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Best things to do in Budapest

Rachel Erdos
17 Sep 2019

Planning a city break in the Hungarian capital? Here's our guide to the best things to see and do in Budapest

Home to baroque palaces, buzzing bars and thermal baths, Budapest is a top pick for a weekend city break. There's plenty to see and do all year round on both sides of the Danube, and while the summer season is packed with cultural highlights including the epic Sziget music festival, winter sees the atmospheric streets lit up by Christmas markets.

You can spend your days hopping between thermal baths, marvelling at architectural treasures and exploring the city's magnificent castle district. At night, the city’s “ruin bars” come to life, a network of drinking dens that transform abandoned buildings and derelict sites into lively nightspots.

Looking to put together a fun-packed itinerary for an upcoming trip? Check out our guide to the best things to do in Budapest, including tips on where to stay while you're there.

Where to stay in Budapest

Accommodation in Budapest is both easy to come by and affordable, especially if you go down the Airbnb route. For an authentic stay, consider seeking out a gangos ház, a traditional apartment block with an inner courtyard where light-flooded flats typically have lofty ceilings and parquet floors.

On the luxury hotel front, Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace is a beautiful Art Nouveau landmark on the Danube and the Corinthia Hotel is sublime spa hotel in the Jewish Quarter. Cheaper options include the Magazine Hotel, a contemporary pad with views of St Stephen’s Basilica and Baltazár Budapest, a boutique retreat in the city's castle district with characterful rooms and a topnotch restaurant.

The best things to do in Budapest

1. Soak in Budapest's best thermal baths

After pounding the streets, soothe your aching feet with a dip in one of the city's many thermal baths. They're naturally fed by 120 hot springs and the healing waters are said to ease joint pain and improve blood circulation. Top picks include Széchenyi Baths, Budapest's largest thermal complex, which is set within a neo-Baroque palace; Gellért Baths, a gorgeous Art Nouveau spa with stained glass windows and Roman-style columns and Rudas Baths, an Ottoman bathing house with a central octagonal pool that opens until 4am every Friday and Saturday night.

Book a Budapest thermal bath ticket or excursion

2. Fill up on hearty Hungarian fare at the Central Market Hall

There are a bunch of historic market halls in Budapest but none quite as impressive as the Central Market Hall. Built in 1897, this huge neo-gothic structure on the banks of the Danube is home to stalls selling traditional Hungarian produce like kolbász (sausage), pálinka (potent brandy made from fruit grown in Hungary like cherries and plums) and potloads of paprika. After working up an appetite scanning the stalls downstairs, head up to the first floor to tuck into classic dishes such as goulash and töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage).

Book a Central Market Hall tour

3. Check out the city's ruin bar scene

Unique to Budapest, ruin bars occupy abandoned buildings, derelict sites and car parks across the city – there’s a particularly cool cluster in the Jewish Quarter. The scene has grown steadily since the mid-2000s when sites previously left unoccupied after the Second World War were reinvented as hip hangouts by Budapest's creative crowd. Szimpla Kert is the best-known and most popular and features eclectic interiors, an open-air courtyard and cool seats fashioned from old Trabant cars. Dürer Kert's open-air garden is strung with hammocks and lanterns and is a top spot for live music – as is Corvin Club, a hip hangout set within a Communist-era department store with a rooftop bar and an impressive lineup of DJs.

Book a ruin bar tour

4. See giant Soviet sculptures at Memento Park

In the southwestern suburbs of Budapest, Memento Park is an open-air gallery home to towering Soviet-era statues. It's worth a trip out of the city centre to appreciate the enormity of some of the giant monuments that dotted the streets of Budapest before the Iron Curtain came down. Alongside statues of Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx and Hungarian communist leaders, there's an original Trabant car by the entrance and Communist anthems blast out from the ticket office to set the mood.

Book a Memento Park tour

5. Explore architectural treasures

Budapest is dotted with beautiful buildings: from Ottoman bathing houses to dramatic baroque palaces, there's plenty to gaze at on both sides of the Danube. The neo-gothic parliament building sits opposite the castle district and there are baroque and art nouveau gems in between. Ride the rattling funicular railway to explore Buda Castle and stop to soak up stunning views from Fisherman's Bastion, a neo-romanesque lookout terrace. Andrassy Avenue – the city's grand boulevard – is lined with architectural treasures including the Hungarian State Opera House with its dramatic ceiling frescoes.

Book an architecture tour in Budapest 

6. Play pinball in a basement in downtown Budapest

Get a nostalgia fix at Budapest's Flipper Museum, an institution dedicated to the preservation of all things pinball. Home to more than 150 pinball machines (some dating back to the late 19th century), this quirky attraction is fully interactive so you can while away a few hours playing classic arcade games and pass it off as a cultural experience. The ticket price includes entry and unlimited access to all playable machines and the museum is open until midnight Wednesday to Saturday. There's an on-site bar for salty snacks and American sodas.

Book tickets for Budapest's pinball museum

7. Take a trip on the Danube 

Europe's second largest river divides the city into two separate parts: Buda and Pest. You'll criss-cross the Danube several times to explore both the hilly Buda neighbourhood – home to the historic castle district – and vibrant Pest with its assortment of bars, restaurants and cafes. We’d recommend taking to the water on a river cruise or a boat tour to see the city from a different perspective. An evening cruise with dinner thrown in is a great way to see some of the city's best buildings lit up at night. Alternatively, for a longer trip, consider heading further afield to the Danube Bend, a scenic stretch home to some of Hungary's oldest settlements.

Book a Danube boat tour in Budapest

8. Hit the “beach” at Fellini Római Kultúrbisztró

Take a dip in the Danube at Fellini Római, a cool bar and bistro on the banks of the river in Budapest's Óbuda district. Deck chairs dot the pebbled shoreline and the venue plays host to open-air film screenings, yoga classes and live music events. Grab a craft beer or a refreshing fröccs (a chilled white wine spritzer) and snack on paninis and Italian gelato. It's accessible by boat or HÉV train from the city centre with a journey time of around 30 minutes.

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