 years, before becoming the center of culture and co-capital for the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918.
After being ravaged by the effects of WW1 and WW2, a period of communism commenced, and the Soviet Union troops occupied the city. The history is complex, but one thing that has remained unwavering is the spirit of the people of Hungary.
Major changes in the political life of Hungary occurred at the end of 1989. With greater freedom to organize political action, an agreement on the withdrawal of the Soviet army was signed and the state changed its name to Republic of Hungary.
Communists lost power and Hungary became a member of NATO and the European Union. Today Budapest is still cultural capital of Europe, offering amazing opportunities for tourism, study abroad, and Hungarian national pride.
Budapest Things to do and Best Experiences
#1 Budapest Ruin Bars
The top thing to do in Budapest that you will hear about from almost everyone who has visited are the Ruin Bars. Not only are the ruin bars wild on almost every night of the week, but some are also are cultural centers during the day. The most famous ruin pub- Szimpla Kert serves up the beets with some killer beats at their weekly farmers market.
The ruin pubs got started in the early 2000s after much of District 7, the former Jewish Ghetto was left in literal ruins. They became dilapidated empty buildings after the deportations of tens of thousands of Jews.
Szimpla Kert started off as an experiment to turn old ruined abandoned buildings into eclectic spaces with bars serving cheap drinks and food to the bohemian creative crowd of Budapest.
The nightlife is mainly focused in the Jewish Quarter on the Pest side. This is where you will find the eclectic original Budapest Ruin Bars.
And the rest is history, leading to the world-famous ruin pubs of Budapest, Hungary.
#2 Soak it up in Budapest Thermal Baths and Spas
Maybe after all the dancing in the ruins pubs and sightseeing with all the amazing things to do in Budapest, Hungary you will need some downtime. Well there are no shortage of spas in Budapest thanks to the Roman influence in Hungary. With many mineral rich hot springs all over Hungary, there has always been a rich history of spending time at the Budapest Thermal Baths and Spas to rejuvenate.
There are over 1000 natural hot spring sources in Hungary, so definitely hit one of the famous baths. My favorites include: Gellért Bath and Széchenyi. Treating yourself to a day at the spa is never a bad day, even on vacation. From the old men playing chess by the side of the bath, to the Sparty’s on a Saturday night the thermal baths in Budapest give you a new lease on life and will be one of the highlights of your time in Budapest!
#3 Take a historical walking tour
The best thing I ever learned about while traveling are the FREE WALKING TOURS! In almost every major city in Europe there are free walking tours. Well not totally free, you are supposed to tip based on how much you loved the tour. But funny story I absolutely loved every tour I took in Budapest with Original Europe Tours Budapest! Not only do they have traditional historical tours, but they also have a free Jewish Quarter tour and an Alternative tour.
When I moved here I took a tour and over tipped by accident, but ended up becoming great friends with the tour leader Stephanie! So definitely worth it. Each tour guide has their own flare, but takes you to all the important cultural sights to give you a good idea of where the best things to do in Budapest are.
#4 Great Market Hall of Budapest’
The Central Market Hall is the largest of all of Budapest’s market halls, and was built in 1897. It is the prime spot in Budapest for people watching, photo ops, and souvenir shopping. A perfect way to end your stroll down the pedestrian street.
This brick and steel indoor market always has a steady stream of locals and tourists. The no-fuss food stalls are perfect for a quick and fulfilling Hungarian meal perfect for lunch on a day of sightseeing.
#5 Hungarian Parliament Building
It is hard to miss the beauty of the Hungarian Parliament building sitting beside the Danube. Built during the pinnacle of Budapest’s importance to the Austro-Hungarian empire, the gothic revival monumental building creates a regal affect along the Danube. Construction took 20 years from 1885-1904.
Tours are 45 minutes and broken down by language, so be sure to reserve a spot in advance. Be sure to read all the rules! The Hungarian Police are very strict and will arrest you for restricted items if on your person. Get lost as you roam the 691 opulent rooms that are decked out in gold. The 10 interior courtyards, 27 gates, 29 staircases, and 13 passenger elevators will wow. This building was a feat of architecture for its’ time.
Don’t miss the changing of the guard in front of the Parliament building at 12:30pm daily. The sword drill is definitely a spectacle.
|EU citizens (adults)||HUF 3500|
|EU citizens (students) (ages 6-24)||HUF 1900|
|Non EU citizens (adults)||HUF 6700|
|Non EU citizens (students) (ages 6-24)||HUF 3500|
#6 Walk Across the Chain Bridge
The Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary is iconic, recognizable in movies, historic photos, and represents the unwavering spirt of Hungarians to persevere through history. The bridge opened in 1849 after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.
At the time the Hungarian Chain suspension bridge was one of the largest in the world. While the original bridge was blown up by the retreating Nazis in Janruary 18, 1945, the towers remained standing.
Today, locals and tourists may take a picnic and walk over the bridge to enjoy the beautiful views of the city from the Danube.
#7 St Stephens Basilica
Climbing a top the cupola in St. Stephen’s Basilica is one of the top things to do in Budapest, Hungary. The largest church in Budapest, was dedicated to Hungary’s first king St. Stephen. The most sacred treasure of the church is his mummified right hand (if your into that sort of thing).
Come on a Thursday at 8pm, for an organ concert performed by one of Hungary’s most famous organ players Kolos Kováts. At 96 meters tall (equal to the height of the Parliement building), this view point will give you great 360-degree views.
#8 Heroes Square
Hereos Square is the largest square in Budapest, and began construction in 1896 in celebration of the foundation of the Hungarian State being established in 1896. The square sits at the end ofAndrássy Avenue and is amazing to see for the sheer size and monumental nature of it.
#9 Margaret Island
The Central Park of Hungary is Margaret Island. It holds many events and festivals throughout the year and is a huge park that sits on an island in the middle of the Danube River. This green gem is huge at 2.5 km long and 500 meters wide, there is a water park called Palatinus Baths, the ruins of a Franciscan Church, and a musical fountain.
For those with a green thumb, you may be interested in visiting the Rose and Japanese Gardens. Go in late spring for the best blooms! My favorite thing about Margaret Island has to be one of the largest music festivals that happens in August every year here- Sziget.
I went in 2016 and had the best time ever. It is 7 days of some of the largest acts from around the world. The whole experience is an artistic masterpiece and it is the best festival I have EVER been to.
#10 Hungarian Opera House
One of my favorite things about living in Budapest, was the cultural gems such as the Hungarian Opera House. With so many great things to do in Budapest, this should definitely be in your top ten. With world renowned operas coming through the Hungarian Opera House, for $5 USD you can get dressed up and go to the Opera.
The Hungarian Opera House has been in operation for over 130 years and is one of Budapest’s most impressive 19thcentury monuments. It is a very affordable way to see the opera, as compared with shows in much of Western Europe and nearby Vienna, Austria.
The ornate interior and intricate design will transport you to another time when Emperors sat in the audience.
#11 House of Terror
The name may make you think you are heading into a haunted mansion or one of Budapest’s many escape rooms. However, the House of Terror was the site of many actual and real terrors in recent history spanning from WW2 to the Soviet Communist era by the secret police.
The House of Terror, oddly enough located on the upscale boulevard Andrassy Utca, was home to the Hungarian Nazi Party during World War 2 and the KGB during the communist era. People were not only tortured here, but they were executed. This informative museum sheds light on Budapest’s and Hungary’s dark past and serves as a reminder to cherish the freedom we have to travel and live our life the way we want.
#12 Climb to Liberty Statue on Gellért Hill
While there is bus 27 to the top of the hill, the best way to see the sights along the way is the short 20-minute hike. The Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill on the Buda side, is the best view of Budapest, Hungary. Rudas Thermal Baths is on the route. Beware this traditional Turkish bathhouse that has been in use since the 1500s and is fully nude. Also, you can see a Cave Church, where a small chapel was carved into the stone of Gellert Hill. While the walk up can be daunting to some, the views and sights along the way will give you memories and photo ops for ages.
#13 Fisherman’s Bastian
Also, on the Buda side of Budapest, Fisherman’s Bastian is the perfect spot to experience sunset. Located in the Buda Castle area, the Fisherman’s Bastian terrace provides an amazing panorama of the Hungarian Parliament, the Danube Riverfront, and has a lively atmosphere. Called the Fisherman’s Bastian because this section of the Castle wall was protected by the Fisherman’s Guild in the Middle Ages. This is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Budapest.
#14 Dohány Street Synagogue
The Great Synagogue as it is also known, is the largest synagogue in all of Europe. The Dohány Street Synagogue can seat 3,000 patrons and sits on what was the former border of the Budapest Jewish Ghetto. One cannot walk through the streets of the 7thDistrict (the Jewish Quarter) without memories of the effect of the Holocaust. Built in 1854, the synagogue’s architecture is influenced by Arab architecture and makes you think of Spain’s Alhambra.
While the cost is pricey for Budapest at 16 Euros for an adult, 12 euros for a student, the tour includes a 45-minute tour, entry to the Hungarian Jewish Museum, and the Holocaust cemetery. This is definitely one of the most historical and culturally rich things to do in Budapest.
#15 Buda Castle Hill Funicular
Leaving every ten minutes going up and down Buda Castle Hill, the funicular is the perfect way to give your legs a rest after walking everywhere with all the things to do in Budapest. Located on the Buda side near the Chain Bridge the funicular will take you to the top of the hill to Fisherman’s Bastian and give amazing views of Margret’s Island, the Parliament building, and Gresham Palace.
The Buda Castle Hill Funicular has been in service since 1870. The original structure was destroyed by bombings during World War 2. However, the funicular has been meticulously reconstructed to its’ original vintage splendor.
Open Monday-Sunday 7:30am – 10pm, with biweekly closing on Mondays on the dates you can find HERE.
Adult: HUF 1,200 one way, HUF 1,800 return
Children aged between 3-14: HUF 700 one way, HUF 1,100 return
#16 Cruise the Danube River
The best way to see Budapest has to be by cruising down the Danube River. It is the perfect way to get the perspective of both the Buda and Pest side. While this list is in no particular order, I would say this is one of the best experiences and things to do in Budapest. There are two type of cruises you can do depending on what type of traveler you are.
If you want to be surrounded by a bunch of young backpackers then the Budapest Boat Party is for you. Boarding at 10pm there is a party that includes drinks if that’s your thing, a DJ, and the chance to see the city and the Hungarian Parliament all lit up. Price 20 euros for boarding + 2 drinks, and 35 euros for boarding plus all you can drink.
However, if you want to go the classy route then you can take an evening river cruise booked on Tripadvisor that includes light refreshments for around $15 USD.
#17 City Park
City Park is the largest park in Budapest. The first decades of the 19thcentury saw the building of more trees and walkways, as well as the Millennium Celebrations that took place in 1896 that left behind many attractions you can still see today. The City Park in Budapest is the first public park in the world according to Visit Budapest.
Vajdahunyad Castle, a replica of a Transylvanian castle of that name, was built to show the various architectural styles found in Hungary. Parts of Transylvania in Romania still to this day speak Hungarian. The man-made lake that is used for boating in the summer and ice skating in the winter was inaugurated in January 29th, 1870 by Rudolf, Prince of Austria. Today you can also participate in what were once only considered activities of the Hungarian elite.
#18 Andrássy Avenue
Did anyone say shopping? The largest avenue in Budapest houses some of the best shopping in the city. It is hard to miss too, since the street runs from the center of the city by the Danube to Heroes Square. Living just off this street allowed me to be in the center of everything. It is a lively stretch that offers shopping, food, and one of my favorite roof top bars/restaurants 360 Barthat offers the best view of Budapest from the Pest side in my opinion.
#19 Hungarian National Museum
Another great thing to visit in Budapest, Hungary is the Hungarian National Museum that offers the most comprehensive history of Hungary and the people that have called this land home since 400 BC to the present. The museum costs 2600 Forints, about $9 USD for non- eu citizens. A destination for history buffs, you can see objects like the coronation robe worn by Hungarian Kings. Just off of Heroes Square this monumental building is beautiful in its’ own right.
#20 Aquincum Museum and Ruin Garden
The ancient Roman city of Aquincum has a museum and ruin garden, but the most interesting thing about this place are the ruins. In the 2nd and 3rd Centruy, Romans created city streets, shops, and thermal baths that you can stroll around today. Not really close to the city center, so my advice is to only go to this if you plan on being in Budapest or Hungary for a while.
Adult (1 April – 31 October): 1,600 Ft
Adult (1 November – 31 March): 1,000 Ft
Getting there: Bus: 34, 134 and 106 from Szentlélek Square in Obuda
#21 Visit the Shoes on the Danube
Right in the city center beside the Danube river on the Pest side is the Shoes on the Danube Memorial to those shot during the Holocaust during WW2. The Shoes on the Danube memorializes the Jewish Victims shot by militiamen between 1944 and 1945.Nazis shot victims into the Danube River. They had to take their shoes off, since shoes were valuable belongings at the time.
While many people come to Budapest for the good times, memorials such as this are important to visit to understand the effect of the atrocities that have occurred in Hungary overtime.
The Shoes on the Danube is located just in front of the Hungarian Parliement Building along the Danube.
#22 Try Langos and Hungarian Goulash
Two Hungarian cuisines you should try in Budapest are Langos and Goulash. Langos is Hungarian fried bread aka Hungarian pizza. It is food you can find everywhere from a street cart, to a restaurant. Topped with grated cheese, sour cream, bacon, onion, and parsley. Definitely an interesting concoction, but it has been in Hungary since when the Turkish used to rule the land.
Another must have when in Budapest is Hungarian Goulash! A melt in your mouth concoction Hungarian Goulash will warm you up on the coldest day. And it does get very cold in Hungary during the winter! A traditional Hungarian Goulash, a soup or stew usually filled with tender beef and onions spiced with paprika and vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, onions, peppers, and tomatoes.
#23 Visit Matthias Church
One thing I cannot get over is the rich history in regards to the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Matthias Church is located next to Fisherman’s Bastian, a beautiful structure built over 700 years ago, it is the sight of the last coronation of the Habsburgs, King Charles IV in 1916. The roof alone is amazing with the famous Zsolnay ceramic tiles creating an artistic dimension across every inch of the roof.
So, come here for the amazing photo ops, or the history this spot is definitely one of the top places to visit since it is located directly next to Fisherman’s Bastian on Buda Castle Hill.
#24 Go to a Michelin- Starred Restaurant in Budapest!
If you want to really have a luxurious experience hit up one of Budapest’s 6 Michelin star restaurants! I recommend Borkonyha in Downtown Budapest, because it offers a great lunch menu to give you a taste of the finer things in life- amazing food!
#25 Take a day trip to Szentendre
Not far north of Budapest along the river Danube is the quaint Hungarian village of Szentendre. Wander around the curvy cobblestoned lanes, and admire the colorful cottages with red roods, Baroque steeples, and the rolling hills alongside the Danube.
- By Train: Take the HÉV Commuter train network that has a direct line, the H5 starting at Buda’s Batthyány tér accessible by the M2 Metro from the city center. You must validate a normal Budapest transport ticket (350 HUF) when boarding the H5 for travel to Szentendre along with a supplemental ticket (310 HUF) at either the Batthyány tér or Margaret Bridge stop. There are machines at both stations with information in English, and the Szentendre Hev station also has machines to buy return tickets.
- By Boat: Or you could arrive by river on boat the Mahart Passnave line that runs to Szentendre at 9am and arriving at 10:30 am. Then returning to Budapest at 7pm from Szentendre.
- By Bike: Szentendre is a popular day trip for cyclists since there is a dedicated bike path that takes you all the way from the Buda side of the Maargaret Bridge to Szentendre.
Where to stay in Budapest?
There are many neighborhoods in Budapest, Hungary. So where is the best place to stay? The city can seem daunting as it is widespread. Here are three areas that I recommend to stay in to see the city, stay safe, and enjoy the Hungarian Capitol near all the best things to do in Budapest.
Top Hotels in Budapest Castle District:
On the Buda side and near attractions and things to do in such as Fisherman’s Bastian, Gellert Baths, and the Funicular. The Buda side is a calm option and is perfect for families. It is the perfect place for families, or people wanting to relax away from the bustle of the city.
Top Hotels in Budapest 5th District:
The best thing about the 5thdistrict is you are in the heart of the city. District 5 takes minutes to walk to the Danube River, the Parliament Building, and the Great Central Market Hall.
Top Hotels in Budapest 6th District:
Staying in this district with my mom and also living here I can say this area is my favorite. Close to cultural landmarks, such as the Opera House, heroes square, and the thermal bath Széchenyi. The sixth district is the center of the best nightlife in Budapest.
Best Hostels in Budapest:
Party hostels are great to hang out at in Budapest. But I prefer these hostels that offer all the same budget friendly options and parties that you could get as backpacker party places such as Retox Hostel.
The best hostels in my opinion offer comfort, free breakfast, and options to meet new friends. The below hostels offer tours, events at night, and great common spaces.
How to travel to Budapest?
Budapest, Hungary is easy to reach by air, train, or bus.
With Hungarian budget airline Wizz Air you can get many great deals from across Europe.
Also another great option is taking a bus, with Flixbus you can also get deals to get to and from great destinations, such as Bratislava and Vienna.
For the cheapest train travel tickets purchase online in advance! Go to the Hungarian Mav site HERE!
How to get around Budapest?
One piece of advice I can give you is to avoid taxis at all costs. Unless you have a ton of bags and order or have your hotel call you one in advance. Most taxis will try and take advantage of visitors. The money is different, they will not give you change, and the scams abound.
However, there is hope because the public transit in Budapest is great. The metro, the trams, the buses, and the HEV commuter train network reaches most neighborhoods in Budapest.
Here you can find everything you need to know about public transit in Budapest.
Budapest is a romantic, fun filled city that offers surprises around every corner. With an abundance of things to do, from touring the Hungarian Parliament, to cycling to Szentendre there is no shortage of experiences and things to do in Budapest, Hungary.
Money and Costs in Hungary
- Hungary uses the Hungarian Forint. This money is super confusing when you first arrive.
- Avoid money changers, they give you a horrible rate and use banks/atms instead.
- Hungary’s currency is the forint (Ft). Notes come in six denominations: 500Ft, 1000Ft, 2000Ft, 5000Ft, 10,000Ft and 20,000Ft. There are coins of 5Ft, 10Ft, 20Ft, 50Ft, 100Ft and 200Ft.
- 1 USD is 300 Forints
Here is an idea of costs in Budapest Hungary on a budget or mid-range budget:
- Budget: Less than 15,000Ft
- Dorm bed: 3000–6500Ft
- Meal at restaurant: 1500–2500Ft
- Three-day transport pass: 4150Ft
- Midrange: 15,000–35,000Ft
- Single/double private room: from 7500/12,000Ft
- Two-course meal with drink: 3500–7500Ft
“Europe’s most underrated big city, Budapest can be as challenging as it is enchanting.”Rick Steves
I believe Rick Steves hit the nail on it’s head. When you go to Budapest, it will enchant the hell out of you, but you will have to be up for some challenges to experience all the amazing things to do in Budapest. Hungarian is hard, there will be language barriers, and you may run into some scams, but the beauty and goodness of Hungarians outweighs any of the bad. I full heartedly endorse Budapest as one of the best and most beautiful cities in Europe!
If you want to learn more about Budapest, or how to plan a 5 day itinerary to Budapest my friend at Travel to Blank has some great insights.