In a short 48 hour visit, Budapest quickly became my favorite European city. Whether you travel for history, culture, the food, the relaxation or more, Budapest has something special waiting for you!
The capital of Hungary shows off a unique mix of influences from the Romans, Magyars, Turks, Austrians, and Soviets. It also features a wide variety of architectural styles that will have you in awe at every new turn. Today I am sharing the top experiences you must have on your first trip to Budapest!
1. Admire the Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament Building is the largest building in Hungary and the tallest in Budapest. It is also the third largest Parliament building in the world and the most expensive building in the country. It is built in an ornate Gothic Revival style and boasts 691 rooms, 10 courtyards, and 29 staircases.
It is pretty from the outside, but you can take a tour inside to see the Hungarian Crown Jewels and the Holy Crown. I would recommend booking a ticket in advance to avoid long lines at one of the most popular tourist sites in the city. Also check it out at night from across the Danube river when it is majestically lit up.
2. Soak in a thermal bath
Budapest is on top of over 100 natural thermal hot springs and is dubbed the ‘city of spas’. There are many baths throughout the city but the two most popular are Gellért, decorated in art nouveau style, and Széchenyi, a large and Neo-baroque Neo-Renaissance building.
This is a calming and therapeutic experience. You can also add on a variety of relaxing services such as massages, pedicures, mud treatments and more. I would recommend visiting earlier in the morning when it tends to be less crowded. The baths are warm enough no matter what time of the year you visit and you can find them both indoors and outdoors.
3. Crawl through the ruins bars
Shabby chic made cool! Ruins bars are quirky and eclectic, unlike any other bars you’ll see in the world. They came about when abandoned buildings were left to decay in the Jewish Quarter after World War II.
Szimpla Kert was the first ruins bar that started the trend when it opened in 2001. Instant is the largest in the city and covered in crazy animal pictures. Fogasház is smaller, more low key and less touristy. You can even take part in an official, organized pub crawl to visit a wide variety!
4. Visit St. Stephen's Basilica
St. Stephen's Basilica is a Roman Catholic church created in the neoclassical style. There is no cost to enter the church, but for beautiful, panoramic views of Budapest, take the elevator up to the dome’s observation deck for a HUF 600 donation (About $2 USD). Classical music and organ concerts are also commonly held here. Since this is a holy site, you need to be sure to keep your knees and shoulders covered.
5. Try the hearty Hungarian cuisine
Goulash (Gulyás) is the most famous food of Hungary - a hearty stew made of meat and vegetables, and loaded with paprika. I recommend Vagon restaurant or Gettó Gulyás for a taste. Another classic dish is Fisherman’s soup (Halászlé), a spicy soup made from carp caught in the river Danube. A good place to try it is at Horgásztanya Restaurant. Chicken paprikash is covered in a creamy sauce made of paprika, pepper, onion, garlic, green pepper, tomato, meat and sour cream. Try it at Paprika Jancsi. You also must try the traditional Hungarian street food, Lángos, deep-fried dough served with garlic oil, sour cream and grated cheese on top.
You should also check out Central Market. You will find a wide variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables and cured meats as well as Hungarian street foods such as Goulash and Langos. You can also pick up a souvenir made of lace or leather. It is also good for people watching and is open Monday through Saturday.
6. Check out St. Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion
Trek to the top of Buda Castle Hill by foot or on the historic Castle Funicular Railway where you will find Fisherman’s Bastion. The Bastion is named after the fishermen who defended the walls of the city during the Middle Ages. The seven towers of the Bastion represent the seven Magyar tribes that founded Hungary in AD 895. You can enter these towers for free, except one upper tower with a small fee. The view over the city from the Bastion is spectacular!
Right in front of the Fisherman’s Bastion is Matthias Church in Neo-gothic style architecture. The rooftop is covered in colorful Zsolnay ceramic tiles. It is also a museum and the entrance fee to both is 1500 HUF (about 5-6 USD). It is recommended to arrive in the early morning to avoid hoards of tourists.
7. Admire the vibrant street art
When wandering around the Jewish Quarter (also known as Erzsébetváros or District 7) you will come across an abundance of colorful works of art. The contemporary murals popped up in an attempt to revitalize the area that was abandoned and run down after WWII. This public gallery is better than any indoor museum in my opinion!
8. Get frightened at the House of Terror
The House of Terror features exhibitions on the Fascist and Communist regimes which ruled Hungary throughout the 20th Century. It is also a memorial to the victims of this time period. The building was once the headquarters of the Fascist Arrow Cross party, and later used as a prison and place of torture. You can tour the prison areas in the basement. Admission is 3000 HUF (about 10 USD)
9. Stroll along the Danube Promenade
The River Danube cuts through the heart of Budapest with Buda on one side, Pest on the other. You can walk from the Elizabeth Bridge to the Chain Bridge and admire many of the city’s most famous landmarks. On the Buda side of the river, you will see the Buda Castle, the Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill and the Fisherman’s Bastion. On the Promenade side of the river you can enjoy restaurants, cafes, and see Szechenyi Istvan Square. You can also take a dinner cruise!
There is also a harrowing memorial along the route honoring Budapest’s Jewish residents who were assassinated during WWI. The victims were taken to the banks of the Danube River, made to take off their shoes and shot into the river. The memorial features 60 pairs of bronze shoes.
10. Join a free walking tour
A great option for budget conscious travelers! The tours are typically hosted by locals or expats who know the area well and where to find all of the hidden gems around the city. There are a variety of types such as a street and urban tour, a Jewish District walk, and a Communism walk. For most, you don’t need to pre-book and can just show up at the designated time and place with a smile!
I hope that you found this guide useful and are convinced to visit one of Europe's most divers and charming cities!
Document your adventure with a Europe pin board map!
Our Europe pin board maps are a great way to track and commemorate your travels to Budapest and beyond. They come in four unique styles and in two different sizes.