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.
Updated March 20, 2019
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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.
Visitors say Fisherman's Bastion's gleaming white structure provides panoramic views of the city: From here, you can snap some breathtaking pictures of the Danube River, Margaret Island and Pest. Also save time for exploring the sight's seven ornate turrets, which symbolize the tents of the seven Magyar leaders who settled the Carpathian Basin, ultimately leading to the existence of modern-day Hungary.
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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.
Recent visitors highly recommend checking out the Danube River on foot or by boat. If you decide to go for a stroll, consider doing so at the Danube Promenade, which offers picturesque views and the must-see Shoes on the Danube Bank Holocaust memorial, according to past travelers. Many also suggest signing up for an evening sightseeing cruise through local operators like Legenda Sightseeing Boats and Portum Lines.
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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.
From the castle to Matthias Church to the underground Castle Labyrinth to Fisherman's Bastion, you'll find there's almost no end to what you can learn about Budapest's past. The lack of vehicle traffic also lends an old-world charm to the area. Plus, travelers say you'll discover sweeping city panoramas from multiple locales in the neighborhood.
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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.
Travelers rave about this impressive bridge, saying it's a superb subject for photos. For the best views, visitors suggest arriving at night when lights illuminate the bridge and surrounding attractions. Sights you can see from the Széchenyi Chain Bridge include Buda Castle and the Hungarian Parliament.
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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.
The square and the monument are dedicated to those who lost their lives while fighting for the country's independence. At the base of the famous column (topped with the Archangel Gabriel) are statues representing seven Magyar chieftains – considered to be the founders of the Hungarian nation. Behind the column are matching colonnades with 14 statues of royalty and other important figures in Hungarian history.
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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.
Travelers and locals alike say this structure is a must-see for any visitor's first trip to Budapest. It not only features incredible architectural details but also stunning Danube River views and significant artifacts, such as Hungary's crown jewels. If you're interested in touring the inside, visitors suggest booking well in advance since tours – which are the only way to gain interior access – fill up fast. Photography is permitted during a tour; however, taking pictures inside the Dome Hall (where the crown jewels are located) is not allowed.
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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.
Past travelers praised St. Stephen's Basilica's stunning architecture and interior, as well as the breathtaking city views from the cupola's balcony. Visitors can explore the church on their own, but for more insight about its history, reviewers recommend paying for the guided tour, which includes looks at the Holy Right chapel, the on-site treasury and the cupola.
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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.
Like Gellért Hill and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Buda Castle boasts picturesque city panoramas, according to past visitors. However, previous travelers had mixed feelings about using the Buda Castle Funicular. Some enjoyed riding it to the top, while others bemoaned its pricey fees and suggested walking. If you are not keen on walking but want to avoid paying 1,200 forints (about $5) for a one-way fare or 1,800 forints ($7) for a round-trip ticket, consider using the No. 16 bus. Each ticket costs 350 forints (roughly $1.50) when purchased in advance; to get a ticket on board, expect to pay 450 forints (less than $2). For Budapest Card holders, rides on public transportation are covered.
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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.
Recent visitors said the church's architecture is striking and the informational place cards throughout the property give you a sense of its expansive history. Don't forget to check out the Ecclesiastical Art Collection, also housed inside. You can see the medieval crypt where 10th-century King Béla III and his wife Agnes are buried, as well replicas of royal jewels and other religious artifacts. And if you enjoy organs, the church's (with 7,771 pipes and 18 bells) is regularly the star of on-site concerts and shows.
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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.
Travelers suggest you visit for the atmosphere and to learn of the synagogue's historical significance – particularly its connection to the Holocaust. In 1939, the synagogue was bombed by a Hungarian pro-Nazi party, and between 1944 and 1945, Dohány Street itself constituted the border of Budapest's Jewish ghetto. Visit the adjacent Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives to learn about the history of Hungarian Judaism and to pay your respects at the Garden of Memory in its courtyard.
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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.
Previous museumgoers heap praise on the Museum of Fine Arts, adding that the renovation it underwent until October 2018 is beautiful. Some past visitors specifically raved about the informative displays, noting that they're so well-done that you don't need an audio guide.
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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.
With more than 100 thermal springs, the various baths around the city cater to different tastes – from relaxation to cures for illness – and some transform into pulsating dance clubs at night, so if you're bathing with your family, you might want to do so during the daylight hours.
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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.
On a sunny day, visitors say Gellért Hill offers jaw-dropping views of the river and downtown Budapest. Travelers also praise the neighborhood's statues but recommend learning more about their histories before arriving to supplement your visit. What's more, some caution that the walk up the hill is exhausting, but limited parking is available by the citadel for a fee. You can also take the No. 27 bus most of the way up to the Búsuló Juhász stop.
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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.
According to recent visitors, the opera house's exterior justifies a stop, even if you don't head inside for a guided tour. If you do decide to take a tour, keep in mind that the building is currently undergoing renovations. Some past travelers bemoaned not being able to see the auditorium during their visits.
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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.
Recent visitors said this museum's exhibits are thought-provoking and informative. However, a few lamented the no photography policy inside. Another drawback: the Hungarian-only displays. To understand the material presented in each exhibit, you'll need to ask for handouts with English translations or pay an extra 1,500 forints (roughly $6) for an English audio guide. You can also reserve a guided tour with an English-speaking guide at least 10 days in advance for 8,000 forints (about $31).
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