Although Budapest may not be famous for its museums in the manner of cities like London, Paris, or Madrid, there’s still plenty to explore if you’re looking for a dose of culture. From fine arts and history, to quirkier installations on local liquor and vintage pinball machines, here’s a round-up of the top Budapest museums to check out once you’re done visiting the main sites.
Hungarian National Gallery
Take a tour through the history of Hungarian art across four floors and four wings in the Royal Palace of Buda Castle. The collection traverses the centuries; from Gothic altarpieces, panel paintings, triptychs, and statues dating back to the 1300s to the avant-garde Hungarian art post-1945. Additional highlights include an extensive collection of Hungarian realist art and a vibrant selection of 150 paintings and 30 sculptures from the fin de siecle and the early 20th century. Visitors can also climb up to the palace’s famous dome between October and April when the weather is good.
Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts has a stunning collection of fine art from antiquity through to the Baroque period. Unlike the Hungarian National Gallery, this museum covers art from a variety of schools and countries. There are almost 3,000 paintings from Italian masters and a prominent collection of Spanish and Dutch masters. History lovers should head into the basement for the exquisite display of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts. Make sure you visit the Romanesque Hall, a fresco-clad hall that reopened for the first time in 70 years when the museum opened following the 2018 renovations.
Hungarian National Museum
The Hungarian National Museum is the largest museum in the country. It covers the history of the region from prehistory through to the Communist era. Start in the basement with the lapidarium: an extensive collection of Roman headstones, sarcophagi, and statues, which even expands into Medieval stonework. The ground floor takes you on an archaeological journey through the country before the Magyar (Hungarian) tribes arrived, with curious artifacts like Scythian gold and Celtic jewelry. The first floor charts the history of Hungary as a state, beginning with the Middle Ages and journeying through to the Ottoman occupation, the 18th century, and Communism with a collection displayed like an art installation rather than a traditional museum layout.
Hospital in the Rock
This subterranean museum functioned as a military hospital during World War II and the 1956 uprising against the Russians before becoming a nuclear bunker. For decades it was top secret and out of bounds, but opened as a quirky museum in the early 2000s after being declassified. You need to book a tour to visit, which will take you through the underground hallways to old operating rooms brought to life by realistic wax-work figures. The tour ends in the original decontamination chambers built during the anxious times of the Cold War.
House of Terror
The House of Terror on number 60 Andrássy Avenue was once the headquarters of the secret police under the Fascist Arrow Cross party and later under the communists. For decades the very address invoked terror into Budapest’s residents. Today it’s a museum dedicated to the history of Hungary’s oppressive 20th-century regimes. You can visit the basement and the former jail cells and interrogation rooms. Interactive touch screens offer a library of films and interviews with first-person accounts of the regimes. The House of Terror feels more like an interactive art exhibition than a classic museum, presenting an immersive experience for those wanting to know more about this period of history.
If you’re interested in Roman history, then head out to Óbuda to the ancient city of Aquincum. The town grew up around a Roman military encampment in 106 A.D., and the archaeological park covers approximately a third of the original settlement. You can stroll around the ruins that were once public baths, shrines, temple remains, markets, and private residences to get an idea of how the Roman community lived. Make sure you visit the main museum, which is set in an old electrical substation. This exhibition will take you on a tour of Roman life with mosaics, statues, jewelry, pots, and more items discovered on site. The main highlight is the Aquincum organ dating back to 228 A.D.
Budapest History Museum
Set in the Royal Palace of Buda Castle’s southern wing, the Budapest History Museum takes you through the history of the city from prehistory to the Communist era. Highlights include gothic sculptures and a 14th-century tapestry. However, the most interesting part of the museum is the castle itself. The museum wraps itself around the Medieval and Renaissance parts of the castle, like the 14th-century tower chapel and vaulted rooms from the 1600s. It’s worth visiting just to explore the historic parts of the famous castle.
This modern art museum in the new Millennium Cultural Quarter carries a diverse collection of contemporary Hungarian and international art from the 1960s onwards. The main focus is on Central and Eastern European art, centered predominantly on artists from Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, and the former Yugoslavia. However, saying that, the Ludwig Museum is particularly famous for its Concept Art display and impressive pop art collection with works by Andy Warhol and Roy Liechtenstein. It’s also worth a visit for their impressive roster of temporary exhibitions.
Zwack Unicum Factory and Museum
Learn all about Hungary’s most famous bitter liquor at the factory where it’s made. A guided tour through the factory and cellars takes you on an immersive journey. There are some 40 exotic herbs and spices that go into a Unicum, however, the Zwack family closely guards its secret recipe. Try a shot from the barrel, before exploring the section dedicated to the history of the drink, its family, and how Unicum intertwines with Hungarian history. Make sure you go up to the mezzanine to see the largest collection of miniature bottles in the world, with some 17,000 on display.
Budapest Pinball Museum
Pinball lovers the world over come to Budapest to visit this quirky museum in a 400-square-meter basement. There are some 130 vintage pinball machines on display, and the best thing is once you’ve bought your ticket, you can play on the machines to your heart’s content. There are also a few historical curiosities, like antique bagatelles from the 1880s, hockey table games from the 1920s, and the first pinball machine with bumpers (it's called the Humpty Dumpty).