Art, wine, thermal baths, caves, cafes and history are some of the things you can enjoy in Hungary’s capital. Here are 10 things to do in Budapest to get you started.
Things to do in Budapest
1- Enjoy the best view in Budapest
Built as a viewing platform in 1905, Fisherman’s Bastion offers some of Budapest’s best views.
Its neo-Gothic design with seven turrets gives it a fantasy quality; each turret represents one of the Magyar tribes that entered the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century.
The bastion was named after the guild of fishermen responsible for defending this stretch of the wall in the Middle Ages.
In front of the bastion there is an ornate equestrian statue of St Stephen, who was Hungary’s first Christian King in 1000AD.
2- Drink Hungarian wine in Budapest
One of the most popular tourist areas in Budapest is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Castle Hill.
It is a 1km-long limestone plateau that sits 170m above the Danube River and is rich with medieval monuments, museums, a charming Old Town and Royal Palace (the original site of a 13th century castle).
A great place to spend a rainy afternoon in the Castle district is in the underground cellar of the House of Hungarian Wines.
The cellar displays over 700 wines from 22 regions in Hungary. The wine tour offers a sample of over 50 different wines including the famous Hungarian Tokaj.
3- Soak in Budapest Thermal Baths
As Budapest is one of Europe’s major spa centres, a trip to a thermal bath is a must.
The city lies on a geological fault which divides the Buda Hills from the Great Plain and has over 120 thermal springs.
The waters contain minerals which are believed to have powerful healing qualities that can cure anything from arthritis to skin ailments.
Most bathhouses no longer distribute drawstring loincloths and require guests to wear bathing suits instead.
Szechenyi Baths is a sprawling complex with three swimming pools and a dozen thermal baths.
4- Enjoy the Budapest Opera
Designed in 1884, the Hungarian State Opera House is one of the city’s most beautiful buildings.
The facade is decorated with statues of 16 of the world’s greatest composers including Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi and Tchaikovsky.
Over seven kilograms of gold was used to decorate the main horseshoe-shaped auditorium that also has a magnificent frescoed ceiling depicting Mount Olympus, the home of the Gods.
The guided tour of the opera house includes a brief musical performance (2500HUF).
5- Take photos in Heroes Square
The Millenary Monument is the central focus of the square with its 36m-tall pillar topped with Gabriel the angel holding the Hungarian crown and cross.
The colonnades behind the pillar have 14 statues of rulers and statesmen who were Hungarian heroes.
On the northern side of the square is the impressive Museum of Fine Arts which has over 3000 works from European masters.
The Spanish section is significant, carrying paintings of El Greco, Vélazquez and Goya.
6- Explore Budapest’s caves
Exploring Budapest’s system of caves is a cool thing to do on a hot day. There are over 200 caves underneath the city, two of which are open for guided tours.
Discovered in 1904, Palvolgy Cave is the second-largest cave in Hungary.
Guided tours run on the hour and follow a 500m route which involves climbing steep steps and ladders. Szemlo-hegy Cave has beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
7- Eat cake in Cafe Gerbeaud
Over the past two centuries, Budapest has been as famous as Vienna for its cafes, cake shops and café culture.
Just like in Vienna, cafes in Budapest were common meeting places for writers, poets and artists who ordered from a writer’s menu (usually bread, cheese and cold meats) at a discounted price.
Many cafes also provided ink and paper free of charge. At the beginning of the 20th century there were over 500 cafes but by the time communism collapsed in 1989, there were only a few remaining.
Today, Café Gerbeaud is the most famous. Founded in 1858 it was the meeting place for the city’s elite. Its signature treat is the Gerbeaud cake which has ground walnut and jam squashed between layers of sponge and covered with chocolate.
8- Go shopping in Budapest
Take home some traditional folk art like painted eggs, doll in traditional folk costumes or hand-painted Zsolnay porcelain.
These items can be found in all major tourist and shopping areas. The city’s flea markets are fun to wander through.
Ecseri Plac is one of the biggest flea markets in Central Europe and sells everything from antique jewellery to Soviet army watches. City Park flea market has a good collection of collectibles and crafts.
9- Visit the Great Synagogue of Budapest
Outside of New York City, the Great Synagogue is the largest Jewish house-of-worship in the world.
Built in 1859, its architectural style is both Romantic and Moorish.
Its renovations were funded by the Hungarian government and a New York-based charity headed up by the actor Tony Curtis (whose parents emigrated from Hungary in the 1920s).
In the rear courtyard of the synagogue, the Holocaust Memorial, a weeping metal tree, stands over the mass graves of Jews killed by the Nazis. The family names of many of the 400,000 victims are engraved on its leaves.
10- Explore Millenium City
Millennium City occupies 10 hectares of land on the Pest side of the Danube.
It is a modern precinct dedicated to artistic pursuits with contemporary buildings and is not on the usual tourist route.
Locals often enjoy the park-like surrounds, which are peppered with imaginative statues of famous Hungarians.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, also known as the Ludwig Museum showcases international contemporary art and works by international contemporary artists as well as Hungarian, Czech, Slovakian, Romanian, Polish and Slovenian works. The National Theatre is popular venue for Hungarian plays.
If you’re planning a trip to Europe, there are several ways you can enjoy travelling around.
If you’re on a budget, there are several ways to save money while travelling, including backpacking. Read this guide to backpacking Europe cost.
At the other end of the scale, if you have the funds and prefer to travel in luxury, river cruising is a stress-free and luxurious way to see Europe.