No trip to Central Europe is complete without soaking up the best things to do in Budapest. The Hungarian capital is one of the three most famous stops on the Central Europe travel triangle, and visiting the top tourist attractions in Budapest will quickly reveal why.
Although I was slightly underwhelmed by Budapest during my first visit, my recollection of the city has allows the more pleasant moments of my trip replace the seedy ones that plagued me for so long.
Not sure what to do in Budapest? Plan the ultimate Budapest itinerary with this quick guide to the best places to visit in Budapest…
What to do in Budapest: The best places to visit
Ogle at the Hungarian Parliament Building
If there’s any landmark in Budapest that’ll immediately capture your attention it’s the Hungarian Parliament Building. Hooked upon the banks of the Danube River, this early-20th-century Gothic Revival building is simply enormous, impossibly eye-catching, and simply begs to be explored from every angle.
Although the best views of the Hungarian Parliament Building are undoubtedly from the opposite side of the river in Buda (the best place to launch a self-guided walking tour of Budapest), don’t miss a chance to tour the inside of the parliament on one of the daily tours.
I’d recommend booking your tour in advance as they tend to sell out quickly.
See the city from above at the Fisherman’s Bastion
Not that Budapest is short on spectacular views, but for some of the city’s best, head over to the Fisherman’s Bastion, an ornate 20th-century fortress perched upon Castle Hill in Buda.
The fortress, built in a mix of neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque architectural styles, features seven towers that signify the seven Magyar tribes that settled in this area to eventually form modern Hungary.
Each tower at the Fisherman’s Bastion provides a differing perspective onto the city, doling out tremendous views across the Danube to the Pest side including a full-on vista of the beastly Hungarian Parliament Building.
Entrance to most of the towers at the Fishermen’s Bastion is free with a small supplement required for highest viewpoints in the peak of tourist season.
Look down upon Pest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
To get some Budapest city views closer to the action, head over to St. Stephen’s Basilica, an early-20th-century neoclassical cathedral in the pulsing heart of Pest. Regarded as one of Hungary’s most important religious buildings, St. Stephen’s Basilica impresses with its colourful cupola, ornate stained glass windows, and elaborate sanctuary & altar.
Although the church itself is clearly lovely, its true glory, in my humble opinion, shines at its observation deck. Burn your quads & the last of your goulash by trekking up 365 stairs (or just take the elevator) to the base of the dome for incredible views over the historical centre of Pest.
If you happen to visit Budapest in November, be sure to keep on the lookout for the incredible Basilica Christmas Market featuring hundreds of local handicraft stalls, a skating rink, and a nightly Christmas laser show!
Get a little wild at a popular ruin bar
One of the reasons travellers are so enamoured by Budapest is its party culture, and there’s no better way to introduce yourself to it than to rip it up a one of the city’s infamous ruin bars.
Most seen inside a variety of abandoned buildings in the former Jewish quarter of Budapest, these shabby bars transport you to an industrial-chic world that’s as strange & hip as it is fun.
There’s a whole slew of ruin bars around Budapest to choose from including Szimpla Kert, one of Budapest’s first ruin bars; Anker’t, a summer favourite featuring a series of connected courtyards; and Fogas Ház, a large party complex with everything from a techno club to a rooftop terrace wine bar.
Relax at the Széchenyi Thermal Baths
Budapest’s past life as a medieval European outpost for the Ottomans left it with some interesting features, none more compelling that its thermal baths which have become a favourite for travellers visiting the city.
While there’s hardly a shortage of baths in Budapest to choose from, you won’t likely find any more fulfilling than the Széchenyi Thermal Baths at the edge of the city centre.
Two hot springs bring life to Széchenyi, feeding it with mineral rich waters between 74ºC and 77ºC. The baths here, the largest of their kind in Europe, are famed for their healing properties from helping with everything from joint pain to skin conditions.
One of the best times to visit Széchenyi Thermal Baths is on Saturday nights when Budapest’s famous party culture collides with its outdoor bathing culture in a pool party that’ll be the exact opposite of relaxation.
Explore & shop at Central Market Hall
When your typical historical European sites are starting to get old, spike up your Budapest visit to Central Market Hall. Located just south of the city centre, this 19th-century market is the largest in Budapest, selling everything from local-sourced fruits & vegetables to souvenirs.
If you’ve got a taste for Hungarian food, be sure to check out the huge selection of local products at the first floor food hall. Whether you’re looking to take home some high-quality Hungarian paprika or pack a few sausages for the rest of your Central Europe trip, you’ll find it all here.
Step back into the past at Buda Castle
Perched atop Castle Hill high above the banks of the Danube, Buda Castle might not be quite you’d expect, especially after brushing up with epic Central European castles like Neuschwanstein or Karlstejn.
Even so, there’s no denying that this complex (once referred to as the Royal Palace) is one best places to visit in Budapest, one of the most-visited castles in Hungary, and an absolute must-see while spending time in the Hungarian capital.
Once up on Castle Hill, the full range of Buda Castle’s glory is within reach. Besides the Royal Palace itself, the complex is home to a barrage of gates, towers, galleries & museums including the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.
Half of the fun of touring Buda Castle is getting there. For supreme views of the city, hop onto the Castle Hill funicular at the base of Chain Bridge for a 10-minute ride up to Buda Castle that unleashes incredible views across the Danube to Pest along the way.
Catch the Hungarian Grand Prix buzz at the Hungaroring
Even if you’re not a huge racing fan, one of the best (and most affordable!) places to catch a Formula 1 race is at the Hungaroring, roughly an hour outside of Budapest.
Every summer the Hungarian Grand Prix takes place here, bringing some of the world’s most famous drivers together into an adrenaline-pumping experience that’s far more exhilarating than you might expect!
Unfortunately, planning out your Hungarian Grand Prix experience isn’t always so simple. Because of the event’s popularity, you’ll need to book your seating at Hungaroring well in advance if you want premium seats.
Even if you go for the cheaper general admission tickets, you’ll know doubt need to elbow your way through some serious crowds to catch the best of the action.
Where to stay: The best hotels for sightseeing in Budapest
If you want to get the most out of your trip, choosing where to stay in Budapest correctly is absolutely critical. For sightseeing & tackling all the top points in interest in Budapest, I’d recommend sticking to the centre of the city, particularly the areas on the Pest side of the Danube as they tend to be quite a bit livelier than Buda.
Here are a few of the top hotels in Budapest to start your search…
- A Golden Star Modern Luxury Apartments Budapest: A superb aparthotel with fully-stocked modern self-catering apartments that won’t break the bank. Excellent location.
- D8 Hotel: An amazing boutique-style hotel with bright & unique rooms that drag you in immediately. Both the Chain Bridge (for crossing over to Buda) and St. Stephen’s Basilica are less than ten minutes away by foot.
- Hotel Moments Budapest: Sitting on Pest’s main thoroughfare of Andrássy Avenue, this lovely hotel features supremely elegant design throughout from the rooms to the common area. Opt for some time in the steamy sauna or a massage to truly relax during your stay.
- Aria Hotel Budapest by Library Hotel Collection: Voted as one of the top hotels in the world, this incredible 5-star hotel is truly a treat. With stylish music-themed rooms, you can bet that your stay here will be anything but ordinary. Be sure to check out the spectacular rooftop bar for amazing views over the historic district.