Best Things To Do in Budapest
The thermal baths are king here, but there are plenty of other ways to kill a day. World-class museums, island parks, shopping and cafes are available in spades. Foot it around Castle Hill for a taste of medieval Budapest or spend an afternoon sipping coffee in a cafe with young Hungarians. Just be sure to save some energy for the nightlife – when the evening rolls around, this city kicks into another gear.
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Located in the historic district of Castle Hill, Fisherman's Bastion is a neo-Gothic terrace that looks like a structure taken straight out of a fairy tale. Designed and built in 1905 by Frigyes Schulek – the same architect who built the adjacent Matthias Church – Fisherman's Bastion is named after the medieval guild of fishermen who protected Budapest from invasion.
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Dividing the city's Buda and Pest sides is the impressive Danube River. Flowing roughly 1,770 miles from west Germany through Austria, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and, of course, Hungary, before meeting the Black Sea in southern Ukraine, this sprawling river is the second longest in Europe. Along its Budapest shores, travelers will find iconic sights like the Hungarian Parliament and Buda Castle.
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Located on the west side of the Danube River, Castle Hill is a must-see district for any Budapest visitor. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987, the area's iconic Buda Castle was constructed in the 13th century. Walk the cobblestone streets, take in the medieval atmosphere and dive deep into Budapest's history.
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It's hard to miss the nearly 1,250-foot-long Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Originally built in the 1800s by English engineer William Tierney Clark, this stunning suspension bridge was mostly destroyed during World War II. Though it was badly damaged, it still features its original pillars and stone lions that flank its entrances. Since being reconstructed in the late 1940s, visitors have flocked here to walk, bike and drive across it.
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Heroes' Square is one of Budapest's grandest landmarks. In fact, it's the largest public square in the city. Swing by this area to take a picture of the Millenary Monument, which was erected in 1896 to celebrate Hungary's 1000th anniversary.
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Completed in 1902, the Hungarian Parliament is one of Budapest's most famous landmarks. The Hungarian National Assembly still meets here, but visitors come mainly to take in the building's architecture (primarily Gothic Revival-style) and beautiful statues and paintings. According to many, there is no structure in Hungary that serves as a better symbol of the country's independence and commitment to democracy.
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One of downtown Budapest's most popular sights is St. Stephen's Basilica. Featuring two clock towers and an impressive cupola, this historical church, which was dedicated to Stephen I (Hungary's founder and first king) upon completion in 1905, took more than 50 years to build. Visitors flock here to catch a glimpse of its main attraction – the Holy Right. This mummified, jewel-adorned right hand of the property's namesake rests inside an ornate golden reliquary in the church's Holy Right chapel.
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As its name implies, Castle Hill's main attraction is its medieval castle. Built in the 14th century to accommodate various kings, the structure now features Baroque and neo-Baroque details added during various restorations. It's also home to the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Széchényi Library.
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The neo-Gothic Matthias Church in Castle Hill has been around for centuries and, in many ways, its history corresponds to that of Budapest itself. Built in the 13th century, Matthias was the city's first parish church. However, it was transformed into a mosque during the 1541 Ottoman occupation and remained an Islamic place of worship until the Turkish expulsion nearly 150 years later. Today, tourists come to admire its imposing architecture, take in its historical symbolism and spend some time studying its impressive artwork.
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Also referred to as the Great Synagogue, this place of worship is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second-largest in the world (only Temple Emanu-El in New York City is slightly bigger). Opened in 1859, this building features Romantic and Moorish Revival-style architecture and can accommodate up to 3,000 people.
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Located in City Park by Széchenyi Baths and the Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Museum of Fine Arts showcases Hungarian art dating back to the Middle Ages, plus Egyptian antiquities and 13th- to 19th-century European paintings. Exhibitions feature medals, prints, drawings, wooden sculptures, altarpieces and modern art – all of which contributed to Hungarian history and art development.
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A soak in a thermal bath is a quintessential Budapest experience. (It hasn't cultivated a reputation as the "City of Spas" for nothing.) These baths, or fürdok in Hungarian, are heated by natural thermal springs and usually include on-site massage services, as well as steam rooms.
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Across the Danube River from the Inner City lies Gellért Hill. Measuring 771 feet high, this neighborhood is best known for its 19th-century citadel, but the area is also home to an arboretum, a church built into a cave and various statues, such as the Liberty Statue (a traveler favorite) and one of the region's namesake, Saint Gerard. Legend has it that the Italian monk was pushed off of the hill to his death in the 1000s.
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Central Pest's Hungarian State Opera House has been an institution in Budapest since its opening in 1884. Featuring a neo-Renaissance style, the opera house holds more than 1,200 seats and has a reputation for its exceptional acoustics. But the building's main draw is its opulent architecture – inside and out. Marble columns, gilded vaulted ceilings, an enormous bronze chandelier, and murals and frescoes depicting Greek mythological scenes provide a romantic setting.
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Located in the Terézváros neighborhood in Pest's District VI, the House of Terror Museum is a jarring but important museum that documents the dictatorial oppression Hungary faced during its fascist and Stalinist regimes. Once the headquarters of the State Protection Authority (similar to the Soviet Union's KGB), the building was where brutal interrogations and the torturing of countless political activists and dissidents took place throughout the 20th century. Tour the chillingly realistic prison cell replicas in the basement, and brace yourself for the powerful and moving exhibit on Hungary's post-World War II years leading up to the 1953 uprising against its Soviet-controlled government.
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