Hungary’s capital city, Budapest, probably isn’t the first city in Europe you think of when planning a trip. But, the city is rising in popularity as tourists start to realize how much the city has to offer. It earns its newfound popularity by having a wide variety of things to do; you won’t want to do everything in Budapest, but you’ll certainly find plenty to do. If you’re planning a trip or just curious, this is my list of 27 best things to do in Budapest.
Take a Walking Tour
Walking tours are one of the best ways to see any city. Budapest is really a tale of two cities. Buda and Pest were two different cities until the 1800s when they merged into Budapest. Plus, the city has scars from World War II and a history of communist and fascist rule. So, it’s full of new things to learn.
A walking tour lets you get your bearings in the city while learning a bit of Hungarian history. A local guide will be able to give you inside information to make sure you have the best trip possible. It may even spark ideas for some other things to do in Budapest.
Pick a free walking tour (just be sure to tip your guide). Note that many walking tours include only one part of the city to avoid the massive Buda hill.
Budapest is one of the best cities to visit in Hungary, so take in as much of it as you can!
Visit Fisherman’s Bastion
The Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the most prominent landmarks in the city. It stands at the top of Buda Hill overlooking the Danube River. This stands where the castle walls once stood. But, it isn’t Buda Castle; that’s a different building.
The Bastion and walls are incredibly photogenic on their own, but this is also one of the best views of the city.
You can see most of the site for free but if you want to go to the highest part of the turrets, you need a ticket. Tickets are USD $2.75, and this part of the walls is open from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Admire the Interior of Matthias Church
In the same square as Fisherman’s Bastion, you’ll find Matthias Church. Visiting Matthias Church is one of the top things to do in Budapest for a reason!
It was the location of the crowning of the kings of Buda and its decor shows why it earned the title.
The exterior is outrageously ornate. Be sure to check out the tiled roof from the bastion walls.
The interior is over-the-top and unique. You could admire the design for hours and still find new things to admire.
There is a stairwell you can go up at the front left of the church to see more and get a different view. It’s hidden and easy to miss.
It’s worth the cost of the ticket to spend some time inside. I don’t love visiting churches and this was one of my favorite places in the city.
See Buda Castle
Buda Castle is on top of Buda Hill. Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion are two different places; even though they’re often confused. The castle is a 15-minute walk from Fisherman’s Bastion.
The castle is now home to 2 different museums: the Budapest History Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery.
Visit them if you like but the view of the Budapest skyline is worth the walk down to the castle. After visiting Buda Castle, walk along the walls. The walls zig-zag up and down castle hill.
It’s a bit of a maze so be aware of how far you’re going and how much you’ll have to walk back up.
Explore Castle Hill
Buda Hill is the towering hill that overlooks the Danube. You can’t miss it when you’re in the city. Some of the best sites in Budapest can be found here in a relatively compact area. After you’ve visited Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion spend some time on Castle Hill wandering the streets.
Castle Hill is a very residential part of the city with few hotels and restaurants. This makes it fun to explore.
Ride the Buda Castle Hill Funicular
Once operated as a form of public transportation the Buda Castle Hill Funicular is now more of a tourist attraction. But, the hill in Buda is no joke. You can walk up but you probably don’t want to. Taking the funicular up the hill is more scenic than the buses.
The funicular gives you a stunning view of the stunning Széchenyi Chain Bridge and the city as you ride up. You’ll catch the funicular at the base of the hill near Széchenyi Chain Bridge and ride up from there. It is open from 8:00 am until 10:00 pm. A round-trip ride is 3,000 Ft ($8 USD).
The Budapest spas, or thermal baths, are one of the most unique things to do in Budapest. There are more than 100 thermal baths in the city. The two most popular are the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath and the Gellért Baths.
You’ll need your swimsuit for the pools. It’s also helpful to pack flip-flops and a microfiber towel but you can buy or rent them at the pools if you need to.
Széchenyi Medicinal Bath
Széchenyi was opened in 1913 and the exterior pools are very photogenic. If you want to pick one thermal bath location Széchenyi is the one to choose.
The yellow exterior and decoration make it special. There are 3 outdoor pools and 15 indoor pools.
One outdoor pool is a lap-swim pool. The others are different temperatures but you can hop between them all.
The interior pools have varying temperatures but most are cooler than the outdoor pools.
You’ll also find a sauna and steam room. There are spa services available as well but they are less popular here than at other baths. Likely because the pools are enough to keep you busy!
You can purchase your tickets on the day of or buy them early. If you can purchase early you’ll likely avoid a long line of tourists trying to get in. The pools are quite busy by mid-morning.
Another tip, pay up for a cabin when you buy your tickets. This means you get a little changing room. So, you can lock all of your things up while you’re in the pools and have a place to change and dry off.
The Gellert baths are very different. This option has more of a spa feel. So, if you’re hoping to soak in a thermal bath for the experience but would like to check out a spa service after you should probably go with the Gellert option. They put more effort into marketing their services than the other locations do.
The indoor pools at Gellert are more ornate than the ones at Széchenyi.
Visit and tour the Hungarian Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament Building is a stunning building that sits along the river. It’s worth checking out the exterior of the building from up close and on the other side of the river.
There are tours of the interior as well.
You have to book a tour and you should get yours scheduled early. Tours run in different languages and the English tours sell out.
Don’t be fooled when you see that you can buy them on the day of. They are typically sold out so that’s not as much of an option as the websites make it seem.
Cruise on the Danube River
A Hungarian friend recommended a river cruise. It was spectacular. The architecture around the water is the most beautiful in the city. Seeing it from the river is worth it.
From the water, it’s easy to spot the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, and Fisherman’s Bastion. It’s a good way to get bearings and understand the full layout of the city.
Plus, Budapest knows how to light up a building to put on a show. So, if you can go at sunset or at night you won’t be disappointed.
The walk along the Danube bank gives a similar view. But, it’s not the same as a cruise along the Danube River.
Take a Food Tour
Hungarian food isn’t something most of us can try at home. That’s a great reason to take a food tour in Budapest. A food tour allows you to get inside information from a local and find some of the best options.
If you are gluten-free Budapest is a dream. You may not go on an organized food tour but you can do a DIY version! There are plenty of gluten-free restaurants; even one that serves dedicated gluten-free Hungarian food!
Have a Drink at a Ruin Bar
Found in the old Jewish quarter in Budapest these bars are quite unique. Each has its own theme or vibe. They were established in abandoned buildings in the area. Now, they don’t care to update because the bars being tucked into the “ruins” is what makes them special.
You can put together your own tour of a few bars or take a tour through the ruin bars and let a local show you their favorites.
Watch a Classical Music Concert at St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s is the largest cathedral in the city. This basilica is very different than Matthias Church in Buda. The contrast between the two makes both worth a visit. But, St. Stephen’s is more along the lines of the other basilicas in Europe.
For a different experience, get tickets to one of the organ or classical music concerts. Concerts occur regularly in the evenings inside the basilica. It’s a unique way to see the cathedral, it’s affordable, and something fun to do during the evening when you’re visiting.
Shop in Great Market Hall
Great Market Hall is the largest market building in Budapest. There are two floors. The first is a more traditional market for the locals. You’ll find some produce and meats on the first floor. But, there are also stalls selling souvenir paprika and traditional Hungarian sweets.
The second floor of the Great Market Hall is souvenir central. The tiny walkways are packed full of vendors selling t-shirts, trinkets, bags, postcards, and anything else you may want to take home. This is the best place to shop for souvenirs.
You’ll also find food stalls selling street-food-style Hungarian food if you want to grab lunch.
Remember World War II at the Shoes on The Danube Memorial
Budapest’s history has some dark bits, and World War II is one of the darker parts.
The Shoes on the Danube memorial honors the Jews who lost their lives by firing squad at the river. They were asked to remove their shoes before so the soldiers could reuse or resell them.
Now, the water is lined with 60+ pairs of shoes to remember those who lost their lives in Budapest during World War II.
The memorial can be found along the water near the Parliament building.
Walk Across Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Széchenyi Chain Bridge was the first bridge to cross the Danube River in Budapest.
The bridge is closed to pedestrians in 2023 so look for trams and buses that cross if you want the view from the bridge.
But, you can really see it from all over the city.
Until the bridge reopens the Margaret Island Bridge is a good alternative and then you can stop at Margaret Island on the way across!
Check out Margaret Island
Margaret Island is an island in the Danube River between Buda and Pest. It would be the highlight of a trip during warm weather.
Stroll the Japanese gardens, check out the ruins of convents that used to be on the island, or visit the thermal bath.
The thermal baths on Margaret Island aren’t like the other baths. They’re more like a waterpark; definitely a unique take on the thermal bath scene.
Stroll Andrássy Avenue
Andrássy Avenue is an ornate street that will likely remind you of the Champs-Élysées in Paris. As you walk along and look at the shops and cafes, notice the elaborate decorations on the buildings. Each one is unique. They were designed to represent the business that used the building originally.
The street is so unique it’s included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site for the city.
City Park & Vajdahunyad Castle
Near Széchenyi Medicinal Bath you’ll find City Park and Vajdahunyad Castle. This is a large park and a good way to escape the traffic of the city for a bit while you walk around.
Vajdahunyad Castle isn’t a castle that was used in any kind of battle and it wasn’t built for protection. It was built in the style of several castles throughout Hungary. Now it’s home to a museum.
Visit Vörösmarty Square
Vörösmarty Square is one of the main squares in the city. It’s near Budapest’s fashion street that’s filled with high-end shops. It’s a pedestrian-only area so it gets crowded but it’s easy to walk around.
You can shop along Vörösmarty Square, sit in the square and people-watch, or visit one of the restaurants or cafes in the area. It’s a busy pedestrian part of the city and it’s fun to window shop as you walk.
Tour Dohány Street Synagogue
Dohány Street Synagogue is in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest. It is the second largest synagogue in the world behind one in New York City. It is large and it is ornate. You can’t go in on your own and tour. You have to go with a guide. Tickets sell out in advance so plan ahead if you want to visit.
The synagogue property is also home to the Hungarian Jewish Museum.
Walk along the Danube River
The Danube River cuts through the middle of Budapest, dividing the two parts of the city. The banks of the Danube are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the city.
The walking path along the Danube bank on the Pest side of the city is a perfect way to enjoy the sites. But, it’s worth walking along both sides.
Try to be on the Pest side of the river to see Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion. The Buda side of the river is the best for seeing the Parliament building.
Hike (or Ride) up Gellert Hill and See the Citadel
If you’re down for a hike during your stay in Budapest Gellert Hill is the place to go.
Hike up the hill, or take a taxi, to visit the Citadel and enjoy some incredible views of the city. The Citadel is an old fortress that remains at the top of the hill. You can also find the Liberty Statue at the top.
At the base of Gellert Hill, you’ll find the Hospital in the Rock. This is a nuclear bunker turned hospital that is in a natural cave system.
See Heroes Square
Heroes Square is an open area near City Park. It’s most well known for the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and the Millenium Monument. It’s good as a quick stopover on your way to City Park. In the winter, a festive ice skating rink is set up nearby!
Brave the House Of Terror
The House of Terror is a museum that remembers the fascist and communist regimes in Budapest. World War II was rough on the city. But it’s not the only part of the city’s history worth learning about.
The building was used by the fascist and communist regimes as a place to hold prisoners and the torture cell you visit is one that was truly used when these governments were in power.
However, the museum documents the experiences as a way to help visitors remember in hopes of preventing anything similar in the future.
The museum is likely not for the faint of heart; it’s a dose of hard things. But, it’s worth a visit to educate yourself about the darker parts of Budapest’s history.
Ride the Eye in Erzsebet Square
Erzsebet Square is near Vörösmarty Square. It’s home to the Budapest Eye, the largest Ferris wheel in Europe.
The Eye is open from mid-morning until 11 p.m. or midnight. So, you have options for a nighttime or sunset view of the city.
Day Trip to Szentendre
Szentendre is more or less a suburb of Budapest. The little town is a quick 40-minute train ride out of the city. The trip would take about a half-day total.
Szentendre is special because it’s a charming little town that gives you a different version of Hungary than the bustling city of Budapest.
Break up the big city sped with a walk through its idyllic stone streets lined with cute shops.
Eat a Chimney Cake
Chimney cakes are a donut-like pastry that is cooked around a cylinder. So, when it’s removed it’s a tall tube and steam rolls out of it like a chimney. It can be coated in various toppings and sometimes they’re even filled.
You can find them with street vendors or you check them out in a few different stores in the city. They are a traditional treat in Hungary. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a gluten-free version that I could find.
Take a Day Trip to Gödöllő
Gödöllő isn’t in Budapest but it’s still on the list! This little town is an easy train ride away from the city.
It’s home to the Palace of Gödöllő. The palace was a favorite of Empress Elizabet of the Hapsburg Empire.
You can tour her favorite home and learn about the history of the empire and a bit about Elizabet as well.
Visit During Advent for a Festive Experience
Europe is known for Christmas markets and Budapest brings some of the best Christmas markets each year.
In fact, it’s not unusual for the Advent markets in Budapest to take the number one spot in the Christmas market rankings.
There are plenty of different markets to visit in the city but the biggest one is in the square in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. In addition to the traditional stalls, there are scheduled music and light shows outside of the basilica.
Visiting Budapest during the Advent season is certainly cold but the festive atmosphere makes it worth it!
Enjoy Exploring all of the Things to do in Budapest
This list of things to do in Budapest is long but doesn’t cover everything.
Budapest is packed full of things to explore! The city is a gem in eastern Europe.
Even if you only have one day Budapest is worth it; with a well-planned itinerary, you can see many of the best things in Budapest quickly. But, spend more time in the city if you can.
Wander Andrássy Avenue, cruise the Danube River, soak in a thermal bath, and enjoy your time exploring the photogenic Hungarian capital city.
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Jami is a travel-obsessed gluten-free foodie. She loves to see new places and eat the best gluten-free food while she’s at it. Follow along on her website for all of the restaurant recs. and travel planning tips.