10 awesome things to do in Budapest

It’s easy to fall in love with Budapest.

Made up of two cities, Buda and Pest are divided by the majestic River Danube. And although both sides are now joined by a number of spectacular bridges, they’re two very different places, each with a unique character, and each offering plenty to keep you busy.

There are so many amazing things to do in Budapest that a weekend isn’t enough time to see it all. Seriously. On our last night there, Monica and I discovered an epic area of hipster bars and restaurants, as well as some incredible vintage shopping, but we only had time for one last meal.

But the great thing about not ticking everything off your to-do list is that you have an excellent excuse to return. I’m already dreaming about a trip back there to eat and bathe my way around this stunning Hungarian city. And if you’re lucky enough to be going soon, these are the ten things you shouldn’t miss while you’re there.

#1. Relax at the thermal baths

Thermal Baths in Budapest

 

 

Bathing is a major pastime for locals as well as tourists in Budapest, and there are plenty of baths to choose from. The thermal water is warm year-round (the coolest pools are 27 degrees Celsius), so even a winter visit to Budapest means you can strip down to your togs.

The most famous of all of the baths – and also Europe’s largest medicinal bath – is Széchenyi, a sprawling Neo-baroque building that’s home to indoor and outdoor pools as well as a sauna and steam rooms. Another popular bath in Budapest is Gellert, a smaller but equally beautiful building that makes you feel a little bit like you’re swimming inside a cathedral.

 

things to do in Budapest

 

#2 Check out the views of Pest from Fisherman’s Bastion

Budapest Parliament BuildingFishermen's Bastion turretsBudapest views from Fishermen's BastionThrough the binoculars at Fishermen's Bastion in Budapest[/column]

For sweeping views of the city, head up to Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side of the river. Right across the Chain Bridge from Pest you’ll find a funicular that ascends to Buda Castle. If you’re feeling fit (or don’t fancy paying) you can climb the stairs that wind their way up the steep hill.

The effort will be worth it though, as the views are incredible! Head to Fisherman’s Bastion (and admire the multi-coloured tiles on Matthias Church while you’re there) to see the intricate Houses of Parliament, Chain Bridge, and the vibrant city of Pest from above.

 

#3. Claustrophilia

things to do in Budapest

Not your average tourist attraction, Claustrophilia is really a must-do for anyone visiting Budapest. It’s an experience, rather than a sight, but it’s one you’ll never forget. I can’t tell you much without giving things away and ruining it, but I can tell you this: you’ll love it.

Claustrophilia is challenge; a puzzle. You’re given 60 minutes to solve clues and get out of the room you’re in. Don’t worry, though – it’s not as claustrophobic as the name suggests. Nor is it jump-out-of-your-skin scary (unless, of course, your companion screams at random intervals. *cough*Monica*cough*).

I know I’m being cryptic, but trust me: the less you know before you go, the more fun you’ll have. Just promise me you’ll try it!

 

#4. Eat cake at Cafe Ruszwurm

Cafe Ruszwurm Budapest

things to do in Budapest

Cakes at Cafe Ruszwurm

One of the famous ‘Old World’ coffee houses of Budapest, Ruszwurm is a charming spot in Buda to stop for a bit of light refreshment. In the early 1900s, cafe culture was a huge part of life in the city, especially for writers and artists – the hipsters of their time.

Ruszwurm is the oldest of the Budapest cafes, and one of the few to survive the world wars. Apparently it was once so popular that the Queen of Hungary would send her staff there to buy cakes for breakfast. And the cakes really are delicious!

For a properly traditional Hungarian coffee house experience, try the seven layer cake, or dobostorte.

 

#5. Party at Szimpla Kert ruin pub

Ruin Bars in BudapestRuin pubs are one of the most unique and quirky things to try in Budapest. They are not (necessarily) a place to get ruined, despite their name. Rather, they’re ruined old buildings that have been turned into pubs and bars around the city.

The highest concentration of ruin pubs can be found in the trendy Jewish Quarter, and the most popular of all is Szimpla Kert, a derelict maze of bizarrely-decorated rooms and outdoor nooks. You’re guaranteed a night out like no other when you visit one of the ruin pubs of Budapest.

 

#6. Marvel at the interior of St. Stephen’s basilica


St Stephen's Bascilica in Budapest

things to do in Budapest

things to do in Budapest

I love visiting churches when I’m in a new destination, and in Budapest there are loads to see. My favourite was St. Stephen’s Basilica, a grand-looking building in a wide, paved courtyard that makes for excellent pictures both inside and out.

Entry is by donation of HUF 200 (around 50p), but the donation is made compulsory by the stern guy at the door gruffly muttering ‘donation’ in a thick Hungarian accent at everyone who enters. The interior is practically dripping with gold details, intricate decorations and spectacular paintings – be sure to look up to see the kaleidoscopic cupolas.

 

#7. Try traditional Hungarian goulash at the Opera House

Goulash in Hungary

things to do in Budapest 

Opera House Cafe Budapest

Traditional Hungarian food is hearty and warm – perfect for the country’s long winters. There’s a noticeable absence of fruit and veg on menus around the city, but you can always order sides if you’re craving a few more vitamins. Goulash is one of the most popular dishes, and you’ll find it all around Budapest.

My favourite place to eat this rich beef stew is in the Opera House, a grand building located on Andrassy Utca. This shopping street is lined with old majestic architecture, and the Opera House is no exception. The cafe, furnished with plush red leather chairs and gleaming marble tiles, also serves an enticing collection of jewel-coloured cakes.

It’s OK, you can walk it all off while shopping later.

 

#8. See the Parliament building up close

Parliament Building in Budapest

things to do in Budapest

things to do in Budapest

One of Budapest’s icons is the Neo-Gothic Parliament building, often photographed from across the river at Fisherman’s Bastion. But it’s even more spectacular up close. The third largest parliament building in the world, it’s over 100 years old and is home to over 20 kilometres of stairs! The Hungarian politicians must all be pretty fit.

You can see the inside of this limestone building if parliament isn’t in session, for a fee of around HUF 2,000 (double it if you’re not an EU citizen – sorry). I didn’t get to see the interior, but I hear it’s unbelievable. Either way though, the outside is beautiful and well worth inspecting up close.

 

#9. Eat & drink to your heart’s content in Gozsdu Udvar

things to do in Budapest

things to do in Budapest

Foodies, listen up: head straight to the city’s Jewish quarter and find Gozsdu Udvar (or Gozsdu Courtyard). Here you’ll find old passageways packed with hipster bars, restaurants and pubs, each with a menu more mouthwatering than the last.

We visited Spiler (said to be worth the flight to Budapest alone – and while I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that statement, the food was pretty flipping good) for a beer and burger and kicked ourselves for not discovering the area sooner.

Learn from our mistakes. Go there first.

#10. Coffee at New York Cafe

New York Cafe

New York Cafe Budapest
things to do in Budapest
things to do in Budapest

SO many people told us we should try this cafe, so after a supremely early photoshoot and a bit of relaxing in the waters of Széchenyi, we figured we deserved a treat. New York Cafe, tucked inside the Boscolo Hotel, has been called the most beautiful cafe in the world, and I struggle to disagree. It’s like the inside of a palace, or a really fancy theatre, and it’s full of tourists gaping at the beauty.

Although it’s definitely worth a visit for its looks alone, the food and service aren’t great – especially for the higher-than-average prices. Grab a coffee here and enjoy the four levels of opulence, but go elsewhere for breakfast.

Have you visited Budapest? What else would you add to this list?

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things to do in Budapest

10 awesome things to do in Budapest

Here are some great tours you could do while you’re in Budapest.

Elle Croft

Elle Croft is a London-based travel blogger who is equally happy exploring the city she lives in as venturing to far-flung destinations. She's a firm believer in stylish travel, and will always look for a twist on the traditional. Luckily for her, London offers unusual experiences in abundance. When Elle's not travelling or blogging over at A Bird in the Hand you can usually find her, coffee in one hand and camera in another, strolling the beautiful streets of the city she calls home.

SHOWHIDE Comments (26)
  1. A friend of mine was in Budapest a while ago and told me it was so dull and few things to do & see. Your blogpost really saved my opinion of this City, and now I can’t wait to See it soon!
    Yours,
    LifeLovingLydia

  2. I’m German and have never made it to Budapest until now. Such a shame. Your post increases my desire to go to Budapest. Probably not this year as I’m based in Mexico now but I hopefully make it there one day, I’m convinced that I will fall in love easily as well 🙂

  3. The Claustrophilia room escape game is great indeed. Budapest is the best place for playing this real life riddle-solving escape game thing. There are so many options to choose from. I’ve been to 4 places and want to try out more. So much fun!

    I’d also add Hungarian wine to your list. If you visit Hungary in the summer, I recommend going to lake Balaton (2 hours by train from Budapest), there are awesome wine festivals around. The festivals are about 1 week long, so it’s worth checking the dates before you go, but you will surely find a town with a wine festival in it on any given week of the summer. You can taste the best Hungarian wines there.

    And you can find some great music festivals as well, the biggest and most popular one is the Sziget Festival in August. It’s in Budapest, on an island (sziget means island in Hungarian).

    And if you take the public transportation, you can easily get to Szentendre (in 40 minutes), which is a beautiful old town by the Danube river with great restaurants and narrow old streets. It reminds me of Rome, such a beautiful place to explore. You can try out “langosh” there, which is a traditional Hungarian food, it’s like a salty, pizza-like donut with sour cream and cheese on top.

    Sorry for the long comment. I used to live in Budapest for 10 years but I moved abroad. I’m pretty excited to go back for a visit soon. I still love the city so much. 🙂

  4. What a great round-up of a wonderful city! Wish we’d known about Gozsdu Udvar before though…sounds like our kind of area! I’d also add the free walking tour as as a great thing to do for first timers…We learnt do much and even picked up a few words of the notoriously difficult language!

  5. I loved Szimpla! I also visited ‘Buda Bed’, a cinema that had beds instead of normal chairs! It’s ruined going to the cinema for me now, having a bed to stretch out on is so much more comfy!

  6. Oh my lawd! This list looks perfect. I’ve been looking to go here for ages and this is definitely an awesome start to work through. Thanks!

  7. I must admit I’m not a big fan of Budapest. I’ve been there some 10 times and still don’t really feel it. But I’m willing to give it another chance, just for the cafes and bars, those look and sound so cool in your post!

  8. Just a short correction to this amazing post:
    Traditional goulash is a soup!.. But the picture and the description clearly represents pörkölt, which is the correctly mentioned beef stew.
    Other than that I loved the article!

    1. Ah OK, thanks for the update. This was named goulash on the menu and was similar to another goulash at another restaurant – maybe they’re simplifying it for us tourists?

  9. Hello! I will travell soon to Budapest and this article is fascinating, I can’t wait to be there and see all of these amazing stuffs! What kind of transfer could you recommend from the airport to the centre? I m arriving late at nigth… is the public transport availbe? Or should i take taxis, or transfer. what about uber today? i heard someting bad news about it… is that true? thank you very much for your help!

    1. Taxis are very affordable in Budapest so I’d just take a taxi. They’ll be waiting outside and it’s quick and easy. Just remember to have the address for your hotel in case your taxi driver doesn’t know where it is.

  10. Just a 7 hour ride from Budapest, is Prague, the thirs most important city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
    If you visit Prague its worth exploring the local historical architecture.
    For me walking through the streets of historical Prague, is like walking through a gallery of all major European architectural styles, spanning a thousand years of architectural history in enchanting colors and shapes and, it is interesting to discover how these splendid buildings shaped the history of the Czech Republic and in contrast, how history shaped the designs of many of these buildings and what they came to symbolize in an historical context.

    In the historical center of Prague you can walk past the Municipal House, the Art Nouveau jewel of Prague, that is covered in floral motives, gilded wroth iron curved around beautifully shaded stain glass.

    And continue through the Gothic and neo-Gothic styled powder tower going to the Celetna street , covered with Baroque palaces with Gothic interiors and Renaissance courts yards. On the way you encounter the unique Cubist house at the Black Madonna with its straight angular lines, then continues on to the medieval Ungelt compound with its Renaissance palace , past the heavily Baroque St, James Church and into the Old town Square with its legendary Astronomical clock. Which is followed by the Art Nouveau Jewish Quarters with its ancient synagogues.

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