Budapest, Hungary is fast becoming a travel favourite for anyone visiting Europe. It truly is one of the most romantic and beautiful cities on the continent. Dave and I have been fortunate enough to visit Budapest on two separate occasions and we’ve complied a list of our favourite things to do in Budapest.
We were in Budapest once in the winter and once in the summer. Both times of the year are beautiful. As a matter a fact, Budapest has a very popular Christmas market. In the months of November and December it’s a thriving tourist destination and many river cruises visit. Having spent quite a bit of time exploring the city, we thought we’d share some of our favourite things to see and do in the beautiful Danube River cities known as Buda and Pest.
Make sure to pick up a Lonely Planet guide book to help you plan your Budapest Trip.
Things to do in Budapest
Take a Danube River Cruise
There is nothing more romantic than watching the lights of the city from a the Danube River. Many week-long river cruises go through Budapest and that is how a lot of people see the city, but you can take dinner and sunset cruises in Budapest as well. If you do a river cruise, we suggest booking a cruise at night to see the lights of Budapest. It truly is beautiful once the sun goes down.
Want a closer look at the Parliament Building? Check out this skip-the-line guided tour of the Budapest Parliament Building through Get Your Guide.
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Heroes Square can be found at the end of Andrássy Avenue: an excellent walking street. Heroes Square is one of the world’s oldest squares. The Millennium Monument in the centre of the square surrounded by statues honoring the seven chieftains of the Hungarian tribes who conquered the area now known as Hungary.
Enjoying Things to do in Budapest? Check out a Tour Through Budapest’s Communist Past
Enjoy a Thermal Bath
The most famous is the Széchenyi Bath and it’s located just a 5 minute walk from Hero’s Square through City Park. A trip to Budapest wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Thermal Baths. Hence the reason we have to go back! The city is filled with hot springs and you can experience authentic Turkish Baths here. Since we came directly from Turkey to Budapest, we skipped the baths, but we still regret it to this day. Things can get busy during peak season. Buy tickets in advance and skip the line.
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This Russian monument honours the soldiers of the Red Army who died during the liberation Budapest from the Nazis. It is ironically located directly across from the US embassy and a statue of Ronald Reagan stands on the other side of it. Reagan played a key roll in putting an end to communism in the Soviet Union.
Well, it wasn’t the first thing I thought to do when looking for things to do in Budapest, I mean, who would have thought there’d be a statue of an American President. But Ronald Reagan played an intricate part in the fall of Communism and Budapest is communist no longer. So, while you are visiting the Russian monument, check out the statue of Ronald Reagan while you are there. It’s an odd site but a fun photo spot.
Speaking of politics, something you must do in Budapest is probe further into its communist past. Just a short walk from the Ronald Reagan statue you’ll find another noteworthy monument of Imre Nagy. This statue of a man standing on a bridge looking over to the Parliament Buildings longing for freedom attracts crowds each day on walking tours to learn about the city’s communist past. He led the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and was executed for Treason two years later. This monument symbolizes the difficult road to freedom.
The House of Terror Museum
The House of Terror is a memorial to those who fought and died during the Communist era of Budapest. It was the former headquarters of the Nazis and was used as a prison. Many atrocities happened behind these walls.
Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica is one of Hungary’s most significant tourist attractions and a site you must see when planning your things to do in Budapest. Can you believe it is the third highest building in the country? We’re not huge church goers and there is a back story to this place, but honestly we didn’t listen to much. It was pretty though! You can find out more about it here.
Take a free walking tour
A free walking tour of Budapest is an excellent way to learn about the history. We took a walk with Get Your Guide’s free walking tour where we met at Vörösmarty Tér in central Budapest. (The meeting point was the white lion.) As advertised it is a free tour and guides make their money off of tips. Whatever you feel it is worth, you pay. They are great guides and it doesn’t feel like a free tour at all. They’re working hard for your tips and it’s polite to give them something useful.
As an alternative, try a bike tour of Budapest instead.
One of the coolest things to do in Budapest is to hire a Trabant Car. A chauffeur will drive you around town and let me tell you, when people see you in this car, they are going to wave and laugh and point. This was the big car of choice during the Communist era of Budapest and many people will have fond memories of owning their first Trabant. It’s a tank and it sounds like one. It was known as “The Paper Jaguar” back in the day. Some tours, like this one, will even let you drive the car!
Get around Budapest with a 24, 48 or 72 hour Budapest Card. It also offers free entry to a thermal spa and other discounts. Details here.
Walk along the Chain Bridge
The Budapest Chain Bridge was the first bridge to connect the towns of Buda and Pest. Spanning across the Danube River, this bridge is a thing of beauty. It’s a pleasant stroll across the bridge giving you a view of both sides and down the river. But make sure to walk it at night when the bridge is all lit up. Behind the bridge is Buda Castle another site not to be missed!
Go to a Ruin Pub
Ruin pubs are funky and trendy bars that have popped up in previous abandoned buildings. They’re decorated with old eclectic furniture, ruin pubs are where the hipsters and cool cats hang out, listen to music and have some drinks. This is where you should too!
Eat at the Gundel Restaurant
The Gundel Restaurant dates back to 1894, and is considered one of the pioneers of Hungarian gastronomy. It is the premier traditional restaurant in Budapest and if you want to savour authentic Hungarian cuisine in an historic grand fashion. This is the place to do it.
The covered Central Market Hall is an excellent spot to shop for souvenirs and nick naks. From here you can escape the cold in winter and heat in summer and it’s bustling with shops and eateries and a lot of places to buy meat and cheese. It’s the largest indoor market in Budapest. Located right at the river, ships used to sail right into the market back in the day.
Dig a little deeper into the history of the market and Budapest’s food culture with a fun and tasty food tour.
Gellert Hill Liberty Statue
Gellert Hill offers great views of the city and the Danube. There is also a monument paying tribute to the Soviet soldiers who liberated the city from the Nazis. Erected in 1947, it’s a good place to explore just outside the city on the here’s a cave church, old army barracks, the citadel and the Gellert monument to see up there.
Views from Fisherman’s Bastion
Located above Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion is an excellent spot to take in city views. It’s also a great walking destination with a fairytale setting. Seeing Budapest from above is an excellent way to take in the beauty of the city. It’s a unique location with beautiful buildings on either side of the river. It’s no wonder so many people are falling in love with Budapest.
A great way to explore Gellert Hill, Fisherman’s Bastion, Castle Hill, and more is by taking a Budapest sightseeing tour.
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