Boats sailing past the Parliament building in Budapest
Photograph: Szabó Gábor for Time Out

The 26 best things to do in Budapest

Relaxing spas, raucous bars, fine wines and a whole lot more? Step this way.

Peterjon Cresswell

Budapest is a buzzing, lively, 24-hour city, and if you’re planning a trip, your to-do list might start with gliding along the Danube, laying into a bowl of hearty goulash and taking in the views with a panoramic cocktail. 

This city is steeped in history, blessed with spa waters and embellished with grandiose façades from the Habsburg days, just waiting to be explored. And while it’s not as cheap as it used to be, you can still cram a hell of a lot in on a budget. From attractions to nightlife, Our local writer Peterjon Cresswell has scoured the city to bring you this list of the best things to do in Budapest. 

📍 How to do a weekend in Budapest
🍲 The best restaurants in Budapest

🏘️ The best Airbnbs in Budapest
🏨 The best hotels in Budapest
🍽️ …and we’re opening a Time Out Market in Budapest!

Words by Peterjon Cresswell, original photos by Szabó Gábor, both 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 guidelinesThis guide includes affiliate links, which have no influence on our editorial content. For more information, see our affiliate guidelines

What to do in Budapest

  • Things to do

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.


3. Glide along 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.

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.

  • Nightlife
  • Late-night bars

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


6. Ride the Children’s Railway

What is it? Perhaps the only revered hangover from the Communist era, the former Pioneers’ Railway (now named the Children's 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.


7. Sip coffee in style at the New York Palace

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, the New York has 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.

8. Get in tune at the House of Music Hungary

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, the House of Music Hungary 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.

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.

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