As one of Europe’s most fascinating cities, there are countless things to do in Budapest for first time visitors.
With rich history, intriguing architecture, and vibrant nightlife Hungary’s capital has a lot to offer. Situated on the banks of the Danube, and with a long history of occupation and turmoil; Budapest today is a hot-spot for visitors. It is picturesque, exciting, and inexpensive; and has something for every kind of tourist.
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Things to Do in Budapest
Whether you’re after an educational excursion, a relaxing spa getaway, or a wild party weekend; Budapest can be the perfect city for you! With so many varied things to do, it can feel as though you don’t know where to start.
Never fear! This article is the perfect guide to one of the coolest cities in Europe no matter what kind of traveler you are. So let’s get into all the things to see and do In Budapest, shall we?
Make sure to read our guide to Budapest public transportation to make sure you can get around the city like a local!
Budapest Sightseeing Attractions – The Basics
Budapest is a fantastic city to view on foot, or from a tour bus. The river Danube splits the city into its two sides – Buda and Pest. The sides are now joined by many bridges, but by far the most famous and impressive is the Szechenyi Chain Bridge. It’s an absolute must for your things to do in Budapest list because from here you can get one of the best views of the remarkable Parliament building.
The Pest side of the city boasts Hungary’s largest church – St. Stephen’s Basilica. It’s an unmistakably beautiful church, inside and out; and as a more unusual part of this attraction, you can view the mummified right hand of St. Stephen himself!
Heroes Square is another unmissable sight on the Pest side and is home to one of the most impressive landmarks of the city – Millennium Monument.
Once across the bridge, the Buda side of the city offers many rousing attractions. Climb (or take the rail) up the Buda hills to view the stunning Buda Castle or Fisherman’s Bastion. You can also get a close-up view of the Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill. A tragic, yet profound landmark is located on the banks of the Danube itself. Sixty pairs of iron shoes commemorate the execution of Jews during the Second World War.
The Best Thermal Baths in Budapest
One of the most unique aspects of Budapest is its abundance of thermal water. Spending time in the thermal water is one of the most popular activities for Hungarians and tourists alike. Baths can be found all over the city, and they are the perfect place to relax and unwind.
By far the most famous of the baths in Budapest is the iconic Szechenyi thermal baths. Situated in the city park, this is the bath that is pictured in all the travel guides. From both the outside and inside, Szechenyi is a decadent sight to behold. It is the largest bath in the city, with 11 indoor thermal pools as well as immersion pools and swimming pools.
Smaller than Szechenyi but no less impressive in architecture is Gellert. It has a stunning Art Nouveau style showcasing ceramics, stained glass and mosaics. In the summer you can splash in the wave pool, and throughout the year you can enjoy the indoor pool and baths of different temperatures.
Kiraly is a small Turkish bath that interestingly takes its water supply from the Lukasc bath (a favorite with locals and well worth a visit) rather than directly from the springs. Kiraly was specifically built this way to ensure locals had access to thermal water even in the event of a siege. Bathing was that important! This bath has three thermal pools, an immersion pool, a jacuzzi and a hot tub.
The final bath in this article is Rudas. The Turkish section of the bath was built almost five centuries ago, but other areas of the bath are much more modern; with a rooftop pool overlooking the Danube for a real experience of luxury. The Turkish section is separated by gender during the week. Tuesdays are for women and other weekdays for men. On the weekends, it is open to everybody.
Incredible Nightlife in Budapest
After a day of museums and sightseeing, what better way to let loose than to experience the party life of Budapest? Perhaps the most infamous aspect of nightlife in Budapest are the ruin bars. Buildings left abandoned after the Soviet occupation were converted into art spaces and eventually turned into bars. These bars are decorated with all manner of oddities – from old cars to metro station signs.
The most well-known of these ruin bars is Szimpla Kert; a two-floor experience with indoor and outdoor seating, that also becomes a farmers’ market on Sunday mornings.
The largest ruin bar is Instant (or Fogasz, depending on which entrance you use). Originally a dental surgery, this huge ruin bar boasts seven dance floors with different styles of music.
For cheap drinks and a more underground vibe, look no further than Klub Vittula, much smaller than Instant of Szimpla Kert, but bursting with energy and great music.
Ruin bars are not the only option in Budapest. There are plenty of dancing clubs such as Aether and Akvarium. No list of bars in Budapest is complete without mentioning the legendary A38. This bar, which is located in a disused stone carrier ship, was voted “best bar in the world” by Lonely Planet readers in 2012.
Finally, Budapest is home to some incredibly talented amateur musicians. Open mic events run nightly in different bars in the city, so if you want to show off your skills simply arrive in the evening and sign up to perform! Jam sessions are also popular during the week, with all genres of music coming together to form unique performances. You can even hear local bands in music bars like Lampas, 1066, and many more!
Enjoying Nature in Budapest
Despite being the biggest city in Hungary, Budapest has plenty of green spaces. Making it easy for those who want to step out of the bustling city life.
Right by Heroes’ Square is Budapest city park. As well as the beautiful gardens, the park also contains several permanent exhibits. You can learn about everything from Hungarian horses to wine and agriculture. In the summer, rent a boat and relax on the lake. In the winter months, the park is home to a huge outdoor ice rink; where you can skate with beautiful views of the city.
Right in the heart of the city, on the Danube River, you can find Margaret Island. It’s a truly tranquil, beautiful green space that transports you away from the busy day-to-day life of Budapest. It’s an idyllic place for a picnic on a sunny day. For a more rugged island experience, try Nepsziget. With a name that means “ghost island”, it’s no surprise that the nature here is wilder and more overgrown. Plus, there are plenty of abandoned spaces to explore.
Some of the Best Museums in Budapest
With such an intricate history, it’s no wonder that Budapest has so many museums to offer.
For those interested in the arts, there’s something for you too! The Hungarian National Gallery or the Museum of Fine Arts are well worth a visit.
Visitors can learn more about the Soviet occupation at the House of Terror. It’s a dramatic walk-through museum that also enables tourists to view the gulags; or at Memento Park – an open-air museum showcasing sculptures and statues from the communist period. As well as these classic historical museums, Budapest has its share of unusual museums.
The Museum of Ethnography treats visitors to pre-war Hungarian artifacts such as toys and costumes.
The Miniversum is one of the largest collections of miniatures in the world and is a great way to discover the sights and landmarks of Hungary.
If you’re looking to get the perfect Instagram snaps, look no further than the Museum of Sweets and Selfies – not so much a museum but a walk-through experience where you can pose in a bathtub of sprinkles, or swing on a giant strawberry.
The final museum in this list is the Flippermuzeum – or pinball museum. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Budapest because you can play pinball machines dating all the way from the 1950s to the present day. It’s the perfect way to spend a rainy day.
Unique and Unusual Things to Do in Budapest
Finally, here is a short list of some of the more unique attractions in Budapest.
If creepy if your thing, explore the dimly lit labyrinth under Castle Hill. Decorated with coffins and often requiring a flashlight to navigate, legend has it that Dracula himself was once imprisoned here.
Keeping with the unsettling theme, one of the most interesting abandoned places in the city is the Istvantelek Train Yard. More than 100 old locomotives can be found in this derelict train yard. In some of the engines it’s even possible to find old train tickets. This is a playground for train enthusiasts, but an interesting and unusual day out for anybody who likes to explore the weird and wonderful.
Some more underground fun can be found in Budapest Cave Church. Rather than the dramatic spires and domes typical of European churches, this small church is situated inside Gellert Hill. It was originally founded by Pauline monks, and still operates as a church today; with regular services.
Speaking of attractions within attractions, bookworms must be sure to pay a visit to the quaint Ervin-Szabo library, located within the central library of Budapest. Visitors can relax with a coffee and marvel at the luxurious architecture of this former mansion, whilst breathing in the smell of old books.
Finally, for a uniquely adorable experience, be sure to visit the Children’s Railway. This railway stops at seven recreational sites and runs through the beautiful forests of the city. As if this isn’t quaint enough, the railway is operated by children. They are (thankfully) supervised by adults and perform jobs ranging from ticket collection to traffic control.
Recommendations on Where to Stay in Budapest
- Best Boutique Hotel – We recommend the Prestige Hotel Budapest
- Best Budget Hotel – We recommend Corvin Boutique Apartments
- More Hotel Options – Check Out Our Best Hotels in Budapest Article
- On a Budget? Check out our Best Hostels in Budapest Article
So there you have it, a brief round-up of some of the most popular attractions in Budapest. For more information on this amazing city, be sure to check out our other Budapest articles. If you visit any of these attractions after reading, be sure to let us know in the comments! Safe and Happy Travels!