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21 Don’t-Miss Things to Do in Budapest

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Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Sydney Opera House … one thing is for sure: Every city has certain iconic, visit-worthy attractions, and if you’re a tourist, you don’t want to miss any of them.

That’s true of Hungary’s capital city as well. Budapest has some of the most iconic buildings in all of Europe, as well as a wealth of things to do and see. So planning at least a couple of days for sightseeing will be well worth your while.

The Chain Bridge from Buda side of Budapest is one of the top Budapest sights..

21 sights and things to do in Budapest

If you’re visiting Budapest and have limited time for sightseeing, you’ll want to focus on the top attractions. while you’re in Budapest. Why not get to know the best of the things to do in Budapest and skip the rest?

With so many things to choose from, it can be hard to decide what to add to your itinerary. We’ve weeded through the list to help you out.

Scroll to the end for places to stay in Budapest, along with more travel tips, like how to get around. We hope it makes your travel planning easier.

ⓘ Have limited time? A guided tour will ensure you’ll see the best attractions in the least amount of time. You’ll also get insights into the city and the local culture. Free Tour Budapest lets you pay whatever you consider fair at the end of your tour, so your guide will work hard to give you a good experience.

1. Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Cross the Chain Bridge on foot.

Let’s start with the only one of Budapest attractions that unites Buda and Pest: Széchenyi Chain Bridge. The bridge is an exceptional 19th-century masterpiece of engineering and was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary.

Connecting Széchenyi Square behind Gresham Palace in Pest to Buda’s Adam-Clark Square beneath Castle Hill’s Funicular, the bridge has become a symbol of the unity of people.

If you take a walking tour of Budapest, you’ll get the opportunity to understand the history of the city and that of Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Statues of lions guard each end of the bridge, but don’t let that stop you from crossing on foot. It’s worth it: The view from the middle of the bridge is fantastic!

ⓘ TIP: When you ask for directions, you may hear people referring to the “Buda” side of the river or the “Pest” side of the river. That’s because Budapest was two separate towns until 1873. Just remember that Buda occupies the hilly, west side of the river and Pest occupies the eastern, flatter side. You’ll be fine.

2. Budapest Castle Hill funicular

Cross the bridge to the Buda side and you’ll be at Clark Ádám Square. Here you’ll find Hungary’s Mile Zero and a funicular. Buy a ticket and ride to the top of Buda Hill.

This funicular opened in 1908, making it the second oldest funicular in Europe. The funicular is the best way to get to Castle Hill at the top, and is very popular for its panoramic views over the river. The ride only takes about 1.5 minutes, but the trip and views are worth every second!

The Budapest Castle Hill Funicular opens at 7:30 am and closes at 10 pm. Each journey costs 1,200 HUF, or 1,800 if you purchase a return ticket.

3. Castle Hill

Map of Buda Castle Quarter

Castle Hill in Budapest (Várhegy) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Towering above the Danube, this is where the town of Buda began in the 13th century, and you can still find traces of its medieval roots.

The Castle Quarter has many important historical monuments and museums. Its (mostly pedestrian) cobblestone streets are full of medieval, Neoclassical and Baroque houses, churches, public buildings, and statues.

4. Buda Castle

Built in the mid-1700s, Buda Castle complex (Budevari Palota) replaced a medieval castle fortress that had been constructed to protect the city against mongol and Tartar attacks.

The castle is worth visiting, either with a guided tour or on your own. The former Royal Palace now houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum, where you can see the Hungarian coronation jewels, older than the Imperial Crown in Vienna, and other pieces of art in their permanent collection.

Interesting fact: There’s an extensive system of caves and tunnels running underneath Buda Castle. The labyrinth was used quiet extensively during World War II. Touring the labyrinth was one of the top things to do in Budapest until 2011, when it was abruptly closed to the public with no explanation.

5. Mathias Church

Another top thing to see in Budapest, Matthias Church stands above the Castle Hill with a beautiful red-tiled roof and an ornate white exterior. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Budapest as well as Hungary as a whole.

Officially named The Church of Our Lady of Buda Castle, Matthias Church was named for King Matthias Corvinus the Fair, who restored the structure after a fire in 1458.

After Corvinus was officially crowned King of Hungary here, it became a popular wedding venue. Since then, it’s seen has seen several coronations and royal weddings and even served as a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. The church was badly damaged during World War II, but it has been restored to its former glory.

We never had a chance to visit the interior, because tourism is strongly discouraged during church services. But inside you’ll find a treasure trove of historic artifacts and artistic wonders, including religious artifacts and replicas of royal jewels. You can also see the medieval crypt where 10th-century King Béla III and his wife Agnes are buried.

6. Fisherman’s Bastion

Fairytale? You bet it is. This Disney-esque lookout was named in honor of the fishermen who kept watch over the city in days gone by. It stands at the exact spot where the local fishermen’s guild built their defence installations in the Middle Ages.

The seven yurt-like turrets on Fisherman’s Bastion symbolize the seven Hungarian tribes who first arrived in Buda. Their shape is reminiscent of the crowns that medieval Hungarian kings wore.

Fisherman’s Bastion provides incredible views. From here you can see all the way across Budapest, and on a clear day, you’ll even be able to spot the Great Market Hall in Pest and the Citadella in Buda.

Most people stick with the lower levels, which offer excellent vistas of the Danube River and Pest. Those levels are free to enter. If that’s not enough for you, you’ll need to pay to visit the top level.

7. Café Ruszwurm – where to eat on Buda Castle Hill

To experience café culture Budapest-style – and you really should – head nearby to the city’s best-known confectioner, Ruszwurm Cukrászda.

We thought Café Ruszwurm was one of the best things to do in Budapest. Because, well, authentic Hungarian food.

Not only is the bakery one of the oldest traditional cafes & confectioners in the city, it also offers an amazing selection of traditional pastries, coffees and cakes. Sit inside and soak up its historic ambiance, complete with antique wood furniture and waitresses dressed in traditional garb. You can find the menu here.

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Matthias Church

8. Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum

Castle Hill contains a massive underground cave system, a maze of caves and paths that were built to serve as air-borne shelters or medical centers during the World War II.

One of those hospitals is now known as the Hospital of Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum. During the war the hospital was fully occupied by soldiers in 1944 and 1945 and was used as a medical hospital for civilians as well as soldiers. It was developed into a nuclear bunker during the Cold War and was top secret until 2002.

The museum opened its doors to the public in 2007 and for today more than 1,000,000 visitors has seen its exhibitions. Its mission is to show the true face of war and highlight the value of peace. It commemorates the everyday heroes who testified to their determination and heroism during the most difficult periods of the twentieth century. Its primary purpose is to preserve and present the eternal values ​​they represent.

Though the hospital was closed by July 1945, the institute remained employed for many years to develop medicine to fight typhus for the disease. Guided tours depart from 10 to 15 p.m. until 7 p.m. with tickets available online.

These former hospitals and bunkers are well worth exploring and feature several exhibition displays of lifesaving activities that were witnessed during Hungary’s Siege of World War II.

Another exhibition focuses on devastating nuclear effects.

9. Andrássy Avenue

Shopping on Budapest's exclusive Andrassy Avenue

On the Pest side side of the river, Andrássy Avenue is to Budapest what Fifth Avenue is to New York. Spend a little time in some of the exclusive shops here, shopping for some authentic Hungarian souvenirs. Stop into one of the quaint cafés for a bite, or visit one of the better restaurants to enjoy the best authentic Hungarian food in the city. We found a wonderful place that offered Hungarian wine tastings.

The beautiful boulevard carries visitors from Erzsebet Square into a city park. A walk down Andrássy Avenue is a great way to see many of Budapest’s attractions, including the Hungarian State Opera House, many museums, and a wide variety of old town houses and mansions in a wide various architectural styles. Because of its fascinating heritage, Andrassy Avenue is an official UNESCO World Heritage site.

Interesting fact: The metro that runs underneath Andrássy Avenue is the second-oldest subway system in the world.

10. Heroes’ Square and the Millennium Monument

Heroes' Square

Day or night, Heroes’ Square is one of the most popular tourist sites in the city. Marking one end of Andrássy Avenue and flanked by two art museums, it commemorates the 1000-year settlement by the seven Magyar tribes.

Buried here is Imre Nagy, former Prime Minister of Hungary, who was executed in 1958. Other highlights include the 19th-century Millennium Monument, a 36-meter column adorned by an Archangel Gabriel, and two semicircular colonnades which hold statues of many Hungarian rulers among the pillars. You’ll also see beautiful bronze sculptures by Zala below the colonnades’ cornerstones.

The huge Heroes Square (Hosök-tere) was the creation of architect Albert Schickendanz, who also built the large museum of art.

11. City Park (Városliget)

Budapest City Park

Heroes’ Square marks one of the entrances to City Park, the largest park in Budapest.

The 300-acre, heavily wooded park is bound to keep everyone entertained. Highlights include the Museo de Arte & el Palais de Arte; Budapest Zoo and Botanic Gardens; a fantastic Transport Museum, and the Tivoli PleasurePark – a children’s playground with arcades and games.

Also within the grounds you’ll find the magical Vajjahunyad Castle, an amusement park, a circus, an exclusive restaurant, and Szechenyi Baths, the largest thermal spa in the city. There’s also a stadium that holds 50,000 people.

12. St. Stephen’s Basilica

In Budapest, St Stephens Basilica contains his mummified right hand.

You might think that Hungary’s largest church is named for the first Christian martyr, but you’d be wrong. Budapest’s St. Stephen’s Basilica is dedicated to Hungary’s founding king, Stephen I, who reigned from 970 until 1038. The king is venerated as the country’s patron saint.

St. Stephen Basilica is considered to be one of Budapest’s jewels. Completed in 1904, this world heritage basilica is renowned for its stunning interior and panoramic vistas from its dome. This architectural masterpiece features impressive interiors with intricate paintings on the walls and ceiling, and the best way to see it all will be to enjoy one of the beautiful Organ recitals inside its walls.

The building was severely damaged during World War II, and precious mosaic mosaics fell out of the walls. The original rooms were successfully restored and are a major feature in the beautifully designed interior.

Most notably, St. Stephen’s Basilica contains the “Holy Right,” the mummified right hand of King Matthias Corvinus. The hand was discovered in 1980 while doing renovations after a fire. It is now on display in a specially designed golden reliquary.

13. Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungary's Parliament Building was partly modeled after London's Westminster Abbey.

Besides the beautiful cobblestone streets around the city center, Budapest offers an excellent location to visit the historic Parliament building and admire its architecture. The beautiful neo-Gothic architecture of the Hungarian Parliament Building was partly inspired by London’s Palace of Westminster.

The building is the third-tallest parliament building in the world and was built to commemorate Hungary’s 1000th birthday in 1886. The Hungarian Parliament then passed a law that forbids anything in Budapest to be built higher than its dome. Not to be outdone, St. Stephen’s is the same height.

It’s been called “one of the most beautiful legislatures in the world, a cathedral of democracy.” Take a tour through the building and see if you agree.

Interesting fact: The Hungarian Parliament building includes 692 rooms and almost 12 miles (19 km) of corridors and stairs.

14. Dohány Street Synagogue

Budapest is home to Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest Jewish synagogue in Europe and the second-largest in the world. (Only New York’s Temple Emanu-El is larger.)Its two Moorish onion-domed towers make it one of the most easily recognized buildings in the city.

Repurposed as a stable during World War II, Dohány Street Synagogue was finally reconstructed in the 1990s. The funds came in large part from Estée Lauder and the actor Tony Curtis, who both wanted to honor their Hungarian-Jewish roots.

Organ pipes at the back of Dohany Street Synagogue

The synagogue offers Jewish Quarter guided tours that will help you to…

  • understand Hungarian Jewish history
  • know more about the everyday Jewish life of Budapest
  • discover the synagogues in the Budapest Jewish Quarter

ⓘ TIP: To go more in-depth into Budapest’s Jewish heritage, take the Jewish Cuisine and Culture Walk.

Dohány Street Synagogue is built in the Neolog style. Everywhere you look, its ornate interior is full of color and gleams with gold, both unusual features for a synagogue.

Arguably the most distinctive feature is its huge, 5000-pipe organ. It was once played by virtuosos Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns. Now, however, it is played by a Christian organist so as to avoid violating the commandment against working on Shabbat.

15. Raul Wallenberg Memorial Park

Memorial to Jews who died in Budapest during World War II

Behind the Great Synagogue is Raul Wallenberg Memorial Park. It houses:

  • Emanuel Tree – Each leaf on this weeping willow tree sculpture is inscribed with the name and tattoo number of a Hungarian Jew killed during the Holocaust.
  • Jewish Museum – Built on the site where Theodor Herzl’s house once stood, the Museum features Jewish traditions, costumes, as well a detailed history of Hungarian Jews.
  • Heroes’ Temple – Heroes’ Temple is a memorial to Hungarian Jews who gave their lives during World War I. In its backyard is the Jewish Cemetery. Buried there are over 2,000 people who died in the Jewish ghetto during the winter of 1944-45.

16. Banks of the Danube and the Danube Promenade

Shoe by the Danube memorial

The Banks of the Danube have been designated a UNESCO world heritage site, partly because of the Danube Promenade that runs along the riverbank in Pest. Running from Széchenyi Chain Bridge to Erzsébet Bridge, It offers restaurants and cafés, Szechenyi Istvan Square, and various sculptures to enjoy. You will also see Buda Castle, Liberty Statue at Gellert Hill and Fishermen’s Bastion across the river.

On the waterfront of the riverside Just a little north of Chain Bridge, you’ll find a moving monument called Shoes on the Danube. The bronze shoes memorialize a horrific World War II event. In the winter of 1944, the ruling Arrow Cross Party rounded up Jews and forced them to strip naked. They then shot them on the banks of the Danube River, so that their bodies would fall into the water and be washed away.

17. Gellért Hill

Panorama of Budapest and the Danube river.

Another Budapest landmark is the panoramic Gellért Hill, a 235 m (771 ft) tall hill that offers one of the most impressive panoramic views of the city. It is part of the “Banks of Danube” UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gellért Hill was named after Saint Gerard, a missionary who was killed there in 1046. He was put in a barrel and rolled down into the river from the top of the hill.

Getting to the top of Gellért Hill can be a workout in itself, or you can take the easy way, with a tram or bus. Mostly parkland, partly residential, the hill is also home to a variety of monuments and a Habsburg-era citadel called Citadella. You can easily spend hours there if you’re a nature lover.

18. Gellért Thermal Baths

Gellert Baths main pool, Budapest

Interesting fact: Budapest was once known as the “Spa City” because the city receives 70 million liters of thermal water per day (13.33 billion gallons).

Thanks to the massive subterranean cave system beneath Budapest, the city has been blessed with a plethora of mineral-rich thermal springs. These springs provide therapeutic water for people who need help with their health.

People have been enjoying their health benefits for centuries. One of Budapest’s health spas actually dates to the 1500s! The best-known is Szechenyi Baths, the largest thermal spring bath complex in Europe, with 3 outdoor and 15 indoor pools. You can buy a ticket for the pools here.

Our favorite spa resort is Gellért Baths, a beautiful Art Nouveau-style bath built a century ago and linked to Danubius Hotel Gellert. With a Roman-style swimming pool in a sun-lit, columned gallery, it’s probably the most elegant spa in the city. Here, you can indulge in any number of beauty and health treatments at a super affordable price. We shared a couples massage for a pittance and are complete converts to the health spa concept.

ⓘ TIP: Gellert is on the Buda side of the river, not far from Elizabeth Bridge and Gellert Hill. Like most spa baths, treatments are in high demand. Book ahead to avoid queueing.

19. House of Terror

House of Terror Museum contains mementos of Hungary's fascist and communist regimes

The House of Terror presents exhibits on successive fascististic and communist dynasties which ruled Hungary throughout the 20th century. The building was once headquarters of the fascist arrow cross party and the Hungarian Nazi Party, and was used to hold prisoners in Hungary. There are opportunities to visit the prisons in the basement.

The House of Terror also presents a number of testimonial stories of the victims, and information on the various regimes involved. In addition to exhibitions about fascist and communist “security agencies” the building also houses some other temporary exhibitions.

20. Margaret Island

Margaret Island lies in the middle of the Danube River, connected to the mainland by Margaret Bridge. It’s free to visit, making it a popular place for Budapest locals to spend an afternoon relaxing, playing sports, jogging, or simply walking around.

The island is large enough that it takes 45 minutes to walk from one end to the other. While there, you can enjoy live music in its restaurants and pubs, bathe in thermal baths, explore some themed gardens, watch a theater performance, climb an art nouveau water tower, visit the ruins of a 13th-century Dominican convent, watch a musical fountain performance, and more. There’s even a hotel there.

21. Cruise on the Danube River

Budapest at night from river cruise boat.

As with most rivers, the Danube is best enjoyed from a river cruise boat. The city lights up in a spectacular way at sunset, with buildings illuminated in various colors.

Bring extra batteries for your camera!

ⓘ TIP:  For a memorable experience, take a dinner cruise on the Danube. The calm river is especially romantic at night.

Where to stay in Budapest

If you are looking for hotels in Budapest Hungary, the best area to stay in for first-timers is District V. Situated along the Danube on the Pest side of the river, this is where you’ll find many of the most popular landmarks, restaurants and hotels.

Dan and I stayed at the Budapest Marriott Hotel, which is fabulously located between the Hungarian Parliament Building and Great Market Hall. It was also a quick walk to Szechenyi Chain Bridge, making it super easy to get to Buda and Buda Hill!

Here are the best accommodations in Budapest for every budget:

How to get around Budapest

Beautiful chain bridge at night.
Chain Bridge at night. That’s Buda Castle on the left.

Walking. If you’re a walker, you’ll be happy to know that Budapest is easy to explore on foot. The whole time we were there, we walked everywhere we went … and had a blast. Bonus: We also burned off some of those calories from all that great Hungarian food and wine!

Metro: Fun fact: Budapest had the first subway line on the European continent. These days, its excellent public transportation system has expanded to include buses, trams, trolley-buses, taxis and metro. You can click here to access timetables for all public transportation options.

ⓘ BUDGET TIP: The city has created a Budapest Card, which includes free public transportation, including Bus 200E to/from the airport. It also includes free or reduced admission to the most popular tourist attractions. Learn more here.

ALSO READ:
Hop On Hop Off Bus: Worth It?

Tour bus: Another way to get around the city is on the Budapest hop-on hop-off tour bus. (Check prices here.) Along with the obvious transportation benefit, you get a guided narrative of this fantastic city. Tickets can match your time in the city from 24, 48, to 72 hour tickets.

Tours: We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention the option of taking guided tours. Hiring a guide has many advantages, especially if you have limited time. They will squeeze the best things to see in Budapest into a few short hours. Plus, nothing beats having a local show you around according to your interests, sharing travel tips, explaining cultural nuances, and pointing out things that you’d miss on your own.

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Hungarian Parliament Building illuminated at sunset. Text overlay says Budapest sights you don't want to miss

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to around 60 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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14 thoughts on “21 Don’t-Miss Things to Do in Budapest”

  1. Budapest is such an enchanting city isn’t it, Linda? For me it was love at first sight. The first time we went we stayed in a Bed and Breakfast up in the Buda Hill, right below Mátyás Templom (Mathias Church). We should see the Danube from our window and the entire Pesta side. Your post depicts so well all the beautiful landmarks of Budapest. How could one not fall in love with this city? But although I’ve been in Budapest so many times, there is a place I haven’t photographed yet: those shoes on the river bank. Isn’t that funny?

    • Haha – Join the club. It never fails, we always miss out on something we want to do when we travel. In Budapest, we weren’t able to get inside Mathias Church for photos.

  2. Your photos really highlight the beauty of Budapest! I love the night shot of the Parliament Building. There are some wonderful sights, but the Shoes of the Danube monument looks captivating. Such a horrible event. Definitely want to visit there one day! Thank you for sharing!

    • It always appalls me how cruel people can be, but I really loved how there are candles burning in the shoes every evening. Obviously there are just as many people with compassion.

      Budapest isn’t Vienna, but it is similar. We were really impressed with the quality of life there, not to mention how affordable things are!

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