Budapest offers the perfect blend of complex history, vibrant nightlife, and stunning architecture. Whether you want to drink in one of their famous ruin bars, soak in a thermal bath, or get off the beaten track, we have prepared a starter kit for your trip to Budapest.
From must-see sights to unusual attractions, get to know the Hungarian capital and its most exciting places with our picks for the best things to do in Budapest.
Take a Tour of the Hungarian Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament is one of Budapest’s most famous landmarks. Although you can spend hours admiring the exterior in all its intricate details, try to get on a guided tour to look around inside. You’ll see the gold-gilded staircase, the 1,000-year-old crown jewels, parliamentary rooms, and more. Just take the tram number 2 to Országház látogatóközpont or metro 2 to Kossuth Lajos tér and head to the visitor’s center (open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m). Book a tour online (minimum four days head) before going so you can guarantee a spot.
Go for a Drink in Szimpla Kert
Pay a visit to Budapest’s most famous ruin bar. Szimpla Kert resides in a dilapidated apartment block in the Jewish Quarter, decked out with mismatched furniture, fairy lights, art, and graffiti-colored walls. It’s packed on the weekends, but you can escape the crowds and bachelor parties if you come on a weeknight or in the afternoon to soak in the atmosphere of this quirky bar.
Ride a Boat on the Danube
See Budapest the way it’s meant to be seen: from the river. You can book on a boat tour like Legenda, for a relaxed sightseeing or dinner cruise as the city floats by. Take the public transport boat run by the BKK for a couple of dollars to see the city from the water on a budget.
Go Spelunking Under Budapest
There are hundreds of caves running under the city that have been carved out by thermal water. If you need an adrenaline fix, you can even go on a spelunking adventure with Caving Under Budapest. However, if you don’t want to get down and dirty on your hands and knees, you can visit the show caves at the Szemlőhegy or Pálvölgyi Caves.
Relax at the Gellért Thermal Baths
No trip to Budapest is complete without a trip to one of the thermal baths. The Gellért Thermal Baths are an art nouveau jewel with thermal bath halls clad with turquoise mosaics. There is also a colonnaded swimming pool and an outdoor pool with a wave machine that shakes things up on the hour. Just head to the entrance behind the Gellért Hotel on Kelenhegyi út. The baths are open every day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Walk Along the Danube Promenade
The Danube is the heart of the city, and no trip to Budapest is complete without a stroll on the Danube Promenade to take in the view. You can stroll along the Pest side for amazing views of the Royal Palace of Buda Castle and Gellért Hill, and on the Buda side for the Hungarian Parliament. Strolling is 100 percent free, so there’s no reason not to do it.
Climb Up to the Dome of St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica is another must-see landmark. Still, the best way to enjoy this stunning cathedral is to head up to the dome for 360-degree views over the city from its viewing platform. The Basilica is on Szent István tér, and the panorama lookout is open October to June from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and from July through September 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Drink a Coffee at the New York Café
Budapest is home to one of the world’s most beautiful cafes, with twisted marble columns, frescoes, and liberal lashings of gold leaf. There is usually a line out the door at the New York Café, so it’s a good idea to book a table or come early morning for a weekday. It is pricey, but you’re paying for the opulent location rather than the coffee. However, it’s not every day you have the chance to sip in surroundings such as these. Take tram 4 or 6 to Wesselényi utca.
Take in the View From Fisherman’s Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the top spots in the city for a panoramic selfie, and it’s easy to see why. This neo-Gothic lookout overlooks the river and the Hungarian Parliament from the Castle Hill in Buda and offers the most romantic views over the city. The perfect spot for a photo or you can just take in the view. Come early in the morning when the crowds are minimal.
Ride the Children’s Railway into the Buda Hills
Ride into the Buda Hills on this nostalgic railway line staffed by school-age children (the drivers and engineers being the exception though). The Children’s Railway began life as a communist initiative to encourage children to learn work ethic, but today it runs without the socialist ideology yet keeps its retro feel. Take tram 56 to Hűvösvölgy or tram 60 to Széchenyi-hegy and ride from one end to the other.
Explore Communist History in Memento Park
Want to know where communist statues go to die? Then trek out to this surreal statue park in the suburbs to visit these old communist monuments from statues of Lenin to Stalin’s boots and giant bronze propaganda pieces. You can take the 150 bus from Újbuda-Központ (which you can reach with metro or tram 4) to the Memento Park stop. Alternatively, you can take the 101B or 101E from the Kelenföld train station (reached by metro 4, tram 49 or 19).
Drink Unicum at the Zwack Museum and Visitor’s Point
If you're interested in knowing more about Hungary's most famous bitter liqueur, pay a visit to the Zwack Unicum Factory Museum and Visitor's Point. You won't just learn about Unicum—you'll also sample it straight from the barrel and may get a sneak peek of what goes into a bottle. Take tram number 2 to Haller utca/Soroksári út.
Eat a Cake at Gerbeaud
Hungarians are famous for baking for delicious cakes. If you want to enjoy a classic cake in decadent surroundings, you can't beat the Gerbeaud Cafe on Vörösmarty tér. Velvet drapes, marble tables, and delicious cakes await. Try their Dobos torta, a chocolate cake topped with hard caramel, or the eponymous Gerbeaud slice, a cake made with ground walnuts, apricot jam, shortcrust pastry, and chocolate.
Visit the Great Synagogue
The Great Synagogue at Dohány utca is the largest synagogue in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Take a tour inside to see the colorful interior, grand organ, and rose window. The enclosed grounds include the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives. There is a cemetery left behind from the Holocaust, and the moving Tree of Life Memorial in the garden, where thousands of victims' names are inscribed on the leaves.
Go Shopping at the Central Market Hall
Pay a visit to this stunning 19th-century market hall. You can pick up packs of paprika powder, canned goose liver, Tokaj wine, and other yummies on the ground floor, or head up to the mezzanine level for some folk art. Or just come to look around, especially in the mornings when it’s quiet. The market is next to the Fővam tér metro 4 station and tram 2, 47, 48, 49 stop.
Play a Game at the World’s First Room Escape Game
Budapest is the home of the first-ever live room escape game, and you can get locked in where it all started at ParaPark. This basement room escape game lies under a lesser-known ruin bar in Vajdahunyad utca in the VIII District. Come and get locked in a code-breaking themed game or a 1990s detective theme.
Go Ice Skating in City Park
When winter hits, head up to City Park for one of the most beautiful ice rinks in Europe. Skate over a drained lake overlooking Vajdahunyad Castle, which is at its most beautiful when it’s lit up at night in the snow. You can rent skates at the ice rink, so don’t worry about leaving the skates at home. You can get to city park ice rink by taking metro line 1 to Hősök tere or Széchenyi Fűrdo.
Discover Budapest’s Ottoman History at the Tomb of Gül Baba
The Turks occupied Buda for 150 years. Other than the baths, little remains from the Ottomans, which is what makes this dervish saint's tomb so interesting. Gül Baba's tomb is a curiosity that doesn't just give you a peek into Ottoman Budapest through its museum and mausoleum but also has fantastic views over the river. Get off at the Lukács baths and take the steep Gül Baba utca up the hill.