Top 15 Things to Do in Budapest

My favourite memories of Budapest were my evening walks along the Danube with the sun just starting to set which cast an orange glow over the whole city. Once the sun had set, the place was just as magical as every building and bridge seemed to sparkle with hundreds of lights. The warm sunny days turned to crisp evenings and there was such a wonderful energy as I walked through the streets.

Budapest was such a pleasure to explore and one day I hope to return to explore more of this incredible city. 

These are all of the wonderful things to see and do in Budapest:

  1. Parliament Buildings – The Parliament Buildings are by far the most beautiful buildings in Budapest which is saying a lot considering how many incredibly beautiful buildings I saw during my short stay in the city. The Hungarian Parliament Buildings may be some of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. They are located in a stunning spot right on the Danube River and the bright red dome roof is visible from viewpoints across the city. The buildings are lit up in a spectacular manner and may be even more stunning at night. One evening as I stepped out of the Ethnographic Museum, I saw hundreds of birds flying above the Parliament Buildings and they seemed to be glowing like fireflies from the lights of the building. It was a magical moment.

Although beautiful from the outside, everyone I spoke to insisted that I take the tour of the Parliament Buildings because it would be more gold than I would ever see in my life. They were not wrong, 88 pounds of gold leaf were used in the construction of the Parliament Buildings plus half a million precious stones. You can also see the Hungarian Crown Jewels which were guarded by two official guards wielding swords and housed just under the large center dome. Tickets to tour the Parliament Buildings are only available by booking in advance on their website. Tours in several languages are available throughout the day. I booked 2 days in advance and the only English tour left was the early morning 8:40am tour so I was there bright and early. Early enough to see the raising of the flag ceremony at 8:30am. 

  1. Fisherman’s Bastion and Mattias Church – The Fisherman’s Bastion and Mattias Church was definitely one of the highlights from my trip to Budapest. The area was so picturesque and had such amazing views of the Danube and the Parliament buildings. The Fisherman’s Bastion may seem like ancient fortifications but were only completed in the 19th century. Mattias Church is a Roman Catholic church directly in front of the Fisherman’s Bastion. I wasn’t able to visit the inside of the church as it was closing just as I arrived before sunset but the beautiful tile roof was a sight to behold. The Fisherman’s Bastion and the Mattias Church can be reached by either the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular or the various walking paths up the hill.

  1. Thermal Bath Houses – Budapest is known for its thermal baths as the city sits above 125 thermal springs which reportedly are beneficial for a number of ailments. I visited two of the most famous thermal bath houses, Szechenyi Thermal Baths and the Gellert Baths. Both provided unforgettable experiences where I could relax and enjoy soaking in the warm thermal pools, saunas, steam rooms and activity pools. There are also cold plunge pools for those willing to brave the cold. The Szechenyi Baths were built in a stunning yellow Neo-Baroque Palace that was the perfect setting to sit by the outdoor pools and enjoy the surprisingly warm weather for October. I visited the Gellert Baths in the evening so I did not get to enjoy the outdoor pools there but the indoor Art Nouveau tiled baths were absolutely stunning and I could not imagine a more luxurious setting to enjoy the thermal baths. 

TRAVEL TIPS: Bring a towel (or two) and flip-flops. Towels are available to rent but I preferred to bring my own. 

4. Citadel and Liberty Statue – I visited the Citadel on a Hop-on Hop-Off bus tour which took us to the top of Gellert Hill where the fortress provides stunning views over the city of Budapest and the Danube River. It also offers a close up view of the Liberty Statue which commemorates those who fought for Hungary’s independence. From the citadel we walked down Gellert Hill to the Elisabeth Bridge where we had a close up view of the pretty waterfall below the Gellert Monument. The winding walking paths down from Gellert Hill were fully displaying the bright orange and red fall foliage.  

5. House of Terror Museum – The House of Terror was an incredibly moving museum that pays tribute to the victims of the communist and facist regimes in Hungary. The building was also one of the former headquarters of the Arrow Cross Regime and the basement includes recreations of cells that were used to hold and torture victims of the regime. The museum explores how these regimes impacted the daily lives of Hungarians and includes interviews from real people documenting their experiences.

6. St. Stephen’s Basilica – I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the inside of this Basilica as there was an organ concert on that evening. However I was able to purchase a ticket to climb the winding staircase of the tower to the dome which offered sweeping views of the city at sunset. The Basilica’s dome is the same height as the Parliament Buildings to symbolise the equal importance of religion and government. 

7. Central Market Hall – I always love going to local food markets to check out the types of meats, cheeses and produce available in a foreign country. The Central Market Hall is a beautiful building with a colourful tile roof and as it was only steps away from my hotel it was a no brainer to try and visit. I had seen incredible vibrant pictures of the market taken from the upper floors and I was excited to capture the same energy during my visit. Unfortunately, when I arrived around 4pm (2 hours before closing) the market seemed quite bare and empty. There were a few tourists roaming around the market in search of paprika but not the vibrant market scene I was expecting. Maybe it is livelier in the mornings? 

TRAVEL TIPS: The ground floor is where you can shop for produce, meats and cheeses while the upper floor has souvenir stands and a prepared food section. If you arrive to the market just before closing time, you might score some deals in the prepared food section just in time for an early dinner.

  1. Danube Promenade – I walked along the Danube Promenade on a crisp morning from my hotel to the Parliament Buildings. The Promenade is a riverfront walkway on the Pest side from the Erzsebet Bridge to the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, although I walked along the river as far as the Parliament Buildings. The Promenade has excellent views of Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side as well as numerous interesting statues to admire. Some of my favourite statues are:
    • Little Princess – inspired by the sculptor’s 5 year-old daughter who liked to wear a paper princess crown.
    • Girl with a Dog – Girl playing catch with her dog by sculptor, David Raffay.
    • Hungarian painter, Ignac Roskovics – This statue of famous Hungarian painter is not far from the Szechenyi Chain Bridge.
    • Shoes on the Danube – This incredibly touching memorial to Jews killed during World War II who were asked to remove their shoes before being shot and thrown in the Danube River.
  1. Bridges – During my walks between Buda and Pest, I crossed each of these bridges at least once. Each of these bridges offered wonderful views of the riverfront and were each beautiful in their own right.
    • Szechenyi Chain Bridge – the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary, it is also the most famous of the bridges in Budapest and is lit up beautifully at night. Prior to being built, the only way to cross the Danube was by a pontoon bridge or wait until the river froze over in the winter. However, when Count Iztvan Szechenyi became trapped on one side and had to wait a week to attend his father’s funeral, he decided it was time a permanent bridge was built.
    • Liberty Bridge – this bridge connects the Pest side near the Great Market Hall with the Buda side near Gellert Thermal Baths. When I walked across this bridge to the Gellert Thermal Baths, the bridge seemed to be a popular spot for locals to sit with a drink and a snack to enjoy the sunset.
    • Elisabeth Bridge – a more modern bridge named after Elisabeth of Bavaria which was built to replace the previous bridge destroyed during World War II.
  1. Jewish Quarter – the Jewish Quarter of Budapest is located on the Pest side and is a fascinating area to walk around and discover the famous Budapest ruin bars and street art. Historically, the Jewish Quarter was home to a large population centered around several synagogues including the Dohany Street Synagogue which is the largest Synagogue in Europe. After World War II and the Communist era, much of this area was left in decay as the former residents fled or were forced to leave.
    • Ruin Bars such as Szimpla Kert were set up in the abandoned buildings using found furniture and other materials that make-up the hip shabby bars famous in Budapest.
    • Karavan Street Food – is an outdoor food truck haven right next to the ruin bar, Szimpla Kert.
    • Gozsdu Weekend Market located in the Gozsdu Courtyard, is a flea market with stands selling jewelry and art. The Gozsdu Courtyard itself is a colourful stretch of bars and restaurants.
    • Street Art – Most of the street art I saw in Budapest I found as I walked around the Jewish Quarter.
  1. City Park – The City Park in the centre of Budapest has a number of interesting sights including the Szechenyi Thermal Baths, which is the main reason I visited the park. In addition to the baths, I also visited:
    • Vajdahunyad Castle – castle originally built for the Millenial Exhibition which demonstrates several architectural styles.
    • Heroes’ Square – major square in Budapest which features statues of the seven chieftains of the Magyars and other important historical figures. Heroes’ Square is also featured in Michael Jackson’s History teaser video. 

There was so much to see and do in Budapest that I didn’t have time to visit any of the following:

12. New York Cafe – ornate cafe known to be one of the most beautiful in the world.

13. Dohany St Synagogue – largest Jewish synagogue in Europe.

13. Gellert Hill Cave – a series of caves where a hermit lived and used the thermal waters to heal the sick. The Gellert Hill Cave also contains a church.

14. House of Houdini – Museum centered around Hungarian escape artist, Harry Houdini.

15. Margaret Island – Island in the middle of the Danube known as a tranquil escape from the city.

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