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The tram in Budapest
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The 25 best things to do in Budapest

Relaxing spas, raucous bars and bright street art? Step this way.

Peterjon Cresswell
Written by
Peterjon Cresswell

Whatever you want from a city break, Budapest can deliver. Steeped in history, blessed with spa waters, embellished with grandiose façades from the Habsburg days (and full of plenty of spots to eat your bodyweight in lángos and goulash), Hungary’s capital keeps visitors coming back for more.

Facilitated by a first-class transport system, this is a 24-hour city, where you can sip panoramic cocktails, sail the Danube and seek out tiny statues across town. While no longer a cheap date, Budapest offers sparkling elegance and the dingiest of dive bars within a few hundred metres of one another. Come on in, the water's lovely. Here are the best things to do in Budapest right now.

🪩 The best nightlife spots in Budapest
🏛️ The best spas and baths in Budapest
🏘️ The best Airbnbs in Budapest
🏨 The best hotels in Budapest

This guide was written by Peterjon Cresswell, a writer based in Budapest. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines. 

Top things to do in Budapest

Széchenyi Baths
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Széchenyi Baths

What is it? Surrounded by the greenery of City Park, the Széchenyi Baths are an ornate oasis of relaxation in thermal waters. Pools piping hot, dauntingly cold and mercifully temperate await inside and out, complemented by steam and dry saunas, ice machines, relaxation areas, a lane pool, a whirlpool and a bar/restaurant with an expansive terrace. There’s enough to keep you healthily entertained all day – the hefty price of admission means you’ll want to get your money’s worth in any case. 

On Saturday nights, the Széchenyi transforms into Sparty, a mass pool party with DJs and light shows.

Why go? Practically all European capitals have galleries, museums and Michelin-starred restaurants – sitting outside in the Széchenyi Baths as the city sizzles or snowflakes flutter is a uniquely Budapest experience.

  • Things to do

What is it? The short climb by funicular from Clark Ádám tér takes you to the former royal palace atop Castle Hill now housing the National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the Széchényi Library. Its green-coloured cupola, an addition during the lengthy post-war rebuild in the 60s, forms an integral part of Buda’s stunning cityscape.

Why go? A quick zip up Castle Hill by funicular is pretty much top of everyone’s bucket list their first time here – particularly if they’re a fan of Monet or Cezanne, on view at the National Gallery near the funicular terminal. Visitors may also access the panoramic terrace for outstanding views from the cupola.

The Danube
Photograph: S-F /

3. The Danube

What is it? The Danube defines and delineates Budapest into its twin components, Buda and Pest. Wide and graceful, the river is linked by a string of beautiful bridges, and traversed by cruise ships, barges, fire-red speedboats and waterborne lines on the city’s transport network.

Why go? Relaxing by day, romantic after dark when the bridges light up like pearl necklaces, the Danube plays to your inner Strauss, whether you’re enjoying an hour-long sightseeing tour or indulging in starlit dining à deux.

Tour Budapest’s cool murals
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Tour Budapest’s cool murals

What is it? Numerous firewalls around Pest, particularly in District VII, are decorated with murals, some related to Hungarian history or culture. These echo many aspects of the country’s past, its inventions and creativity such as Rubik’s Cube, its role in World War II and heroism in the 1956 Uprising, and its recent achievements, such as award-winning scientist Katalin Karikó, instrumental in the development of a coronavirus vaccine. 

Popular among football fans is the huge representation of the famous match between Hungary and England in 1953 at Wembley, overlooking a car park in Rumbach Sebestyén utca.

Why go? For an alternative sightseeing tour, with special walks available, Budapest’s murals offer the visitor an insight into areas of Hungary’s heritage they might not have known about, and take them to streets they may not have walked down otherwise.


What is it? This former Ukrainian stone-carrying cargo ship has been transformed into one of Budapest’s most popular nightspots for live music, DJ parties and general after-hours fun. It has a restaurant, too, and a gallery with occasional exhibitions, but its varied concert agenda is the main draw, establishing the A38 as a mainstay of the city’s music scene for the best part of 20 years.

Why go? For a night out during your stay here, this is the best bet, whatever happens to be scheduled that particular evening. Even if a Bulgarian black metal band isn’t to your liking, you can always enjoy a drink on the top deck and watch the Danube go by. The A38 is also close to the all-night 4/6 tram route on Petőfi Bridge above, meaning you needn’t mess around with taxis afterwards.

🪩 Read more about Budapest's best nightlife spots

What is it? Perhaps the only revered hangover from the Communist era, the former Pioneers’ Railway is a narrow-gauge train that snakes through the Buda hills. Its unique feature is the fact that it is almost entirely staffed by children – don’t worry, the driver is a grown-up – checking tickets and signalling from the platform.

Why go? Budapest’s most charming attraction allows you to take in the fresh air and greenery of panoramic Buda while enjoying a family-friendly day out.


What is it? Budapest’s most elegant coffeehouse of the 1890s, amid strong competition, has regained its status after being converted into a five-star hotel in the early 2000s. Now overseen by the high-end Thai group Anantara, it’s got back its sheen, serving 24-carat gold cappuccino beneath crystal chandeliers, amid marble and mirrors. All of this comes at a price, of course, and having to factor in queueing time for a table to become free.

Why go? Because this was ne plus ultra of Budapest’s literary cafés in the golden era, where film directors found their starlets in the early days of Hungarian cinema – Mihály Kertész, later Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame, was a regular. It also links to one of the city’s most enduring urban myths, dating back to the 1890s, when playwright Ferenc Molnár threatened to throw the key in the Danube so that the place wouldn’t close. Sculptor Mihály Kolodko (see below) riffed on this theme more recently when he created a little statuette near the main entrance.

What is it? The latest attraction to open in the city is the jewel in the crown of the Liget Project currently transforming City Park along the lines of Vienna’s Museum Quarter. Adventurous Japanese designer Sou Fujimoto has integrated the surrounding trees into the building, its roof full of holes and seemingly floating on air.

Why go? As well as a hands-on journey through the history of music, this is also an architectural wonder and a complex of spaces for live music, events and exhibitions. The kids can have a great time making strange sounds as they jump around the playground outside.

  • Things to do

What is it? The house at Andrássy út 60 once inspired fear as the headquarters of the Communist Secret Police, who tortured and killed their victims within these very walls. Since 2002, this elegant villa has housed a poignant museum honouring the victims who were never seen again after being led here.

Why go? The museum spans four floors and contains a curious collection that blends installations with interactive screens that allow you to listen to first-hand accounts from survivors. These also includes those who did the torturing, happy to describe tearing up farewell letters with little sense of remorse.

Szimpla Kert
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Szimpla Kert

What is it? This is Budapest’s original ruin bar, the one that set the tone for so many others to follow, adorning a vast, dilapidated building, its open courtyard and labyrinth of rooms, with eclectic furniture, edgy artwork and fairy lights. A regular agenda of DJs and live acts is programmed, and it tends to be the spot for foreign partygoers. 

Why go? It’s still an essential Budapest experience (but perhaps not for Hungarians trying to avoid tourists). If you've never visited the city, the Szimpla will blow your mind – just be prepared to pay a little more for your drinks.

Take in cityscape views by tram
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Take in cityscape views by tram

What is it? Often claimed to be the loveliest tram journey in the world, the number 2 glides the length of the Pest embankment, taking in the historic sights of Buda opposite. As well as Buda Castle, Matthias Church and the Statue of Lady Liberty, you’ll see Budapest’s bridges up close and skirt right round the Parliament building.

Why go? Tram 2 is a sightseeing tour you can take time and again for the price of a standard transport ticket or pass. 

12. Rosenstein

What is it? This cosy restaurant built on the three watchwords of tradition, innovation and family echoes the Jewish roots of Budapest cuisine while inventing reliably superb fare from its weekly changing, seasonal menu. 

Why go? Budapest might boast seven Michelin-starred restaurants but you won’t have a more enjoyable gastronomic experience than at this homely eatery tucked down a sidestreet near Keleti station.

Fishermen’s Bastion

13. Fishermen’s Bastion

What is it? Thrown up by architect Frigyes Schulek as an afterthought – he had just spent decades reconfiguring next door’s Matthias Church in medieval style – this turreted confection provides wonderful Danube views from its vantage point on Castle Hill.

Why go? The views are outstanding but this is also a history lesson. Harking back to the days when there was a fish market here, the menfolk bringing up their catch from the Danube immediately below, the Fishermen’s Bastion has the same number of turrets as the original Hungarian tribal leaders who came to this part of the Carpathian Basin in the late 800s. All links to the Hungarian millennial celebrations of 1896, when this was built.

Margaret Island
Photograph: Shutterstock

14. Margaret Island

What is it? Budapest’s most bucolic green space, the family-friendly getaway of Margaret Island lounges between Buda and Pest, accessible by tram halfway along Margaret Bridge. Few cars and limited buses make the same journey – this is the realm of cyclists and pedalo riders, joggers and strolling couples.

Why go? It’s tranquil and secluded, light on sightseeing duties – a scattering of medieval ruins, a Japanese garden, a petting zoo – and big on space. In summer, the Open-Air Stage hosts regular concerts while the musical fountain lights up with pop and classical hits on a loop.

The Shoes on the Danube Bank
Photography: Shutterstock

15. The Shoes on the Danube Bank

What is it? A stark and poignant memorial to the 3,500 victims, many of them Jews, instructed to remove their shoes before being shot at this spot by members of Hungary’s Fascist Arrow Cross Party police towards the end of World War Ii.

Why go? The installation, conceived by filmmaker Can Togay and co-created with sculptor Gyula Pauer, brings home the sheer brutality of the Holocaust here in Budapest, illustrated by something as mundane as a few pairs of shoes cast in bronze.

What is it? The largest church in Budapest, the Basilica holds one of Hungary’s most sacred treasures, the mummified right hand of St Stephen, founder of the nation in the year 1000. 

Why go? For all the monumental neoclassical architecture beneath a 96-metre-high dome, lined inside with ornate religious reliefs. You can also take the lift up to the cupola for stunning views.


What is it? An open-air park on the edge of town displaying Communist-era statues removed from prominent spots around Budapest after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. 

Why go? To see the enormity of how Stalin, Lenin and Marx were depicted to the masses. There’s also a cinema where you can watch unsettling old propaganda films.

Mihály Kolodko’s tiny sculptures
Photograph: Shutterstock

18. Mihály Kolodko’s tiny sculptures

What is it? Minuscule figurines by guerrilla sculptor Mihály Kolodko, dotted around Budapest’s key sites and vantage points.

Why go? Easily plotted on an offbeat walking tour, the tiny statuettes depict random aspects of Hungarian life – like the big-eared cartoon character Kockásfülű nyúl by the upper station of the Funicular. You can also spot a Rubik’s Cube and a flaccid tank rolling along Bem rakpart, opposite the grandiose Parliament House. And if you’re passing through the airport, look out for Franz Liszt sitting outside the airport that takes his name.

High Note Skybar
Photograph: Shutterstock

19. High Note Skybar

What is it? The rooftop cocktail bar of a music-themed, five-star hotel, at eye level with the huge clock in the dome of St Stephen’s Basilica, in full view of the sun setting over Buda. 

Why go? Because it is utterly, must-Insta-this-minute immediately memorable. Plus, you would never know, from the discreet if stylish door at street level near the Basilica, what awaits you many floors up.

  • Things to do

What is it? Opened in 1859, Budapest’s Great Synagogue is Europe’s largest place of Jewish worship (and the second biggest in the world).

Why go? The stunning architecture and interior decor are worth the trip alone, but a visit also involves the Hungarian Jewish Museum & Archives and the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial.

Great Market Hall
Photograph: RossHelen

21. Great Market Hall

What is it? A beautifully restored market hall in a neo-Gothic building, where a waterway once allowed goods to be delivered straight from the Danube. 

Why go? As well as an architectural delight, this is your one stop shop for last-day souvenir shopping of paprika, salami, wine and Hungarian spirits. 

Tour the Parliament Building
Photograph: Shutterstock

22. Tour the Parliament Building

What is it? A 45-minute tour of Hungary’s Parliament Building – the seat of government and one of the city’s most famous landmarks overlooking the Danube.

Why go? This 691-room building was constructed in the late 1800s when Hungary was joint head of a huge European empire, hence the grandiose architecture. This is also where you find the Hungarian Crown Jewels, guarded by Hungarian soldiers bearing sabres.

Ecseri flea market
Photograph: Shutterstock

23. Ecseri flea market

What is it? Hungary’s largest junkyard offers a wealth of retro treasure from the Habsburg, pre-war and Soviet eras. Open every day at a distant site in south Pest accessible by buses 54 and 55 from Boráros tér. 

Why go? Ecseri reflects the urban history of Budapest in the form of furniture, uniforms, paintings and vinyl, allowing you to find the fin-de-siècle lampshade, Soviet Army trapper hat or Hungarian pop 45 of your dreams – and haggle over the price.

Liszt Academy
Photograph: Shutterstock

24. Liszt Academy

What is it? The ornate showcase for the conservatoire set up by Franz Liszt himself, who lived nearby, the Music Academy has been housed here since 1907. Its Art Nouveau splendour was comprehensively refurbished just over a century later, leaving a magnificent concert hall for star conductors, virtuosos, music students and spectators alike.

Why go? To listen to a symphony orchestra, a recital or a chamber concert in sumptuous surroundings with wonderful acoustics, alongside a knowledgeable audience underpinned by a stellar musical heritage. Daily guided tours are offered in English.

Museum of Fine Arts
Photograph: Shutterstock

25. Museum of Fine Arts

What is it? Hungary’s most prestigious collection of fine art, complementing the one at sister institution, the National Gallery, is housed in this stately landmark on Heroes’ Square.

Why go? A huge overhaul completed in 2018 and collection exchange with the National Gallery have seen the museum acquire medieval Hungarian art alongside Titian, Velázquez and El Greco. There’s also an impressive selection of artefacts from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.

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