Last Updated: 10/30/21 | October 30th, 2021
When I first went to Budapest, the gritty, rundown streets charmed me. Budapest felt edgy. This was a city of underground bars in abandoned buildings, hearty food, and major people.
Originally founded by the Celts around 1 CE, the region was later annexed by the Romans, who founded the city of Aquincum here (which present-day Budapest now covers). The Magyars eventually invaded the region after being pushed out of Bulgaria, founding the Kingdom of Hungary around the year 1,000. In 1361, the king built Buda castle here, solidifying present-day Budapest as the capital and cultural hub of the kingdom.
In 1873, the towns of Buda and Pest were merged with the third area of the city, Óbuda (Old Buda), to form modern-day Budapest.
Over the years, I’ve seen the city change as tourists discovered this hidden gem and made it not so hidden anymore. And, while no longer as edgy as it once was, Budapest is still one of the best cities in Europe. It provides some of the best nightlife on the continent, tons of beautiful districts, tons of spas and hot springs, spectacular historic buildings and museums, and lots of green space.
To help you make the most out of your next trip, here are my top 25 things to see and do in Budapest.
1. Take a totally free walking Tour
Whenever I arrive in a new destination, I always take a totally free walking tour. It’s a budget-friendly way to see the main sights, learn about the destination, meet new people and ask any questions you have to a local expert. They’re a quick and easy way to get an summary of a city, which helps you plan the rest of your trip. Budapest has a number of good totally free trips available. trip to Budapest and Generation trips both offer outstanding tours. just be sure to suggestion your guide!
2. soak at the Baths
Budapest is known for its thermal medspa baths (it’s one of the best things about this city). There are much more than 100 mineral hot springs here, numerous dating back to the Roman Empire.
The many popular is the Széchenyi Baths in City Park. With 18 pools, it’s the largest and many well-known in Europe. The historic buildings that house the medspa were built in 1913, and it’s a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Don’t forget your bathing suit and flip-flops (you can rent towels and lockers).
Állatkerti krt. 9-11, +36-20 435 0051, szechenyifurdo.hu. open daily from 6am-10pm. Admission starts at 5,300 HUF on weekdays and 6,200 HUF on weekends and holidays.
3. party at the destroy Bars
The nightlife in Budapest is one of the best in Europe — and destroy bars are a big reason why. located in the old Jewish Quarter (the district VII neighborhood), much of the neighborhood was left to decay after world war II. during the 90s, bars began to appear in the abandoned buildings in the area. Now, this underground scene is well on the map, but that doesn’t make these eclectic, arty, and funky spaces any less fun. Szimpla Kert and instant are my favorites.
For a much more comprehensive list, check out my post on the best destroy bars in Budapest!
4. See Castle Hill
This historic area is home to baroque houses and Habsburg monuments. cobblestone streets and narrow alleys that hark back to the city’s medieval roots parallel panoramic views of Pest and the Danube. This section of the city is actually a UNESCO world Heritage Site, with the Old town in the north and the massive palace to the south, which dates to the 13th century. You can get up the hill by bus or take the funicular but you often have to wait. The hill isn’t really that steep so I choose to walk.
5. trip Buda Castle
Also in the Castle hill area is Buda Castle (it’s much more of a palace complex than anything else). The original complex was constructed in the 13th century, however, the huge Baroque palace that exists today was actually built between 1749-1769. originally intended for the nobility, the palace was looted by the Nazis (and then the Soviets) during world war II.
Fun fact: below the castle, Vlad the Impaler (colloquially known as count Dracula) was imprisoned for 14 years. In the dungeon area, there is also a labyrinth which is very cool. There are some museums here as well (see below).
Szent György tér 2, +36 1 458 3000, budacastlebudapest.com. The courtyards are open 24/7 while the castle has hours that align with the museum and gallery (see below).
6. explore the medical facility in the Rock
Over the years, this museum has served as a hospital, bomb shelter, prison, and nuclear bunker. here you can learn about the impacts that world war II, the 1956 revolution, and the cold war had on the city and its people. opened in 2008, it’s one of the most popular attractions in town. Admission includes a one-hour guided trip of the museums, which has all sorts of wax figures, tools, equipment, and furnishings.
Lovas ut 4/c , +36 70 701 0101, sziklakorhaz.eu/en. open daily 10am-7pm. Admission is 5,080 HUF.
7. visit the Hungarian national Gallery
Opened in 1957, this museum focuses on Hungarian artists and history (of which I knew very little before my first visit). The gallery is located in Buda Castle, home to paintings and sculptures from the renaissance and middle ages, including wooden altarpieces from the 1400s. You can also trip the building’s massive dome. The gallery hosts rotating short-term exhibits too so check the site to find out what’s on during your visit.
1014 Budapest, +36 20 439 7325, mng.hu. open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm (last tickets sold at 5pm). short-term exhibitions are only open Tuesday-Thursday. Admission is 1,800 HUF and audio guides are available for 800 HUF. There is an additional charge for taking pictures.
8. wander the Budapest history Museum
This museum covers four floors of Buda Castle and has the most outstanding views across Budapest. It offers a extensive summary of the city’s entire history. It’s a should for anybody wanting to get a much more comprehensive look at the city’s 2,000-year past. My favorite exhibit was the “1,000 Years of Budapest” display. Be sure to get the audio guide as it offers a lot of good supplemental information. It’s worth the cost.
2 Szent Gyorgy Square, +36 1 487 8800 , budacastlebudapest.com/budapest-history-museum. open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm (4pm in the winter). Admission is 2,400 HUF (free if you have the Budapest Card and on national holidays).
9. See the Cave Church
In the 1920s, Catholic monks built this church in a large cave system that had been previously used by a hermit monk. known as Saint Ivan’s Cave, the cave was used as a medical facility during world war II. When the communists concerned power after the war, they covered the entrance in concrete and performed the head monk. In 1989, as the Iron curtain fell, the church was reopened and is now a popular place for tourists as well as a place of worship for locals. get the audio guide to make the most out of your visit. There is a lot of history here.
Sziklatemlom út Gellért Hill, sziklatemplom.hu/web/fooldal.html. open Monday-Saturday 9:30am-7:30pm. Admission is 600 HUF.
10. visit Matthias Church
This neo-Gothic Roman Catholic church is one of the most distinct churches in Europe. I’ve literally seen hundreds of churches and cathedrals across the continent and this is one of the most distinctive. The original church in this spot was built in the 11th century, though nothing remains of it (the current building was constructed in the 14th century and was heavily renovated in the 19th century).
During the Turkish invasion of the 16th century, it was converted to a mosque, which is why it has dynamic colors and designs that aren’t as common in European churches (the church has a colorful roofing system that practically makes it look like it was built from Lego). once inside, you’ll see huge vaulted ceilings and ornate décor.
Szentháromság tér 2, +36 1 355 5657, matyas-templom.hu. open 9am-5pm on weekdays, 9am-1pm on Saturdays, and 1pm-5pm on Sundays. Admission to the church is 2,000 HUF (2,200 HUF for the tower) .
11. visit Fisherman’s Bastion
Built between 1895-1902, this terrace is comprised of seven towers that look out over the river. Each one is implied to represent one of the seven Hungarian tribes that founded the city. The terrace was developed by the same architect who created the Matthias Church and offers spectacular panoramic views across the Danube River. competing legends say that the name comes from either the fact that the terrace overlooks the old fishermen’s guild or that the fishermen’s guild was responsible for protecting that area of the wall. no one is quite certain which is right.
Szentháromság tér, +36 1 458 3030, fishermansbastion.com. open daily 9am-11pm. Admission is free, with an additional charge of 1,000 HUF to visit the upper turrets.
12. admire the Hungarian presidential Palace
The Hungarian presidential palace has been the workplace of the president because 2003. known as Sándor-palota (Alexander Palace), it’s not nearly as outstanding as the surrounding buildings, but if you time your visit best you can see the changing of the guard ceremony at the top of each hour from 9am-5pm (excluding Sundays). in some cases the palace is open for trips (but this rarely happens so don’t get your hopes up).
Szent György tér 1-2, +36 1 224 5000. Admission to the changing of the guard is free.
13. See Buda Tower
This reconstructed “tower” is all that remains of the Church of Mary Magdalene, which was originally built in the 13th century but was destroyed during world war II. When the Turks occupied the city between 1541-1699, the church was converted into a mosque. It reopened in 2017 and you can now climb the 172 steps that result in the top. That said, the views from Castle hill are just as good — and totally free — so I’d skip climbing the steps and just admire this historic tower from the outside.
Kapisztrán tér 6, budatower.hu/en. open daily 10am-6pm (but only on the weekends in January and February). Admission is 1,500 HUF.
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14. walk across the Chain Bridge
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge connects Buda with Pest and is a wrought-iron and stone suspension bridge. The bridge originally opened in 1849 but was damaged during world war II and had to be rebuilt. spend some time strolling across the bridge and taking in the view. Don’t miss Gresham Palace, located on the Pest side. It’s an Art Nouveau building that is now a luxurious four seasons hotel.
15. visit Parliament
Built on the Danube in 1902, this is the largest building in the country and home to the national assembly. This massive structure — which covers over 18,000 square meters — took practically 20 years to build after the three cities that make up modern Budapest (Buda, Pest, and Óbuda) united in 1873. The literal translation implies “House of the Nation” or “House of the Country.” You can take guided trips of the building where you can learn about the history of the city and how the government of the country works. (If you plan to visit, purchase your tickets in advancement as the lines can get really long.)
Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3, +36 1 441 4415, parlament.hu. open daily 8am-4pm. Admission is 6,700 HUF for non-EU adults, 3,500 HUF for EU adults.
16. stroll Along the Danube
After going to Parliament, take a walk along the river. Head south to check out the promenade and its numerous green spaces and sculptures, including the sobering “Shoes on the Danube Bank,” a memorial honoring the Jews who were shot here during world war II. If you have a book or just want to take in the view, this is a reflective place to stop and relax.
17. eat at the great Market Hall
This is the oldest and largest indoor market in the country. built in 1897, there are mostly produce, meats, baked goods, and candy on the ground floor while the upper floor is home to restaurants and souvenir shops. It has a lot of conventional places to eat, so be sure to walk around and explore first. Yes, it’s touristy (it’s the central market, after all), but I still found the food quite good (and affordable). even if you don’t plan on purchasing anything, it’s still worth a quick visit to walk around.
Vámház körút 1–3, budapestmarkethall.com/great-market-hall-budapest. open Monday 6am-5pm, Tuesday-Friday 6am-6pm, and Saturday 6am-3pm. closed on Sundays. Admission is free.
18. admire St. Stephen’s Basilica
This is the largest church in Hungary. named after Hungary’s first king, the church is comprised of ornate architecture, beautiful artwork, and is crowned by a massive dome. It was completed in 1905 after taking 50 years to build. Be sure to check out all the little chapels as well as the reliquary that is (allegedly) home to St. Stephen’s mummified best hand. If you’re there on a Monday, they have organ recitals.
Szent István tér 1, +36 1 311 0839, bazilika.biz. open daily from 9am-7pm (opens at 7:45am on Sundays). entry to the basilica is by donation, though it’s 2,000 HUF per person for the tower/observation deck.
19. See Dohány street Synagogue
Also known as the great Synagogue, this is the second-largest synagogue in the world (it seats 3,000 people). built in 1854, the synagogue provides guided trips that shed lig