Visiting Budapest, Hungary? Wondering what to do in Budapest? We have you covered! Explore Budapest with our choice of the very best things to do in Budapest.
The gorgeous yet simple, storied yet unpretentious, dynamic yet laid-back; Budapest is laced with vibrant art, culture, and dramatic history. It has that special X factor that it almost always finds a place in every traveler’s list of places to visit in Central Europe as it does in ours 🙂
Fondly called, The Pearl of Danube, Budapest offers way more than a traveler expects. With expansive boulevards, stunning Art Nouveau architecture, legendary thermal baths, unique ruin bars, oodles of UNESCO World Heritage sites, and dazzling Danube scenes – Budapest is full of surprises.
It’s essential to understand the layout and orientation of Budapest before you start the exploration. Isn’t it?
History has it that three neighboring cities of Buda, Pest, and Óbuda (Old Buda) on the banks of the Danube, the second largest river in Europe were united giving birth to the new city of Budapest in 1873.
Budapest is now divided into two parts – Buda and Pest by the River Danube and is united into one by 8 beautiful bridges, Széchenyi Chain Bridge being the most famous one.
Pest, on the eastern shore of the river, is flat and lively while Buda on the western shore of the river is hilly and quiet.
There are about 23 districts in Budapest. While researching for our trip to Budapest, I came across this guide to Budapest Districts and Neighborhoods and found it appreciably helpful.
Most of the attractions and tourist sites are on or near the Danube. It’s easy to navigate your way around in Budapest. Just keep the Danube and its bridges as reference points.
Quick Tip: Get the Budapest Card. It gives you free entry into about 19 museums and attractions, discounts of up to 50% for other museums, sightseeing tours, and sights, and free access to public transport within Budapest for the duration of the card. Plus you also get a free walking tour and a free entry to Lukács Thermal Bath. A 24-hour card costs Euros 22. Buy your Budapest Card here.
Now that you’ve learned a bit about Budapest’s basic outline, let’s move to the top things to do in Budapest with tips on how to get the most out of your time in the fun-loving capital of Hungary.
Best Things to do in Budapest, Hungary
Our best things to do in Budapest guide covers all the major attractions of both the sides of Budapest and numbered them in a way so you wouldn’t have to footslog.
Tip: We booked a 48-Hour Budapest Hop-On-Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus Package and loved the ease and freedom of exploring the city. It saves you money plus the hassle of figuring out the public transportation system in a new city. You can buy a 24, 48, or 72-hour ticket. The ticket comes with the free Danube cruise, night tour, and a walking tour. The best value for money and time.
Discover Gems of Buda Side
Most of the important sites and attractions are located in the Buda Castle District. Castle Hill can be reached by a funicular, bus, metro M2, and even a scenic walk.
We took a Castle Shuttle Budapest that tours you around the entire Castle District in just about Euros 6 per adult. You can hop-on-hop-off whenever wherever you want. It’s that easy!
Where to stay in Budapest? Find the best deals on hotels in Budapest here.
#1 Stroll the Charming Streets of Castle Hill While Exploring its Attractions
Set on a hilly Buda side, overlooking the Danube and across Pest, Castle District is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The walled district embodies – 1) Castle Hill (Várhegy), a historic quarter that’s jam-packed with Hungary’s major historic attractions, museums, and panoramic viewpoints and 2) Watertown (Víziváros), a vibrant baroque quarter that’s famous for its restaurants.
The winding cobbled streets of Castle Hill’s Old Town with charming townhouses make it a fascinating place to stroll.
#2 Fisherman’s Bastion
With its elaborate arches and spires and fairy-tale-like lookout towers, Fisherman’s Bastion is a photographer’s delight. It has to be one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in Budapest.
Also, it provides the most beautiful panoramic view of the entire city.
#3 Matthias Church
Right in front of the Fisherman’s Bastion settled in the Holy Trinity Square is Matthias Church. The colorful tiled roof of the church looks mesmerizing.
The entry to the church costs HUF 1800 that includes entry to its museum as well. The chapel is open 24 hours a day and free of charge.
#4 Buda Castle (Royal Palace)
Perched on a Castle Hill, Buda Castle looks imposing.
Once the royal residence of Hungarian kings, Buda Castle now houses a Hungarian National Gallery, the National Library, and Budapest History Museum.
The other points of interest inside the Royal Palace’s courtyard are – Lion Courtyard, Matthias Well, and statues of King Matthias, Turul Bird, and Magyars (mythical bird).
You can also relish the views of Danube and across Pest from the Royal Palace.
Just beside the Buda Castle, you can see the Sándor Palace aka Hungarian Presidential Palace, the office and the official residence of the President of Hungary.
The building looks plain in comparison to the Royal Palace but has its own charm. The Changing of Guards at Buda Castle takes place all through the week from 8:30 am to 5 pm, every hour.
#5 Gellert Hill
Soaring above the Danube in Buda, Gellért Hill offers sweeping views over Budapest.
You can hike the hill while enjoying the beautiful scenery or take a tram (19, 47, or 49) or bus (7) to reach. There are many attractions worth visiting here – St Gellért Monument, Citadella, Budapest’s Statue of Liberty, and Gellért Hill Cave Church.
Note: The hike to Gellért Hill starts either at Hotel Gellért or Elisabeth Bridge.
Tip: If you’re traveling with kids, make sure to hop on Gyermekvasút (Children’s Railway) operated by school kids. It’s the cutest thing ever. The rail line connects some of the most scenic spots in the Buda hills and costs 800 HUF per adult; 400 HUF per child aged 6 to 18 years.
After exploring the Buda side, follow your way down the Castle hill towards Adam Clark’s Square and cross the famous Chain Bridge towards the Pest side.
Discover Attractions of Pest Side
Most of the sites, attractions, and good places to eat are found in the central districts of V, VI, and VII in Pest.
#6 Walk Across the Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd)
The first stone bridge that bonded Buda to Pest, the iconic Chain Bridge defines Budapest.
What comes to your mind when you think of Budapest?
I, at once imagine the evening view of Budapest – the quintessential Chain Bridge straddling the mighty Danube with grand Hungarian Parliament, all lit up hegemonizing the riverside.
Cross the Chain Bridge to the Pest side and follow the east bank of the river towards Shoes on the Danube Promenade.
#7 Visit the Shoes on the Danube Bank
Build by Can Togay (film director) and the Hungarian sculptor, Gyula Pauer, a series of iron shoes placed on the east edge of Danube is a haunting tribute to the thousands of Jews who were executed at the same place during World War II.
The Jews were forced to take off their shoes by fascist and racist Arrow Cross Party before being shot into the numbing waters of Danube.
Looking at those shoes, you can’t help but think of the beings who once own them – a businessman, a homemaker, a school-going child, and even a toddler – a grisly evocation!
#8 Parliament of Budapest or Hungarian Parliament
If you make an about-face from Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial, you’ll see one of the most impressive parliament buildings in the world and the largest in Hungary – Hungarian Parliament.
It is located in the Kossuth Lajos Square, named after Lajos Kossuth, a lawyer, journalist, and Governor-President of Hungary.
You can see Kossuth memorial, and 1956 Hungarian Revolution memorial in front of the Hungarian Parliament.
There are quite a number of notable statues around the parliament. We loved the seated statue of Attila József on the south lawn of the building, a famous Hungarian poet.
You can book a 45 minutes tour to see the Parliament of Budapest from inside. It costs HUF 4000 for non-EU citizens and HUF 2000 for EU-citizens. The ticket counter is at gate X.
It’s better to book a tour online as the tickets are limited. Book Budapest Parliament 45-Minute Guided Tour here.
You can click the Hungarian Parliament in as many frames as you can. It follows you wherever you go.
#9 Andrássy Avenue
Take a stroll at the Andrássy Avenue to get a glimpse of beautiful turn-of-the-century buildings, squares, and notable attractions like Oktagon Square, Hungarians State Opera, House of Terror Museum, Heroes’ Square and many more.
Andrássy Avenue connects the City Center (Pest Downtown) with the City Park (Városliget) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Heroes’ Square and Millenium Underground Railway.
Tip: Ride Europe’s first and World’s second metro line, M1 or the yellow line, Millenium Underground Railway to experience the golden age of railway.
Encircled by the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Palace of Art (Kunsthalle or Hall of Art), Heroes’ Square is the largest and perhaps the most beautiful square in Budapest. It’s best known for its epochal statue complex called Millenary Monument.
#10 Szechenyi Thermal Baths
Budapest is dubbed as the City of Spas. How can you not experience one of the many natural thermal springs when in Budapest?
There are century-old unique Turkish Baths like Rudas and then the most popular Szechenyi Baths and the Art Nouveau Bath like Gellért -wherever you choose to go, make a reservation in advance.
Tip: Some thermal baths like Rudas are not recommended for children under 14 while some like Gellért has tickets for kids. Enquire before making reservations.
#11 St Stephen’s Basilica
Also known as Budapest Cathedral, St Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest.
Did you know that St Stephen Basilica and the Hungarian Parliament Building, both stand tall at the same 96 meters height? That’s not a coincidence.
Their equal height demonstrates that between religion and government, no one’s more important than the other.
Also, no other building in Budapest can be taller than them as per the strict regulation because 96 has a symbolic value in the history of Hungary.
Nevertheless, the entrance to the church is free but you need to pay (you should pay) HUF 500 to climb up to the dome’s observation deck for the breathtaking, panoramic views over Budapest.
You can choose to walk up the stairs (about 364 steps) or can take the elevators up to the observation deck.
#12 The Great Market Hall
Budapest’s oldest, largest, and pretty indoor market with a vintage feel, the Great Market Hall is located in the center of the city.
A 3-storey market offers everything from fresh vegetables, fruits, and dairy products to handicrafts and other different souvenirs.
The Szabadság Híd Bridge aka Liberty Bridge, the shortest bridge in Budapest is just next to the Central Market Hall.
#13 Eat Chimney Cake
A sweet dough made of flour, eggs, milk, sugar, butter, yeast, and salt; rolled in sugar again and baked over the hot charcoal, Chimney Cake is the traditional Hungarian sweet treat.
We tried different flavors of it from Cinnamon, chocolate, walnut to almond and cocoa. I loved the walnut flavor.
We recommend Cafe Molnár’s Kütrőskalács at Váci Street to try out the authentic Chimney Cakes.
You can choose a normal cylindrical-shaped chimney cake or a cone-shaped ice-cream filled chimney cake or I’d say try both.
#14 Jewish Quarter
A district brimming with Jewish history and culture, Jewish Quarter is constantly evolving.
Three lovely synagogues with Dohany Street Synagogue aka Great Synagogue of Budapest (the second largest in the world), the Holocaust Memorial Centre, an Abandoned Jewish Cemetry, Yellow Star Houses, quirky design shops, hip art boutiques, storied ruin bars, vibrant street art, Kosher restaurants, flavorful street food scene, and some amazing cafes plus bakeries – this is one neighborhood in Budapest is a must-visit for it surprises the travelers with something absolutely off-the-wall
#15 New York Cafe
Famous as the most beautiful cafe in the world, the New York Café doesn’t look like your regular place to grab a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.
It’s a whole ’nother level!
A lavish extravaganza actually.
New York Kávéház is the oldest cafe in Budapest. Historically, It had been a center for Hungarian art, literature. and poetry. It was once teeming with famous writers and poets.
Travelers walk inside, take pictures and leave. People do that.
I saw the cafe from outside but missed the experience of having an expensive cup of coffee at one of the most elegant and prestigious cafes in the world but urge you to add this unique experience to your Budapest itinerary.
#16 Danube River Cruise
Well, you, without any second thought include a river cruise across the beautiful Danube. You’ll discover the stunning buildings and historical marvels pass by gently as you dine and wine along the Danube.
It’s the best way to explore the entire Budapest in an hour or so. The cruise, in fact, is Budapest in Nutshell.
The Dinner cruises last for about 3 hours.
Tip: Take an evening Danube River Cruise when the buildings look stunning all lit up.
Have you ever been to Budapest? Is there any attraction you loved the most that I missed to include here. Please let me know in the comments section.
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Wondering where to stay in Budapest? Check out the best hotels to stay in Budapest.
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