A Budapest Guide: The 15 Fun and Best Things to do in Budapest
In this short travel guide, I outlined some of the best things to do in Budapest you must not miss. Some are epic cliché’s that are mostly tourist-centric attractions but I still think that you should lend some time to see these to get a strong grasp on what to expect during your visit.
That said, a city this size, there’re plenty of things that would keep you busy, but before you dwell on that, please make sure to do either all or some of what is listed here because I tell you, my friend, you will not regret it. In this list, you can check out what to do in Budapest when you visit and as well some activities you can do, places to eat, and other interesting things that maybe to your liking.
Also, don’t forget that Budapest has some of the world’s stunning architecture in Europe, always keep your head up to see some world famous facades! Nevertheless, always remember that traveling is not always a race to see all the points of interest but about the experience, you’ll bring home.
So, don’t pile your itinerary with things you should see; you must prioritize having fun and learning about the place! Besides, a city like Budapest, you don’t have to look for things to do and trust me when I say this, they will be present in front of you when you’re there because, for a buzzing city, you’ll never run out of things to do.
To tell a little confession, I didn’t plan a single thing before thinking for trips to Budapest. In fact, there are only a few things I have in mind what I want to do while in there, and that is to take a food tour with Taste Hungary and an informative walking tour with Insight Cities. However, the time I was there, I managed to squeeze other interesting things which are all unplanned and unexpected! Guess what? It was major fun.
So, one thing learned here is to leave few things out and just go with the flow! Afterall, where’s the fun without little-unexpected detours. But, with no further ado, please carry on reading about the best things you can do in this Budapest guide.
A Budapest Guide: The 15 Fun and Best Things to do in Budapest
Table of Contents
- 1 General information
- 2 Go to a ruin pub in the Jewish Quarter
- 3 Have lunch with the locals at Balvárosi Disznótros
- 4 Don’t leave Hungary without eating Lángos
- 5 Try some amazing Hungarian wines
- 6 Stroll around the Great Market Hall of Budapest
- 7 Dine in some of Budapest’s fine restaurants
- 8 Walk across the famous Chain Bridge
- 9 See the beautiful Pest from the Buda side from the Gellért Hill
- 10 Admire the beauty of St. Stephen’s Basilica
- 11 Visit and enjoy some of Budapest’s thermal bath’s
- 12 Visit the House of Terror
- 13 Take a stroll at the Andrássy Avenue
- 14 The Shoes on the Danube Bank
- 15 Visit and walk around Margaret Island
- 16 Take a historical walking tour around Budapest
- 17 Conclusion
- 18 #YOURTHOUGHTSMATTER
- 19 RELATED POST:
Where is Budapest?
Budapest is the capital city of Hungary located in Central Europe.
What is the currency in Hungary?
It is Hungary Forint and you can find the exchange rate in XE currency converter.
Where to stay in Budapest?
There are plenty of hostels and hotels that cater to any budget but if you’re curious, I stayed at The Groove Hostel for a few nights and had a luxurious stay at Aria Budapest Hotel which I highly recommend for an outstanding service.
Best time to visit Budapest?
I was in Budapest in Autumn (September) and I find it a rather pleasant visit. The weather is fantastic, not too warm and not too cold, and the season is ending thus there are not so many tourists, therefore, it was not crowded at all. However, Spring (April and May) and Autumn (August to early October) is a good time to visit since Summer is always too crowded as it is the peak season. Nevertheless, Budapest is a beautiful city to visit all year round! Just remember that if you visit in Winter it might be too cold so be sure to dress properly.
Go to a ruin pub in the Jewish Quarter
To start with, what is a ruin pub anyway?
Obviously, it is a pub, bar, club (whatever you like to call it) where you can get alcoholic beverages and perhaps dance on the table – pretty standard international explanation, I suppose. The big difference, however, is that ruin pubs are way cooler, by that I mean, hipster standard cool. Anyway, this awesome concept started about a decade ago when the locals decided to reuse the damaged old buildings because, well, they’re wrecked havoc – especially for the eyes, so I heard. However, the creatives of the area decided to retain the spirit of the place, not forgetting the damage it got from the history’s disasters and ordered for the place to be reinvented into something that it is now a place where people can meet and have fun while enjoying the unique ambiance of the place.
You know what made it even cooler?
Well, imagine you at a local thrift store filled with awesome stuff a hoarder would go crazy about and then imagine there’s a bar there where you can order cocktails. Yeah, it is totally hipster. But trust me, everyone is welcome in ruin pubs! I mean, there’s alcohol after all, what else do you need? Also, you can join a Budapest pub crawl that hops around this area if you wish to see most of the bars around the Jewish Quarter within a night and decide for the next days where you’d like to hang out (granted you will remember after a night out!).
So, interested to know which ruin pub to go to?
There’re tons of amazing ruin pubs in Budapest in general and if you’re staying for only a few days then boy the choices for you will be endless. Nevertheless, Szimpla Kert is the ruin pub I fancied during my stay, and it is huge and I suppose it is one of the city’s famous ruin pub a lot of people go to.
Have lunch with the locals at Balvárosi Disznótros
Okay, so, I do talk a lot about food but bear with me!
As a chef, I always look for something authentic to eat when I travel abroad thus in this Budapest city guide you’ll see tons of food-related “must do in Budapest”. In fact, I research more about what and where to eat than the places to see. I travel with my stomach most of the time and not with my eyes, which is becoming a real problem now that I decided to do this travel blogging thing. You know, because I have to see the pretty side of this wild world, too.
If you ask yourself a question about what to do in Budapest then I’ll answer and say, don’t miss out on this restaurant!
Well, to start, I’d like to put out a disclaimer saying that this is not a vegetarian-friendly restaurant at all – much like the whole of Hungary, should I say, however, if you’re a meat eater then good for you as you’re in for a wonderful treat over at Balvárosi Disznótros! As an introduction, Bálvarosi Disznótros started as a butchery, and after a while, they branched out a little bit and began serving Hungarian homecooked meal to local workers around the area. As time passed by, they accumulated a reputation amongst the locals and eventually became a restaurant exclusively only selling what they are well known for – Granny-style Hungarian homecooked meals. So, they are legit awesome!
Why should you add this in your “fun things to do in Budapest” itinerary?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a culinary buff or not, you have to taste the food served in here! That said, when I went to eat in this restaurant when I was in Budapest, it was packed with local workers having lunch, and I was told that this restaurant is, in fact, a famous place to have a meal regardless which time of the day. Plus, Hungarian food is the bomb my friend, and it is something you should not miss.
Don’t leave Hungary without eating Lángos
So, what is this Hungarian snack, anyway?
Lángos is a deep-fried dough topped with sour cream, grated Hungarian cheese, and garlic – and it is a piece of heaven I kid you not. Quite funny, though, the tale says that once upon a time there was a bunch of bakers doing their usual baking stuff when suddenly they felt hunger and could not wait for the bread to get ready because you know, bread needs to rise and it could take hours. So, one genius baker said “Hey, why don’t we deep-fry a little bit of the dough and top it off with some naughty ingredients?”, Then voilá – lángos was born. Such a story.
But, the real question remains, are you up for something naughty?
One thing I figured while I was in Budapest is that you know lángost is close when you smell something greasy and I am serious when I say that this thing is the bomb, so when you smell the fatty aroma, you go get it, tiger! As a little awareness, though, Hungarian food is not exactly going to keep your waistline happy, but you know that already when you decided to go on a holiday. Correct? So bring stretchy pants, something you can breathe in after a lángos (or two).
Plus, a little note to that fat kid inside you.
Just like any touristy place such as Budapest, you’ll probably want to find the best place to get real authentic experience – and that’s tough sometimes buddy, and I feel you. But then again, this is probably one of the many top things to do in Budapest, to be honest – go for a lángos hunt! If you’re not feeling like India Jones while in Budapest, you can always try lángos from small kiosks around town, like those you’ll encounter near the undergrounds. They’re good! But please, don’t eat sweet lángost, those are for tourists – aim for the greasy, salty and garlicky ones. Local’s love naughty lángost savory.
Try some amazing Hungarian wines
You’re probably surprised that Hungary even has wines, but…
Be glad to know though that you’re not the only one! I’ve met heaps of people who are surprised about the fact that Hungary is a wine producing country! I was also a bit baffled by the idea and as well curious how their wines would taste like as Hungary isn’t exactly well known for this compared to the obvious big guns in Europe when it comes to wine producing.
So, how were Hungarian wines, you may ask?
Well, their white wines are exquisite! Alright, a disclaimer here: I’m no wine expert – but I do love drinking wine, and I kinda can tell if my alcohol is good or not. Although I’d be honest, any wine gets better after the first bottle; I would still say try them, and you decide yourself if you like it or not. Anyway, although I was not a big fan of their red wine, some were quite decent, and I’d still drink it if it were paired with cheese or dishes that would go well with it. However, on its own, I’ll probably pass unless I’m desperate.
That said, which wine you should seek after?
Hungary is famous for their iconic sweet white wine called Tokaji, named after a region in Hungary the wine is from, and it is delicious on its own or paired with cheeses or desserts. I enjoyed this wine but sad to know that it is usually really expensive outside Hungary because they don’t produce it enough for mass export. Plus, locals love their wines, so they only make enough for the community and a few for the rest of the world. Also, Tokaji is a unique wine not only because it is good but also because this wine is made from grapes affected by the noble rot – a process where the grapes develop a natural fungus around them and during drier seasons the water evaporates leaving a raisin with high sugar content. Again, thanks to *Taste Hungary for letting me sample some of Hungary’s finest wines.
Stroll around the Great Market Hall of Budapest
Wait, is this a food post, or what?
No, this is not a food post! Well, maybe a little. But give me a little benefit of a doubt here, there’s going to be ten more amazing things you can do in Budapest on this list – so patience my friend and read on. Budapest market hall is not necessarily about food, but obviously, I went there personally because of that, but if you’re not so interested in Hungarian cuisine, I would still recommend visiting. Why? Because it is beautiful!
So, what is in this market hall, anyway other than food?
Well, tons of stuff! The building itself is seriously a work of art. The building is designed by Hungarian architect, Samu Pecz who familiarized himself with gothic architecture which you can see from this market hall’s exterior. Also, in later years, after the market hall was renovated they added these colorful tiles on the roof that added a little bit of bling to this beautiful old building. Great Market Hall also has three stories, and the top one is where you’ll find small kiosks where they sell typical Hungarian food and delicacies (you’ll find lángost there too!), traditional Hungarian clothing, and coffee bars. On the ground floor, you’ll find different stalls that sell a variety of fresh meat, various sorts of Hungarian paprikas, sausages, and wines. The basement, however, is where you’ll find fish produce, pickles, and other preserves. So, there’s obviously loads to see, and you’ll also be introduced to Hungarian cuisine rather well just by strolling around!
Are you interested to go in-depth with Hungarian cuisine?
What to see in Budapest? Well, visiting the Great Market Hall was not only an excellent start to learn about the local cuisine but if you need a guided tour, *Taste Hungary can arrange a fantastic guided tour for you if you’re interested in hearing and tasting about these sort of things. I enjoyed our tour of the Great Market Hall and as well other places in Budapest. Not only you’ll learn about food and wine, but you’ll also learn about the history of food in Budapest. Also, our Taste Hungary guide, Eszter, was so fun to talk with about food during our tour. That always gives extra points aside from the tour itself!
Dine in some of Budapest’s fine restaurants
Budapest is a world-known beautiful city in general; you’ll certainly have loads of fun visiting this city as much as I did. However, there’s more about this city a lot don’t realize, and that Budapest also has a lot of fantastic ways to tickle your appetite for flavor. That said, this city has tons of fine dining restaurants that serve fusion Hungarian cuisine that certainly should be on your list.
Don’t be scared, eating out in a fine dining restaurant in Budapest as it will hardly damage your budget.
That’s because they’re all affordable! I wouldn’t say splurge every night of your stay dining out in every fancy restaurant around town; I’m just saying you should try at least one of them. I spent 30€ for a two-course meal with wines in a high-end fancy pansy bistro, and I was certainly satisfied on my little splurge. Besides, you should treat yourself from time to time and Budapest is a great place to do that because your choices are endless and you’ll certainly find a place that is within your budget!
So, where should you go for a fancy pansy splurge in Budapest?
There’re tons of places! I went to Rézkakas bistro located just beside St. Stephens Basilica. I went there because the lovely front desk people over at Aria Hotel Budapest recommended it to me and my experience was excellent. Otherwise, restaurants around St. Stephen’s Basilica all seem fancy and nice. On the other hand, if you’re more interested in a hipster-eque sort of scene, then check out the restaurants along Gozsdu Udvar in the Jewish quarter! The restaurants you’ll find caters the young, wild and free type of kids. Plus, the food was superb! I went to eat at a bistro pub called Spíler and had one of the best burgers of my life. So, yes, splurge a tiny bit if you plan your trips to Budapest.
Walk across the famous Chain Bridge
So, walking on a bridge, huh? Yay or Nay?
It doesn’t make sense recommending it because truthfully, you’ll have to walk this bridge anyways if you want to see the Buda side of Budapest. That said, by walking this beautiful bridge you’ll get to see the Danube river from a different perspective and as well, of course, get to see both the Buda and the Pest side right in the middle. This is one of those things to see in Budapest you-must-not-miss kind of places as it is so famous for what it is – connecting two old cities as one.
Buda, what and Pest, what!?
Now, now. Buda and Pest were two different cities back in the days with the river separating them, and in 1873 the two cities united and became one single city what we now know as Budapest.
So, really, why should you cross the river to the Buda side through this famous chain bridge?
Well, I’m going to say that I’ve initially written only fourteen best things to do in Budapest and I wanted it to be fifteen thus I came up with this. But honestly, after watching the clips and photos I took, this bridge is really damn beautiful to look at! Plus, if you visit Budapest, you have to see the Buda side of the city, and I recommend a walk over there via the Chain Bridge.
See the beautiful Pest from the Buda side from the Gellért Hill
What is the Gellért Hill?
It is a hill located on the Buda side of Budapest and in here you’ll find several points where loads of tourists are flocking around. It is that famous. Also, Gellért Hill is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. So, you can add that to your growing list of visited UNESCO sites! You’re probably asking why you should go there, so here’s why… Not only you’ll see a beautiful view of Pest from the Buda side but also you’ll get to see some of the many things Budapest is well known for and these are:
- The Liberty Statue (or Freedom Statue) – a monument that represents the lives of the people who sacrificed themselves for the independence of Hungary
- Citadella – a fortress where you’ll see the Buda side, as well.
- Gellért Hill and Statue – a Catholic Church
Plus, after you walked from Pest to Buda through the Chain Bridge, you can go back to Pest via the Freedom Bridge just beside the Gellért Hill, and it will take you to the famous Jewish quarter of Pest. By doing this, not only you’ll see Pest but also make use of your time well.
READ ALSO: Across the River Danube into Buda
So, all in all…
If you’re up for a walk, then I highly suggest powering up before your hike uphill and as well bring snacks with you! Plus, a water bottle – there are few points there where you can fill up your bottle so don’t worry about that. On the other hand, if you’re not feeling the walk, there’s always a way to get to the top without breaking a sweat, and that is to use the public transport. However, I highly suggest walking. You get to see the beautiful gardens along the way and as well burns calories in case you want to have your third lángos of the day. Just being nice here guys, you know I only wish you the best experience.
Admire the beauty of St. Stephen’s Basilica
Do you know that during the 18th century this beautiful basilica was a theater?
Why, yes! It was a weird fact, but it’s true! Plus, the building of this basilica is one of the tallest ones you’ll find in Budapest. Also, it is in the law that no other building can be taller than St. Stephen’s Basilica or the Hungarian Parliament building! Not only this church is beautiful from the outside, but it is also stunning from the inside. You get to see such fine work of arts and as well neo-classical architectural designs. Neat, I must say.
And the weirdest shit you’ll find is…
The Holy Right Hand of St. Stephen, the king of Hungary. By hand, I meant the hand. Like, the right hand of a person that used to be the king of Hungary. So, why is it there!? Well, you see, when dear Stephen died centuries ago, his tomb was moved to a new place because the people at that time was afraid there would be disturbances of his grave. Which, quite frankly, ironic as they disturbed it themselves. Anyway, during the move was the time they took the hand off the body as they believed it has some miraculous properties. Oh, people of the old age. Nevertheless, if you do visit this church and want to see the mummified hand of St. Stephen then make sure you have small change with you because you need to pay a small amount of money to see that creepy hand for few seconds. However, what I suggest is stand beside the box the hand is in, and I am so sure there would be tourists who would pay for that and boom, you can see it – for free.
Visit and enjoy some of Budapest’s thermal bath’s
Every time you heard Budapest, I’m sure you think of Thermal Bath’s. Right? Yes? No?
Well, I always think paprika and Gulyás, but that’s me. However, of course, like anyone else I also know that Budapest is well known for its beautiful thermal baths that are situated in some of the city’s most beautiful buildings! Thermal Baths in Budapest are not only well known amongst the tourists and visitors, but it is also popular amongst the locals.
Because thermal baths in Budapest are well known to have medicinal properties and of course, just like drinking and cigarettes in a pub, you go there to chill, relax, and go on an occasional sociable blabber – but please don’t smoke in there, I only said that as a metaphor. You have to be wary though that there are some bath’s that are only for male and female, plus few that welcomes both genders. Just check the bathhouses before going, in case you’re traveling with your partner or friends. Also, a quick note where to go because there are many thermal baths in Budapest you can choose from but here are some of the famous ones which you can visit and have a dip.
Now, what you should bring with you before heading over to the baths?
- First, make sure you don’t have any open wound – a must! Why? So it doesn’t get infected, duh.
- Slippers because it can get slippery
- Bathing suits/trunks
- Your good manners – save your wild side for the Sparties.
Sparties, wait, what?
Yeah, you read that right! Sparties! It is a real thing guys, a bath party in some of Budapest’s awesome thermal baths. I personally didn’t get the chance to go to a sparty because I had an open wound and I thought it would be best not to go just to avoid infections and all. However, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience this – I heard it is awesome! Sold yet? Don’t let your future trips to Budapest go on without heading to at least ONE sparty or thermal bath visit.
Visit the House of Terror
No, the House of Terror is not a haunted house with zombies.
But, unfortunately, it has the ghosts from the past. The House of Terror is a museum that exhibits photos, memorabilia, stories, and other things that commemorate the awful things that happened back in the 20th century during and after the wars. In this Budapest guide, I also want you to understand the country’s history and culture thus it is absolutely important to come with respect.
Why should you visit it?
It is an eye-opener. There many factors in history that we know so little about and I do believe that one of the many things to get to know a city is by knowing its history. Although the museum has a hefty entrance fee, still go for it even you’re not that interested in Hungarian history. Personally, I think the art director, along with other artists who built this museum, did an amazing job representing each moment of the Hungarian history in such a dramatic manner – from an artistic point of view.
Few things to remember.
Be respectful when you’re in the museum; because remember, even though this museum is not the louvre with famous artists in it, the House of Terror houses some of Hungary’s war memorabilia that represents some of the worse things that happened in the country. So pay respect because the museum is not supposed to be fun, it is meant to educate.
Take a stroll at the Andrássy Avenue
What’s in the Andrássy Avenue?
Known as the Champs Élysées of the east, Andrássy Avenue is a boulevard where your shopping in Budapest should begin and end; the famous street also has some of Budapest’s lovely cafés, restaurants, and luxury boutiques. Notable for its neo-renaissance architectures, this street, is recognized as World Heritage Site.
What else can you see if you take a stroll in here?
In general, in this street, you’ll find a lot of interesting must do in Budapest you should not miss, that’s why I listed down this street on its own. Some of the notable sites you’ll stumble upon in here are the following:
- Hungarian State Opera
- House of Terror
- Zoltán Kodály Archive and Museum
- Ferenc Hopp Museum of Asiatic Arts
- Heroes’ Square
Of course, apart from these… You’ll also stumble upon many awesome restaurants to eat and as well cafés. Plus, if your shopping mode is on (I’m talking to you ladies) then you’re in for a good treat.
The Shoes on the Danube Bank
What is this all about?
The Shoes on the Danube Bank is an art installation created by a Hungarian sculptor called Gyula Pauer, and it is meant to be a memorial for those unfortunate people who got killed by the Danube Bank. There are about sixty pairs of shoes by the bank, and each represents the unforgettable time in history.
So, why you should check it out?
Well, Budapest, in general, have a rich history – a mix of good, bad and the ugly. In a personal perspective, I highly suggest reading about the city’s history before or during your stay to get a grasp of what has happened because not only it is interesting, it is also an eye-opener. The art installation by the Danube bank is only one of the many things you’ll see in Budapest, but this site gave me such a strong impression even words can’t describe it.
But there is one thing I know…
The Shoes on the Danube Bank is there in memory of the people who didn’t saw another sunrise and that this installation teaches you that war brings nothing but sorrow. This may be one of the attractions in Budapest, you must come with respect as it symbolizes one of the toughest time in Hungary’s history.
Visit and walk around Margaret Island
Why should you walk around Margaret Island?
Go on a Budapest sightseeing as the city on its own has a lot of things going on as it is a capital city after all. If you’re interested in taking a quiet stroll closer to nature, then, of course, Margaret Island is a good place to take a little chill time away from all the hustle and buzz of the city.
Is there anything to see on this Island?
You see, it is a small island. In fact, it takes only about a couple of hours and you’ll possibly see everything already. However, it doesn’t mean you should spend longer time while in there. The idea of going to Margaret Island in the first place is to take a little break from the city. There are few things you can do in here aside from strolling and these are:
- Go for a picnic
- Check out the medieval ruins
- See the musical fountains
- Open air cinema and theater
So, why this should be part of your “best things to do in Budapest” itinerary?
I mean, why not? If you’re not interested in having a peaceful walk around nature, it would still only take up about few hours of your day to see this place. Besides, it is interesting, and you can relax a little bit before heading back to the city to continue your Budapest escapade. You could even just head over here with your lunch and sit down and enjoy the views; that’s all you need, and you can say you’ve been over at Margaret’s Island.
Take a historical walking tour around Budapest
You’ve probably realized how much I insist you should pay attention to history, right?
Well, I have reasons for it. First, as I’ve mentioned above, you get to know a lot about the place or a country by reading its history. Second, there’s so little we know about the past and you never know how relevant it can affect your views. Third, it is interesting. That’s why I often take part on walking tours, visiting museums, and so on. Because there’s so much to learn and so much to see but always ends up with a question, “why is it like that?” Our curiosity plays a big part in every journey we go through and sometimes knowing what has happened in the past answers a big part of our question. Life, then, gets more interesting.
However, should you just take any walking tours around Budapest?
It is up to you! But I do recommend Insight Cities tours if ever you decide so, and mind you, I’ve been to many walking tours in my traveling life and most of them are either free or paid – and Insight Cities topped it all of. Learning is more fun if a real historian tours you around in a city full of history and that is what Insight Cities is all about! Their guides are professors, doctoral students, historians, journalists, art critics and published authors – how great is that? You get to learn a lot from their guides and the guide we had, Andras, is a professor at Budapest University and he really taught us a lot about Budapest and its history.
So, is it worth all the sweat to take part in a walking tour?
Yes, indeed it is all worth it! The first walking tour I took part of in Budapest was for free and was arranged by the lovely hostel I was staying at, The Groove Hostel (excellent hostel, by the way! More on that later) and it took us about three hours or so of walking, but we covered the iconic parts of both Buda and Pest. However, the tour I took with Insight Cities is more in-depth, and you’ll not only learn about the important parts of Hungary’s history but also the fun part of the many unanswered questions I had, like “Why they have that mummified hand inside St. Stephen’s Basilica?” Andras, our awesome guide, knew a lot and gladly shared his knowledge with us. He even had a presentation folder filled with photos of relevant people that was mentioned a lot during the tour! Plus, you’ll always end the tour with more knowledge in your pocket than ever before. I think that was cool.
Overall, these are only a few of the top things to do in Budapest I recommend; there are tons more! However, what was mentioned on this list are the main highlights you can do while in there. My top most favorite obviously is the food part, because I’m a fat kid inside, and the historical side of Hungary – it was fascinating! If ever you do plan to visit Budapest and on a budget, I highly suggest staying over at The Groove Hostel! It is a small hostel, but it is clean, have a nice view from the balcony, and near all the top touristy places. Check it out! Also, you can check out the Maverick City Lodge Hostel other travelers tried out.
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- Have you been to Budapest? Which part you liked most?
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