Things to do in Budapest: Your ultimate city guide

If you are looking to explore Budapest, the capital of Hungary, here are our recommendations. Discover what to see, where to go, how to get around, and where to stay.

Welcome to the beautiful capital of Hungary, Budapest!  Split in two by the Danube, you have the hilly Buda, home to the awesome castle, and the fairly flat Pest (pronounced Pesht, so you don’t sound like a total tourist!)  Unofficially, it’s one of our favourite cities in Europe… but we say that about every place we go!  The city with a rich history, funky culture and beautiful architecture has something for everyone.  Here are just a few of the amazing things to see and do.

When to go

As always, it really depends on what you want to do while you’re here.  If you want to avoid crowds and extreme weather (either too hot or too cold), make sure you go between March and May, or September through November.

The summer months in Budapest are the hottest and wettest.  January is probably the coldest month, and the winter sees a lot of snowfall.  But it’s beautiful to see and accommodations are at their lowest.

A view of the Hungarian Parliament Building from the Fishermans Bastion in Budapest, Hungary
A view of the Hungarian Parliament Building from the Fisherman’s Bastion

If you don’t mind the cold and want to check out the Christmas markets, mid-November and December are the perfect time to go!

What to do

The city has something for everyone to explore.  Whether you like castles and beautiful old buildings, or awesome food and hipster bars, if you are like us, you will just fall head-over-heels in love with Budapest.

Buda Castle

It’s impossible to miss the Buda Castle.  It sits proudly on top of Buda Hill and makes the city look so regal.  This used to be the home of the Hungarian kings back in the day.  Today, it’s home to a bunch of museums.

Behold the Buda castle in Budapest, Hungary
Behold the Buda Castle in Budapest

From the massive grounds, always free to walk around, to the stunning architecture, the intricate design and impressive city views, the Buda Castle is a must in Budapest, and on Derek’s list of favourite things to do in a city.

Fisherman’s Bastion

Also named the Halászbástya, the Fisherman’s Bastion was built between 1895 and 1902 and served to protect the castle and the city.  Today, it’s Budapest’s most visited attraction and an awesome viewpoint to see the whole city.  You get really impressive views of the Parliament from here.

The Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest, Hungary
You must go see the Fisherman’s Bastion, steps from the Buda Castle

Make sure you walk around the many paths around the Bastion.  You can also get really creative with your shots, so enjoy your time here.  Climbing up the towers comes at a fee, but if you visit early enough, or on a rainy day, you might get lucky (if you know what we mean!)  Luckily, there are actually a few free days from October 15 to March 10.  And night hours are free too.

Matthias Church

Located right in front of the Bastion, Matthias Church is one of the largest of the medieval Hungarian Kingdom and has a very rich history.

The Matthias Church in Budapest, Hungary
The Matthias Church

It’s quite impressive from the outside.  To get a glimpse of the inside, you have to pay a fee.

St Stephen’s Basilica

Named in honour of the first king of Hungary, this is the 3rd largest church in the country today.  As impressive as it is from the outside, it’s even more spectacular inside.

Hungarian Parliament building

You will surely be impressed when you walk by the Parliament of Budapest.  Not only is it the largest building in Hungary, as well as the tallest, it’s also the 3rd largest parliament building in the world.  With tickets, you can visit the parliament and the museum of the national assembly.

The Hungarian Parliament building all lit up at night in Budapest, Hungary
The Hungarian Parliament building shining bright

If you’re not impressed by its size, the architecture of the building will surely get you.  It’s just stunning!  You get the best views of the building from across the Danube.  Make sure you head there in the morning and at night as it looks completely different.

Shoes on the Danube

This is a memorial created by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer, on the east bank of the Danube River.  The memorial honours the 3,500 victims killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during WWII.  They were forced to remove their shoes and shot at the edge of the river so their bodies were carried away by the flow.

The famous Shoes on the Danube river at night in Budapest, Hungary
The famous Shoes on the Danube river

Placed on the Pest side of the River, near the Hungarian Parliament, these shoes are a moving tribute to the victims.  Visitors today leave flowers, candy and candles at this site.

Great Market Hall

Located at the end of the famous shopping street, Váci utca, the Great Market Hall is the largest and oldest indoor market in Hungary.  Whatever you are looking for, you will probably find it here.  From fresh fruits and veggies, souvenirs, clothes and everything in between, the Great Market Hall is quite a trip, even if you’re not shopping.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Guarded by 4 lions, the Chain Bridge is an icon of Budapest.  This 19th century suspension bridge spans the Danube river and links Buda to Pest (see what we did there?! Chain bridge.  Links.  Hehehe)

The famous Chain bridge lit up at night in Budapest, Hungary
The famous Chain bridge lit up at night

This bridge is a convenient and beautiful way to get from one side of the city to the next.  Just make sure you check it out during the day and at night.  It looks so different when it’s lit up.

Hősök tere

Also known as Heroes’ Square, this is one of Hungary’s major squares.  Surrounded by museums, at the end of the famous Andrássy Avenue, Hősök Tere is an important landmark of the city, also where the first subway station in the city was constructed.

To be honest, although this is an important landmark of Budapest, it didn’t really strike a chord with us.  Luckily, you don’t need to get out of your way to see it.  It’s near the Vajdahunyad Castle and the Széchenyi thermal baths

Vajdahunyad Castle

Did you think we weren’t going to recommend this castle either?  Have you even met Derek?!  Built in 1896, this castle is quite impressive, especially in its beautiful setting in the City Park.

The Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest, Hungary
The gate of the Vajdahunyad Castle

You can enter the courtyard for free, but to visit the inside and the museum, tickets are required.

Hungarian State Opera House

There are certain things you find out the hard way… by showing up and seeing that the Hungarian State Opera House is having a full facelift was one of those things for us!  We can’t blame anyone though, considering that the Opera House was founded in 1884.  It’s ok to get a little work done once in awhile.  Just note that it will be under restoration for the next 2 years, until 2020.

The beautiful inside of the State Opera house in Budapest, Hungary
Since the outside is under massive renovations, we had to settle on seeing the beautiful inside of the Hungarian State Opera house

You can still enter the main hall, which is stunning.  You can still do a tour of the Opera House, which you need to pay for.  And you will be treated to a mini concert, which sounded amazing from where we were standing in the lobby.

Dohány Street Synagogue

We’ll be honest with you here, we didn’t actually go into the Synagogue, though we really wanted to.  But the almost $20CAD entrance fee was a bit of a hard pill to swallow, especially at this point in our travels.

The Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary
The Dohány Street Synagogue

The Dohány Street Synagogue is a historical building.  It’s the largest synagogue in Europe.  It’s the second largest in the world.  It looks beautiful from the outside, and we’re convinced it’s just as gorgeous from the inside.  So if you do go, please let us know how it is!  They do offer a free tour around the Synagogue, so make sure you check times before you get there.

Széchenyi thermal baths

Did you even go to Budapest if you didn’t go to a bath?  No!  No, you didn’t!

The Széchenyi baths are some of the oldest and largest in Europe.  Fed by 2 thermal sources, going here requires almost a full day.  It’s a moment of pampering, relaxing and self-care, so make sure you keep a good chunk of your day for it.

You can get your tickets online, at your hotel (that’s where we got ours) or directly at the baths.  There, you will have the chance to go to one of the 2 thermal outdoor pools, the outdoor lap pool, or one of the many indoor pools, all at varying temperatures.  They have a gym, a spa (for massages), a cosmetics bar and so much more.

Just make sure you bring your towel, flip flops, and a bathing cap (if you want to do laps in the pool).  A good tip is also to bring a bottle of water, as it does get quite dehydrating to be there.  Then, just enjoy and relax!

Jewish quarters

Welcome to the coolest quarters in Budapest.  Lined with boutiques, restaurants, cool bars, hole-in-the-wall eateries, this place is buzzing, especially at night.  This is also where you will find the cool Ruin Bars and Cafes in the city.

So walk around and pick any restaurant or bar to have a drink at.  It will be delicious and it will be fun!

Ruin bar

This is another place that we ask: Did you even go to Budapest if you didn’t go to a ruin bar?  And again, no!  You probably didn’t!

Come party at Szimpla Kert in Budapest, Hungary
Come party at Szimpla Kert

Rumour has it that these ruin bars started in the early 2000’s, when a bunch of friends were looking for a cheap place to grab a beer.  When they didn’t find what they were looking for, they decided to create their own spot.  They set up shop in an abandoned building and started selling $2 beers.  It was more of an underground movement back then!  The first one to open was Szimpla Kert, so that’s where we went.

A view from the second floor of Szimpla Kert in Budapest, Hungary
A view from the second floor of Szimpla Kert

Today, the ruin bars are not so underground, and definitely not as cheap.  They are however, very cool, and a fun place to drink, especially considering that most have been transformed by artists.  Filled with thrift store furniture, odd trinkets and mementos, packed with people from all over the world and all walks of life, our ruin bar experience was quite fun!

Budapest Eye

The Budapest Eye is a big 65 m ferris wheel that is located in Erzsébet Square.  We didn’t ride it, but a ride last about 3 turns, so 10 minutes, and costs €9 (roughly $10 USD).  It’s a great place to go to get a bird’s eye view of Budapest.

Come ride the Budapest Eye Ferris Wheel in Budapest, Hungary
Come ride the Budapest Eye Ferris Wheel

What to eat

Eat everything!  Seriously!  We loved every single thing we had in Budapest.  So eat everything your heart desires, it will probably be delicious!

Szimpla Kert:  We mentioned it before, and we’ll say it again.  Go to a ruin bar.  Go to this one.  It’s super cool, relaxed and tons of fun.  They serve tons of drinks there, as well as food, so you’ll be set for the night.  Another plus, they have tons of vegetarian options!

Bors GazstroBar This was our first stop in Budapest.  We had a delicious pumpkin soup (their soups change daily so feel free to try whatever).  Derek loved his pulled pork baguette and I adored my vegetarian one.  This is a street food style hole-in-the-wall restaurant, but with quality food!

Great eats at Bors Gazstro Bar in Budapest, Hungary
You don’t need to be a Star Wars fan to eat at Bors GazstroBar, but if you are you will love it!

Karavan:  If you love street food, this is the place for you!  They have it all.  Pizzas, burgers, Mexican, Hungarian, vegan, meat-lover, whatever you want, you’ll find it here.  Karavan is a group of food trucks set up in this cool courtyard with garden chairs, heaters and tables.

Desszert Neked When you’ve had enough to eat, eat more… dessert, of course!  We had some cake pops and chocolatey desserts here and they did not disappoint.  W’d love to tell you exactly what we had, but we enjoyed them way too much.  Anyway, we’re convinced you’ll love everything you have there.

Grab a yummy dessert at Desszert Neked in Budapest, Hungary
Grab a yummy dessert at Desszert Neked

Where to stay

There is only one option for us in Budapest: the D8 Hotel.  Newly opened, this hotel has everything you need to have a great time in the city.  Centrally-located, steps away from the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, and pretty much close to everything you want to visit, you can’t ask for more.

Wediditourway at the D8 Hotel in Budapest, Hungary
Chilling out at the D8 Hotel

Start the day off right with a delicious breakfast (try their croissants! They are some of the best we’ve had) then head out to explore the city.  If you need to get some work done before, no worries!  Their lobby and lounge areas have everything you need to get connected and get things done.

And don’t worry if it’s raining while you are there – they offer the cutest umbrellas so you don’t miss a minute of exploring.  We love these thoughtful touches D8 has thought of to make your stay comfortable and as pleasant as possible.

Welcome to the D8 Hotel in Budapest, Hungary
Welcome to the D8 Hotel in Budapest, Hungary

If you need any recommendations, if you need to book a trip to the thermal baths, their staff can take care of that for you.  They gave us extra towels for the baths, booked our tickets, gave us insider tips on where to go and what to do.  We wish we could have stayed here forever!

Getting around

All the sites in Budapest are fairly close to each other.  You know how much we love to walk, so we would go from one place to the next by foot.  Considering we had such a great hotel, so close to everything, we would even stop in sometimes before heading to a different part of town.

If walking is not your thing, Budapest has a super convenient subway system that can get you from one place to the next in a jiffy!  They also have trams and buses, so think eco-friendly and use their awesome public transportation system!

Budapest Card

And as always, depending on what you want to do and see, you may want to grab the Budapest Card.  You’ll get to use the transport system for free, visit your favourite museums and attractions for free, or at a discounted rate, and you get so much more.

Just make sure your initial investment will pay itself off with what you want to do and see.  Then, reap the benefits!

The Buda side of the Danube river in Budapest, Hungary
The Buda side of the Danube river

We loved our time in Budapest.  We know we say this often, and we really mean it (Every. Single. Time)!  But seriously, we loved it here.  From the delicious food, amazing architecture, relaxing baths and just walking around soaking in the history and culture of the city (we also soaked in some rain!).  We highly recommend you spend at least 3-4 days here to take in all the beauty of the city.

Have you been to Budapest?  Is it on your list yet?  Let us know in the comments.

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There are a ton of amazing things to do and see in Budapest, Hungary. Here are our recommendations of what to do, where to stay, what to eat and how to get around. Tips, tricks and more to have the best time in Budapest