Best things to do in Budapest
What is it? Take a huge, dilapidated building with an open courtyard and a labyrinth of rooms, adorn it with eclectic furniture, edgy artwork and mind-bending communist memorabilia, and you’ve got the city’s most famous (and most atmospheric) ‘ruin’ bar, Szimpla Kert.
Why go? Szimpla Kert set the nightlife standard when it opened up in the Jewish Quarter in 2001, spawning several copy-cat bar experiences that have come to define a Budapest night-out. But this one is known as original and the best. Be sure to also order a shot of Unicum when you’re there, it’s a traditional Hungarian herbal liqueur that will blow your socks off.
What is it? Built between 1895-1902 to celebrate the thousandth birthday of the Hungarian state, the Fisherman’s Bastion is an impressive neo-Gothic, neo-Romanesque viewing terrace situated on the Buda bank of the Danube, on Castle Hill.
Why go? For unforgettable views in a fairy-tale setting - there’s nowhere better. Watch the boats bob lazily down the river Danube through ornate turrets, and be sure to pop into one of the city’s most famous patisseries, the 200-year-old Ruszwurm Confectionery, whilst you’re up there.
What is it? By day, Szechenyi Baths are an oasis of calm in bustling Budapest, with luxury spa treatments, saunas, and massages in the grandeur of a sprawling twentieth-century Turkish building. By night at the weekends though? Well, it turns into something altogether more debaucherous: the Sparty.
Why go? If you want to be pampered and preened, head to Szechenyi in the day. If it’s a wet and wild night you’re after, wait until night falls for the Sparties. The brainchild of a famed Hungarian party producer, these night-time raves offer unlimited alcohol, live electronic music, and an anything-goes atmosphere in the water. The choice is yours.
What is it? It’s Budapest’s pinball museum, featuring a collection of 115 pinball machines and 30 other old-school arcade games.
Why go? Located in a windowless Budapest basement and illuminated only by the bright light of the machines, this pinball parlour is hella hipster and unlike any other museum you’ll ever go to. It’s also Europe’s largest interactive pinball exhibition.
What is it? Lángos is traditional Hungarian snack and is a deep-fried, disc-shaped bread, usually slathered in cream cheese and garlic, bolognese sauce or herbs and salt. It’s best sourced from a side-street vendor on a hangover, or from the downtown party vortex of Gozsdu Courtyard, where take-out spot Langosh, serves nothing but the doughy delicacy in all its tantalising varieties until late into the night.
Why go? If you've got a soft spot for fried bread and cheese (who doesn’t?!) then we bet that one of these traditional Hungarian snacks just won’t be enough…
What is it? Opened in 1849, Budapest’s magnificent suspension bridge connects the Buda (West) and Pest (Eastern) sides of the city, arching over the River Danube. Designed by an English engineer and built by a Scot, the bridge is a symbol of national pride and economic advancement.
Why go? It’s historically important, architecturally impressive and only takes around 15 minutes to stroll down, so you can marvel at the views stretching for miles on both sides of the river and get some amazing photographs. It also looks fantastic at night time when it’s all lit up.
What is it? The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial that pays tribute to the Jewish people killed in Hungary during World War Two. It’s comprised of 60 pairs of iron-cast, sculpted shoes.
Why go? The memorial is a poignant tribute that gives remembrance to the 3,500 people (800 of them Jews) who were shot into the River Danube during the time of the Arrow Cross terror from 1944-1945. It's also a great stepping stone to uncovering more of the Jewish influence in Budapest.
What is it? Go on a relaxing, one-hour boat trip down the River Danube at night.
Why go? The banks of the Danube are a Unesco world heritage site, and what better way to enjoy the sights than with a cocktail in hand under the dusky evening sky? Set sail and check out all the sights of Budapest as it gets dark. Perfect for couples or those who just love a night-time cruise.
What is it? The Great Market Hall is a restored neo-Gothic tunnel, teaming with food, artisan crafts, groceries and Hungarian local life.
Why go? For the amazing architecture and a total sensory overload, or to source some unique souvenirs and sample some of the tasty local cuisines.
What is it? The largest church in Budapest is also one of Hungary’s most iconic structures and can hold up to 8,500 people.
Why go? The mummified right hand of the patron saint of the church and first King of Hungary, St Stephen, is kept in a glass case to the left of the main altar. If that doesn’t turn you on, check out all that neoclassical architecture. The Basilica is also comprised of a dome that’s 96m high and decorated with many ornate religious paintings on the inside, and if you like, you can take in the view of the city from the cupola.
What is it? Budapest’s buzzy Jewish Quarter (also known as the seventh district) is the city’s epicentre of cool, packed with all the edgiest bars and eateries.
Why go? Your nights out will start and end here, with popular clubbing spots like Szimpla Kert and Instant, or the eight-floor party wonderland, Fogas Ház which offers techno in tents and take-away treats. The Jewish Quarter also boasts many of the city’s best food spots too – for 24-hour munch check out the delights available at Street Food Karavan, a court right next to Szimpla Kert, or Kőleves, a Hungarian-Jewish spot with an eclectic menu.
What is it? A spectacular thirteenth-century palace that sits on top of Castle Hill.
Why go? Buda Castle is a Unesco site and also contains the Hungarian National Gallery, the Castle Museum, and the National Széchenyi Library. So there’s no better place to get your culture fix.
What is it? An open-air park that displays statues, plaques and memorabilia from Hungary's Communist period.
Why go? See some (really big) statues of famous Communist leaders like Lenin, Marx, and Engels and learn about Hungary’s role in Stalin’s dictatorship, while strolling around in the sun. There’s also a cinema where you can watch old Communist propaganda films, which are of course, really weird.
What is it? The funicular railway is a short cable car journey that links the Adam Clark Square and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge at river level to Buda Castle above.
Why go? The funicular is a fun and easy way to check out Buda Castle without painting your legs and climbing all the way to the top by foot. It only takes 10 minutes, but at €5.50 for an adult return, your laziness is going to cost you.
What is it? A 45-minute tour of Budapest’s national Parliament Building – one of the city’s most famous landmarks.
Why go? The 691-room building is famed for its Gothic Revival architecture, ornate statues and gorgeous paintings. Go learn about the political history of Budapest with insight and anecdotes from an expert tour guide.
What is it? Built in 1859, Budapest's Great Synagogue on Dohány Street (also known as Tabakgasse Synagogue), is the largest Jewish house of worship in the world, and the second largest in Europe.
Why go? With both Romantic and Moorish elements, this place is architecturally stunning. Inside, there’s also the chance to learn about one of the largest Jewish populations in Eastern Europe at the Hungarian Jewish Museum & Archives, and on the north side of the synagogue, there’s the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial, which is a tribute to the murdered Jews of Europe.
What is it? A fun and informative guided bike tour around Budapest. You’ll cover around 16km.
Why go? Budapest is a decent city for cyclists, boasting plenty of scenic routes to be discovered by bike, and many wide traffic-free roads. An expert-led bike tour will allow you to soak up much of the city’s history and you’ll learn about major landmarks along the way, such as Vajdahunyad Castle, Szechenyi Baths and St Stephen’s Basilica.
What is it? The green gem of Budapest, Margaret Island is a 2.5km-long island of quiet parkland and in the river Danube, linked by bridges at either end.
Why go? It’s tranquil, secluded and a mainly free to explore. Grab a book and chill in the rose garden, or sun yourself by the waterfall in the Japanese garden. There’s also a spectacular musical fountain near Margaret Bridge which comes alive four times a day and is a great place to have a picnic, plus a small zoo, and a few cafes.
What is it? Budapest boasts some delicious restaurants set in some breathtaking old buildings. During the summer, many of them give diners the opportunity to enjoy their food in airy courtyards or cosy terraces – Mazel Tov is one of them.
Why go? Once you find the outdoor area of your dreams, you’ll be able to people-watch, catch some rays and enjoy your dinner at the same time. Head to the buzzing Gozsdu Passage, in the Jewish District, which is a trendy tunnel lined with loads of bars and eateries that spill out into the outdoors. And for a truly atmospheric eating experience, Mazel Tov, is a spacious, tree-lined ruin bar serving up good vibes, and even better Israeli-Mediterranean food, seven days a week.
What is it? A museum dedicated to lifting the lid on the brutalities of the fascist and communist dictatorships that affected Hungary in the twentieth century.
Why go? Even if you’re not a history buff, you’ll find it hard not to be fascinated by the exhibitions on display here in the former headquarters of the Hungarian secret police. Learn about key events that have shaped Hungary’s history like the Stalinist regime and the 1956 Hungarian uprising, and see reconstructed prison cells and spy tools.
What is it? A 2.5-hour tour that will take you to the parts of Budapest you didn’t know about.
Why go? See the hidden side of Budapest with a walking tour that will take you to tranquil private gardens that are usually closed to the public. Be enchanted by the lesser-known tales of the city by your local guide and immerse yourself in the stories of the city. A perfect one for families.