Whenever people ask me what Budapest was like, I always say the same thing. Their streets are absolutely massive.
It might seem like an odd thing to remember Budapest for, but when you compare it to the quaint, charming, cobbled streets of Prague (the city we visited straight after), Budapest roads are absolute beasts. Just popping out of our Airbnb and to the nearest pub one street over required the endurance of an elite athlete and a post-event vitamin drip.
I sound like I’m saying Budapest was a bit of a pain. But I’m really not. It just surprised me in so many ways. Here I was expecting a historic easily-walkable city with maybe the odd thing to do here and there. But what I actually got was an historic wonderment of a city with epic proportions, filled with SO MUCH to do.
I simply wasn’t prepared for just how much there was to see and do. I could easily have spent another day or two in the city, but seeing as I’m pretty sure Airbnbs in Budapest are probably the most gorgeous in the world ever, I’ll definitely be back.
If you’re thinking of going to Budapest soon, then: great move. Here are 21 of the best things I did in Budapest so that you can make sure you can tick off EVERYTHING while you’re there.
1. Thermal Baths
Let’s kick off with the most obvious of them all: the Budapest Thermal Baths. Kasha from Lines of Escape did a much better job of getting round the thermal baths than me. I only made it to the most famous one (Széchenyi), but oh my gosh it was amazing. Busy, but amazing. It’s a complete and utter maze of inside and outside pools. The outside were my favourites though, mainly because there are so many different parts to explore, from whirl pools to mini waterfalls to old men playing chess. (Like, legit. Is it weird I kept wading past them in the pool so that I could grab footage of them on my GoPro? I’m going with no.) One pool is also warmer than the other, so you can pick and choose according to your average body temperature, WIN.
A bath ticket with a private cabin is from 5200Ft (around £13.80).
Pro tip: bring some flip flops for outside. Those stones are SHARP.
2. Hungarian Parliament Building
Oh look! Another very obvious addition to this list. But seriously – the Hungarian Parliament Building is beyond beautiful, whether you’re just having a stroll past it or going in for a guided tour (2000Ft/£5.30 for EU citizens, 5200Ft/£13.78 for non-EU citizens). From on top of Gellert Hill or Fisherman’s Bastion you can really appreciate the building’s sheer size, but for optimum viewing I’d recommend getting up close to view all its intricacies.
3. Fisherman’s Bastion
Probably my favourite place in all of Budapest, not only for its gorgeous views across Pest, but also for its fairytale vibes. Get there as early as possible so you can have it all to yourself and pretend like you’re some sort of Rapunzel basking in the morning light.
4. Heroes’ Square
Heroes’ Square (aka Hősök tere) is a bit of a bitch to get to, especially if you’re coming from the City Park side of things where there’s a MASSIVE road to contend with (remember those huge streets I mentioned…?). OK, OK, I’m obsessed, sorry. But it’s well worth the near-death experience, purely because the Square is a UNESCO World Heritage site, featuring statues of the leaders of 7 tribes who founded Hungary. It’s also rather good for a Flytographer photoshoot, if you want to take a leaf out of Monica from The Travel Hack‘s books!
5. Buda Castle
It’s hard to miss Buda Castle. Sitting atop the hill overlooking Pest, it’s such an imposing building on the bank of the river. But don’t be put off by that hill, as it’s easily accessible using the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular. So much fun it’s insane.
The Buda Castle was completed in the 13th Century and, unsurprisingly, it’s a World Heritage Site. It’s also just fun to walk around the courtyards especially when, y’know, you turn up on a Monday when the actual buildings are closed off from the public. Nice one, Em.
6. Chain Bridge
Oh heyyy, look, it’s Buda Castle peeping out behind that iconic Chain Bridge! (See what I mean when I said you can’t really miss it?)
Built in the 19th Century, the Budapest suspension bridge is one of the most recognisable features of the city. It links the Buda and Pest side for motorists and walkers (not The Walking Dead type) across the wide Danube River.
7. Hungarian State Opera House
Even if you’re not a fan of opera, don’t discount a visit to the Hungarian State Opera House. It was easily one of the best things we did, even if it was a spur-of-the-moment decision to go.
The Opera House offers daily tours at 3pm and 4pm in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. These last around 45 minutes and cost around 2,900Ft (£7.67), and you get to go sit in the stalls, visit the Royal Balcony, and wander around parts rarely seen by tourists. Easily one of the most incredible buildings I’ve visited, although I DO regret not paying a little more to sit it on a mini opera concert after the tour. Worth those extra pennies, I say.
8. City Park
On our way back from the Széchenyi thermal baths, we had a stroll through the City Park. From little cafes to duck ponds, castles and a zoo, it’s easily somewhere you could spend a whole day – if you had enough time, of course. The picture below is the lake within Budapest zoo. It’s absolutely MASSIVE.
9. Shoes on the Danube Bank
“To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45.”
The erected sign alongside the Danube says it all, but it doesn’t make the composition of 60 pairs of iron shoes any less harrowing. Created in 2005 to remember those shot into the Danube River (mainly Budapest Jews) by fascists, the composition was made even more thought-provoking by flowers that had been placed inside the shoes in the days prior to our visit.
10. House of Terror
To a History nerd like me, the House of Terror is one of the most important buildings in Budapest. The building contains many exhibits that relate to the fascist and communist regimes in 20th Century Hungary. But more than that, it’s also a memorial to victims who were detained, tortured or even killed in the building. Understandably, it can get rather intense in there, so it may not be one for the younger members of the family. The exhibitions are in-depth and comprehensive – well worth the 2,000Ft (£5.29) entrance fee per person. It’s refreshing, also, that cameras aren’t allowed inside, which just serves to absorb you in the moment, allowing you to take in the true horrors of what happened.
11. Gellert Hill
The memory of climbing Gellert Hill will forever be ingrained in my memory – because it was whilst racing my boyfriend up to the top that I realised just how unfit I really was. Because I was soooo slow it gave me a great opportunity to stop every 10 metres for pictures out across the Danube and over towards Buda Castle. And yeah, each 10 metres offers a different perspective. I would highly recommend that slow approach to climbing this beast of a hill *cough*
12. Liberty Statue
Once you’ve climbed up the top of Gellert Hill, give yourself a pat on the back and make a silent promise to yourself never to do that again. Done? Great.
Right at the top of Gellert Hill you’ll find the Liberty statue, which commemorates those who sacrificed their lives for the independence of Hungary.
13. Cat cafe
If you go anywhere in Budapest, make it the Cat Cafe. No, seriously. There’s the most gorgeous ginger. And you can buy treats to feed the cats. You’re basically turned into Snow White for the duration of your visit. I wrote a more detailed review of the Cat Cafe over here but the TL;DR version is this: There are cats and you must go.
14. Budapest Zoo
I shall forever remember Budapest Zoo for being the place where I first saw my beloved koalas IRL. Still not over that.
The 2500Ft entrance fee (around £6.61) gives you access to the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens. And there’s a lot more than just koalas to see – red pandas, crocodiles, giraffes, elephants… My boyfriend loved the zoo because it allows you to get up close to the animals without there being a million and one fences and walls in place. (It’s less public health hazard than it sounds, I promise.)
Also, did I mention the zoo has koalas?
15. Váci Street
Make no mistake about it, Váci Street is definitely designed for tourists, with restaurants and shops lining each side of it. It was here that I picked up a few mementos in the form of some colourful flowery doilies (which looked great in my Airbnb apartment, not so great in my tatty old room in Essex).
As far as streets go in Budapest, it’s actually pretty narrow! (I KNOW, WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT.) And it’s actually regularly featured in many top, uh, street lists about being one of the most attractive streets in Europe. Well worth a short walk down it, even if it is just the once!
16. Szimpla Kert Ruin Pub
Downtown Budapest is well known for its retro ruin pubs, located in formerly abandoned buildings in the city. They’re pretty much a hodge-podge of vintage decor, gardens and disco balls, with spaces to eat, drink and party into the early hours of the morning. If you’re short on time, head to the most famous of the ruin pubs, the Szimpla Kert. We secured ourselves a table for a night overlooking a small stage for people to just bring their instruments down and jam. It’s unlike anywhere else you’ll ever find in the UK – not least because at one point during the night someone came round selling peeled carrots. Picture this: me, in the middle of a cool, hipster pub, chomping down on a carrot in between glasses of wine.
It was immense.
17. Try a Kürtőskalács
Granted the below image was taken in Prague, but you get the picture. (LITERALLY, ahahaha OK I’ll stop.) Kürtőskalács is a spit cake found in Hungarian-speaking parts of Romania, but they’re also found in Hungary and Czech. Just to confuse matters even more.
But what are they? They’re basically made up of a long strip of dough wound round to form a cone. It’s topped with sugar which caramelises to form a shiny, hard crust. And it can also be topped with ingredients like walnut or (my personal favourite) cinnamon. I lost count of the number of these I ate during my week in Budapest and Prague. SO GOOD.
18. Have a wander around Buda
Listen, I’m the first to admit Pest is great. You’ve got old ruin pubs, Parliament, thermal baths… Buuuut in Buda you’ve got colourful houses. And a bright yellow post office. Sooo I think that says it all really.
19. Matthias Church
You can’t miss Matthias Church. Positioned right in front of Fisherman’s Bastion, the 14th Century Church has been the scene of many a historic moment. Like the coronation of Charles IV and the weddings of King Matthias. Y’know, back in the day.
But what I absolutely adored about Matthias Church was its colourful diamond-patterned roof – against the white-washed walls of the Fisherman’s Bastion, the roof shone under the sunlight.
20. Eat everything at the Trófea Grill
The Trófea Grill was something that was recommended to us before we flew out. We were a bit torn on where to eat one night (one of the perils of being the most indecisive couples around), so we decided to head straight here for an all-you-can-eat buffet. And it was glorious. The selection of food available was incredible, even for vegetarians like me. You’ve got a mixture of traditional Hungarian eats, plus run-of-the-mill stuff like vegetables and chips. Their red wine is incredible too – that’s my top tip.
The price depends on which day of the week you’re there and at what time. But if you head there for a weekday lunch, expect to pay around 3899Ft (around £10.31) per person.
21. Get a train to Prague
OK, technically not something to do in Budapest, but did you know you can get a direct train to Prague from there? You can get an overnight train or a 7-hour day train, but it’s worth combining the cities for an epic mini European rail tour. We went in first class and it only cost us 22,050 Ft (around £58.34) for two people one way!