Elegant like Paris, cosmopolitan and alternative like Berlin, and a favourite amongst solo travellers – Budapest, the pearl of the Danube, is a magical city that should be at the top of every travel bucket list.
Here is a list of our top 15 things to do in Budapest. Forget the usual tourist traps and overpriced attractions. Head off the beaten path and discover Budapest’s true personality and charm. Whether it’s for a weekend away or a longer visit, you won’t be stuck for things to do after reading this list!
1. Visit the Terror Haz (House of Terror)
The House of Terror is as spine-tingling as the name suggests, but it is worth visiting when you’re in Budapest. It was formerly a political prison which has now been converted into a museum. Learn more about the fascist and communist regimes of 20th-century Hungary, and pay your respects to the fallen. The museum is also a memorial to the victims of these regimes.
2. Spend a couple of hours relaxing at the spa
Budapestians are huge fans of thermal spas. It’s quite normal for locals to spend a couple of hours a week relaxing in a spa. The Romans first colonized Budapest because of its proximity to natural thermal springs, and the city has kept its reputation of being the “City of Spas” ever since. Visiting a spa is perhaps one of the most relaxing things to do in Budapest! You’ll find many of them scattered around the city but Széchenyi, Rudas and Gellert are by far the most popular.
3. Go ice skating in City Park
Ice skating is one of the best things to do in Budapest in the wintertime. The temperature in Budapest during the winter hovers around 0°C, and the city is often seen covered in a layer of glistening snow. The summer is a different story. The park near Heroes’ Square is a beautiful green oasis during the warmer months – it’s definitely worth a visit at any time of year.
4. Learn how to Hungarian folk dance
Right foot, left foot…and twirl! Two-step into traditional Moldovan culture by learning the Csángó East Hungarian folk dance. Dance amongst locals at the Csángó Festival which takes place every year during the Carnival season (between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday). Let loose and enjoy this fun activity in Budapest.
5. Party in the sky at Corvintető
Climb up the Corvin shopping centre, and enjoy a drink on the magnificent terrace that overlooks the city. The rooftop location hosts legendary parties and boasts an unparalleled view of the city. If you’re looking to spend an evening in Budapest doing something a bit more low-key, they also host cinema nights.
6. Go for a stroll along the river
The city comes alive at night, especially along the river. After dinner, use the river as your guide and head towards the beautifully lit building of the Parliament. It’s the perfect way to spend a romantic evening in Budapest. The river was once seen as the separation of two places, Buda and Pest, but now it is the glue that holds Budapest together. If you don’t fancy walking, you can rent a boat and cruise down the river in style.
7. Spend the day exploring Buda Castle
The palatial Buda Castle is a sprawling royal complex made for the Hungarian Kings of Budapest. It’s one of the best things to do in Budapest on a budget because the courtyards are free to visit at any time, and the gates are never closed. Not even at night. If you want to see the castle from afar, it looks much better when viewed from the Pest side of the city – especially after dark when the whole castle is lit up.
8. Stop by the Fisherman’s Bastion
While you’re visiting the Buda Castle (tip #7), head up to the Fisherman’s Bastion inside the castle grounds. The unique panorama and exquisite views of the city below will make the walk up worth it – we promise!
9. Check out the Hungarian National Museum
The national museum of history, art, and archaeology is worth spending a few hours in, if you have the time. The building contains an impressive sweeping staircase and is architecturally stunning. Once you’ve absorbed everything there is to see inside, head outside to the gardens to find the statue of Garibaldi.
10. See the statues in Memento Park
Just outside of the city is Memento Park, considered an open-air museum because of the statues and works of art in its grounds. This is an ideal thing to do in Budapest when the sun is behaving itself, as the open-air gardens are a beautiful spot for enjoying a walk. The statues are from Hungary’s communist era, and are a complete contrast to the surrounding gardens. See if you can spot the statues of Lenin, Marx, and Engels while you’re there.
11. Hop on a tram and go back and forth along the Danube
Hopping on a tram is a wonderfully peaceful way to travel through the city of Budapest, at your own pace. Hop off whenever you see a sight or neighbourhood you want to explore, and then continue on your way! It’s one of the best things to do in Budapest if you don’t already have a plan in mind. Just see where the tram takes you!
12. Grab a train out of Budapest and spend a day in Szentendre
Want to escape all the noise and commotion of the city? Grab a train out of Budapest and spend a day in the charming village of Szentendre. A truly magical day-trip from Budapest – It’s known for its baroque architecture, churches, colorful houses and narrow, cobbled streets.
13. Stroll down Andrassy Ut.
Known as the Champs-Élysées of Budapest, this beautiful boulevard is full of retro cafés, high-end boutiques and fabulous restaurants. Take your time strolling down Andrassy Ut, taking in the enormous villas and chic townhouses as you go. Whilst most of us won’t be able to afford a house on this road, there are plenty of beautiful places to stop for a bite to eat without taking out an eye-watering mortgage.
Szimpla is an old factory that has been converted into a huge pub (the third most beautiful pub in the world according to Lonely Planet). Its trendy décor of mismatched items makes this place an utterly unique place in Budapest. Colourful lamps swing from the ceiling, brass bath tubs line the walls waiting for people to climb inside, and a disused Trabant car is parked in the garden, with a table and chairs inside. If you’re a lover of alternative nightlife, you’ll love this place.
15. Sziget Festival
If you’re travelling to Budapest in August, don’t miss out on Sziget Festival. It’s located on an island just north of Budapest and is a huge, sprawling music festival with sets from some of the biggest names in the music industry. Past lineups include Ed Sheeran, Arctic Monkeys and Rihanna. There’s even a little beach to cool off in after all that dancing under the summer sun. Remember to book your festival tickets and your hotel in Budapest (for after the festival) well in advance as they sell out extremely fast.
So, there you have it, our 15 favourite things to do in Budapest. Are you ready to explore this beautiful city for yourself?