Budapest is a great place to do some awesome sightseeing, experience the rich Eastern European culture, treat yourself to some great food, enjoy the most amazing nightlife and just relax.
I have to admit that Budapest was never my first choice for a destination, even though somewhere in the back of my head I always thought about going there. I didn’t know much about that city, except that my dad had visited it when I was a baby. I knew that they ate goulash, their parliament was probably the most photographed building in the whole country and if I went there, I would probably not understand a word. We booked flight tickets absolutely spontaneous and completely by chance, but I am so glad we did. I really liked the city and I would definitely go there again.
There are a lot of things to do in Budapest no matter what type of a traveller you are! This is quite a comprehensive guide on activities, tourist attractions and things to see in Budapest. I tried to keep it short and it’s definitely enough to get you started.
1. Visit the Hungarian Parliament
The parliament building in Budapest is gorgeous! You will definitely want to find a spot on the other side of the city to photograph it from the hill - more about that below. If you have time, I also recommend you to get the tickets and go inside with a tour. That’s the only way to visit it, but you will learn a lot of interesting facts about Hungary inside. The guided tours are available in different languages and take around 45 minutes. I thought it was worth the time and money.
You don’t necessarily need to buy tickets for parliament online, but make sure to arrive early on the day you want to go inside. Normally, all the tickets for a day are gone by 11:30. The entrance fees are different for EU and non-EU citizens (which I personally think is unfair), so if you are from outside the Union, the visit can be quite pricey.
2. Pay a visit to the Fisherman’s Bastion during the day… and night!
The Fisherman’s Bastion is located on the Buda hill. It is not only an extremely beautiful tower construction around Matthias Church, but also a great viewing point with an amazing Danube panorama, Pest on the other side of it and of course, the amazing building of the Hungarian Parliament. It is probably one of the best spots to take pictures of the parliament in Budapest.
Interesting fact that I discovered by chance: during the day you will have to pay a small fee to go up the Bastion's wall. But in the evening and at night you can go up for free! And hey, I think that with all the lights the views of the Budapest and the parliament building at night are even more stunning.
3. Visit Matthias Church
Matthias Church is surrounded by Fisherman’s Bastion and is very beautiful inside and outside. A fee applies to tourists to visit the church, except on Catholic holidays like Easter Sunday. At this time the church is open for everyone for free. I was lucky to get all these freebies when I was visiting, because it was during the Easter :)
4. Walk around the Buda Castle
Budapest is a city that is divided by the river Danube with Buda on one side and Pest on the other. Buda Castle is probably the first massive building that you will see from the distance. Nowadays it serves as a museum and anyone can take a tour to see the building from the inside. The panorama view is as amazing as from the Fisherman’s Bastion, although the Parliament building is a bit further away. After all the delicious, but heavy, Hungarian food we had I appreciated walking up and down the hill.
5. Walk up the mountain to the Citadella
If you like walking and are in good shape, try to walk from Fisherman’s Bastion via Buda Castle and up to the Citadella. It will probably take you half a day, depending on your speed, but if you want to see more of the city and take it slow, I recommend doing it.
Next to the Buda castle hill on top of Gellert hill a Citadella fortress is located.The view from there is absolutely amazing, but the fortress itself is also an interesting place to visit in Budapest.
6. Visit the church in the rock
The church on the rock is located on the bottom of Gellert hill, or actually inside of it, just next to the famous thermal baths and hotel. This church is definitely a very unusual place to visit. It is quite small and looks like a cave on the inside. But not wet and nasty one, on the contrary — it is really beautiful and well taken care of. An entrance fee applies, except on the days of Catholic holidays, like Easter.
7. The Budapest State Opera
Feeling fancy and like opera? A big yes to the Budapest Opera House then. The building is very beautiful on the inside and the outside, and they also have amazing performances there.
If you are new to the concept of opera and want to try it when in Budapest, it’s a great choice to start! When deciding what opera to see, I recommend starting with either some Italian pieces or maybe Mozart. They do love the operas of German composer Wagner in Budapest, but they are long and heavy, so might not be the right pick. Parsifal, the opera that we’ve seen, is just really too long (four and a half hours!) and too heavy. I think the only true fans of Wagner can handle it.
Even if you are not an opera lover, visiting the building for its beauty is definitely one thing to do. It belongs to the most outstanding opera houses in the world. It has remarkable interior and a wonderful architecture. An opera visit is also a great occasion to dress up and feel fancy. Tickets to the performances at the Budapest State Opera are really not expensive, so you can treat yourself to some really fancy seats! Pay attention when booking tickets on their website — some of the performances take place in other theaters.
8. St. Stephen's Basilica
The church is located in the center of Budapest and is considered one of the main attractions of the city. It is really big and very beautiful inside. You are guaranteed to be impressed with its dimensions, especially if you haven’t been in Rome. It is a working church and sometimes is not available for tourists during service times.
8. Visit the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial
This place is a MUST visit. It is a monument that reminds us of the events in history that we should never forget. The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial to victims of holocaust and is in remembrance of the people who were killed and thrown into the Danube. If you know the story and understand that this is not a shoe exhibition, you are guaranteed to get goose pimples and, hopefully, some important thoughts in your head. The monument is located on the side of Pest not that far away from the parliament building.
10. Thermal Baths in Budapest
Often the thermal baths and spas are the reasons why people come to Budapest! What can be more enjoyable than healing warm pleasant water, slow conversation and beautiful interiors of the baths? I must admit that I couldn’t wait to get to one of the baths and I was so excited. I travelled with my partner, so we decided to go for a bigger and more popular thermal baths, because both men and women are allowed there at the same time. The choice was between the Széchenyi and the Gellert baths, so we went to the first one.
I must admit that the interior is so beautiful and the outside area with warm water pool was enjoyable even in late March. We liked it a lot, but I feel that you should know two things: it was very crowded and it wasn’t the cleanest place I have ever been to. This is not only the critique point to the bath that we went to - if you read reviews of other big commercial spas in Budapest, it’s the same story. I think that on my next visit I will go for a lesser known smaller thermal baths to enjoy the intimacy of the place and to relax.
Would I recommend going to the bigger thermal baths anyways? Absolutely! They have the variety, the famous interiors and a lot of space. I would maybe try to choose a day that is not on the weekend or not a local public holiday to make sure that the place is not too crowded.
11. Eat local Hungarian food!
Goulash, filled paprikas, lots of meat, pancakes, cheese, sausage, cabbaget. The Hungarian cuisine is really savory, flavorful, meaty and very tasty. And even though my grandmother tells me every person should eat 300gr of beef a day (seriously, no joke, that’s what she tells me), I eat meat quite rarely. I tried goulash and it was awesome. But generally, I was able to find great traditional dishes without meat: with cheese, paprika and cabbage. It was yummy!
I discovered that a great place to eat in Budapest is the Hummus Bar. It’s not traditional Hungarian food, but extremely tasty and really for people on a budget. Vegetarians as well as meat lovers will find there great and energy restoring meals. Hummus bars are a chain and can be found everywhere around Budapest.
12. Visit the Great Market Hall of Budapest
If you want to try a lot of local food or maybe just see what is available head to the second floor of the market. There is a traditional food court and a restaurant where you can sit. If you want to eat at the market I do recommend one of the small food kiosks on the right-hand side from the entrance, since the restaurant is really pricey for what it is.
I love markets of all kinds. So, when I travel I am trying to visit a market to look around, shop for some locals stuff, fresh fruits when possible or just get an impression of what residents are buying. I also find that the market in Budapest, as well as many other markets around the world, are great for souvenirs and little gifts for family and friends back home. Spices, fabrics, traditional clothes, toys are available there, but also fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods that can make a delicious meal, if you feel like cooking.
13. Nightlife in Budapest
They say that Budapest is one of the coolest European cities to go out and celebrate with your friends! The bars and nightclubs have good prices and offer awesome atmosphere, great music and nice drinks. They are quick to adopt and try out new concept and they always stay in trend. Even if you are not a party person, you will definitely enjoy having a drink or two in the bars of Budapest.
14. Stroll in the streets and parks of Budapest
Not every moment of your Budapest stay should be dedicated to sightseeing. I really enjoyed long walks in the city, gazing at incredible buildings, doing window shopping and so on. A park behind the Heroes Square is a really great place for jogging or just walking. As far as I understood, this is also a great place for a picnic during warm seasons and an equipped ice-skating arena during winter.
There are also a lot of interesting things you will see on the streets of Budapest - the city is alive and vibrant and is definitely full of culture and traditions.
One last thing...
One thing that I wouldn’t do in Budapest, though, is taking the double decker tourist bus. I am not a big fan of this kind of city exploration, but after we’ve done it in Funchal (Madeira) on a rainy day last year, I really wanted to try it somewhere else.
The buses in Budapest have an extremely strange route. They are passing by the same square again and again, and the audio guide is telling the same information over and over. It is quite boring, not very informative and doesn’t tell anything about the history of places the bus passes by. It also interrupts all the time without finishing a sentence and starts a new story about something else. As an alternative search for a private or a small group tour of Budapest.
Budapest is a really cool city! It’s great for a weekend trip or for a longer stay even up to a week. There is definitely something to do for everyone. I hope that my tips are helpful for you and you will have an enjoyable trip!
About the author
Hi, I am Maria, blogger and founder of Globalmary.com.
I was born and grew up in Russia, studied in Sweden and now live in Hamburg, my most favorite city in Germany. I travel a lot and write about places I've been to. I share my best travel tips and
experience about what it means to live a global life!
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