Things to do in Budapest

Things to do in Budapest, Hungary

If you have not been to Budapest, and have short time to enjoy the big and spread out city - aka the Pearl of the Danube -, it is a crucial question what things to do in Budapest, Hungary.
Buda Castle, Chain Bridge, river views - Budapest by night (photo Sonja Pieper)

Here are some ideas I as a local from Budapest think are worth doing (supposing you are not a millionaire, so I will suggest things to do in Budapest from a mid range budget).

View of Budapest UNESCO World Heritage site (photo by Katherine Hala)

Visit the Spa Baths & Relax

Visit the spa baths in Budapest. After all you are on a holiday, aren't you? So the point is to see things, do things and feel good rather than rush through the hundreds of Budapest attractions.
Go to one of the big baths in Budapest, like Szechenyi Baths for a nice and warm bath - the waters are also good for the joints, and smooth your mind after the trip to Budapest - especially if you have a serious jet lag.
Gellert Baths are also a great option. Mind you, both baths are pretty big and Gellert can feel like a bit of a maze. Here's a comparison of the two thermal spa baths: Gellert or Szechenyi? Nevertheless, once you get the gist of the spa bath system (various tickets, discounts for the afternoons, turnstiles, cabins vs. lockers, etc.), you will feel really pampered.
Szechenyi Spa Budapest (photo by Alvaro dirac3000)

See the Communist Past

Just about two decades ago Budapest, Hungary was hidden behind a thick and rusty iron curtain, with communist officials, secret police, pioneer kids, grey walls and pretended smiles from the state owned and centralised media. There were communist statues all over the country and Budapest was no exception. Now you can still see some of the XXXXXL size mega statues in superman poses in Memento Park, Budapest.
Memento Communist Statue Park, Budapest (photo by Espino Family)

To appreciate the stark history of Hungary during the Communist and Nazi regime, visit the House of Terror museum on Andrassy Avenue (a UNESCO World Heritage site). To enjoy the bright side of the communist past, take a ride on the Children's Railway in the Buda Hills - the former pioneer train in Budapest. Fun ride not just for families and nature lovers.

Enjoy the traditional Hungarian dishes and cakes

Eat some really good traditional meals in Hungary in the best restaurants in Budapest, and leave room for the yummy cakes you can get in Budapest, Hungary. Avoid the tourist traps - especially on Vaci street where you can meet somewhat aggressive guys to invite you in - by reading up a bit, or asking locals where to eat. If you find the right place you will feel that Hungarian cuisine is superb, if not, you can ruin your holiday and we locals will be disappointed too that you have not been given what you deserve: really really good solid Hungarian dishes. The cakes in Hungary are amazingly delicious - try them at the best confectioneries in Budapest.
Raspberry Strudel at Ruszwurm Cake Shop (photo by Katherine Hala)

Walk along the river Danube

Walking in Budapest by the river Danube must be one of the best walks on earth. I know that you may think that locals are always biased, but don't take my word for it - see what tourists say about the river Danube (the Danube Promenade and the Danube Embankment) on Budapest travel guide sites. See? Take the walk alone or with your better half - whichever suits you, the walk will be beautiful with majestic sights along both sides of the river.
River Views, Budapest by night (photo by Teemu Ylikoski) - Spoon Ship Pub in front

Try the stretch between the Chain Bridge and Elisabeth Bridge for a short walk, or from Margaret Bridge to Liberty Bridge for a longer walk along the river. Don't despair: whenever you get tired, you can hop on the tram, which goes along the river with the most world famous and fantastic views a public transport is capable of - no wonder the Danube Promenade flanked by the major attractions (like the Parliament (Orszaghaz), the Gresham Palace, the Chain Bridge, the Buda Castle, the Citadel, etc.) is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

Look around the Buda Castle quarters on Castle Hill

Take a look around the Buda Castle quarters on top of the Castle Hill on the Buda side of BudaPest. In addition to the Buda Castle, you can get your camera busy on the Fisherman's Bastion (Halaszbastya) for the coolest panoramic pictures ever (well, let's suppose that your walk along the river Danube also kept your camera busy, right?).
Stairs in the Buda Castle, Budapest (photo by Katherine Hala)

Take a look inside the Matthias Church (Matyas templom), visit the National Gallery for some romantic paintings, eat and drink well in the Castle district (there are really good restaurants and a nice little cafe slash confectionery: Cafe Ruszwurm to bite into a mouthwatering cake...). You will have the AHA feeling if you also taste the best of the Hungarian wines in a wine tour in the Castle area.
And almost forgot, you can take the Funicular railway up to the castle too (or walk, or take bus 16 or 5) - short fun ride (tickets not included in the Budapest public transit passes)

Funicular Railway - cable car to the Buda Castle, Budapest (photo by Katherine Hala)

Enjoy the nights in Budapest

No matter how old you are, you can find something enjoyable to do in Budapest - at least in high season.

Opera & Ballet at the Budapest Opera House (photo by Chad Briggs)

Low season on weekdays can be a bit of a headache what to do and where to go, but you can always ask for current event tips and a personalized tour guide for Budapest (basically they have a visit planner). Try travel guide for getting balanced, thoughtful and free tips on what to do when you are staying in Budapest. You can also send them your travel report.
Szimplakert (Simple Garden ruin pub) Budapest (photo by Daniel Edwins)

Buy some gifts, Hungarian specialties 

Who doesn't like shopping? OK, men are usually not very keen on shopping, but when you go to the Central Market Hall you can try sausages, Hungarian pickles, Tokaji aszu, the Hungarian dessert wine looooved by the French sun king, etc. So it is hard to imagine that you could possibly come out of the market hall and be disappointed. Of course, there are loads of souvenir stalls too and a wide range of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products. Besides the Central Market Hall, you can do some gift shopping in design fairs: WAMP Fair on Elisabeth square - Erzsebet ter,
WAMP Design Fair Budapest, Hungary
or GOUBA Bazaar in Gozsdu udvar, and the occasional fairs and festivals - like the Budapest Christmas Market - are all excellent places to buy something cool or authentic instead of the - sorry to be rude - tawdry souvenirs in Vaci utca shopping street where excellence or true craftsmanship is not necessarily a condition for selling stuff.
GOUBA Bazaar Budapest  - design fair

If you like fashion shopping go to the Fashion street between Vorosmarty square and Deak square, or one of the big shopping malls (WestEnd City at Nyugati Train Station, Mammut Shopping Mall by the Castle Hill, Arcade on M2 metro line).

Let Music Shake You in Budapest

As for Music in Budapest, you will be spoilt. True, Budapest Opera House is not the NY Metropolitan and its Jazz clubs are not like the ones in New Orleans, but you will find what you are pining for. Operas and ballets in the Hungarian Opera House are superb and great value for money (plus an architectural experience), classical concerts as well as world music and jazz performances are of first rate at the 'MUPA' or Palace of Arts (by Rakoczi Bridge) and St Stephen Basilica has regular organ and choir concerts under its wonderful dome.
Concert in front of the Basilica, Budapest (photo by Artur Herczeg)

Puppet theatres are not just for kids, but for adults too with their adult repertoire. Rock, hiphop, electronica, metal and other not so classical concerts are almost every day (!) in A38 Music Club (a cool ship on the river Danube, with a huge concert hall, a restaurant upstairs and many many enthusiastic locals) - voted the coolest place in Europe on Lonely Planet website. Seriously.
A38 Music Ship in Budapest: Parov Stelar Band (photo by Janos Palinkas)
And a photo of the roof terrace opening of A38 (spring-summer-autumn)
A38 Music Club Ship, Budapest

Let Arts Move you in Budapest

If you love arts, you will be at home in Budapest. Some of the museums you cannot miss are the Museum of Fine Arts (if you like traditional arts, like 18-19th century European paintings), the Museum of Applied Arts for awesome design objects (accessories, furniture, you name it), Ludwig Museum for contemporary arts, Eventuell gallery for seeing (and buying) the works of modern Hungarian designers etc. There are hundreds of little galleries, antique shops (try Falk Miksa street for antique treasures), flea markets, and exciting temporary exhibitions in Budapest. Get an event guide to see what suits you best.

Eventuell Art Gallery and Shop, Budapest

If quirky, just head to the ruin pubs - artsy, cool places with many rooms and full of works made by upcoming Hungarian artists. You know what? Even the big Budapest cemeteries are like beautiful open air statue parks in the Hungarian capital (try Kerepesi or Farkasreti cemetery).  Interestingly enough, Budapest is also a home of high quality contemporary dance performances. And one thing we should not forget is the architecture: here is a list of the nicest Art Nouveau Budapest buildings (aka Secession / Jugendstil) and if you love modern buildings, see the contemporary architecture Budapest tips.

The Little Princess Statue on the Danube Promenade (photo by Katherine Hala)

Jewish Budapest

Budapest is a unique place as its Jewish community has rich cultural influences and heritage for the whole of the country (today there are about 50,000 - 100,000 Jews living in Hungary, and most of them in Budapest). The 6th district (on maps shown as District VI, or Kerület VI.) is the traditional Jewish quarters in the city of Budapest with several (orthodox and neolog / reform) synagogues, including the Dohany Street Great Synagogue (the 2nd largest in the world, seating 3,000 people),

Dohany Street Great Synagogue, Budapest - photo by Luis Guillermo Pineda Rodas

kosher restaurants, butchers, Jewish confectionery, Jewish ritual bath, sad and beautiful Holocaust memorials (e.g. the Weeping Willow, Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park), the Jewish Museum, various Budapest Jewish festivals , and many more things that make Jewish Budapest one of the top attractions in Hungary.
Many of the Nobel prize winners that Hungarians are so proud of were Jewish.

Please note that several items on the list of Budapest things to do are FREE making even budget travellers happy. :)


  1. I went to Budapest. Very nice place. A place to explore the river Danube. Trip to Budapest, where I was told my notes (gezi).

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