Looking for things to do in Budapest?! You’re in the right place!
When you think about Budapest, you probably conjure images of thermal baths, spicy food, and a very hard language. All of these are true, but Hungary’s capital offers a lot more than just those. The biggest city in the country is home to amazing architecture, interesting museums, and lovely places to spend time outdoors.
Before we get into all the wonderful things to do in Budapest, here’s a quick pre-travel guide to get you a little more familiar with the city!
Pre-Travel Guide to Budapest:
How to Get Around
Budapest has amazing public transportation which connects the railway stations to the airport, as well as the important sites. When you’re heading to the city, you’re probably wondering how to get around to all the things to do in Budapest. The most cost-effective way to tackle public transportation is to buy travel cards (there are 24-hour travel cards, as well as 72h or more).
The center is compact and can be easily tackled on foot. But if you want, for example, to combine spending time in Heroes Square with a walk on the Danube Promenade, you’ll need to hop on a metro to get from one side of time to another.
Getting to the airport is easy. Metro line 3 (blue) and get off at the last stop (Kőbánya-Kispest) where you connect to bus 200E, which takes you directly to the airport.
Important Things to Pack
Winters can be brutal in Central Europe and Budapest makes no exception. Should you plan to visit during the Christmas Markets (November – January) make sure to wear a winter jacket and don’t forget your mittens at home.
On the other hand, summers are quite hot! Make sure you protect your head from the sun (bandana, hat, etc.), carry a water bottle with you, and wear comfortable walking shoes. It tends to rain quite a bit during summer, too, so a lightweight waterproof jacket will come in handy.
Where to Stay
There are quite a lot of nice areas to stay in the city, but you want to be close to the city center so you are able to easily access the many things to do in Budapest. Vaci Utca is the best choice and so is the entire “Inner City”, all the way to Astoria Metro Stop and Kalvin Ter.
Depending on your budget, well-known hotel chains such as Continental, Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge, and The Ritz-Carlton Budapest can be among your choices. For those on a smaller budget, Best Western and Ibis are good options.
When to Go
The best times to visit any Central-European capital are in spring (March to May) and fall (September to November). The weather is warm enough to allow you to spend time outdoors and most of the attractions are open but not overcrowded. Should you want to visit for Sziget Music Festival, then expect both the crowds and prices specific for peak travel season in August.
And finally, here are the best things to do in Budapest, whether you have a week or only a weekend’s time.
Best Things to Do in Budapest:
1) Get a bird’s eye view from the viewing platform at St. Stephen’s Basilica
Located very close to Chain Bridge, St. Stephen’s Basilica is an imposing sight. But if you want to see a 360 degrees’ panorama of Budapest, climb the stairs (or take the lift) to the view platform. It is only open between April 1 and October 31, as well as on some holidays.
St. Stephen’s is the largest church in Budapest and is absolutely gorgeous. It is one of the most important landmarks and, as a result, it is almost always very crowded.
2) See the Parliament from Fisherman’s Bastion
The Halászbástya (Fisherman’s Bastion) is a super neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque terrace located in Buda Castle and offering stunning views of the Parliament, as well as all of the bridges spanning the Danube.
Designed and built between 1895 and 1902, it had to be restored after nearly being destroyed during World War II. Its seven towers represent the Magyar tribes that settled in the area in 896.
3) Tour the Parliament Building
If the weather is not very good, you can hide inside the Parliament. Well, at least for the duration of the guided tour (the only way you can enter the building)! Imposing from the outside, the building looks a lot smaller once you get inside. As part of the tour, you get to see the Royal Crown.
The tour takes about 50 minutes and it offers interesting insights into the history, construction, and even the cooling system of the building. Make sure to check the schedule as tours are available in various languages.
4) See the green hills from Elisabeth Tower
In the hills of Budapest, reachable by Children’s Railway and a short hike in the woods, there’s Elisabeth Tower. It stands on János Hill, the highest point of Budapest. Built in 1910, it offers breathtaking views of the hills and the city. In good atmospheric conditions, you can see as far as the peaks of the High Tatra Mountains.
5) Take a photo of the majestic sculptures in Heroes Square
Easily reachable on M1 (yellow), Heroes Square is one of the major squares in Budapest and home to the statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars. Also here you can find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The square is flanked by two museums (Museum of Fine Arts and Palace of Art), while behind it (to the right) you can spot Vajdahunyad Castle.
6) Ride the Children’s Railway
It is a recommended family adventure but, worry not, anyone can go! The Children’s Railway is operated mostly by children (under careful adult supervision, of course). To reach it, you need to take the cogwheel train. The railway snakes through Buda Hills and offers access to various recreation spots along the way.
The most cost-effective way to do this day trip is to buy a day ticket and take a ride from one end to the other, the just come back and stop at the spots you want to explore.
7) Take a ride on Millennium Underground Railway
The oldest line (M1) of the Budapest Metro System is also the third oldest underground railway in the world. Built between 1894 and 1896, it runs under Andrássy út. Important stops along it are St. Stephen’s Basilica, Hungarian State Opera House, Heroes Square, Széchenyi thermal bath, the Zoo and Botanical Garden.
8) Shop at the Great Market Hall
It is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest and has been a tourist attraction in itself. The building is gorgeous and the variety of goods offer an incredible insight into the life (and habits) of the locals. You can pick up souvenirs from here, too, especially if you are after paprika!
9) Take a selfie on Chain Bridge
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge spans the Danube between Buda and Pest. It was the first permanent bridge across the river and opened in 1849. Unfortunately, the bridge was blown up on January 18, 1945, with only the towers remaining. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1949.
The stone lions at each end of the bridge bear a strong resemblance to the lions of Trafalgar Square (London).
10) Taste the traditional Hungarian food
Everyone may have heard about Gulyás (goulash), but the traditional Hungarian fare includes a lot of other tasty foods.
- Lángos (fried dough) is a popular fast-food type of snack and comprises fried dough which is then covered in sour cream and cheese.
- Halászlé (fisherman’s soup) is a fish soup traditionally made outside, over a fire. It is always made with the local catch of the day (fish from Danube or Tisza).
- Kürtőskalács (chimney cake) hails from Transylvania (nowadays Romania) and is sweet dough baked over charcoal and then covered with sugar, cinnamon, nuts, or even coconut flakes.
- Töltött Káposzta (stuffed cabbage) has its roots in the former Ottoman Empire (and it was called “sarma”). Hungarian wrap the rice, minced meat, and spices in cabbage leaves and boil everything together.
- Bejgli (spiral strudel) is a “log” which contains either nuts or poppy seeds for filling.
- Rakott Krumpli (layered potatoes) is made with layers of potatoes, eggs, sausages, all covered in sour cream and cheese. Then it goes in the oven.
11) Take a day trip to Eger
Just two hours by (slow) train from Budapest, there’s the charming town of Eger, famous for its wines and castle. While the castle can easily be tackled in 1-2 hours (depending on how many exhibits you want to see), you may want to spend more time sampling the wines. Just take a walk in the center and you’ll spot a lot of places which offer wine tasting. Or better yet, stop for a meal and ask the server to match it with the appropriate local wine.
12) Go window shopping on Vaci utca
There is always something on sale at the wooden cottages on Vatci utca. And of course, there are posh shops lining the street, as well. If you crave some American fare (or English), you can pop by Hard Rock Café.
Most of the shops cater to tourists – yes, there are a ton of souvenir shops – but you can also find other interesting stuff to gaze at.
13) See the panorama from Citadella
The Citadella is a fortification located at the top of Gellert Hill. Built in 1851, it occupies the entire plateau at the top. Next to the Danube—facing wall there’s an open air display of a small collection of Red Army weaponry.
But the reason to climb the hill is a different one: the stunning panorama from above! You can see the Danube, with all its bridges, as well as the important buildings.
14) Listen to the Magical Fountain on Margitsziget
Margitsziget (or Margaret Island) is a 2.5 km long island right in the middle of Danube. it is a popular recreational area. And one of the main things to do here is to just sit down and listen to the Magical Fountain. Each hour, it sings different songs (and yes, there’s a schedule available). At night, the lights show is impressive, too.
15) Explore the Roman city of Aquincum
Aquincum was an ancient city, located on the northern borders of Pannonia province. The ruins can be found nowadays just outside of Budapest, easily reachable by HEV.
There is an interesting museum on site but the ruins are also interesting. Make sure to wear good walking shoes and bring some bottled water, especially if you come here during the summer.
Have you been to Budapest before? Planning a trip there any time soon?!
Thanks to Cris of LooknWalk for sharing the best things to do in Budapest! You can also find her on: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She’s written a fair bit about Budapest: What to do in Budapest When it Rains, Free Things to do in Budapest, and Why You Should Visit Budapest in the Winter.