What to See and Do in Budapest (and what to skip)
This is a wrap-up post on our 2 months in Budapest. Lots of photos as well as our recommendations on what to see and do. I also cover attractions that you might want to skip – while there are some great tourist highlights in Budapest there are also some “must see’s” that we weren’t particularly impressed with. Our list might help you prioritize your time.
First some of our favorite photos from 2 months in Budapest. Most of these will show up on our list of essential sights:
Looking for accommodation in Budapest? My preferred area is around the Astoria area (you’re centrally located and in walking distance to the Old Town sights as well as the ruin bars). An excellent budget suggestion is K9 Residence. Two great Mid-range options are City Centrum Apartman and Roombach Hotel Budapest Center. An excellent High-end option is the InterContinental Budapest.
Flights. Budapest Airport is officially called Ferenc Liszt International Airport (airport code: BUD) and is 16 km from the city center. You can take city bus 100E which runs between the airport and the main square in Budapest (Deák Ferenc tér). If looking for an airport hotel, I recommend Ibis Styles Budapest Airport (we’ve stayed here a few times and it’s perfect when you have a night between flights).
What to See and Do (and what you can skip)
1) Do the Hop on/Hop off tour. Budapest is spread out and it’s a great way to get orientated with the city. With your ticket you get 2 bus lines (essentially the same), a night tour, a walking tour, as well as a cruise. Good value. We did it our first weekend and we spent 2 days riding the open deck buses.
2) Go to Castle Hill. You can take the funicular up but you can also walk (very easy 10 minutes). Walk around the Royal Palace. It’s beautiful and you’ll have great views of the river below. If you like art, see the National Gallery which is in the palace. It’s really worth it. Pay a little extra for the photo ticket, they seem to be very militant about not allowing you to take photos otherwise. When you’re finished, walk to Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church (right next to each other). It’s a beautiful area and you’ll have great views of Budapest.
3) Cross the Chain Bridge (you can do that after having done Castle Hill) and continue to St. Stephen’s Basilica. It’s the most important Catholic church in Hungary. Make sure to go up to the Dome for spectacular views of the city.
4) After St Stephen’s Basilica, walk towards Parliament, going through Freedom Square. You’ll see the Soviet Army Memorial, a statue of Ronald Reagan as well as some beautiful buildings around the square. Continue on to Parliament. The Square in front of Parliament is gorgeous and if you walk around you’ll get great views of both the Parliament building and the river. You can take a guided tour of Parliament, just make sure to pre-book (see here)
5) In the evening, go up to the Citadella on Gellert Hill. There you’ll get the best views of the city. Note: walk across the Elizabeth Bridge to the base of the hill. You’ll see steps – following those steps will bring you up to the top of the hill. Bring a flashlight – when you come back down in the dark there is almost no lighting on the path.
6) Go to a Thermal Bath. In the summer, I suggest the Szechenyi Baths in city park (the metro brings you right in front of the baths). If weather conditions not so great, go to the Rudas Baths. They were our favorite baths. Rudas has a nighttime session from 10pm – 4 am on Friday and Saturday nights which are a lot of fun. If you show up around midnight you’ll see very few people. Pre-book a visit to Szechenyi Baths – worth doing if you’re coming in the summer (lines tend to be long).
7) There are 2 synagogues to see in the Jewish Quarter; the Great Synagogue is the 2nd largest synagogue in the world. They promote a tour. But you don’t have to do that – just pay an entrance ticket (3000 Forints). The signage within the synagogue (and museum) are excellent. A few blocks away, the Orthodox Synagogue gets no tourists and is really colourful. Very unique.
8) Go to a Ruin Bar. We recommend Szimpla Kert and Instant. Post on Budapest’s Best Ruin Bars.
9) See a couple of Budapest’s Coffee Houses. We recommend the Alexandra Bookstore Café and the New York Café. Post on Budapest’s Most beautiful Cafés.
10). Take a long walk up Andrassy Avenue. Stop at the Opera House. Maybe have a drink at Bar 360 which has nice views. Further up, at the end of the Avenue, see huge Heroes Square.
11) Take a river cruise, preferably at night. We didn’t do it, we procrastinated and ended up running out of time. Budapest at night is beautiful, especially along the river. The best of the tours is this one (it’s super cheap).
The above are “Essentials”, the things you have to do in Budapest.
Additional Things to See and Do if you have more time.
1) Go the the Central Market Hall. You can try out some Hungarian specialty foods and do some souvenir shopping. See my post here on a self made “Taste Hungary inspired Budapest food tour”(it’ll save you big bucks) which includes the Central Market Hall.
2) Vaci street is the main tourist stretch in Budapest. It has many bars and restaurants as well as designer stores. All very expensive. But it also has many historic buildings and culminates at Vorosmarty Ter, a pretty square.
3) Margaret Island is a very pretty park that also contains ruins and some beautiful gardens. You can rent a bike or some weird paddle cars. If you have time this is a nice spot to have a picnic and enjoy the weather in the summer.
4) Vasarely Museum. If you like visual art, this museum is great. We didn’t include it above because it won’t appeal to the masses. Varasely was a famous Hungarian artist known for graphic design and visual illusion. More.
5) Walk along Erzsebert Krt. It has some incredible buildings including the Boscolo Hotel (home of the above mentioned New York Café).
6) Keleti train station has been in the news lately. But it is a beautiful train station worth seeing.
7) See the bridges. In addition the the Chain bridge, you can have nice walks and great views on the Liberty Bridge, Elizabeth Bridge, and Margaret bridge.
8) Take a Tram ride. Tram #2 is recommended. Get on close to the Margaret bridge, the end of the line. The tram will go around the Parliament building and continue along the river.
9) The Terror Museum covering Nazi but mostly the Soviet occupation of Budapest. Not our favorite but if you are unfamiliar with the history it is worth visiting. On the above mentioned Andrassy Avenue.
Things you can skip
1) The Hungarian National Museum. A beautiful building but the narrative is built around the pieces they have on display and we thought it was disjointed and poorly written. You’ll be yawning in no time. Come only if you really love history and have a lot of time on your hands.
2) Momento Park has many old statues from the Soviet Communist era. Instead of throwing them out, they brought them out to this park in the suburbs of the city. It is ok but we were underwhelmed and the visit doesn’t justify the 30 minute bus ride out or the cost. If you do decide to go: the park has a bus that leaves everyday at 11am from Deak Ferenc Ter.
3) All the guides say that you have to go to Gerbeau Café. As mentioned in my post on Budapest Cafés, it is very touristy, over-priced, and not the most spectacular of Budapest Cafés. Visit the Alexandra Bookstore Café or the New York Café instead.
Related: Budapest Travel Guide: “A Perfect Day in Budapest”
Related: Things to See and Do in Eger (Hungary)
Related: Is Krakow overrated?
PS. Looking to book flights, hotels, tours, or rent a car? Have a look at our Travel Resources page.
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I am so so happy to have found your blog! Today finally I booked my first ever trip to Budapest after about 10 years of putting in on the back-burner. Please consider yourselves my personal coaches for all things Budapest planning related! I have deep-dived into this post, your food tour post, and your post of most beautiful cafes. I am already closely following some of your other articles to coach me through planning my next trip – San Miguel de Allende + Guanajuato! Thanks for your great work!!
Thank you for the kind words Trish 🙂 I hope you enjoy Budapest! As far as Mexico goes, you’ll love SMA and Guanajuato. Just came back from yet another trip there (my mom lives in SMA). I have lots more on Mexico, one of my favorite countries.
Write me personally if you ever have any questions!
Thanks for the walk down Budapest memory lane. We stayed 5 nights in 2017 and the thing I remember most is how bloody hot it was. It was August and the day temps never dropped below 102+ We made the most of our days, but we did spend a few “heat of the day” hours hiding in our a/c apartment binge watching Netflex until it was safe to go out again after the sun went down. I don’t do well in extreme heat so it was hard for me but I (we) loved the city.
We did take a tour of the great synagogue and it turned out well. Our guide was a young man who told the story of his grandfather who destroyed all of their family documents to protect them from future atrocities. I also was very moved by the shoe memorial.
There’s always so many new places to discover, but I hope to return to Budapest for a long stay. But NOT in the summer. 🙂
Thank you! It is not an adventure we want to relive!
I am grateful to have stumbled upon your blog yesterday. You have so many great insights. My husband and I are returning to Budapest after spending less than 48 hours there 2 years ago with our daughter. Traveling through Europe with the three of us for a month , we were able to get by using only wifi. The only place this was an issue was in Budapest when my husband took off for the morning to hike due to not being able to communicate via cell and miscommunication we ended up in the only fight of our trip and lost most of our day in Budapest. He is making good on a promise to bring me back at the end of February, but I think we should get SIM cards in Budapest to mitigate this event happening in the future. I understand the process is confusing in Budapest, do you have any insights you can share?
It’s actually quite easy – just go to Vodafone. We usually get a card for a month (because we usually stay in a place for a while) and the monthly charge for the most basic card is about $20 Canadian (approx $15 US these days). We wouldn’t dream of travelling without a SIM card anymore.
Hi Guys! Me and my wife running a small apartman in the Downtown of Budapest (5th District,next to the Elisabeth Bridge) and we often give tips and advices for our guests about what to see or what to skip. When I read through this post I found that you have 90% the same perspective as we have, about this city. As a Hungarian couldn’t agree more. 🙂 Great pictures, clever insights. Yes, the Memento Park is not worth the tour out to the nowhere…and the House of Terror is also needs a special mood (or interest) to enjoy… By the way, have you tried any of the “escape games” in Budapest? Beside of the ruin pubs this phenomenon is the next big thing for the tourists who want to try something special.
Thanks Miki! Honestly we haven’t tried the escape games despite having had a few offers to sample them for free. The idea doesn’t particularly interest us – but maybe it is something we have to give a chance. Have you tried one in Budapest that you particularly recommend?
Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
great photos! cool so now you need to keep up with your workout!:)
This is to day thank you !
Thank you 🙂
After a week of sightseeing it is the people and food that drives you forward and brings you back.
It seems you are coming around to my comments before 🙂
Hey, I always say the same!! Totally agree that its the people and food that brings you back. You’re taking the words out of my mouth 🙂
The only thing I argue with you about is visiting places because of something I want to see. I still want to see certain places. But, as you say, its the food and people that make places special and make you want to come back.
very nice pictures! Each of them is somehow different and shows the beauty of the city! 🙂
Thank you for taking time to comment, appreciate it 🙂
These are some nice photos! I’m not sure though whether I should visit Hungary or Romania. You’ve been posting a lot of photos from Brasov on your facebook page – I just love them and I got so excited about Romania! Any chance about a post from Brasov? 😉 Are you going to see Sighisoara too?
Hi Tom. Sorry, I’ve been catching up on Budapest and we’ve been in Brasov 2 weeks and I haven’t posted anything yet. This week, promise!
I personally prefer Hungary 😉
Why do you prefer Hungary? I love this kind of a bit forgotten, a bit neglected medieval places. I haven’t been to Budapest but I’m more a fan of towns rather than huge metropolises so that’s why I’m excited about Romania. Are you going to Sighisoara?
We just felt that we related more to Hungarians. Its been hard to connect with the people here than in Budapest where we found people outgoing. That could be a small town vs big city thing…but Brasov. although pretty, hasn’t made us fall in love. I’ll explore that more in the next little while on some Brasov posts. Still trying to think through our feelings.
I’m not sure about Sighisoara. We have one weekend left and depends on the weather…which has generally been miserable.
Oh so maybe the weather is also the factor. From your photos, I really liked Brasov, seems interesting. But I understand you, in the post-communist countries people seem more rude and straightforward than in the west. I think I just got used to it 🙂 I’m thinking that if you didn’t like Romania much, you might not like Albania either – because it’s also quite chaotic. But the nature, the coast and sea in Albania is first class. However, some of the best places are not known and not that easy to get to…
It’s not that we don’t like Romania – but I wouldn’t say that we are in love with it, at least not enough to spend more than the month we’ll have been here (more time than most people visiting would ever spend). And I know, we’re been through almost all the Balkan countries by now so we’re familiar with the colder general attitudes. Even in beautiful Croatia they’re not always friendly.
Anyway, we’re straying on these comments. Give me a week or so and I’ll have a lot on Brasov 🙂 . Still need a bit of time to get our thoughts and feelings together.
Thanks for this post. I’ve never been anywhere in Europe except for Greece and the more I see photoblog posts like this the more I want to visit.
The cafes, the museums, the baths, they all sound amazing. I love the idea of getting a city orientation through the hop on/off bus and it sounds like amazing value with the tours included.
It’s funny that the best thing you guys did was join a gym but I suppose activities like this are great ways to interact with locals. We did something similar when we took salsa classes in Colombia and it was fantastic.
One day we’ll be in Europe and we’ll look back on this post as another source of our inspiration and wanderlust.
Thanks again for the lovely photos.
Love from Manila,
Thanks Mark for the comment.
We’re slow travellers so we’re not on vacation – we live as we would at home: working during the day, doing groceries, and going to the gym. It also means interacting everyday with ordinary people outside the tourism industry. Which is good because they’re just living their lives and not making it their mission to screw you over. For us it’s these interactions and friendships that shape how we end up feeling about a place.
Hope you get to Europe. So much to see and so much variety within a relatively small region.
I have never commented before but I just love when I check my email and there is a new post from you so I had to comment to let you know that I love your blog! It is so truthful and inspirational which I really appreciate. My husband and I are taking 1 month off work next summer. We are in our 30-40s and it will be our first time in Europe. We don’t have all the kinks worked out but I think we are doing Prague, Budapest, Slovenia and Croatia with a side trip to Mostar and Kotor. It will be a little rushed with only 3-4 days in most places but we don’t have the luxury of time. Thank you very much for all your helpful insight.
This is just the most perfect comment and I really appreciate it. Many who comment are other bloggers and that’s fine, they’re always full of feedback and tips. But when a reader who’s not a blogger comments back positively its the greatest feedback (versus some who’ll only comment if I’ve somehow managed to offend them). So thanks Jessica 🙂
You are going to have a great time, these are all great cities and countries. And it’ll be rushed but you can fall asleep at your desk when you come home 🙂 That’s what we used to do when we worked the 9-5.
Keep in touch and let me know if ever I can help you with anything.
Natascha from Westwards
Great pictures and great tips for Budapest sightseeing! Glad to see that the Vasarely museum and the Orthodox Synagogue made it on the list :-).
Yes, thanks to you guys! Lissette tells me whenever you have a suggestion on facebook and then we keep it in mind when we’re looking something a little lesser known to explore. They were both good recommendations!
Sarah (Jetsetting Fools)
Great photos! There is so much to love in Budapest and you nailed the highlights!