Full to the brim of must-see sights and things to do Budapest is also a city of contrasts. Originally separate cities, Buda and Pest, the two are separated by the Danube river. As a result, there is a huge variety of sights and things to do in Budapest, Hungary’s thriving capital. After a number of trips to this fantastic city we’ve compiled our list of the 25 best things to do in Budapest: from historic monuments and thermal baths to luxury hotels and delicious food Budapest is an incredible city!
Our 25 Best Things to do in Budapest
1 | Thermal Baths
Nothing quite says Budapest like chilling in the thermal baths for a day, there’s a reason it’s known as the City of Baths!
Our faves are Szechenyi and and Rudas. Szechenyi Thermal Baths, near Heroes Square, are the biggest natural hot spring spa baths in Europe and is a mix of large outdoor pools, mineral rich indoor plunge pools and sweltering saunas. Rudas’ pièce de résistance is its rooftop pool which overlooks the Danube and it also houses a stunning 16th century octagonal bath in the old wing. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Budapest sightseeing tip: the Rudas baths open early every day and this is the best time to avoid the crowds. We had the rooftop Jacuzzi to ourselves early on a Sunday morning and it was perfect.
2 | Ruin Bars
Budapest is famous for its ruin bars: the run down kitschy bars in abandoned buildings that are dotted throughout the city. Szimpla Kert is one of its finestand, when you’re done with the beers and exploring, head next door to El Rapido, an awesome Mexican dive restaurant. Hipster bars around the world can only wish they were this cool!
Where to Stay in Budapest
Budapest has many great hotel options. We’ve stayed in a number of hotels throughout the city and recommend the following.
Boscolo Budapest – We stayed at the luxurious Boscolo Budapest, with beautiful rooms overlooking the city and included breakfast in the magnificent New York Café – check prices now!
Budapest Marriott Hotel – Check out this stunning hotel for the best views from the Pest side over the Danube River. We loved our stay here with its unbeatable views from the hotel’s concierge lounge on the top floor – check prices now!
Boutique Hotel Victoria – This beautiful boutique hotel is located directly below Buda Castle on the banks of the Danube River. It’s a perfect location for exploring the city on foot and right beside the Chain Bridge – check prices now!
3 | Central Market Hall
Budapest’s central market is a massive local food market in a large building by the river. Although it’s mainly aimed a locals seeking produce, the first floor is packed with food stands and it is the perfect great place to enjoy a tasty snack. Be sure to try the Lángos, a deep fried Hungarian flat bread that looks a little like home made pizza. Trust us, you won’t regret it!
4 | Shoes on the Danube
A poignant memorial to the souls who, during the second world war, were lined up along the Danube and shot. The victims were ordered to take their shoes off so their bodies would be swept away when they fell into the water and the memorial represents the shoes they left behind. Truly heartbreaking.
5 | Margaret Island
Margaret Island is a peaceful island located in the middle of the Danube a little up the river from Budapest centre. It is a wonderful escape from city life and the perfect spot for a stroll or to chill out in the outdoor pools.
6 | St Stephen’s Basilica
Named after the first King of Hungary, St Stephen’s Basilica is a beautiful church in the heart of the city. It houses the most sacred relic in Hungarian Catholicism, the mummified right hand of King Stephen. On a clear day the panoramic views of Budapest from the cupola are immense!
7 | The Fisherman’s Bastion
For one of the best views of Budapest make your way to the Fisherman’s Bastion, located on the hill overlooking the Danube on the Buda side. It’s one of the best viewing points in the city overlooking the Danube, Margaret Island, the Pest side (the Parliament buildings are stunning) and Gellert Hill.
Budapest sightseeing tip: it is worth paying the little extra fee to get access to the turrets of the bastion where the panoramic views of Budapest are breathtaking.
8 | Matthias Church
Matthias Church stands beside the Fisherman’s Bastion and the kaleidoscope of the colour tiled roof of Matthias church is unlike anything we’ve seen. The church is the crown of the city: it’s architecturally beautiful and almost glistens on sunny Budapest day.
9 | Parliament Building
The Century old Parliament building is located on the Pest side of the River and is one Budapest’s most distinctive landmarks. The inside is just as beautiful as the exterior and the Parliament building comes to life at night when it is lit up.
Budapest sightseeing tip: the Parliament building can only be visited by guided tour.
10 | Gellert Hill Citadel & Liberty Statue
Perched high above the Danube Gellert Hill is home to a Citadel and Liberty Statue. Originally built to commemorate liberation from the Nazis after the second world war, the Liberty Statue inscription was changed after the fall of communism in Hungary in 1989 to read ‘To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary’.
Budapest sightseeing tip: While Fisherman’s Bastion has a great view of Budapest we think the best view might be from the top of Gellért Hill at the Liberty Statue. If you’re feeling energetic you can walk to the top of Gellért Hill, however we found it easier to take a taxi to the top and enjoy the downhill walk through the park down to the river.
11 | Chain Bridge
This stunning bridge spans the Danube, linking Buda and Pest, and is absolutely beautiful with its majestic guardian lions protecting the bridge. We recommend a stroll along the river bank after dark to really see the chain bridge at its best.
12 | The Danube at sunset
One of the best ways to see the Danube and its banks is by hopping on a river cruise. It shows a different side to the city, especially at sunset, when the beauty of Budapest really comes to life.
13 | House of Terror
Some sights in Budapest are truly heartbreaking and the House of Terror is one such sight. Between the Nazi occupation of World War 2 and the subsequent ruling of communism, Hungary has had a troubled past. A visit to the House of Terror, housed in an ex-secret service building, gives an idea of what life was like for the people of Hungary during these incredibly difficult times.
14 | Heroes Square
It’s the largest square in Budapest and the Millennium Monument in the middle of the square was erected to commemorate the 1000 year history of the Magyars, a Hungarian ethnic group. The statue is flanked by the seven chieftains who led the Magyar tribes to Hungary as well as other historical figures.
Budapest sightseeing tip: The Museum of Fine Arts and the Hall of Art are located on the streets surrounds the square.
15 | Little Princess Statue
The intriguing Little Princess Statue, inspired by the artists daughter, sits on a railing on the Banks of the Danube.
16 | Dohany Street Synagogue
Also known as the Great Synagogue, the Dohany Street Synagogue is the largest Jewish house of worship outside of New York City. Its backyard houses the Tree of Life, a metal weeping willow tree with the names of Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust inscribed on each leaf.
17 | New York Cafe
The New York Cafe is often touted as one of the most beautiful cafes in the world and we have to agree. It’s like having a drink in the Sistine Chapel and the Italian Renaissance décor had us staring at the ornate walls and ceilings for a significant part of our visit!
Budapest sightseeing tip: we stayed at the Boscolo Marriott Hotel which adjoins the New York Café and our rate included breakfast in the café. It was one of the best breakfasts we’d ever had!
18 | Buda Castle
The 13th Century Buda Castle is the palace complex of the Hungarian Kings in Budapest and is visible from all across the city.
Budapest sightseeing tip: take the Castle Hill funicular up to the castle. It’s expensive but the views are good!
19 | Hospital in the rock
Located below Buda Castle, the Hospital in the Rock was a secret emergency hospital and nuclear bunker where thousands of patients were treated during World War 2.
Budapest sightseeing tip: Hospital in the rock can only be visited on a guided tour.
20 | Memento Park
After the fall of communism in Hungary the communist statues were put on display in Memento Park, an open air public museum. From the replica of Stalin’s boots at the entrance to the enormous Republic of Councils Monument (known locally as the cloakroom attendant) this park is one of the gems of Budapest and is not to be missed.
Budapest sightseeing tip: Memento Park is located a little outside the city. We used our rented scooters to make the 20 minute journey to the park but there is also a bus from the city once or twice daily depending on the season.
21 | The Architecture
Everywhere you look in Budapest you’ll see stunning building upon stunning building. From the Parliament Buildings to the thermal bath houses, there’s no denying that Budapest is an architects dream. Our favourites were the Boscolo Hotel, the Szechenyi Baths and the Chain Bridge at night.
22 | Gelarto Rosa
Budapest is home to one of our favourite ice cream parlours on the planet. The rose inspir ed Gelarto Rosa ice cream cones are picture perfect and the flavours are delicious. It’s our first stop on every visit to Budapest!
Budapest sightseeing tip: Gelarto Rosa is close to St Stephen’s Basilica and the huge queue should make it easy to spot!
23 | Michael Jackson Memorial
One of the more random sights in Budapest is a DIY shrine dedicated to pop legend Michael Jackson. The shrine is located in front of the hotel Michael frequented on his Budapest visits stapling pictures, flowers and letters onto the trunk.
24 | Gellért Hill Cave Church
Cave Church boasts the unique cavern style setting of a natural cave in the side of Gellert Hill. The Pauline monks established Cave Chruch in the 1920s but it had to be abandoned during the Communist regime when the church and the entrance to the grotto were sealed until it was reopened in 1991.
25 | Ronald Reagan Statue
We didn’t expect to come across a Ronald Reagan statue in the middle of Budapest! It was erected to show appreciation for his efforts in ending the Cold War.
Flights to Budapest
Check Skyscanner, a flight comparison website that we always use for planning all our trips. It compares all the major airlines and lets you decide what’s best for you. There are no additional fees and flights are booked directly with the airline meaning no complications.
We rented scooters and zipped around the city. They are a fab way of getting around but it’s probably best if you are comfortable driving a moped before being let loose on the city streets! Budapest is a city made for walking so bring comfortable shoes!