Best of Budapest: A Comprehensive Guide to the Top Things to Do

Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, is a beautiful and enchanting destination that has been captivating visitors for centuries. The city is bisected by the Danube River, with the hilly Buda district on the west bank and the flat Pest district on the east bank. Budapest boasts a rich history, and its architecture is a testament to the city’s past. From stunning Gothic churches to Art Nouveau buildings, Budapest is a feast for the eyes.

Exploring Budapest’s Historic Landmarks

Buda Castle, Budapest, Hungary
Buda Castle

Budapest is home to some of Europe’s most impressive landmarks that are a must-see for any visitor. Budapest’s historic landmarks, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, and Parliament Building are some of the most beautiful and popular tourist attractions in the city.

Buda Castle

Buda Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a stunning palace complex that sits atop Castle Hill on the Buda side of the city. The castle dates back to the 14th century and has been the residence of Hungarian kings and queens throughout history.

Located in the Castle District, the Castle is a complex of buildings that includes the Royal Palace, Savoy Terrace, Matthias Fountain, Palace Gardens, and Alexander Palace.

Historically, this area was protected by stone walls and guards. Some historians believe that the particular section of the walls where Fisherman’s Bastion stands was protected by fishermen guilds.

Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary
Fisherman’s Bastion

Fisherman’s Bastion

Another must-see landmark is Fisherman’s Bastion, which offers breathtaking views of the city. Built between 1895 and 1902, the bastion was designed to celebrate 1,000 years of the Hungarian state. It features seven turrets to represent the seven different Magyars tribes that settled in the region in 895 and formed modern-day Hungary.

The bastion was designed as a fairy tale-like structure rather than a defensive fortress, and features whitewashed walls, arches, and stone benches.

Hungarian Parliament Building

Located on the Pest side of the Danube River, the Hungarian Parliament Building is one of Budapest’s most recognisable landmarks. It also happens to be one of the largest parliament buildings in the world. The building’s architecture is stunning, with an impressive dome and Neo-Gothic and Renaissance elements that are sure to impress.

Other famous landmarks include St Stephen’s Basilica, Matthias Church and Heroes’ Square. A visit to Budapest is incomplete without exploring these iconic sites that showcase the city’s rich history and architectural beauty.

Relaxing at Budapest’s Thermal Baths

Széchenyi Thermal Bath, Budapest
Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Budapest is known as the City of Baths and its thermal baths are a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, being renowned for their relaxing and rejuvenating properties. With over 100 thermal springs, the city is the spa capital of the world and has a long history of thermal waters dating back to ancient Roman times. The thermal bath waters in Budapest Baths remain warm constantly, be it summer or winter, making bathing feel like a royal ritual.

Each bath has its own unique architecture and atmosphere, making them worth a visit even for those who don’t want to get in the water. Gellert Bath is one of the most popular baths in the city and is known for its Art Nouveau architecture. Meanwhile, the Neo-Baroque Széchenyi Bath is another must-visit thermal bath and is the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Rudas Bath is a historic Turkish bath that dates back to the 16th century. and is a unique experience that is not to be missed.

Visitors should bring swimwear, towels, flip-flops, swimming cap, and a water bottle when visiting a thermal bath. Guests are given an electronic bracelet for locker access, and each bath has a variety of pools, steam rooms, saunas, and outdoor areas. Some baths have special features like night-time “sparties” or rooftop hot tubs, which are a must-try experience.

The thermal waters in Budapest are believed to have health benefits, but it’s important to consult a doctor before visiting if you have any medical conditions.

Best Museums and Galleries in Budapest

Hungarian National Gallery, Buda Castle
Hungarian National Gallery, Buda Castle

Budapest is a city that is rich in art and history, and its museums and galleries are testament to this. 

The Hungarian National Museum

The Hungarian National Museum is not only the biggest museum in the country, but also a significant cultural institution and a must-visit for history buffs. Founded in 1802, it is the oldest museum in Hungary and houses a vast collection of artifacts. The artifacts are related to Hungarian history and culture, dating back from prehistoric times through the Middle Ages to the present day.

The Hungarian National Gallery

The Hungarian National Gallery is a must-visit for those who love visual arts, with an extensive collection of Hungarian art from the 11th century to the present day. Located within Buda Castle, it was established as the national art museum in 1957 and has been housed in the privileged location ever since.

The Museum of Fine Arts

The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most visited museums in Budapest, known for its impressive collection of works from Old Masters to contemporary artists. It was recently renovated and currently features exhibitions on Egyptian art, classical antiquities, European art, and Hungarian art. The Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art also house prestigious international collections.

The House of Terror

The House of Terror museum is particularly noteworthy, located in a building that was previously used by the Arrow Cross Party and ÁVH. The museum was opened in 2002 as a memorial to the victims of the fascist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary.

The exhibition provides an immersive experience of life under the regimes, and contains material on Hungary’s relationships with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It also houses exhibits related to Hungarian organizations such as the Arrow Cross Party and the ÁVH.

Museum of Ethnography, Budapest
Museum of Ethnography

The Museum of Ethnography

The Museum of Ethnography is a new building that opened its doors in May 2022 as part of the Liget Budapest Project. It features a grass-covered roof area that serves as a community space, and a glass curtain wall with metal grid pixels inspired by ethnographic motifs. The museum’s collection consists of around 250,000 objects, including exceptional photographic and film materials, manuscripts, and folk artifacts.

Other notable mentions

In addition to these well-known museums, there are also smaller thematic museums such as the memorial houses of composer Ferenc Liszt and architect Imre Makovecz. Budapest also has several museums dedicated to agriculture, fairy tales, railway history, and contemporary art, as well as the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is a moving tribute to the victims of one of humanity’s darkest chapters.

Budapest’s public museums are open from Tuesday to Sunday and closed on Mondays. Admission fees are reasonable, ranging from a few euros to €20. Visitors can also take advantage of the Budapest Card, which offers free entry to certain museums and discounts to others.

Families with children will find something to enjoy at Budapest’s museums, with interactive exhibits and activities available at many locations and even some interesting exhibitions tailored specifically for kids.

Best Parks and Gardens in Budapest

Vajdahunyad Castle, City Park, Budapest
Vajdahunyad Castle, City Park

Budapest’s parks and gardens are a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. One of the most popular parks in Budapest is City Park, which is famous for its iconic landmarks such as Heroes’ Square and Vajdahunyad Castle (which is actually a replica of Hunyad Castle in Transylvania). During the winter months, the park transforms into a magical wonderland with its ice rink, making it a perfect spot for families to enjoy some outdoor fun.

Margaret Island is another must-visit park that sits in the middle of the Danube River and is home to a Japanese garden, a musical fountain, picnic areas and a petting zoo. Gellert Hill is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, with panoramic views of the city and a beautiful citadel at the top. It also features a stunning waterfall and several hiking trails.

Margaret Island, Budapest
Margaret Island

For those looking for more adventure, Buda Hills and Normafa are perfect for hiking and cycling. Károly Garden, on the other hand, provides a peaceful oasis in the city centre with its tranquil atmosphere and beautiful flowers. Kopaszi Dam is a great spot for a beach day, while Philosopher’s Garden is ideal for people-watching. The Budapest Botanical Garden is a must-visit for plant enthusiasts, while Feneketlen Tó is a hidden gem of a park waiting to be discovered.

If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, Epreskert (“Strawberry Garden”), Barabás Villa Gardens, Jókai Natural Garden on Sváb Mountain are all hidden parks that are worth exploring. In summary, Budapest’s parks and gardens offer visitors a chance to relax and unwind while taking in the city’s natural beauty.

Shopping and Dining at Central Market Hall

Central Market Hall, Budapest, Hungary
Central Market Hall

The Central Market Hall in Budapest is a bustling and colourful hub of activity. Built in 1896, this massive building is the largest and most beautiful market in Budapest. With hundreds of shops and stalls selling fresh produce, alcoholic drinks and traditional Hungarian foods, it’s a must-visit destination for tourists and locals alike.

The market is open Monday to Saturday and offers a variety of attractions, including guided tours, tastings, and cultural events. The market is also a great spot for souvenir shopping, with a wide selection of traditional Hungarian crafts and gifts.

Visitors can find local favourites such as “The Cheese Place,” “The Lavender Stand,” and “The Truffle Shop.” Some items to buy at the market include paprika, honey, and black truffles. However, visitors should avoid buying saffron, which is often mislabelled, and products like “goulash cream” and “paprika cream” that contain preservatives. When buying paprika, it’s essential to choose plain packaging and use it within a year for the best flavour.

Whether you love people watching or are looking for photo opportunities, the Great Market Hall in Budapest has something for everyone. It is also an excellent way to indulge in Hungarian food culture while also supporting local vendors.

Exploring Budapest’s Culinary Scene

Chimney cake
Chimney cake

Budapest is a food lover’s paradise, offering a variety of culinary delights that reflect the unique mix of influences from German, Ottoman, Balkan, and Hungarian traditions. The affordability of Budapest’s food scene makes it an excellent destination for foodies looking for a unique culinary adventure. The streets are filled with an array of delicious and cheap food options, such as deep-fried lángos (deep-fried dough topped with sour cream and cheese) and sweet kürtöskalács, better known as chimney cake.

Hungarian Chimney Cake is a popular pastry that originated in Hungary and is now found all over the Balkans and central Europe. The conically shaped pastry is cooked around a rotating spit in an oven, and can be dipped in sugar or nuts or filled with various toppings including cream, chocolate, and more imaginative items. You can find Chimney Cake in shops and food carts throughout Budapest, and if you want to learn how to make your own, you can even take a class.

However, Budapest’s food scene extends beyond its street food offerings. The Central Market and ruin bars are great places to explore the city’s gastronomical wonders, while restaurants like Menza Étterem és Kávéház, Belvárosi Disznótoros, and Onyx offer a chance to indulge in some of the best Hungarian cuisine.

Discovering Budapest’s Vibrant Nightlife

Szimpla Kert, Budapest
Szimpla Kert

Budapest’s nightlife is legendary, and its ruin bars and Szimpla Kert are a testament to this. Ruin bars are unique to Budapest and are bars that are built in abandoned buildings or spaces.

Szimpla Kert is one of the most famous ruin bars. Its maze of rooms are decorated with eclectic furniture and art, giving it a distinct bohemian vibe. Since opening its doors in 2001 it has since gained a reputation and is now beloved by locals and tourists alike. You can enjoy a shisha at the shisha bar, grab a coffee at the coffee shop with free wifi, or browse the farmer’s market on Sundays.

Szimpla Kert has played a significant role in revitalizing the city’s 7th district, and it is considered a symbol of Budapest’s cultural scene. Although it is popular among tourists, it still retains its authenticity and cultural essence and is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience Budapest’s vibrant nightlife.

Cultural Events in Budapest

Sziget Festival
Sziget Festival

Budapest is a city of many cultural events, with two of the most popular ones being the Sziget Festival on Óbuda Island and Formula One.

Sziget Festival

The Sziget Festival is one of Europe’s largest music festivals, offering a diverse line-up of international stars across various music genres, as well as cultural performances and unique communal activities. The festival attracts visitors from all over Europe, with nearly 50% of attendees coming from abroad.

The Sziget Festival has been acclaimed as the Best European Festival multiple times and offers a well-organized experience with restaurants, bars, shops, and various accommodation options on the island. Tickets can be purchased in advance, and different types of passes and tickets are available.

Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix
Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix

The Hungarian Grand Prix

Apart from the Sziget Festival, Budapest is also home to Formula One racing. The Hungarian Grand Prix is held every year (usually in July) at the Hungaroring circuit just 20km from Budapest.

The venue has a capacity of 70,000 spectators and the circuit is known for its tight, twisty characteristics. It is the third shortest and the second slowest circuit on the calendar after Monaco, and due to its location in a valley, provides excellent visibility for fans; from the higher rows in the grandstands, it’s possible to see up to 80% of the track.

The race attracts motorsport fans from all over the world who come to see their favourite drivers compete on the track, and the event also features concerts and other entertainment options.

The Hungarian Grand Prix is also one of the most affordable races on the calendar, as well as one of the most accessible. General admission tickets tend to be available until the final weeks before the race, and unlike at sell-out circuits, nearby accommodation prices remain reasonable.

To make the most of Budapest’s cultural events and attractions, visitors can get a Sziget CityPass by Budapest Card. The pass offers unlimited travel on public transportation, as well as discounts at museums. With so much to see and do in Budapest, visitors are sure to have a memorable experience.

Best Ways to Explore Budapest

Budapest bikes for rent
Budapest bikes for rent

Budapest is full of stunning architecture, vibrant culture, and rich history, with several options available to explore, including walking tours, bike tours, and river cruises. If you prefer a leisurely pace with plenty of time to take in the sights, a walking tour is an excellent choice, allowing you to immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant culture and history.

However, if you want to cover more ground and see more of the city’s landmarks in a shorter time, a bike tour is the way to go. There are several available in Budapest, including guided sightseeing tours along the banks of the Danube River. These tours take you through the city’s streets and parks, providing breathtaking views as well as an adrenaline rush.

Additionally, if you want to see Budapest from a different perspective, a river cruise is a fantastic option. You can take a Danube River sightseeing cruise or an evening sightseeing cruise to see the city’s landmarks illuminated at night, where you can enjoy stunning views of the city’s skyline and famous landmarks while relaxing on the water.

There are numerous options for tours and activities, including spa tours, outdoor adventures, food and wine tours, and cultural and themed tours. Whatever your interests, Budapest is sure to offer something to satisfy them.

Pro tip: A good way to explore is to focus on one side of the city at a time. Spend a day on the Buda side, then spend the next day on the Pest side. The Buda side is home to the Castle District, where visitors can wander through cobblestone streets, see the Buda Castle, and visit landmarks like Fisherman’s Bastion. The Pest side meanwhile is home to Central Market Hall, the Széchenyi Thermal Bath and City Park.

Practical Tips for Visiting Budapest

Budapest subway
Budapest subway


When visiting Budapest, it’s important to plan ahead and be prepared. There are many accommodation options in Budapest, from budget hostels to luxury hotels. Hostels are generally safe and clean with bars and well-equipped kitchens, and are a great option for solo travellers wishing to have a more social experience. Airbnb is also a popular option for staying in Budapest on a budget.


Visitors can reach Budapest by plane, train, car, or boat. Once in the city, transportation is easy and convenient with a well-organized and affordable public transportation system, including buses, trams, readily available taxis, and a subway system. Walking is the best way to explore the city, but public transportation is also necessary to see all the sights. One essential tip is to buy a travelcard or ticket before getting on public transport, validate it when boarding, and keep it until the end of the journey.

If you plan to continue travelling after your stay in Budapest, compare prices of trains, bus services such as Flixbus, and budget airlines such as Wizz Air. All of these options provide competitive rates for getting to surrounding countries including Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Slovakia.


Budapest is generally a safe city with minimal violent crime, but petty crimes such as pickpocketing and scams are common in crowded areas. Tourists should keep an eye on their belongings at all times, and be cautious of fraudulent taxi drivers and scams in restaurants. Solo female travellers can feel safe in Budapest, as the locals are accustomed to seeing women travelling alone.

If you require emergency assistance in Budapest, dial 112 to contact emergency services.

Final thoughts on Budapest

Budapest is a city that is rich in history, culture, and culinary delights. It’s a destination that has something for everyone, from exploring historic landmarks to indulging in the city’s vibrant nightlife. Whether you’re immersing yourself in art and culture, soaking in one of the rejuvenating spas or simply strolling through one of the many parks and gardens, Budapest will captivate you with its unique charm. So, pack your bags and get ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure.

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