This Eastern European country is a must visit if you find yourself in Europe. Its eclectic, with a diverse scene of rich history and modern architecture, gastronomy, hints of cosmopolitan and a unique nightlife. Even the Hungarian language resembles no other. Here’s our city guide of what to do when visiting Budapest, the Pearl of the Danube.
Many don’t know that Budapest is actually a unity of two towns. There’s the Buda side and there’s the Pest side – both cities connected by several beautiful bridges that really give Budapest its identity. Now what’s there to do on either side? Let’s go through the most visited places in Budapest.
Make sure to download the local transport service app taxify.eu (which is essentially the same as Uber). It makes it so much easier to get around, and you can opt to pay with a card or cash! You can always hop on the central tram that connects both towns and is quite affordable.
Where to stay
Now if you’re visiting for the first time, you want to plan your stay in Pest. It’s the “hipper side,” although most attractions are on the Buda side. Pest is the hub of cuisine, nightlife, and shopping. District V or the Jewish Quarter is the most bustling part of town and its incredibly safe!
What to do
THE BUDA SIDE
Fisherman’s Bastion– go early. go early. The magnificent terrace has been standing since 1895 and just gets prettier the more you walk through it. A maze of stairs, towers and beautifully decorated arches. There are seven distinct towers that are said to represent the 7 Magyar tribes that settled in the region over 1,200 years ago.
Matthias Church – no need to go far for this one, right at the entrance of the Fisherman’s Bastion is this lovely church. There’s a small entrance fee but well worth the walk through.
Gellert Hill – a 235 meter hill overlooking the Danube and the perfect place to see both the Buda and the Pest side. A bit of a sad story here as the hill was named after Saint Gerard who was actually thrown to death from the top. History isn’t always great, but nowadays you can walk through the large park going downhill from Gellert and onto the river boardwalk.
Buda Castle – the palace complex and historical castle of Hungarian kings was built in 1265.The best part? You can take a funicular up the castle as you begin a very long walk through the estate. Fun fact: Katy Perry’s “Firework,” music video was shot throughout the castle!
The Parliament- although you won’t necessarily go inside, the Hungarian Parliament building is one of the most iconic sites in the country. Why did I put it on the Buda side you ask? Well, the only way to get the most perfect panoramic of this massive building is from the other side of the Danube.
Elizabeth’s Lookout Tower – a stand alone tower in the middle of Janos Hill park. After quite the upward hike you reach this historic site, which is quite literally the highest point in Budapest. I later found out that I could have taken the Janos Hill Chairlift instead of the steep hike – you live and you learn.
The ELTE Botanical Garden – a botanical garden that is run by the Eötvös Loránd University and has an assortment of exotic cacti, flowers and in the summer time a massive pool of lilies!
THE PEST SIDE
Szechenyi Thermal Bath – forget how cold it is outside (& if you’re in Budapest in the summer, great), you must visit the thermal baths. Quite frankly it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
Vajdahunyad Castle – directly across the way from the thermal baths is this whimsical castle. Depending on when you’re visiting Budapest, the surrounding lake might be frozen and turned into an ice rink. Nonetheless, since you’ll be in city park – it’s worth a visit.
Heroes’ Square – a few miles from Szechenyi is the iconic statue complex of national leaders, chariots, colonnades and more.
Central Market Hall – a restored market hall that has everything from local produce, Hungarian pastries, food stalls and plenty of souvenirs. We’ve found that souvenirs we’re double the price in the market than they are on Váci Utca (Váci street). Vaci is just across the main road from the market, so either bargain wisely or just cross the street for better deals.
Shoes on the Danube – take a nice stroll on the Danube, pass the massive cruise ships and boat restaurants and reach this little memorial strip. A somber reminder of the atrocities committed during World War II. The shoes commemorate the 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews, who were executed right into the Danube.
St. Stephen’s Basilica– named in honor of Hungary’s first king, King Stephen, the Basilica is one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest. That being said, make sure to go all the way to the top, enjoy the terrace and take in a spectacular view. You can either walk a set of over 360 stairs, or pay a little extra to take the lift. Depends on how lazy you’re feeling.
House of Terror– whether you’re into history or not, the house of terror is a must visit. It’s a massive memorial to victims of communist & fascist regimes. What’s even more chilling is that the building used to actually be the headquarters of the Arrow Cross Party, and all exhibits in the basement level are preserved jail cells and execution instruments used by them.
Váci Utca – If you’re looking for some souvenirs, restaurant hopping and shopping visit the famous Váci street. It’s one of the more popular pedestrian shopping districts and is a nice way to mingle with locals and admire the architecture.
We can’t cover Budapest without sharing the beauty of the bridges connecting both Buda and Pest into the remarkable city that it is. There’s a total of seven bridges, some more known than others. Here are the ones you’ll be seeing every day!
Chain Bridge – known as the Széchenyi Lánchíd, or Széchenyi Chain Bridge, its construction began in 1840 and lasted for a whopping 9 years. You have to walk across the Chain Bridge at least once! If the massive cast-iron structure wasn’t enough of an engineering breakthrough (back-then at least), take note of the huge lion sculptures made of stone that welcome comers from both sides.
Liberty Bridge – in Hungarian it’s called Szabadság híd, and makes for a pleasant walk across as its the shorted bridge. It’s most exigent feature? Two small bronze statues of Turul – a prominent bird in ancient Hungarian mythology. Turul is pretty much a falcon like bird.
Margaret Bridge – known as Margit híd, and is the second-oldest public bridge in Budapest. Construction began in 1872 and ended in 1876. The bridge has three prongs if you will, with an embranchment towards Margaret Island.
Elizabeth Bridge – locally known as Erzsébet híd, at its end is Gellert hill and on the other side – Pest of course. It’s considered to be the “newest” bridge in Budapest, built in 1897.
Where to eat
Hungary is really a place where you can enjoy taming your hunger, with a recent explosion of gastronomy throughout the country – you can’t go wrong with food. We’ve found so many great spots, that we’re dedicating a full post to eating your way through Budapest. But here’s a glimpse of some of our favorites – because we can’t leave you hanging. Torokmez, Dobrumba, Retro Langos, and Getto Gulyas.
Don’t miss out on Budapest’s bustling nightscene. We’ve roamed the streets and found some great holes in the wall and fine outings.
Ruin Bars – there are hundreds of ruin bars in Budapest, which are essentially once abandoned establishments, buildings, warehouses, etc. that have been transformed into pubs and restaurants. Some of the notorious ones are the For Sale Pub Ruin Bar and Szimpla Kert.
High Note Sky Bar – for the most stunning views of the Basilica, the city, cozy indoor & outdoor seating and signature cocktails. Located at the top of the Aria Hotel, the High Note is a must stop.
Ice Bar– right on Váci Utca (Váci street), the Ice Bar is a nice little stop if you’re looking for a frozen experience.
Take a day trip to antique town of Szentendre – only a train ride away from downtown Budapest. Ask us about this quaint little city and we’d be happy to share our itinerary! If you’re looking for more to do in Hungary, check out this great post by our friends at Hand Luggage Only.
A personal note: If you follow TayaraMuse, you might have noticed that this isn’t my usual style of color-processing. My parents took my sister and I to Budapest on our first family trip in 2000. & while looking back at the quite vintage film developed photos, this warm edit really resonated with me. I hope you enjoy this style as much as I do.