Ultimate Budapest Guide 2020 - 13 Amazing Things to do in Budapest You Need to Know
Best Things to do in Budapest Hungary in 2020
Are you planning a trip to Budapest? Don’t just sit around, with tonnes of things to do in Budapest, you’d rather come prepared. Before visiting the capital of Hungary also known as “the Paris of the East”, never did we think that our trip to Budapest would end up being so exciting! When we got back, we decided to share with you our Budapest guide listing our 10 best things to do in Budapest, Hungary.
The moment you land, this inconspicuous city in Central Europe will make you feel like a holiday destination you should have visited long time ago. And with the vast array of options ranging from shoestring budget to ultimate pampering, luxury packages, you may be a little reluctant to be packing your bags and returning home.
Since you’re here and scratching your head thinking “what is there to do in Budapest?” after your bold decision to book your flight to Budapest on Ryanair, EasyJet or WizzAir, all you need is sit back and relax, you’re in good hands! With a bit of guidance on the planning side for your trip, you’re going to have a totally unforgettable experience and choose something for yourself, whether you’re on a short city break or a slow-paced stay, with your friends, partner or a solo traveller. Ready?
Below is our video compilation from Budapest’s best sights if you prefer the visuals over reading although I strongly recommend watching it after you’ve read this article first so you have better context.
1. Budapest Thermal Baths
I guess it won’t surprise you why Budapest Spas rank number 1 on our list of things to do in Budapest! Here’s a bit of background to it in case you wondered what’s so special about it.
You might or might not have heard that people call Budapest as the ‘City of spas’ and although there are plenty of places around the world that offer spa treatments, you will hardly find a metropolitan city that is known for it thanks to the abundance of medicinal spas dotted around Budapest.
And yes, this is definitely one of the many reasons why millions book their holiday up here, including ourselves! Budapest is seated on the old Roman Town Aquincum, which for the history buffs sounds pretty cool already. Add to it the choice of over 100 bath houses and the end result is, you are definitely going to feel spoilt in this wonderful town.
Not to mention that the price tag is also very appealing compared to the prices you are going to find in the Western Europe or the US. Here are two you are definitely going to like which are somehow very different in terms interior, exterior and most importantly, the vibe.
1.1 Szechenyi Thermal Baths – The LARGEST Spa in Europe (did I mention wildest?)
You will hardly find another pool like this elsewhere in the world. Perhaps it’s because it is the largest medicinal bath in Europe? Or because the wild sparties with 3D projections and DJs are way beyond your imagination.
No matter whether you’re here during day or night time, Szechenyi thermal baths in Budapest are offer amazing relaxation, making it a perfect reason to ask your doctor to get you a prescription for it.
This is all thanks to Hungary sitting on mineral-rich geo-thermal waters from the depth of 1,256 meters below the ground. Unlike most spas you’ve been to, this one has many pools to accommodate everyone’s needs.
To be precise, we’re talking about 18 different pools! Expect different sizes and temperatures across the whole complex ranging from nearly Arctic 16 degrees Celsius to blissful 38 and even 40 degrees Celsius where you feel like you’re being boiled alive.
The most popular pools of Szechenyi are located outdoors, featuring 3 pools, out of which 2 are thermal pools and one swimming pool. Don’t forget to check out the giant whirpool!
Below is the video from out trip to Szechenyi baths and if you want to read up a little more about it (what to wear, how to get to Szechenyi, entrance tickets for Szechenyi or opening hours), check out my Szechenyi baths article here.
1.2 Gellert Thermal Baths
Despite everyone saying how insane are Szechenyi baths, there is another thermal spa in Budapest which deserves all the glory. There’s certain element of classiness visibly noticeable in the interior of Gellert baths, making it ideal for a perfect scenery offering exquisite pampering.
Yes, hands down Gellert thermal spa is definitely the most elegant and glamourous bath house to bathe in. Needless to say, the old-fashioned glam and architecture from the Roaring Twenties will keep you flabbergasted. From red curtains, stained-glass in the hall to the Mosaic tiles, pudgy cherub fountains and azure blue water.
We picked a colder and gloomier day for our visit to fully enjoy the relaxed ambience and I think you’ll agree with me that you’d rather not rush it too much so pick an evening to combine it with a romantic dinner or a rainy day if you can. Below is our vlog from Gellert baths if you want to have a quick sneaky peek before you go in yourself and for more info on prices and opening hours, I wrote a full article about Gellert baths here .
2. Fisherman’s Bastion
As you probably expected, our Budapest guide wouldn’t be the same without covering Budapest’s most scenic and romantic spot so remember to add this one to your list of things to do in Budapest, Hungary; it will be worth it. I’m talking about Fisherman’s bastion, Budapest’s most emblematic sight. It’s all over guides, postcards and Instagram of course!
Well, it’s there for a reason and locals from Budapest, including my good old friend from University, Julia, is a great fan of this part of Budapest. Why do we love it so much? One, because of its breath-taking, panoramic city views, two, it’s nothing like what you’ll see elsewhere in Budapest.
The construction of Fisherman’s bastion dates back to the 19th century and features the first king of Hungary. Yes, Hungarian people are proud of this spot because it’s so beautiful here that a hotel goes for 5-10 times the average rent price in Budapest!
Did I say it’s free? The vast majority of the sightseeing part is free to enter any time of the day and it stays open 24/7, making it a great opportunity for undisturbed panoramic city views and late evening strolls. It’s so big it’s not inundated with tourists (yet). Right, maybe pause here. You are going to see some experienced photographers with their DSLR cameras and stabilisers and Instagrammers, giving you an indication of how popular is this place.
Apart from a few nearby patisseries resembling Austro-Hungarian empire serving some of the traditional moreish Viennese cakes, there was another place which stole the limelight. Having candlelit dinner in one of the towers with live musicians, sparkles, divine Tokaji wine and a private balcony with a perfect view of the Parliament building was definitely the highlight of our stay!
Ok, ok, as I have not written an article about Fisherman’s bastion, you can check out our vlog from that day (and evening!).
3. Parliament Building
Both Parliament building along and Fisherman’s Bastion are the most imposing architectural wonders of Hungary. Whilst you can have a perfect night view of lit up Parliament Building from Fisherman’s Bastion, I totally recommend visiting it from up close and even going inside if you can. It turns out that Parliament Building is also the largest building in Hungary.
The inside is just as glamorous as the exterior but you’ll need to get your tickets for the guided tours beforehand. There are guided tours at around $21 per person that are discounted to the EU citizens $8.40. Otherwise, you can see it from quite close up and admire every single detail of this beautiful construction.
Up until exactly 30 years ago, there was also a giant red star, a symbol of communism that perched right at its top right till the fall of communism in 1989 but these days are long gone and you will hardly find much information about it. Since it was designed to face the Danube river, this is also where you can get the best views from!
4. House of Terror (Terror Háza Múzeum)
I’m aware that although this may not be something particularly appealing to some of you readers, but judging by the queue outside I’ve decided to include House of Terror to our list of things to see in Budapest. And here’s why.
House of Terror (in Hungarian Terror Háza Múzeum) focuses predominantly on the darker side of tourism in Budapest. This inconspicuous building happens to be home to the former headquarters of the Nazi and later Soviet secret police. It’s going to be a real eye opener and although I don’t think there’s much to say about it, please show your respect as during our visit we saw some girls giggling about and out of all places in Budapest, this one simply isn’t the one for it.
Expect queues, around half an hour to an hour. If you ever wondered what it felt like having to endure Nazi invasion and then 4 decades of communist regime, you’ll get a good gist here. This is going to be a turning point for you and one of the best history lessons you’ll ever have and it’s rather brutal.
What might seem to resemble the Orwellian dystopian vision of the world, I have to warn you because it’s not fiction and it did actually happen. Give yourself an hour to two – the rooms are filled with terror and totalitarian slogans.
You can’t help to notice the Brain-washing propaganda and black and white pictures from the forced labour camps. Then there are stories of civilians like me or you who faced mass repatriations to Gulags, as far as somewhere in the middle of Russia and as last but not least Social Realist paintings featuring good old uncle Joe, life in the Gulags and Socialist Realist paintings.
The rooms feature black and white TV screens, similar to the ones I’d imagined when reading 1984 and the slogan: “Freedom is slavery”. Through the TV interviews with the victims, we learnt about the innumerable false accusations, interrogations and interminable tortures which led to war prisoners, executions and repatriations where the fear was always present, that Big Brother is always watching you.
Out of all places to see in Budapest, I strongly suggest you take your turn in queuing up because the lessons learnt from this trip are priceless, including the gratitude you’ll have after leaving House of Terror as a free man!
5. Nightlife in Budapest’s Ruin Bars AKA Szimpla Kert
Let’s brighten things up a little, Ruin Bars or Szimpla Kert are definitely high up on the list of things to do in Budapest and you should check them out on a Saturday night when the entire place turns into a giant beehive. Well, not literally, but you can feel the vibrant nightlife from quite far out as crowds of young people will be flocking to it throughout the night.
Szimpla Kert ruin bars didn’t exist up until 2002, and the bars making up the area are concentrated in one building which replaced a dilapidated building. It’s fascinating how this place looks nothing out of ordinary on the outside (well apart from the crowds!). Personally, I think I liked it more than Lisbon’s LX Factory. If you like Shoreditch in London , Szimpla Kert is probably on par with Dinerama and Hawker House in London.
To see what’s like inside, check out our short Budapest nightlife video from the inside although I’d be surprised if you could hear everything we’re saying as it was very, very loud! The drinks are pretty cool and the interior is very much psychedelic and the dim lights, smoky shisha places and hung up toilet seats are a must-see here.
Here’s our video from Szimpla Kert ruin bars:
Don’t worry if you can’t make it during night time, there Szimpla Kert ruin bars in Budapest is open from early morning hours and although it is a lot more quiet compared to the buzzy night scene, it is used as a popular farmers’ market with fresh produce and even a bicycle rental, making it a perfect day trip to grab some local organic honey or a thick smoothie for breakfast!
6. St Stephen’s Basilica
St Stephen’s Basilica is as iconic as it can get to remind you that you’re nowhere else but in the beautiful city of Budapest in Hungary and once you see these jaw-dropping spiral stairs, you will not want to leave!
St Stephen’s Basilica is Budapest’s largest church and it is free to enter, although donations are welcome. The interior is decorated with golden ornaments, mosaics and stained glass, generating amazing echo and acoustic sounds.
It’s rated very high amongst things to do in Budapest because apart from being a masterpiece of architecture, it’s also a great location if you’re planning to have dinner at one of the finest restaurants, cocktail bars and cafes. With so many of them dotted around St Stephen’s Basilica, this is Budapest’s prime location.
St Stephen’s Basilica and the surrounding area is vibrant both day time and in the evenings, so you could just hang out, dine here or enjoy an evening stroll. Although you would have to be in Budapest in December to experience it, during Christmas the area just outside the entrance to St Stephen’s basilica turns into a festive Christmas market with stalls selling gingerbread, mulled wine and other Central European comfort goodies.
Here’s something for the artistic souls out there. Love music? Add St Stephen’s Basilica one to your list of things to do in Budapest. The interior of this beautiful building is built to generate amazing echo and augment acoustic sounds. Must be a reason why there are so many concerts taking place in this building! You can attend the renowned classical music concerts here too but expect to pay 20 Eur on average.
And here’s one thing most people don’t know of! If you feel brave enough to tolerate a bit of gore, head to the left of the altar to see the 1000-year old relics of the right hand that belong to St Stephen’s the first king of Hungary. Our favourite part was going through the wrought iron construction right to the top of cupola and the art Nouveau staircase which is so beautiful we had to stop for a couple of pictures!
7. Central Market Hall for Hungarian Food
Do not underestimate this sturdy building! Apart from becoming a wonderful shelter during an unexpected downpour on a beautiful sunny day in April, Central Market Hall ranks high amongst things to do in Budapest thanks to its multipurpose.
In a nutshell, Central Market Hall is your gateway into Hungarian signature dishes and some of the best comfort food out there. Split across a couple of floors, it’s crammed and vibrant and hardly ever quiet. Every now and again, you can expect some national food events too.
If you’re like us and like to stock up on some goodies from your trips that aren’t magnets and can be enjoyed at a dinner table with friends and family there are some true gems out there.
For starters, get some paprika, Hungary’s spicy obsession and national symbol. Then comes Hungarian wine Tokaji, the sweet wine that made it all the way to Versaille. Although forgotten for decades, this wine is climbing up in the rankings and even made it to the FT . As we ventured into alcohol section, another decent one is Palinka the fruit brandy you might find in Southern and Southern-eastern Europe. And if you’re looking for some really good stuff, foie gras is a bargain here.
We started out tasting with kolbász, the Hungarian salami and quickly moved onto delicious and juicy skewers but if you haven’t tried goulash, here’s your chance. I’m Polish and I pretty much grew up with it so we skipped it and tried some local deserts.
The choice is vast, especially if you’re on the top floor with homely restaurants, street food stands and traditional food stalls. The video below covers our trip to Central Market Hall which you should pin it down.
8. Chain Bridge
You couldn’t have picked a better place for a city break. You will make the most of Budapest if you explore it on foot. The Chain Bridge is the first permanent suspension bridge in Hungary dating back to mid-19th century and it is quite a beauty. If you asked me, I’d say it is definitely one of the prettiest places to see in Budapest at night.
And although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the iconic Chain Bridge must be very special when Katy Perry features it in her Firework music video! I know what you’re about to do! Let me know what your thoughts are, day or night?
This unparalleled architecture designed by a British architect and the romantic scenery create a perfect opportunity for a stroll by the majestic Danube river. You will have some of the best views of Budapest, especially if you’re standing on the Chain Bridge!
The best views include the Parliament Building and St Stephens Basilica but if you turn 180 degrees, you can see Buda castle, Gellert Hill and Fisherman’s Bastion. Although daytime is equally as pretty, we preferred our stroll at night. Perhaps because of the glistening lights that made this city so charming and easily walkable.
9. Shoes on the Danube river
Not far from the beautifully lit up at night Chain Bridge, along the graceful Danube river you may come across the chilly reminder of some of the most sombre and atrocities of the Holocaust. If you’re in search of historical places to visit in Budapest, this landmark holds a gruesome story that the world should remember about.
On the Pest side of the Danube river near the Parliament Building, there lies a sculpture of around 60 pairs of iron shoes from the 1940s. These innocent looking iron shoes are more than just a permanent exhibition. They tell a haunting story of thousands of people who were mass executed and pushed into the freezing cold current of the Danube river.
The mass shootings spanned across 2 months from December 1944 and were conducted by the Arrow Cross party soldiers. This harrowing story goes is also a testimony of the witnesses who survived these night raids but saw with their own eyes how the soldiers would pull the shoestrings from the shoes of their victims and then tie their hands together to make the battle against cold and river current even more unbearable.
Although shoes on the Danube river isn’t one of the uplifting and joyful things to do in Budapest, it is definitely something you should pay your respects to and allocate some time for thoughts and appreciate the freedom we all take for granted now. You can combine it with the House of Terror and the Parliament Building since it’s so nearby.
10. Dohány Street Synagogue
Although this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, if you love culture and want to learn a little more about World War II history, this place is a must see in Budapest as it served as a border for the Budapest Ghetto during WW2. The Dohány Street Synagogue, at the heart of Erzsébetváros, Budapest’s historically Jewish district, is the largest synagogue in Europe.
The Dohány Street Synagogue or the Great Synagogye is only a 6-minute stroll from the famous Ruin Bars or Szimpla Kert, making it easy to combine the two landmarks have very different vibes so we decided to see them on two separate days.
The synagogue complex consists of multiple cultural and historic buildings, including the Jewish Memorial and Museum. The museum serves as a poignant marker of life for Jews living in Budapest during the Holocaust, as the synagogue itself served as a border for the Budapest Ghetto.
If you’re in Budapest for the city break over the weekend, allocate your precious time to see it on the weekday as it is closed on Saturdays and for Jewish holidays (and utilise your weekends to the fullest for places like Szimpla Kert ruin bars, Gellert thermal baths and Szechenyi spa).
There are security checks before you get in so try not to carry a heavy backpack or a lugging a suitcase on your last day, expect to be given a kippah (white hat) for men to be worn inside and make sure so wear appropriate clothing, so just be prepared for that in advance before you come in.
On the inside, it’s quite similar to look of a church designed in the Moorish architecture, welcoming you with incredible artistic symmetry, Middle Eastern influence.
The blush pink walls, glass-stained windows and chandeliers are so pretty and although we try to avoid the taking excessive pictures inside religious buildings, we couldn’t help but to take a couple of sneaky shots this time round.
There’s a Jewish museum if you want to learn a little more about the lives and Jewish culture. Then, on the outside, there’s another dark story of the Holocaust which is a burial site dedicated for 2.5k Jewish victims, the memorial park and the Heroes’ Temple.
On the way out, if you happen to be peckish, there are a few Jewish cafes to try Kosher food too if you haven’t had a chance to try it yet!
11. Lángos pizza – the Ultimate Hungarian Street Food
You can say whatever you like but you have not tried Hungarian food until you’ve tried Lángos, ultimate Hungarian comfort food. Its name derives from the world from “láng”, which means “flame” in Hungarian.
The legend has it that it’s the ancient Romans who brought this during their invasion in the early AD but the original preparation method has evolved from using an oven to deep-frying of the yeast and flour as the main ingredients.
To me, it’s a bit like the Polish equivalent of the shallow fried potato pancakes or even more the deep-friend sweet “racuch” pancakes but in the case of lángos, instead of being mildly sweet, the taste is rather a savoury and it could pass for a deep-fried Hungarian-style pizza.
Although you might be able to find some resemblance in Italian focaccia bread, there’s a similar Greek snack called Lalanga which we’re yet to try. Below is the video from our trip to the lángos street food stand near Szechenyi, otherwise try the ones are in the KARAVÁN street food market near Szimpla Kert ruin bars or Central Market hall. Is it one of the Budapest attractions you simply can’t leave without.
We’ve tried it numerous times since our trip to Budapest and every time we had it, it was crispy, greasy, moreish and so mouthful! Perhaps it’s thanks to the deep-frying of the dough that makes is so irresistible, or maybe it’s the combination of the dough, sour cream, grated cheese (the original) with a variety of meat and veggies. One thing I know for sure, if you pick the right lángos stand, you are going to love it even if you’re a bit sceptical now!
There’s one more thing you are going to like, the Hungarian chimney cake and an absolute must thing to do in Budapest which goes by the long and totally unpronounceable name Kürtőskalács which is common in Transylvania.
It’s usually made from sweet yeast dough and wrapped around a cone-shaped baking tray pver granulated sugar and then roasted over charcoal until it turns golden brown or even dark brown and served with cinnamon or icing sugar.
Our Final Thoughts on Things To Do in Budapest Hungary
Needless to say, you can see from the points I’ve covered that we crammed in the food, culture and history into our Budapest trip and I totally recommend you do it too. What was once perhaps seen as the unattractive, grey old buildings of the Eastern European post-communism scene, starts to get a lot more engagement, especially for the culture buffs thirsty for knowledge!
You’ll notice that the romantic, cultural and well-preserved side Budapest holds up its sleeve.
Places like Prague, Barcelona , Lisbon and Budapest are increasingly popular with stag dos but there are many other angles that could be covered in each of the European capitals. I hope you found our Budapest guide useful to jot down a few ideas on some of the best things to do in Budapest, Hungary for yourself and you will embrace your upcoming trip to the fullest. Happy travels!
After living in Japan for 3 months and constantly seeing new places, I can tell you one thing for sure: Japan won’t get any less exciting! Many people who visit Japan do their research before they arrive in Japan for the best experience, but sometimes it’s quite difficult to find what you really like. This is why we created a detailed guide with top 10 ideas on what to do in Shibuya, Tokyo. Get ready for some really cool stuff!
This list will help you decide what to do in Shibuya depending on your preference and duration of your stay. For those of you wanting to read more about where to shop in Shibuya and the best restaurants in Shibuya, there are separate articles where this topic is explained thoroughly.
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