Admiring architecture, exploring ruin bars, and visiting the stunning Buda Castle complex are all great things to do in Budapest, but the city has a lot more to offer.
A few years ago we visited Budapest for the first time and did something there we almost never do. We took a guided walking tour with Judit from Budapest101. It was a vegan food tour of Budapest and we were delighted with both the amazing food we sampled that day and all the interesting info about the city Judit provided. The tour was more like spending time with a friend than being led around by a tour guide, so needless to say, we had a great time.
After visiting Budapest for a second time last summer we once again met up with Judit and asked her to give us some tips on what to see and do in Budapest that most tourists don’t usually get around to. Friendly as ever, she obliged and kindly wrote this article for our readers so they too could see a different side of Budapest.
We highly recommend you book a tour with Judit during your stay in Budapest to really sink into the historic and local atmosphere and have an unforgettable experience.
In the meantime, here are Judit’s picks for the top ten things to do in Budapest off the beaten path.
Gain perspective on the Budapest Chairlift
Budapest is a a treat for nature lovers, especially on the Buda side of the city. Locals love to spend weekends in the hills, and the most exciting way to get there is by hopping in a chairlift! It runs all year round when the weather allows for it, the view is just spectacular, and it won’t break the bank either: the return ticket is just 1400 forints (appr. €4.50).
When you arrive to the top make sure to walk up to the Elizabeth Lookout – with its 526 meters this is the highest point of Budapest. This should be on every visitor’s list of things to do in Budapest.
Szabó Ervin Library, Budapest
Looking to do a little learning while visiting Budapest?
Located in the Palace District the main city library is the favorite venue for university students to study – and to fall asleep in the comfy armchairs. I know it because I used to do both there.
The Neo-Baroque building was the palace of an aristocrat family until 1927 when the city bought it for the library. Luckily an entire floor was kept in the original design, so you can feel like you’re in Versailles while walking through the numerous reading rooms. Tourists must pay 800 forints (appr. €3.00) to visit, or you can sign up as a reader – highly recommended if you spend longer time in Budapest!
Visit the Aquincum Museum in Budapest
Not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Budapest, but the Roman Empire had a major settlement called Aquincum in an area that is today the northern part of Buda. The peak was around the 2nd and 3rd century when about 30 to 40 thousand people lived here in a classic civilization with palaces, public baths, and two amphitheaters. In fact the Romans were probably the first to use the rich thermal water sources of Hungary, not only in the baths, but also as floor heating.
You can do it properly and visit the Aquincum Museum or just find random ruins at Március 15. square, Flórián square, or Nagyszombat street. All history buffs need to add this to their list of things to do in Budapest!
Explore Some Local Markets
Everybody visits the Great Market Hall, but to be honest, it is getting way too touristy and crowded. For the best meals head to the Hold Street Market – my favorite place there is Lakatos Műhely, or you can try Stand 25 if you feel fancy.
To see a food market where only locals shop, I recommend the Rákóczi Square Market – the building is as historical as the Great Market’s, but it’s much more authentic nowadays. Definitely check out the artisan cheese shop inside, and on certain days you will find a cute farmer’s section in the middle. Don’t expect the hipster experience though!
Pay Your Respects at the Budapest Kerepesi Cemetery
I have a certain fascination with cemeteries, that’s why one of our most special tours is the Cemetery Tour. The Kerepesi (also known as the Fiumei) Cemetery is where you would find most famous artists and politicians of Hungary since the mid 19th century, and it also features hundreds of amazing sculptures as the rich families were competing with each other even in the afterlife.
The Kerepesi Cemetery is located very close to the Keleti Railway Station, yet it’s a gigantic park with very few people around, mainly just birds, squirrels, and lovely nature. It’s great to just walk around and take photos, but if you have a guide you can learn a lot about Hungarian history, art, and society in this one place.
Discover the Uránia Cinema
One of the remaining art cinemas of Budapest is also a wonderful piece of architecture. If you like Art Nouveau with a strong Moorish influence, you can’t miss seeing this building. The films are screened in original language here, so just buy a ticket and enjoy watching movies in one of the most beautiful movie theaters of the world!
You can also just sit in the café upstairs and imagine you live in the late 19th century, when Budapest was growing as fast as Chicago.
Peruse Kiscelli Museum
This Baroque palace is quite far from the center, but still within the city limits it is like an island of peace. Throughout the centuries the building was used as a monastery, military barrack, storage house, hospital, private home, and today it is a museum of Budapest’s history and everyday life in the past.
There are few more relaxing places in the city than the garden of the palace on a Summer day. And if you buy your ticket here, it gives you free entrance at the Aquincum Museum (or vice versa), and even the Budapest History Museum!
Pints at Élesztő Craft Beer Bar
After all that culture you might want to discover something more funky. Élesztő is the coolest craft beer bar – what bar, empire! – in Budapest. It’s not located in the classic party district so tourists rarely find it, unlike the local beer enthusiasts and Anthony Bourdain who visited the place while shooting his show in the city. It has a well-organized ruin bar atmosphere, and you can choose from 26 different craft beers on the tap. There’s also a wine bar and a café specializing in hot chocolate in separate rooms, and on Sunday mornings they host a hip farmer’s market as well.
Get Tilted at the Budapest Pinball Museum
Budapest Pinball Museum is not your typical museum, that’s for sure. It has more than 130 pinball machines, the oldest pieces are from the 19th century, and the newest is like a real artwork from the 21st. And you can try them all!
After purchasing your ticket you can play on any of the pinball machines for free until closing time, which is midnight on most days. They don’t serve alcohol, so it stays pretty civilized all night long – a great place to visit with kids, too!
Wander Pozsonyi Street in Budapest
Pozsonyi street is the heart of Újlipótváros, an artsy neighbourhood of district 13, and it is one of my favourite areas to hang out during the day. It’s outside of most tourist’s range, but it is and it has always been one of the favourite districts of artists and intellectuals to live in. Most houses represent the early 20th century and show us a nice mixture of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Bauhaus architecture, and on almost every facade we can find a sign or two about the famous Hungarians who used to live there.
Today you can find numerous cafés and restaurants around – some of my favourites are Piknik, Babka, Sarki Fűszeres, and for Jazz lovers there’s the Budapest Jazz Club on the next street. Just get lost a bit, order a coffee and enjoy some people watching to see real Budapestians, often with their dogs.
Where to Stay In Budapest
For one of the most highly rated budget hotels in Budapest, check out AnVa House. The hotel is located a mere 400 meters from the Opera house, rooms are cozy and comfortable, and the staff is friendly and accommodating.
If you want to splurge while in Budapest have a look at our article on the best boutique hotels in Budapest.
For budget travelers our list of the best budget hostels in Budapest includes six awesome and very budget friendly hostels.
About the Author
Judit is the founder of Budapest 101, a boutique tour company that offers unique private tours in the capital and the countryside of Hungary. She’s always on the hunt for new cafés and restaurants, she’s passionate about wine culture, her favourite architectural style is Hungarian Art Nouveau, and she’s absolutely in love with her city. Her favourite thing when travelling? Leaving the guide book sights behind and discover hidden gems and everyday life. So here’s her guide to her favourite off the beaten path places in Budapest that will help you do the same!
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