Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

Budapest Guide: The Best Things to Do in Budapest

November 7, 2023

Budapest is the capital and largest city of Hungary. Budapest is a very spectacular city in Central Europe, often mentioned together with Vienna or Prague. It is a destination worth visiting at least once in a lifetime.

Walking through the streets of Budapest gives you a double feeling. On the one hand, it feels as if you’ve gone back in time through the old buildings, which are between 100 and 200 years old. On the other hand, in Budapest you can find the same modern things as in any other European city: expensive cars, electric scooters… etc. There is also an interesting mix of Eastern and Western Europe that defines Hungary as a whole.

The streets of Budapest are full of historical monuments. From the past 100-150 years, there are many historical events connected to Budapest. These memories are preserved, for example, in the House of Terror, by the Shoes on the Danube or by the Chain Bridge.

In addition to the interesting contrasts and historical atmosphere, Budapest has an enjoyable side that gives you the simple pleasure of living. From several points in the city you can enjoy fantastic views of Budapest’s most beautiful sights. You can see the incomparable beauty of the Danube bank. You can walk around the city of Budapest and admire the interesting buildings. And of course, not forgetting the famous Hungarian gastronomy.

In Budapest you can take a waterbus, which functions as a bus around the city and a boat on the Danube. You can cruise the Danube with any of the many cruise options. And if you arrive in Budapest by cruise ship, there’s also plenty to explore from the Budapest Port.

Furthermore, if you travel to Budapest, you can hop on a Ferris wheel or a funicular. Walk on beautiful old bridges that hold many memories, sit in historic world-famous cafes or hotels that are among the most beautiful in the world. Or, if you prefer, eat a real Hungarian lángos at one of the street food vendors. Budapest offers a wide range of options for tourists, making it an ideal destination for almost anyone.

Before the attractions of Budapest, here are some general things to know when traveling to the Hungarian capital.

When to travel to Budapest?

Budapest is beautiful all year round, but perhaps most enjoyable in spring. In March and April, there are plenty of plants in bloom, making the city a more colorful, vibrant place to visit. May and June are also good choices because of the colors and the pleasant early summer weather.

It can be hot in the summer in Hungary, and in July and August it can be difficult to walk long distances in the city because of the heat. Therefore, the hottest months are not recommended.

September and October can be a perfect time, especially when the trees are starting to change their colors. The weather is still warm enough for sightseeing and the scenery is beautiful.

From November to March, the city becomes greyer and the temperatures are cold, even with daytime lows of minus. There are fewer tourists and lower prices at this time of year, so if you don’t mind the greyer colors and early dusk, Budapest is a great place to visit in winter.

How much time to spend in Budapest?

We think 2-7 days are enough to see Budapest. It all depends on your budget and how much you want to do in Budapest or even in the Hungarian countryside.

In fact, 2 days are only enough for the highlights, with a busy schedule.

3-4 days are ideal, when you can have time to cruise on the Danube, enjoy as much Hungarian food as possible, walk around the city…etc. You won’t get bored in all that time.

For those who love the city and want to explore every corner, 5-7 days are recommended. That is also enough time for a little countryside relaxation.

How to get around Budapest?

As you can see from our other articles, we are personally quite car-oriented. Although there are a lot of traffic jams in Budapest on weekdays during working hours, outside of that, e.g. on weekends, you can get around the city perfectly well by car. There are plenty of parking spaces and garages. In Budapest, cars have not (yet) started to be removed from the city like elsewhere.

Public transport is also well organized, although vehicles are often old and dirty. Overall, Budapest has an extensive metro, tram and trolleybus network. Famous among these is tram line number 2, which offers an exceptional view of the Danube for tourists.

For all public transport, you can manage your tickets with an app called BudapestGo. Furthermore, you can find all the information and timetables on the BKK (Budapest Transport Centre) website.

Costs in Budapest

Budapest is not an expensive destination and is definitely a good place for a low budget trip. Although Hungary has recently experienced huge inflation, Budapest is still a cheaper destination than other major European cities.

Hotels in Budapest are relatively cheap, which is a big factor when booking a trip. Also cheaper are most services and restaurants. The exception in terms of restaurants are the decidedly touristy restaurants, which have set their high prices for western tourists. But if you eat in a regular place where the locals eat, you can get by cheaper than in Western Europe.

What is perhaps not cheaper is transport, but even in this area they bring average European prices.

In recent years, Budapest has become a popular destination for digital nomads, as the cost of living is slightly lower than in Western Europe and the city offers good infrastructure, for example affordable coworking spaces are available in Budapest.

Where to stay in Budapest

Budapest is full of good value for money hotels, we recommend a few of them. As Budapest is a fairly cheap destination, it is also a good place to try out 4 or 5 star hotels.

There is an incredible choice of 4 star hotels in Budapest, but here are the top ones we recommend:

There are also plenty of 5 star hotels on offer, and we have selected a few in the city centre:

In the luxury category, the most recommended is the Párisi Udvar Hotel Budapest, which we think has the most impressive lobby in Budapest.

Or if you want to choose from a larger selection of hotels, has many more great hotels in Budapest.

Other things to know about Budapest

Budapest = Buda + Pest

The Hungarian capital was united by the three cities of Óbuda, Buda and Pest in 1873. Later, several more cities were annexed to it, creating the Budapest of today.

Today we are basically talking about two sides, the Buda side and the Pest side. Of course, there are more parts of the city than any major European city, but as a tourist this is the most important information to know.

On the map, Buda is on the left side of the Danube, Pest on the right. The Buda side is hilly, the Pest side is flat. Attractions can be found in both parts of the city, but most are easily accessible on foot or with minimal transport (e.g. tram).

Public safety in Hungary

We have had some bad experiences in Hungary, but the same can be said of countries in southern Europe. In a few days there is little chance of any atrocity. The general rules apply in Budapest too: always keep an eye on your bag, don’t leave valuables in the car…etc. If you pay attention, you basically have nothing to worry about.

What to expect from locals

There are many closed-minded people among Hungarians. And only a small percentage of Hungarians speak English well. So if you want to meet people, you have a better chance of making friends with other tourists.

The bigger problem is the scam. If you’re a foreign tourist, they see that you don’t speak Hungarian, they tend to scam you in some places. We heard some bad stories from restaurants, bars, and taxis. In Budapest, always check the prices to make sure the invoice includes exactly what you asked for and no more.

What you hear about Hungary in the news

Don’t fall for the political articles you read about Hungary. As a tourist, you won’t experience anything about the government or the level of corruption in Hungary. Budapest is absolutely the same kind of European city for visitors as any other.

Now back to the sights and things to do in Budapest. This list includes 15 attractions and activities to help you discover Budapest as a tourist. So here are the best places to visit and the best things to do in the Hungarian capital.

The 15 best things to do in Budapest

Visit Hungarian Parliament

Whether you just want to see the outside of the Hungarian Parliament or you are interested in the inside, the Hungarian Parliament is a must-see when you are in Budapest.

It is situated on Kossuth Square in the Pest side of the city, on the eastern bank of the Danube. It was designed by Hungarian architect Imre Steindl in neo-Gothic style and opened in 1902. It has been the largest building in Hungary since its completion.

The best photos of the outside of the building can be taken from either the Danube boats or the Buda side.

See the Chain Bridge

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is a bridge that spans the River Danube between Buda and Pest, the western and eastern sides of Budapest.

The bridge has the name of István Széchenyi, a major supporter of its construction, attached to it, but is most commonly known as the “Chain Bridge”. Its decorations are made of cast iron.

The bridge has been closed to private traffic for some years and is still under renovation in 2023.

Take a walk around the Buda Castle

The Buda Castle District is a part of the 1st district of Budapest, known as the Castle, and is the oldest area of the city of Buda. The Buda Castle District has been a World Heritage Site of Budapest since 1987.

Its main attractions are the Buda Castle Palace, Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion.

Next to them, Buda Castle is home to a number of well-known hotels and restaurants. It’s worth taking a long walk around the castle, as you can admire a number of breathtaking panoramas.

You can walk up to Buda Castle from several directions. As the area is hilly, it is recommended only for those with good physical condition. If you want a special experience, the Buda Castle funicular provides a link between the castle and the Danube bank.

See the Matthias Church

The Matthias Church is a historic building in the Buda Castle District, on the Trinity Square. One of the most famous churches in Hungary. Worth a visit if you are in Buda Castle.

Walk around the Fisherman’s Bastion

The Fisherman’s Bastion is one of Budapest’s most famous monuments, located in the Buda Castle. It is one of the most important tourist attractions in Budapest because of the unique view of Budapest from its neo-Romanesque observation decks.

It was built between 1895 and 1902 in the neo-Romanesque style on the site of the old Buda Castle walls. The name refers to the fact that in the Middle Ages this part of the castle walls was protected by the fishermen’s guild.

The upper level of the Fisherman’s Bastion used to be ticketed for a while, but the ticket requirement was abolished at the end of 2022.

The Fisherman’s Bastion is also Budapest’s most famous Instagram photo spot. A walk around the Fisherman’s Bastion is the best way to photograph the historic monument and the banks of the Danube in Budapest.

Climbing Gellért Hill for the view

Gellért Hill is a 235 m high hill overlooking the Danube in Budapest. At the top of the hill is the Citadel, which offers one of the most spectacular views of the city.

The famous Hotel Gellért and the Gellért Baths can be found at the foot of the hill, on Gellért Square, next to the Liberty Bridge. The Gellért Cave is also located on the hill.

The Citadella is reachable on foot from the St. Gellért quay, climbing the hill. Alternatively, tourist buses take you up quite close to the Citadel, from where you can reach the view by walking a few hundred metres from a car park above.

Walking along the Danube

Walking along the banks of the Danube you can see many sights from outside. There are the famous Danube bridges such as the Margaret Bridge, the Chain Bridge, the Elisabeth Bridge and the Liberty Bridge. Then you can take a stroll around the famous Budapest recreation area, Margaret Island. You can see the Parliament, statues of famous Hungarian writers and historical figures, the Buda Castle and Gellért Hill.

Famous attractions are the Shoes on the Danube bank, made in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Travel with the yellow tram

Tram 2 is particularly famous among tourists. Tram 2 runs around most of Budapest’s attractions. During the summer months you can also book on the N18 and N19 nostalgia tram lines.

Visit Heroes’ Square

On the Pest side, a little further away from the other sights is the famous Heroes’ Square.

The Heroes’ Square is the most impressive square in Budapest. In a narrower context, it marks the Millennium Monument. Heroes’ Square, together with Andrássy Avenue in front of it, is a World Heritage Site.

The Millennium Monument contains a collection of statues and reliefs representing the greatest figures of Hungarian history and their stories.

Next to Heroes’ Square is Vajdahunyad Castle, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Ethnography.

Take a walk around the Vajdahunyad Castle

Vajdahunyad Castle is located a few minutes walk from Heroes’ Square in the so-called City Park.

The castle is located on Széchenyi Island, which can be reached via four bridges. The castle was built for the Hungarian Agricultural Museum, and thus serves the purposes of the museum. In the garden of the castle is a statue of the famous Hungarian chronicler Anonymus.

It’s worth a walk around the area if you are visiting Budapest.

See St Stephen’s Basilica

St Stephen’s Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica in Budapest. It is named in honor of Stephen, the first king of Hungary, whose right hand is preserved in the reliquary. Today it is the third largest church in Hungary.

The area around the basilica has many great restaurants and entertainment options. It is worth spending more time in the area.

Dining in the iconic New York Café

New York Café is located in the center of Budapest. It has previously won the title of World’s Best Café. It is also a famous Instagram photo spot in Budapest.

Reservations are for dinner only, otherwise you have to wait in the often long queue to get in. In the café, you can not only order coffee and sweets, but also try some of the most popular dishes of Hungarian cuisine.

You can read a detailed review of the New York Café by clicking on the link.

Get on the Ferris wheel in Budapest

The Budapest Ferris wheel is not as famous as the Ferris wheels of other cities. Nevertheless, it offers a similar experience and we think it belongs on the list. It is located close to St Stephen’s Basilica.

Trying Hungarian dishes

Speaking of Hungarian cuisine, if you visit Hungary, you should definitely try Hungarian food. The most famous ones are lángosh, goulash or chicken paprikash with noodles, goulash soup, fish soup and stuffed cabbage. Of course there are countless other Hungarian dishes, but don’t miss these.

It is worth looking for places that are not too touristy, where the prices are affordable and the food is really Hungarian.

Visit one of Budapest’s famous thermal baths

Although there are a number of recommended thermal spas in Hungary, the Budapest thermal baths stand out from the rest. So if you want to relax during your trip, try some of the best thermal baths in Budapest. The two most famous among tourists are the Széchenyi Thermal Bath and the Gellért Thermal Bath. They’re not cheap, but if you spend more time in Budapest, you might want to visit one of them.

Moreover, if you want to explore the Hungarian countryside, we recommend some places that are easily accessible by car from Budapest.

Best day trip destinations from Budapest

Lake Balaton

When visiting Hungary, it would be a mistake to miss the so-called Hungarian Sea, the Lake Balaton.

Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe. The entire shore of the lake can be cycled and driven around, and its many towns offer excellent recreational opportunities for visitors.

We think the most spectacular place as a tourist is Tihany, famous for its fantastic views. From the hilltop of Tihany, next to the Benedictine Abbey building, you can see a breathtaking panorama of Lake Balaton. Tihany also hosts the Tihany Lavender Festival every summer. So we think it is worth a visit.

Visegrád and Esztergom

The towns of Visegrád and Esztergom are easily accessible by car from the north of Budapest.

Visegrád is home to the Visegrád Citadel. It is a 13th century fortress on a hilltop with small historical exhibitions and a picturesque view of the Danube River.

Esztergom lies right on the banks of the Danube, next to the Slovakian border. Its famous building is the Esztergom Basilica, a domed neoclassical basilica built in the 19th century.

So Budapest and its surroundings offer plenty for tourists to see and do. Budapest is an ideal destination for a spring or autumn trip to discover a European city. It’s the perfect place for people of almost all ages and from all economic backgrounds. So we hope our article has helped to inspire you.

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