Best Things to Do in Budapest
The Hungarian capital of Budapest is actually a combination of three different cities: Buda and Óbuda to the west of the Danube River and Pest to the east. But these distinct locations have come together in a fabulous blend of history and artistic style. As a result, there is a wide variety of incredible places to see and things to do in Budapest.
Large portions of the city have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so you are sure to find a wealth of historical and architectural wonders. But you will also have access to other fun activities in Budapest, such as thermal spas, ruin bars, and more.
1. Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament Building is the most iconic building in all of Hungary. With an impressive Gothic Revival style, the Parliament Building is the city’s prized gem. Countless tourists flock to the structure to revel in its riverside elegance. And although the Parliament is stunning close up, it is best viewed from across the Danube, where you can admire it in its entirety.
As the active seat of the National Assembly of Hungary, the Parliament Building is a busy place to be. But you can still take guided tours through the building in a variety of languages. I recommend booking a tour through Get Your Guide.
2. Thermal Spas
Thanks to its location on a network of mineral-rich springs, Budapest has been a hot spot for thermal spas for centuries. Legend has it these magical waters can cure any illness. So whether you’re sick, tired, or in the mood for pampering, you should head to one of Budapest’s spas.
There are a number of locations choose from. Széchenyi Baths is the largest spa complex in all of Europe, making it the most popular choice for tourists. But it is a bit of a tourist trap, so I would recommend heading to Gellért Thermal Baths. Part of the famous Hotel Gellért, the baths were newly renovated in 2008 and feature gorgeous stained-glass windows and vibrant, porcelain tiles. They also hold a range of saunas and pools, including an open-air wave pool and an effervescent swimming pool.
3. Ruin Bars
One of the best things to do in Budapest is to experience the city’s incredible ruin bars. The Hungarian capital is already famous for its exciting nightlife thanks to its summery garden clubs and developing culinary and cocktail scene. But no trip to Budapest is complete without hitting one of the romkocsmák (ruin bars).
Often located in run-down, abandoned buildings, these ruin bars have a shabby-chic aesthetic. To stand out, many of them include zany decorations like the funky animal photos at Instant Fogas or the impressive sculptures at Doboz. Regardless, you definitely won’t find establishments like this anywhere else.
4. Heroes’ Square
Heroes’ Square is the city’s most historically significant monument. Its imposing columns and statues depict the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars, who supposedly led the Hungarian people from central Asia to the Carpathian Basin. The central pillar shows Archangel Gabriel with the Hungarian crown as if blessing the land and its leaders.
Heroes’ Square also marks the end of Andrássy Avenue, a shop-filled, tree-lined street similar to Champs Élysées in Paris. So it makes for a convenient start or finish to a day of shopping.
5. Fisherman’s Bastion
The Fisherman’s Bastion is a neo-Gothic monument built in the early 20th century. It honors the Guild of Fishermen, which defended a large stretch of the city walls during the Middle Ages. The bastion’s seven towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled the area.
Other than its historical and architectural value, the Fisherman’s Bastion is a wonderful place for photography. The location offers astounding views of the Danube and the Pest skyline. Sunset is an especially beautiful treat.
6. Buda Castle
Not far from the Fisherman’s Bastion is Buda Castle. The castle and palace complex was the historical residence of the Hungarian Kings in Budapest. Over the years, the structure has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. But it is still a significant city landmark and currently houses the Hungarian National Gallery.
The best way to reach Buda Castle is by the Buda Castle Hill Funicular. The funicular is the second oldest of its kind in the world. The transportation’s old world charm is complemented by gorgeous views of the Danube. They actually decided to slow down the funicular in 1988 to give tourists more time to enjoy the sights.
7. Matthias Church
According to some, the Matthias Church was built as far back as 1015. The gorgeous, Gothic church was the site of coronation for two Hungarian kings: Franz Joseph I and Charles IV. Like other buildings in Budapest, the original structure was destroyed and rebuilt. Even so, the church is a remarkable piece of history.
The Matthias Church was also the home to a supposed miracle, dubbed the “Marian Miracle” of Buda. While the church was used as a mosque by Ottoman occupiers, one of its walls collapsed during a siege by the Holy League. Hidden behind the wall was an old statue of the Virgin Mary, whose sudden appearance apparently demoralized the Muslim garrison, leading to the Holy League’s capture of Buda that same day.
8. St. Stephen’s Basilica
Perhaps the most important religious building in all of Hungary, St. Stephen’s Basilica is a must-see for tourists. The basilica is a breathtaking piece of architecture thanks to its ornate cupolas, statues, and stained-glass windows. You can also head to the base of the dome for a better look at the city.
As a reliquary, St. Stephen’s Basilica is a holy site. Visitors are requested to cover their knees and shoulders out of respect. Assuming you do that, you can enter the basilica and get a look at the right hand of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary.
9. Dohány Street Synagogue
Another notable religious building in Budapest is the Dohány Street Synagogue. Although Hungary’s Jewish population was significantly reduced during World War II, the synagogue still stands as the largest synagogue outside of Israel.
The building is marked by two, massive towers and an attractive red and yellow brick façade. In addition, there is a moving sculpture outside the Dohány Street Synagogue called the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial. Designed by Imre Varga, the weeping willow memorial bears the names of those lost during the war on its long, metal leaves.
10. Chain Bridge
Although not a place to stop long, the Chain Bridge is one of the obligatory things to do in Budapest. The exquisite, iron bridge spans the Danube River and was considered at the time of its construction one of the modern world’s engineering wonders. Along with the Parliament Building, the Chain Bridge is one of the most recognizable structures in Budapest.
11. Margaret Island
For those looking to escape the city, Margaret Island is the perfect place for you. The 1.5 mile long island is a verdant, green paradise with a running track, medieval ruins, and a small aviary. There is also a musical fountain with water that dances in time with classical music.
If you want a peaceful stroll, this is probably the best place to visit in Budapest.
12. Cakes and Coffee
The best way to explore a new city is to try its local delicacies. Hungary is full of delicious treats like goulash and paprikash. But I am a particular fan of Hungary’s sweets. So I recommend taking a trip to Ruszwurm, Hungary’s longest-running confectionary. The confectionary is known for its traditional cakes and pastries, but they also create new desserts all the time. In 2022, their cake of the year was the Naughty Plum Prince, a flourless hazelnut and plum cake.
Cakes are best washed down with a cup of coffee. For that, head to New York Café. The coffeehouse has been named the most beautiful café in the world. With ornate chandeliers, wavy columns, and gilded adornments, the New York Café is a grand building like no other. Although its design may be timeless, the menu often shifts for the latest gastronomic trends. So come for coffee and a bite to eat. You won’t be disappointed.
Things to Do Outside of Budapest
Although there are plenty of amazing things to do in Budapest, the city’s location makes it easy to visit other incredible destinations. Within Hungary, you can visit charming cities like Eger or Szeged. But I recommend visiting Bratislava and Vienna. The Slovakian and Austrian capitals are close to both Budapest and each other. That means you can visit all three unique locations without a long transit.