My 24 Favorite Things to Do in Budapest
Updated: Apr 25
A comprehensive getaway guide for the Pearl of the Danube, written by a Native Hungarian.
Budapest, accurately described by many tour guides as the 'Pearl of the Danube', is undoubtedly one of the most attractive cities to visit in Central Europe. Having been fortunate enough to grow up there, these are my top 24 suggestions for first-timers...
1. Start your Budapest tour in the city centre and visit St. Stephen's Basilica. While the building itself is already picturesque, I also suggest walking inside to admire the ceiling with stunning frescoes and stained glass windows. If you're feeling in an athletic mood, climb the wooden stairs up to the observation deck for a panoramic view of the city.
2. After admiring the Basilica, head to Chez Dodo Makaron manufaktúra just around the corner and try some fancy-named artisan macarons and cappuccino at this hidden gem café.
3. Walk to the Danube and enjoy the view. Before crossing the Chain Bridge, stop by Raqpart, a bar almost under the bridge (it's fancier than it sounds...) where you can grab a glass of wine for 4 euros and even go crazy on the dance floor at night! Perfect for a date.
4. Time for some more climbing! Cross the Chain Bridge and walk up to the Castle Hill. I suggest saving money on the funicular and either getting your steps in, if you're comfortable with walking, or taking the bus n. 16, which will take you all the way up and is way cheaper.
5. Once you made it to the top, walk around the Castle District - you will come across the Matthias Church, the Fisherman's Bastion, and admire some stunning panoramic views of the city. Insider tip: the Hungarian National Gallery inside the Buda Castle is definitely worth a visit as it showcases some of the best fine art exhibitions and collections in the city.
6. You have visited a big chunk of the touristy sights by now, and you want to relax. Most first-timers who come to Budapest are curious about our thermal baths, which are some of the best ones in Europe. The most famous one is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, however I would personally recommend visiting the Rudas baths in Buda. These are smaller, yet they have been recently renovated so they are much cleaner and have a newer feel to it. You can try different types of pools, saunas, and the very best part of it is the jacuzzi pool on the rooftop, which has a fantastic view on the Danube and Budapest's bridges.
7. Speaking about rooftops...if you're in Budapest, you absolutely shouldn't miss going for a drink at a rooftop bar. You will see that they have some breathtakingly Instagrammable views. Your options: 360 Bar if you're on a budget, High Note Sky Bar if you don't mind dropping 12 euros on a cocktail (pricier, but the view on the Basilica is totally worth it).
8. On another day, head to Margaret Island to take a breath of fresh air. We rented a motorbike last summer and it was super fun to stroll around the island with it (Rene particularly enjoyed making fun of my motorbike-driving skills...).
9. A landmark you shouldn't miss is the Parliament, overlooking the Danube in all its corrupt splendour. Pro tip: go at nighttime to see it illuminated, and you will also notice birds flying around the dome. There's a debate on whether they are bats or seagulls...I vote for the bats.
10. If you don't fancy #bats and go visit the Parliament in daylight, grab a marzipan sweet at Szamos Cafe after. It's one of the most famous confectionery shop chains in Budapest and if marzipan isn't your thing, you should still try one of their famous Hungarian cakes.
11. Before you leave the Parliament area, you should stop by the Shoes on the Danube monument, erected to honour the Jews who were killed by fascist militiamen in Budapest during World War II. A powerful reminder of something which shall not happen again.
12. For a vibrant evening, walk around Deák Square, Fashion Street, and Váci utca (well-known shopping street in Budapest). In winter time, you will admire the most beautiful Christmas market in Europe (it actually won the 2020 Award!) in this area. In the summer, you can sit outdoors in one of the many bars and grab inexpensive drinks. Pro tip: try "fröccs" at Fröccsterasz - a mixture of wine and soda that is the Hungarian go-to drink in the summer.
13. Another Hungarian delicacy you should try is a traditional chimney cake called "kürtöskalács". It comes in many flavours and is delicious when freshly served. Don't try to pronounce it, just have one and enjoy. You will see food trucks and shops in the city centre offering it, however they usually rip you off with their tourist prices. Pro tip: go down the escalator at the Deák Square metro stop and buy one for 1 euro at the stand just before the red metro line entrance. Congrats, you just saved 4 euros to spend on wine!
14. Calling the history aficionados! For a chilling museum experience, check out the House of Terror on Andrássy Avenue. This used to be the headquarters of the ÁVH secret police during Hungary's fascist and communist regimes in the 20th century and it showcases some pretty disturbing brutalities committed by these. It's a disturbing, yet powerful experience.
15. Walking down Andrássy Avenue, you will not only see luxury brand shops and the Opera House, but you will also end up at the famous Heroes Square. You could either walk there, or hop on the yellow M1 subway, one of the oldest in Europe (and just a cool metro ride).
16. You arrived to Heroes Square, now what? You have some exciting options...if it's summer, rent a kayak boat at the lake within Városliget, the city park just behind Heroes Square, and boat around Vajdahunyad Castle. If it's winter, the same lake becomes a skating rink. Time to impress your friends with your spins (and falls - don't despair, mulled wine is there for you...)
17. FOOD! Now that I caught your attention, save these tips for great culinary experiences...check out A La Maison Grand or Zoska for reasonably-priced yet lavish breakfasts in the city centre. If you are in Buda, Villa Bagatelle is your go-to brunch place. For lunch/dinner, try Hungarian food at Ruben restaurant (inexpensive) or grab a thai food bowl at Pad Thai Wok bar (cheap & quick). You could also check out Trattoria Pomo D'oro (expensive Italian food, book in advance) or try Zeya (a fine BBQ restaurant with excellent food and service - pricier, but worth it!). For something in the middle price range, check out Mazel Tov (Mediterranean food and lovely interiors!).
18. For a very uncommon interactive experience in Buda, check out the Invisible Exhibition in Millenáris park. You will be guided by blind or partially-sighted people into an invisible world. You will find your way in complete darkness only through sounds, scent, and touch.
19. Besides its beautiful sights and interesting museums, Budapest is also world-famous for its cafés. The best-known one is the stunning New York Café, however, I am here to share with you my personal favourite hidden gem - the Café Parisi Lotz Hall, a historical neo-renassaince hall ornate with Belle-Époque style chandeliers, a lot of gold, and giant mirrors.
20. If you have time to spare and wish to explore beyond Budapest, take the green suburban train ("Hév") n.5 to Szentendre, a cute town with baroque architecture and colorful buildings.
Final city hacks:
21. If you are looking for accommodation, districts 5-6-7 are mostly safe and very central.
22. Don't get scammed by fake taxi drivers at the airport. There is a stand right as you exit the airport where you can get an official one, or you could also book one with Bolt.
23. Public transport-wise, if you buy a pass, buy the regular one and not the Budapest City Pass (which gives you some discounts on activities, but is also a lot pricier and more often than not, just not worth it). In the summer, you can use your public transport pass to board on one of the public transport boats that cross the Danube across different spots.
24. The currency in Budapest is the Hungarian forint. For simplicity, I shared all approximate prices in euros in this post, but you should keep in mind the local currency and exchange some money as most places won't take euros. 1 euro is approximately 330 forints.
Bonus tip: try some Hungarian food at the Great Market Hall or simply by buying local products at any supermarket. You shouldn't leave without trying some Tokaji wine (if you drink), turó rudi (a thin bar with chocolate-flavoured coating and an inner filling of curd cheese 'túró'), and lángos (deep-fried flat bread usually served with sour cream and grated cheese - go to Retro Lángos Büfé to try this one).
Visited any of these places? Let us know in the comments which ones you liked the most! And, if you liked this post, don't forget to pin it for later!