Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something. Please check out our disclosure policy for more details.
Budapest is a popular city to visit, and for good reason. As the capital of Hungary, it houses the parliament buildings, the National Museum and many more impressive sites dedicated to Hungarian history and culture. It definitely ranks high on our list of favourite cities in Europe. Keep reading to find out some of our top things to do in Budapest!
We visited Budapest in mid-summer and it was hot. It was a great time to visit, but we’d love to come back in winter too. Most of our recommendations are suitable regardless of the season. Down below you can also find our three-day itinerary, where we visited almost all of these places in the most logical order to save on walking and metro tickets. You can also find out about public transport, currency, and other handy things we discovered on our trip.
- 1 A Bit of Background on Budapest
- 2 Things to do in Budapest
- 2.1 Hungarian Parliament Building
- 2.2 Széchenyi Baths
- 2.3 St Stephens Basilica
- 2.4 Hungarian National Museum
- 2.5 Vörösmarty Tér and Váci Street
- 2.6 Market Hall Vasarcsarnok
- 2.7 The Shoes on the Danube Bank
- 2.8 Zero Stone
- 2.9 Vajdahunyad Castle
- 2.10 Széchenyi Chain Bridge
- 2.11 Heroes Square
- 2.12 Margaret Island
- 2.13 Sandor Palace
- 2.14 Fisherman’s Bastion
- 2.15 Buda Castle
- 2.16 Labyrinths of Buda Castle
- 2.17 Ruin Bars
- 3 Our Itinerary: Best Of Budapest
A Bit of Background on Budapest
Parts of the city date back to Roman times, but Budapest as we know it today was created back in 1873 with the merging of three neighbouring cities: Buda, Pest, and Óbuda. The river Danube flows through the heart of the city, separating it into two main parts. The Buda part of the city lies to the west of the river, and Pest to the east.
As mentioned, Budapest is the capital city of Hungary. Home to almost two million people, it’s fairly large and sprawling. Fortunately for visitors, almost all the main points of interest are conveniently located and the city is highly navigable on foot and by public transport.
We grabbed a 10 pack of metro tickets for the Budapest central zone (you can get them from machines at the metro stations) and split them between us. That and a cheap bus from the airport were our only transportation costs! The best part: it saves you a tonne, and you can get on and off anywhere in the central zone, so we could decide when and where to use our tickets each as we went. Five each was plenty for our three-day trip, cutting out the longest walks between stops.
The official language is Hungarian, but we found lots of locals with good English. Although part of the EU, the Hungarian Forint (HUF) is used rather than the Euro. As a rough guide, €1 is equivalent to about 300-350HUF. This fluctuates daily with the exchange rate, however, so check online for a current conversion.
Things to do in Budapest
Hungarian Parliament Building
Set on the shores of the Danube River, it is the largest building in the country. It houses the crown jewels of Hungary, watched over by armed guards. It really is an incredibly beautiful and immense place. We were absolutely blown away by the sheer scale of things. Just to give you an idea, it has 691 rooms, 365 towers, and around 20 kilometers of stairs! This place is colossal! And it’s not shabby either; over 40kg of pure gold leaf was used in decorating the interior.
Public visits are only possible with a guided tour. These are run frequently and are available in many languages. We thought the tour was well worth the small fee, and would definitely recommend it. It’s best to book in advance to ensure a spot in your language and at a convenient time.
Entrance costs vary a lot for EU/ non-EU citizens and make sure to check if you’re eligible for a discounted fare (e.g. students). Claudia’s ticket cost 3200HUF (10€) undiscounted, and Julian’s cost 1600HUF (5€), discounted. This gave us a one hour guided tour of the building, including many photo opportunities, a visit to the museum, and a viewing of the crown jewels and changing of the guard. We learned a lot, and it was a really efficient, well-run tour with a knowledgeable guide.
If you’re interested in booking a tour, check out the official booking page here.
These wonderful thermal baths make up the largest bathing complex in the whole of Europe. With 21 pools and plenty of saunas too, you can easily spend an entire day here. We can vouch for that, after having spent all day between sunbathing, pool hopping, and enjoying all the various saunas.
You do need flip flops, swimwear, and a towel. All the saunas are clothed, and drinking fountains are located abundantly throughout the complex. You have the opportunity of booking either a locker or a small changing room to leave everything in for the day. There were only a few Dollars difference, so we chose the latter option, and we were glad to have the extra space and convenience.
We also took a picnic lunch which we enjoyed on the loungers in the sun. The prices were very good compared to other spas we’ve visited throughout Europe – we paid about 7000HUF (20€) each for full-day passes with a cabin. We highly recommend it, regardless of season as it is open in the winter months too.
Pro tip: Book a spa day for the middle of your trip – relax those achy muscles after days of walking around the city and get refreshed to enjoy the rest of your visit!
St Stephens Basilica
Budapest’s largest church, St. Stephen’s Basilica is dedicated to St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. The church has some beautiful sculptures, stained glass windows, frescoes, mosaics, and decorated chapels. St. Stephen’s mummified hand is on display, attracting many visitors as one of the most sacred treasures of Hungary.
Climbing the cupola is a fantastic way to get some of the best 360-degree views of Budapest! Admission is free, although it is customary to give around a 200HUF (less than a Euro) donation per person upon entry, and another small donation to climb the cupola. Guided tours are also available for around 2000-4000HUF (5-10€) each, although we just did our own thing this time.
Hungarian National Museum
This museum collects artifacts pertaining to Hungarian history and culture, including those from territories not located within Hungary’s current borders (as the country was once far larger than it is today). It offers a fascinating insight into Hungarian history, of which we had almost no prior knowledge.
We spent much longer than the recommended visit time of 2 hours, pouring over captivating exhibits including those of the Sueso Treasure, the coronary mantle, and the modern and ancient history of Hungarian people. Almost all of the exhibits had thorough descriptions in English. The museum does charge a small admission fee of 1300-2600HUF (4-8€) per person, with many discount options available.
Unfortunately, you are not able to take photos inside the museum without a photo permit which you need to buy additional to your tickets for 800HUF (Only about 2.50€). If you’re interested, check out their pricing over here.
Vörösmarty Tér and Váci Street
Vörösmarty Tér is a large square in central Budapest, commemorating a famous Hungarian poet after whom the square is named. There you can find all sorts of antique shops, luxury stores, cafes and more. Visit the famous Gerbeaud Cafe to try some exquisite traditional Hungarian cakes and desserts.
We now totally understand why this café is so famous!
Váci Street leads off the square and is the most famous shopping street in Budapest. Boasting many high-end stores, it’s worth a quick wander if you’re in the area, or of course, a much longer stop if shopping is your thing.
Market Hall Vasarcsarnok
Whether you’re looking for local products, delicious Hungarian cuisine, or simply to soak up the bustling, vibrant market atmosphere, Vasarcsarnok is definitely worth a visit. It’s the largest and most beautiful market hall in Budapest. If there’s one thing we absolutely love, its traditional markets, and this one in Budapest didn’t disappoint.
It was admittedly rather touristy in places, but get away from the hustle and bustle of the souvenir stalls and you can find plenty of locals shopping there too. You can buy anything from local fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, oils, and spices to fabrics, clothing, and candles. In the upstairs hall, they have some great (and affordable) food vendors where we got a huge overflowing plate of traditional BBQ to share.
We had an absolute blast strolling around the busy stalls, looking for the best deals, bargaining and stocking up on delicious local produce for our picnic. We also found some lovely gifts for family and friends (outside the realm of your usual tacky souvenirs) and loaded up on lots of hot chili and paprika for back home.
The Shoes on the Danube Bank
Not far from the Parliament Building is a moving monument to the 20,000 murdered Jews who were shot into the river during World War II. It is made up of many iron shoes right on the water’s edge, all in different shapes and sizes to represent the different victims.
“Why shoes?” you might ask. This is because the Jews were ordered to take them off before being shot and floating away on the river. Shoes were very valuable during the war and the murderers would then sell them or use them for themselves.
A stone sculpture marking the “geographical centre” of Budapest, the zero stone is the spot from which all road distances to the city are measured. The sculpture itself isn’t hugely exciting, just a simplistic stone in the shape of a zero. But it makes an interesting quick stop, and it’s right by several other bigger attractions. Also it is nice to know that there is a nice drinking fountain at this place. We were appreciating it very much on a hot summer day to have a sip and fill up our bottles before going up to Sandor Palace.
Located in City Park, this is an interesting castle with architecture from various parts of Hungarian history. It was built in 1896, marking 1,000 years since the ‘founding’ of the nation, and draws inspiration from many famous buildings throughout Hungary. Ivy sprawls over the beautiful gothic architecture, intriguing statues dot the grounds, and a moat tops off the mysterious atmosphere.
Step inside to visit the largest agricultural museum in Europe, or just soak up the charming gothic beauty of the grounds.
In winter, the moat around the castle is turned into an ice skating rink. We’ll definitely be back to check it out next winter!
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
This old stone bridge is a well-known historic landmark in Budapest. It connects Buda and Pest over the Danube river and is a popular spot for photos, especially at night when the city lights reflect beautifully in the water.
It leads from the Pest side of town, where you’ll find most things on our list, right over to the funicular up to Buda Castle.
Heroes Square, or “Hősök Tere”, as it’s known in Hungarian, shows off statues of seven great Hungarian heroes. It makes for a cool photo stop, plus its only minutes away from Vajdahunjad Castle and the Szechenyi Baths.
Right in the middle of the Danube, Margaret Island’s stunning backdrop makes it one of the most scenic places in the city. Almost the entire island is made up of beautifully manicured lawns and gardens that are totally free for public entrance. It’s well worth a visit if you have the time!
Located in Buda Castle district, one of the city’s most prestigious neighbourhoods, Sador Palace is the residence of Hungary’s president. Armed guards watch the palace, and if you time it right you can see the changing of the guard. This happens Monday to Sunday on the hour from 9 am-5 pm. We timed it to be in the area for the changing of the guard, but to be totally honest it was much less spectacular than elsewhere, say, at Buckingham Palace.
Halászbástya, or Fisherman’s Bastion, was somewhere we were really excited to check out. We’d heard a lot of rave reviews, and it’s listed as one of Hungary’s top attractions. Despite being hugely packed with tourists (at least on our visit), we could certainly see why. The architecture was really unlike anything we’d seen before, and the whole place had this kind of mythical appearance.
You do need to pay to access the higher turrets during the day, but we decided against it as it was super full and the view wasn’t hugely better. During the summer it’s open for free at night, and we planned to come back for some awesome night photography. Unfortunately, our final day didn’t go to plan and we missed it. It’s one of our biggest regrets of the trip, so definitely check it out if you can!
With spectacular views out over the city and the river, it’s easy to see why the location was chosen for the historical castle of Hungarian kings.
Buda Castle now houses the National Gallery and a history museum. We only had three days in Budapest and decided to give the castle a miss this time, opting for the Parliament Buildings and National Museum instead. We were pretty happy with this decision, although if you have more time or art is your thing it might make a cool stop.
Labyrinths of Buda Castle
This was one part of Buda Castle we were really keen to check out! We had our spooky lantern-lit tour of the labyrinths beneath the castle all planned out for our last evening in Budapest. But there was one big hitch! We’d read online that it was cash only and figured, no problem, we can get cash out from a nearby ATM before we go in.
Unfortunately, it was not to be, as our trusty overseas credit card didn’t work in any of the machines – except for a Euronet which wanted to charge about 10EU in fees. In retrospect, we wish we’d have just taken the dodgy ATM rather than missing out on the experience. But hey, at least there’s something for next time.
Another thing we missed entirely on our trip was a visit to Budapest’s iconic ruin bars – night clubs and bars all located in old ruins. Next time!
Our Itinerary: Best Of Budapest
We spent three days mid-summer in Budapest and it was fantastic. It was long enough to see almost everything we wanted, try lots of delicious local food and get a real feel for the city. Of course, you could definitely spend longer and find more and more to see!
Here’s what we got up to!
- Parliament Building tour (must book in advance)
- The Shoes of the Danube – monument to the murdered Jews
- St Stephen’s Basilica
- Széchenyi Chain Bridge
- Hungarian National Museum
- Liberty Bridge
- Market Hall Vasarcsarnok
- Vajdahunyad Castle
- Heroes Square
- Széchenyi Baths
- Margaret Island
- Check out the Zero stone and funicular at Clark Adam Square
- Visit Sandor Palace in time for changing of the guard
- Explore Fisherman’s Bastion and the outside of Buda Castle
- Lantern tour of Buda Castle Labyrinths
- Night photography at Fisherman’s Bastion