Posted: 1/13/2020 | January 13th, 2020
I’ve always had a love affair Budapest (though the city may not know it). Growing up, Budapest seemed like this historic yet mysterious place closed off by the Soviets but filled with historic grandeur. When I first visited, the gritty, rundown streets charmed me. Budapest felt edgy in sharp contrast to, say, Prague’s more sanitized history. Budapest was a city of underground bars in abandoned buildings, hearty food, and serious people.
Over the years, I’ve seen the city change as the tourists in droves. And, while no longer as edgy (those ruin bars are no longer hidden), Budapest is still something else. It offers some of the best nightlife in Europe, tons of spas and hot springs, stunning historic buildings and museums, and lots of green space.
Budapest is a city with layers. No matter what you’re interested in, you’ll be able to find it here. To help you make the most out of your next trip, here are my top 24 things to see and do in Budapest.
1. Take a Free Walking Tour
Whenever I arrive in a new destination, I always take a free walking tour. It’s a budget-friendly way to see the main sights, learn about the destination, and ask any questions you have to a local expert. They’re a quick and easy way to get an overview of a city, which will help you plan the rest of your trip. Budapest has a number of good free tours available. Here are a few you can check out to get started:
2. Soak at the Baths
Budapest is known for its thermal spa baths (it’s one of the best things about this city). You’ll find more than 100 mineral hot springs here, many dating back to the Roman Empire.
The most popular is the Széchenyi Baths in City Park. With 18 pools, it’s the largest and most famous in Europe. The historic buildings that house the spa were built in 1913, and it’s a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Don’t forget your bathing suit and flip-flops (you can rent towels and lockers).
Állatkerti krt. 9-11, +36 1-363-3210, www.szechenyifurdo.hu. Open daily 6am-10pm. Admission starts at 4,900 HUF.
3. Ruin Bars
The nightlife in Budapest is one of the best in Europe — and ruin bars are a big reason why. Located in the old Jewish Quarter, much of the neighborhood was left to decay after World War II. During the 90s, bars began to appear in the abandoned buildings in the area. Now, this underground scene is well on the map. But that doesn’t make this eclectic, arty, and funky spaces any less fun. Szimpla Kert, Instant, and Fogasház are my three favorites but, for a more detailed list of what’s hot right now, check out my post on the best ruin bars in Budapest!
4. Castle Hill
This historic area is home to baroque houses and Habsburg monuments. Cobblestone streets and narrow alleys that hark back to the city’s medieval roots parallel panoramic views of Pest and the Danube. This section of the city is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the Old Town in the north and the massive palace to the south, which dates to the 13th century.
6. Buda Castle
In the Castle Hill area, you’ll also find Buda Castle (it’s more of a palace complex than anything else). The original complex was constructed in the 13th century, however, the huge Baroque palace that exists today was actually built between 1749-1769. Originally intended for the nobility, the palace was looted by the Nazis (and then the Soviets) during World War II.
Fun fact: Beneath the castle, Vlad the Impaler (colloquially known as Count Dracula) was imprisoned for 14 years. In the dungeon area, there is also a labyrinth that tourists used to be able to explore — in the dark, no less — though it’s now closed. You’ll also find some museums here as well (see below).
Szent György tér 2, +36 1 458 3000, budacastlebudapest.com. The courtyards are open 24/7 while the castle is open daily from 10am-8pm.
5. Hospital in the Rock
This museum served as a hospital, bomb shelter, prison, and nuclear bunker. Here you’ll learn about the impacts that World War II, the 1956 revolution, and the Cold War had on the city and its people. Opened in 2008, it’s one of the most popular attractions in town. Admission includes a one-hour guided tour of the museums, which has all sorts of wax figures, tools, equipment, and furnishings.
Lovas ut 4/c , +36 70 701 0101, sziklakorhaz.eu/en. Open daily 10am-8pm. Admission is 4,000 HUF.
6. Hungarian National Gallery
Opened in 1957, this museum focuses on Hungarian artists and history (of which I knew very little before my first visit). The gallery is located in Buda Castle, home to paintings and sculptures from the renaissance and middle ages, including wooden altarpieces from the 1400s. You can also tour the building’s massive dome. The gallery hosts rotating temporary exhibits too so check the website to find out what’s on during your visit.
1014 Budapest, +36 20 439 7325, mng.hu. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm (last tickets sold at 5pm). Admission is…
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