The Best Things to Do in Budapest, Hungary

The 15 Best Things to do in Budapest

Divided in two by the River Danube, Budapest is one of Europe’s most aesthetically astounding and historically intriguing capitals. You’ll love how many fascinating things there are to do all over Hungary’s largest city! 

Budapest is really a tale of two cities: Buda and Pest. On one side of the roaring Danube, the tall towers and mighty bastions of Buda Castle stand on a prominent rocky outcrop high above the city. Buda is where the royalty of centuries-past lived, and you’ll find iconic landmarks like Fisherman’s Bastion, the Castle Hill Funicular, and the Liberty Statue to explore. 

On the other side of the Danube, the flat neighborhoods of Pest are home to the Hungarian Parliament, to long, elegant 19th-century streets like Andrassy Avenue, and to the coolest pubs, clubs, and Ruin Bars in the city.

You can enjoy long walks along the banks of the Danube, you can escape the city with a cruise along the river, and you can quickly fall in love with a city that’s as historic as it is trendy. It’s an adventure just getting around Budapest, and you’ll have as much fun riding the yellow trams above ground as you will traversing the world’s second-oldest metro system below ground. 

With so many cool things to see and do in Budapest, you might not know where to begin. That’s why we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Budapest for you. Stick to these fun and unique Budapest bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’re going to have an amazing time exploring this gorgeous European city!

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The 15 Best Things to do in Budapest

1. Take a Bath in Budapest

Best Things to do in Budapest: Bath in Budapest

At the top of any Budapest bucket list should be taking a bath. No, we don’t mean in your hotel room (although we’re not stopping you!), but in one of the city’s many traditional thermal baths. 

Budapest is built above hot springs, and the Hungarian capital has a long history of bathing that stretches back to the Romans. The Ottoman Empire refined bathing to an art, and even today, the oldest baths you can visit are the Turkish-style Kiraly Baths, which date back to 1565. 

There are many spa options to consider, but if it’s your first time in the city, then one of the best things to do in Budapest is to spend the day at Szechenyi Thermal Bath. Located in City Park, these are the largest public baths in Budapest. 

You’ll find there are three enormous outdoor pools surrounded by a brightly colored baroque palace, where you’ll also find a whopping 15 indoor pools. Everything is heated, except for the ice-cold plunge pools, which you can brave in between sauna and steam room sessions!

If you’d like to get away from the crowds, though, then you can book a slot at the Lukacs Baths instead. Located across the river in Buda, this is a local favorite that dates back to the late 19th century and is complete with modern infrared saunas. While you’re in Buda, you can also visit the Gellert Baths, an art nouveau-style spa that’s said to be the most architecturally beautiful of all Budapest’s bathhouses! 

Book a Szechenyi Spa Day

2. Take a Tour Through Hungary’s Beautiful Parliament Building

Fun Things to do in Budapest: Parliament Building

You really can’t miss Budapest’s magnificent parliament building. Standing tall on the Pest side of the River Danube, you’ll instantly recognize the red dome and red roof of the Hungarian Parliament Building from almost any skyline photographs you might have seen of the city.

The Hungarian Parliament Building really is an iconic landmark, so if you’re wondering what to do in Budapest when you first arrive, we recommend heading here. Start by strolling along the eastern bank of the Danube and admiring the tall, almost dreamy architecture as it rises high above you.

Once you’ve found the entrance of this mammoth building, you can find out more about its history and inner workings by joining a tour. You’ll discover how the parliament building was first opened in 1902 and remained the largest building in all of Budapest. 

The unique architecture, as you’ll also discover, is a contrasting mix of Gothic and Renaissance Revival, while Hungary’s National Assembly only ever meets in the Lower House of the building, leaving the Upper House to be used for conferences, meetings, and events. 

Go on a Guided Tour

3. Admire the Elegant Architecture Along Andrassy Avenue

Budapest Things to do: Andrassy Avenue

You have to take a stroll along Andrassy Avenue because it’s one of the must-do things in Budapest! Andrassy Avenue is one of Budapest’s longest, most elegant, and most famous boulevards, and you’ll love admiring the beautiful architecture and soaking up the history as you stroll from one end to the other.

Andrassy Avenue is found on the Pest side of the river, and it was designed as a central thoroughfare that could be lined with impressive neoclassical buildings. Opened in the 1870s, so important is the street’s architecture to the city’s image that Andrassy Avenue is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

You can start at either end, but we recommend beginning your walk at Erzsebet Square, the side closest to the River Danube. From here, you’ll stroll past townhouses, the opera house, museums, cafes, and restaurants as you walk for almost 2 miles to the endpoint at Hero’s Square.

We recommend walking this way because once you reach Hero’s Square, you can continue on through the park and take a dip in the pools at Szechenyi Thermal Bath!

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4. Take a Stroll (or Cruise) Along the River Danube

Unique Things to do in Budapest: River Danube

Make sure you bring a sturdy pair of shoes when you’re visiting all of the top Budapest attractions because walking is often the best way to explore the city. 

One of our favorite walks anywhere in Europe is along the banks of the River Danube in Budapest. This is the geographical feature that defines the Hungarian capital more than any other – and we think it’s important to see it from the ground level! 

You can walk for miles along the river in either direction and on either side, but for a taste of what the banks of the Danube have to offer, we recommend starting at the Szechenyi Chain Bridge on the Pest side of the river. 

Walk north, and you’ll soon reach a moving monument known as the Shoes on the Danube Bank, which remembers the Jewish citizens who were killed here during World War II. Continue, and you’ll be walking under the spires of the Hungarian Parliament Building before you reach Margaret Bridge and the southern end of Margaret Island. 

That’s a good 45 minutes of walking, not counting stopping time, and if you cross over the river, you can continue the walk on the Buda side of the river. This time you can walk south toward the Szechenyi Chain Bridge. Along the way, you’ll pass below Castle Hill and enjoy spectacular views across to the Parliament Building you visited earlier. 

Of course, if you’re tired, worn out from too much sightseeing, or just don’t want to walk, you can always take a river cruise along the Danube instead of walking!

Take a Dinner Cruise (with Live Music!)

5. Ride the World’s Second-Oldest Metro System

Must do things in Budapest: World’s Second-Oldest Metro System

The flat streets of Pest are made for walking, but there’s also a much quicker way to get around when you’ve got no time for a leisurely stroll. Deep underground, you can find the Budapest Metro, a rapid transit system that can get you almost anywhere in the city (especially when combined with the iconic yellow trams above ground).

But this isn’t any ordinary metro system. In fact, you’ll be happy to hear that a ride on the Budapest Metro is an experience unto itself because this is the second-oldest underground metro in the world!

The oldest in the world is the London Underground, and that dates back to 1863. It took a while for Europe to catch up, and Budapest opened its first underground line in 1896. The first line to open was, of course, Line 1, and today Line 1 is of such historical importance to the city that it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

6. Visit the Castle on the Hill

Budapest Things to do: Castle on the Hill

Cross over the Szechenyi Chain Bridge from Pest, and you can walk or ride the funicular to the top of Castle Hill. Since at least the year 1265 AD, Castle Hill has been the site of royal castles, built to control the River Danube and the flat plains below.

The medieval castle was destroyed in the endless wars between Hungarians and the Ottoman Empire, and the large, baroque-style palace you see on the hill today was built in the 18th century. It was then destroyed in World War II before being rebuilt again. 

You’ll find a tumultuous history on top of the hill, but today, things are calm and peaceful around this UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can take a guided tour through the palace itself or a guided walking tour through the surrounding Castle Quarter where you’ll find famous landmarks like Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church, as well as formal ceremonies like the changing of the guard. 

You’ll also find that Castle Hill is home to some of the best museums in Budapest, including the Budapest History Museum and the National Hungarian Gallery. You’ll need at least an entire day to see everything, so get an early start before making the journey to the top of Castle Hill!

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7. Sample Local Delicacies at the Great Market Hall

Cool Things to do in Budapest: Great Market Hall

Are you a big foodie? If so, you’re going to love visiting the Great Market Hall, which we guarantee is one of the most fun things to do in Budapest!

Eating and drinking your way through this extravagant local marketplace is one of the best Budapest activities for hungry travelers. You’ll be spoiled for choice as you peruse the stalls and dig into the local cuisine. 

The market hall itself is a thing of beauty, as the building dates back to 1897 and is the largest of its kind in Budapest. But the real action is among the traders on the ground floor, where you can try local wines and fiery Hungarian spirits, Kolbasz sausages, pickled vegetables, and smoked fish. 

You can take a guided tour to learn more about the local delicacies and dishes, but if you’re particularly hungry, then head to the upper floors, where the local eateries serve up hearty Hungarian food at excellent prices. You can order steaming bowls of goulash, langos flatbreads smothered in sour cream, or the famous fisherman’s soup! 

8. Drink Beer in a Ruin Bar

Budapest Things to do: Ruin Bar

One of the coolest things to do in Budapest is a tour of the city’s unique Ruin Bars. Ruin Bars aren’t your average bar or pub, although they are incredibly trendy. Ruin Bars began to pop up in the 2000s, as abandoned buildings were taken over and turned into cool and unusual places to drink beer, hang out, and play music.

These peculiar bars are quite unique to Budapest, and they are found primarily in District VII, which was the old Jewish Quarter of the city with the largest concentration of derelict buildings. You’ll love how Ruin Bars are characterized by unique themes and designs, where nothing is in the right place or where nostalgia has been allowed to take over.

The first Ruin Bar to make it big was Szimpla Kert, and there you’ll find a labyrinth of bars and cafes surrounding a central garden. There are free concerts, great craft beers, and an old East German car for decor. Another favorite is Red Ruin, where you can try local beers in a Communist-themed bar that even Lenin would be proud of!

Many of the best Ruin Bars are hidden away, so we recommend taking a Ruin Bar tour to help you uncover the quirkiest places to drink in Budapest. 

9. Take a Walking Tour through the Jewish Quarter

Best Things to do in Budapest: Walking Tour through the Jewish Quarter

Just as Budapest is a tale of two cities, so too is the Jewish Quarter. Today, you’ll find some of the city’s coolest pubs and bars in the old Jewish Quarter, where tourists and locals flock when night falls over Budapest. 

You’ll also find some of the best restaurants, including the delectable Middle Eastern cuisine of Mazel Tov. There are vintage shops, design cafes, co-working hubs, and so much more for the savvy modern traveler to experience, but there’s also the history!

While the Jewish Quarter is always one of the trendiest things to see in Budapest, a walking tour will show you the darker side of the district. This was where the Budapest Ghetto was built during World War II, as the city’s Hungarian population suffered immensely under the fascist regime. 

Most did not survive the war, however. In the 1990s, the Dohany Street Synagogue was fully restored to its pre-war glory and is now the second-largest synagogue in the world. Enjoy the modern outlook of the Jewish Quarter, but try not to forget the past while you’re enjoying craft beers in the Ruin Bars. 

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10. Brave the Terrifying Corridors of the House of Terror

Fun Things to do in Budapest: House of Terror

Budapest endured many decades of fascist and then communist rule in the 20th century, and the locals suffered many privations throughout the reign of totalitarian regimes. While little remains visible in the streets themselves of this often dark history, you can learn more with a visit to the quite terrifying House of Terror

This is no haunted home or theme park-style house of horrors. This is a museum dedicated to telling the story of Hungary’s secret police. It’s also a museum dedicated to the many victims of both fascism and communism. 

The House of Terror will take you on a journey through the horrors of World War II and then into the often bleak days that followed until Hungary became a democracy in 1989. You’ll see mock prison cells, a Russian T-34 tank, and come face to face with pictures and portraits of those who died fighting either the fascist regime or the communist regime.

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11. Experience the Communist Past at Memento Park

Budapest Things to do: Memento Park

Regimes loved to build statues, but despite enduring five decades of communist rule, you’ll notice that the streets of Budapest are firmly entrenched in their 19th-century character rather than the more recent 20th century.

That’s because much of the socialist-style architecture, particularly the statues, was completely dismantled or torn down when Hungary became a democracy. You may be wondering where statues end up once they’ve been taken down, and in Budapest, it’s a place called Memento Park

This is one of the most unique Budapest attractions, and a visit to Memento Park will throw you back in time to the communist era. Located in an old sports field on the outskirts of the city, Memento Park is home to statues of Lenin, Stalin’s Boots, and many other communist statues that were removed.

You can tour through the resurrected statues in this Disney-esque theme park for nostalgics before learning more about communism in the attached exhibition hall. 

12. Revel in the Sunshine at a Budapest Summer Festival

Fun Things to do in Budapest: Budapest Summer Festival

Budapest is a glorious city to visit in the summer, not only because the sun is always shining, but because the Hungarian capital hosts so many events throughout the season!

There really is something for everyone. Sziget Festival is held every August on an island in the Danube, for example, and it’s now one of Europe’s biggest and best outdoor music festivals.

The Budapest Summer Festival sees classical music concerts held in open-air venues across the city and on Margaret Island, while the Budapest Beer Festival will need little introduction. 

And then you have the outdoor baths, the alfresco dining, and so much more to experience throughout those long summer days in Budapest.

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13. Eat and Drink at Budapest’s Christmas Markets

Budapest Bucket List: Christmas Markets

Budapest is a wonderful city to visit any time of the year, but you’ll find that in the winter, things here are very different from summer. Wrap up warm because Budapest gets cold, but there will be plenty of opportunities to warm up with mulled wine and hot bowls of goulash!

The winter season sees Budapest’s central squares bursting with holiday joy as market stalls crowd the streets and impromptu concerts and carol singing events fill the city with music. You’ll love trying all the traditional food and drink on offer at this time of the year because Hungarian winter food is designed to be hearty, and it’s designed to be served piping hot.

The traditional markets pop up all over the city, from Andrassy Avenue across the Danube to Castle Hill. Rest assured, you’ll find plenty of excellent souvenirs that will make for fantastic presents back home. 

14. Escape the City with a Visit to Margaret Island

Budapest Bucket List: Margaret Island

If you’re looking to escape the city, then you don’t have to go far, because one of the best sights in Budapest is Margaret Island. Located in the middle of the River Danube, you’ll find Arpad Bridge at the northern end and Margaret Bridge at the southern end of the island. 

You can quickly reach Margaret Island by boat, tram, or just by walking over from either Pest or Buda. Once you’re there, you’ll have several square miles of beautiful urban parklands to explore. You’ll feel like you’re worlds away from the city!

There are lots of things to do on Margaret Island. You can rent a bicycle or golf cart and traverse the length of the island, you can climb the water tower for views over the city, or you can stroll through the many gardens that are all open to the public.

Best of all, Margaret Island is home to its own set of thermal swimming pools. The Palatinus Baths is an outdoor, open-air swimming pool that’s fed by thermal hot springs. There are slides, plunge pools, and fountains. Plus, the baths are open throughout the year.

15. Take in 360-Degrees Views from Liberty Statue

Fun Things to do in Budapest: Views from Liberty Statue

Are you looking for one of the best views in Budapest? Then you’ll love the 360-degree panoramic views from the Liberty Statue. This is one of the best Budapest attractions because the Liberty Statue is located high on top of Gellert Hill, and it’s here that you’ll have a complete view of all of Budapest below.

The statue itself is an impressive monument, and it was built in 1947 to commemorate all those who lost their lives fighting during the Second World War. The statue was built next to the Citadella, which saw fierce fighting and action at the end of the war.

A network of steep walking trails leads from Szechenyi Bridge and the Danube below, all the way to the top of the hill. Visit when the sun is about to set, and you’ll have colorful views over the skyline before seeing the city lit up spectacularly at night. Bring your camera because this viewpoint is one for the photographers!

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There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Budapest. What’s your favorite thing to do in Budapest?

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