The best things to do in Budapest: what to see, where to eat, drink & stay
Over the past few years, Budapest has become one of the most popular European destinations. The Hungarian capital’s monumental buildings, scenic riverfront, tree-lined avenues and beautiful Art Nouveau architecture make it a bucket-list destination. The city is a parade of spectacular monuments that truly give the idea of the importance of this Central Eastern European capital. From visiting the Fisherman’s Bastion to taking in the views of the city in one of its many panoramic viewpoints, Budapest sure has a lot in store for its visitors. Whether it’s for a weekend, five days or 7 days, here’s my travel guide to Budapest, from what to see and where to eat, to where to drink and stay in the Hungarian capital.
What to see in Budapest
Budapest is packed with sights to see. From green parks to centuries-old palazzos and bridges, there’s a myriad of things to see and do. Here are my absolute favorite places to see in Budapest. And if you’re visiting Budapest in wintertime, check out my top 10 things to do in Budapest this winter.
The Castle District
Perched on top of Buda Hill, the Castle District is probably my favorite place in Budapest to visit. This part of the city feels like it has been sprinkled with a little extra magic than the rest of the city, and it also has some of the best views of Budapest. You walk up these beautiful cobblestone streets and admire the enchanting architecture that surrounds you. And when you get to St. Matthias Church, prepare to be stunned! It feels like one of those fairytale castles/churches featured in those old Disney movies.
Not to mention the beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion, where you get one of the best bird’s eye views of the city (and lots of great pictures). Not only is the Budapest Castle district a must to visit, it’s also where the city of Budapest was first built until it was later expanded. In fact, the walls of most of the houses date back to the Middle Ages! If you’d like to get a glimpse of Budapest’s history, head to the Buda Castle and go to the Budapest History Museum. And of course, walk around Buda castle and admire its beautiful architecture and view!
As you walk down the Castle District, turn to your right until you reach the stunning Varkert Bazaar. Known as one of the most exclusive event spaces of Budapest, this place is also famous for its stunning neo-Renaissance gardens below Buda castle. A beautiful garden with terraces to get views of the Buda riverfront and the Danube river.
Gellert Hill & Citadel
As you walk towards Liberty bridge on the Buda side of Budapest, you’ll spot a beautiful monument hidden in the gardens perched on a hill. Named after Saint Gerard – a bishop who was thrown from the hill in the 11th century – Gellert Hill offers one of the most beautiful panoramic views of Budapest. From here you can admire the Castle of Buda, Liberty Bridge, the parliament and so much more. And the view of Pest is certainly fantastic. Walk back down and cross Elizabeth bridge or keep exploring the beautiful park until you reach the Citadel. The Citadel is a symbol of conflict, after the Habsburgs suppressed the 1848-1849 Revolution and War of Independence, they built a fortress on the Citadel to remind the Hungariangs who was in charge.
The Chain Bridge
The Chain Bridge is one of Budapest’s most iconic landmarks. Inaugurated in 1849, and named after the iron chains on which the road-beds hang, it was Hungary’s first permanent bridge connecting Buda to Pest. It is absolutely one of Budapest’s most remarkable bridges. Not only is the Chain bridge the symbol of Budapest, it also offers breathtaking views of the Hungarian Parliament building, the Danube, the Castle of Buda and the luxurious Gresham Palace.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Apart from being the country’s Patron and the first King of Hungary, St. Stephen is also a splendid basilica in Budapest’s 5th district. It happens to be the tallest building in the city along with the Hungarian Parliament Building (96 meters), symbolizing the balance between Church and State. In addition to the stunning architecture and the beauty of the basilica itself, there’s a long line of people waiting to visit something else: the panoramic Basilica Dome. And who can blame them? The 360-degree view from the Basilica is mesmerizing.
From spring to fall, Margaret Island has to be on your list of things to see in Budapest. It’s Budapest’s only island, with miles and miles of beautiful green parks, directly connected to Margaret bridge. Rent a bike and pedal along the beautiful green spaces. Stop by for an ice-cream, lie under the shade and have a picnic or just stroll through the park. In spring and summer, Margaret Island hosts music festivals such as the famous Budapest Summer Festival and the world-renowned Sziget Festival, where international artists perform in the open-air stage in August.
Budapest Opera House
The Hungarian State Opera House was built by the famed architect Miklós Ybl from 1875 – 1884 and the construction was financed and commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary. Even if you do not attend one of the performances, the building in itself deserves a visit. Its neo-Renaissance architecture is truly a marvel, and the horse-shaped auditorium has been decorated with more than 7kgs of gold and hundreds of statues! The Opera House was inaugurated on September 27th, 1884 with a performance conducted by Ferenc Erkel, whose statue stands in front of the Opera House. After its inauguration, the Budapest Opera House quickly became one of Europe’s musical and cultural institutions. In terms of acoustics, the Hungarian State Opera House is considered to be the third best in Europe, after Milan’s La Scala and Paris’s Palais Garnier.
One of the most striking buildings in Budapest is the Parliament building on the the Pest side of the Chain Bridge. With its astonishing Gothic revival architecture, it’s impossible not to have your breath taken away by this building! The parliament features 691 rooms and is decorated with 40 kg of 23-carat gold. Construction of the building began in 1885 and the building was completed in 1902 as part of the independence of Hungary from Austria. If you visit inside you’ll admire the wonderful staircase and the great vaulted hall, you’ll see the Hungarian Crown Jewels and the Hungarian Holy Crown.
The Great Synagogoue
No trip to Budapest is complete without visiting the Great Synagogue, which just so happens to be the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world! Built in 1859, it is one of Budapest’s highlights with its red and yellow brick facade combining Romantic style with Moorish elements.
Where to eat in Budapest: the best restaurants
Nightlife in Budapest: where to drink & dance
An in-vogue cocktail bar sitting right in front of St. Stephen’s basilica. A cool vibe, great cocktails, good selection of wine and stylish crowd. Come by for the cocktails accompanied by music by the Dj before hitting the club.
Just a short walk from St. Stephen’s Basilica, you’ll find this small, intimate and stylish bar (resembling a speakeasy) serving up mixology cocktails. Two floors with dimmed lights, warm reds, music that ranges from oldies to contemporary music, and a cool bar adorned by all the different kinds of liquor bottles you can imagine.
Anyone coming to Budapest has heard about their “ruin bars”. But what are these ruin bars, exactly? Picture those old buildings and factories destined to destruction turned into into super cool bars! At Szimpla Kert, mismatched furniture, funky design, contemporary art and weird objects come together to create the perfect party atmosphere.
High Note Skybar
A stone’s throw away from St. Stephen’s Basilica is the famous Aria Hotel. Grab the elevator and head to its rooftop bar, known as High Note Skybar to taste delicious cocktails and wine paired with a beautiful view of Budapest and St. Stephen Basilica dome. Reservations are musts.
Located in the 7th district, Bar Pharma is a tiny bar that serves up some great mixology drinks. Sit on one of stools at the bar or grab a table to savour your drinks. Not sure what to order? The bartender will surely know how to advise you!
Enjoy views of the Budapest skyline on this cool rooftop bar. Live music, events, great vibes and great cocktails to choose from await you. Just a heads up, reservations are mandatory, head onto their website in advance to reserve your table.
St Andrea Wine & Skybar
On Vörösmarty square, get ready to immerse yourself in a beautiful building, home to the St Andrea Wine & Skybar. From the Budapest Eye to St. Stephen’s Basilica, the view from up here is sensational. Enjoy a cocktail, choose something to nibble on from the food menu and gaze out into the beautiful view.
Up for some dancing? Head to this small club a stone’s throw away from the Chain Bridge to strut your dance moves. The club is small with a sort of disco-bar concept: a few tables, a large bar counter, a DJ and a dancefloor! The music is a great mix of contemporary music and commercial music from the 90s on!
Just next door to BOB you’ll find another cool nightlife spot: Yellow. This is the other place to go to dance the night away, listen to DJs and live music and have a blast.
Right on the banks of the Danube river you’ll find this super cool two-floor outdoor venue only open in summertime The crowd spills onto the riverbanks, the music is loud, and people are either standing or in tables with drinks in their hand. It’s the perfect place to get into the summer party mood!
Where to stay in Budapest
Budapest is divided into two areas by the Danube River: Buda and Pest. Buda is more residential while Pest is more for shopping and partying. However, all you need to do to get from one side to the other is cross one of the many bridges! Either the Chain Bridge, Margaret Bridge or Elizabeth bridge.
If you’re staying in Buda, the best area to stay is the charming Castle district. Here, you’ll have stunning views of the city, the beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion, Mathias Church and Buda Castle. You can easily walk down and cross the chain bridge to reach Pest. While in Pest, my favorite place to stay in is the 5th district, which includes the area near St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Hungarian Parliament. It’s known as the downtown of Budapest, and it’s elegant and filled with restaurants, shops and cafes. You’re close to all cultural sights and immersed in a fun setting. If you’re on a budget, the 7th district, otherwise known as the Jewish District, offers more affordable accommodations. Here you’ll find ruin bars, nightlife and many restaurants. However, it’s not my favorite district in Budapest.
Getting around Budapest
Getting around Budapest is easy peasy! If you’re staying in a central area, walking will be all you need! If the distances are too long, the good news is that public transportation in Budapest works wonderfully: from buses to trams and metros. Just purchase your tickets at the ticket machines near tram stops and metro stations. The price of one ticket is 350HUF, valid for one ride. If you’re planning on using public transportation often, I suggest you purchase 10 tickets for 3000HUF or make a subscription for 3 or 7 days.
While if you want to move by taxi, you’ll be glad to hear that they’re super cheap! Just a heads up, never flag taxis down the street, they will rip you off if you’re a tourist. Always call a taxi or use the Budapest Taxi or FoTaxi apps to call your taxis.
Day trip from Budapest
If you’re staying in Budapest for 5 or more days, I strongly urge you to go on a day trip, especially during the good season. For all those curious enough to venture outside the Hungarian capital, there are beautiful places to explore. Here are three of the best day trips from Budapest:
Day trip to Balaton Lake
This has got to be one of my favorite places in Hungary, just 2 hours from Budapest. But I have to admit, for being the largest lake in Europe, not all tourists are aware of the enchanting places “The Hungarian Sea” has to offer. From picturesque views to stunning estates, Lake Balaton is the place to go in Hungary from spring to fall.
A stunning lake with turquoise waters, lovely towns, sailing in spring and summer, fun activities and if you’re a wine lover, you can’t miss out on the beautiful wineries perched up on heavenly hills. Vineyards, views and beautiful nature await you.
The best way to reach it? Go on a private tour from Budapest (especially if you want to have some wine). Relax and enjoy! Here are my favorite tours:
Day trip to Szentendre
Szentendre is one of the cutest towns you’ll set your eyes on. It’s situated along the Danube bend, and it’s known for being an 18th century art town. Ever since the 1930s, this colorful town has attracted artists and creatives that have contributed in making Szentendre a vibrant town.
As you walk along its colorful streets, get ready to see artists painting away, as well as gorgeous Baroque churches and archways. There are plenty of art galleries and exhibitions to immerse yourself in the artistic culture. There are also a few markets where you can browse and purchase beautiful artisanal products made by craftsmen.
The best way to reach it? Take a cruise from Budapest to Szentendre, you’ll get to stop by and enjoy this town as well as get wonderful views of the Danube!
Day trip to Godollo Royal Palace
Just 30km from Budapest you’ll find one of the most beautiful Baroque palaces in Europe: Gödöllo, also known as Queen Elizabeth’s favorite Hungarian estate. This is where the royal couple, Emperor Franz Joseph and Queen Sissi, spent their spring and autumn hunting seasons.
The 250-year-old U-shaped and 8-winged royal palace is a wonderful example of Hungarian Baroque architecture. It has been restored to its original glory. You can visit rooms, see the permanent and temporary exhibitions and also wander its beautiful vast gardens.
The best way to explore Godollo is by booking a day trip from Budapest, inclusive of a round-trip private transportation from Budapest to the royal palace. Check out the best tours: