Budapest divided by the Danube River into Buda on the left bank and Pest on the right bank. Budapest guide photo by Hunszabi.
Top Things to Do in Budapest
Next to Fisherman’s Bastion is the incredibly ornate Matthias Church. Photo by mikkamakkax.
• Castle Hill (Varhegy) district in Buda is a restored, historic area of cobbled streets and pretty squares surrounded by baroque and classical buildings featuring Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church and panoramic views across the Danube to Pest.
A Matthias Church service, free of course, as are visits generally apart from trips up to the Observation Deck. Photo by Thaler Tamas.
• Thermal Baths or spas. Budapest has five hot spring resorts ranging from the very well known but slightly antiquated Gellert Hotel (Buda) to the large, colourful and busy Széchenyi Baths (Pest). All the baths have therapeutic waters that are supposed to relieve different physical problems such as joint inflammation, neuralgia, circulation issues, asthma, bronchitis and more but most tourists just go there to lounge around and imagine they are Roman centurions taking time out from fighting Asterix and the Gauls. More information on Budapest baths
Thermal baths in Hotel Gellert, Buda. Photo by Roberto Ventre.
• Budapest Operetta Theatre in central Pest offers traditional Viennese operettas in a beautiful old building inside and outside. Try to book in advance to get the best tickets – which are much cheaper than in the rest of Europe. Or there’s the much more formal Hungarian State Opera House (Magyar Allami Operahaz) also in central Pest, a magnificent building modeled after the Vienna Opera House and completed in 1884.
• St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika) in Pest, baroque splendour lavished with plenty of gold and vast murals. It’s free to enter though you’ll have to pay to go up to the Observation Deck for the views.
• Parliament (Orszaghaz) on the Pest bank of the Danube, this neo-Gothic structure was inspired by the British House of Parliament and houses a lot of gold, the Hungarian Royal crown, scepter and sword. The tours are offered in different languages, not too long at 30 minutes and inexpensive. Book in advance for an English tour.
• Palace of Arts (Muveszetek Palotaja) in Pest, a modern, popular auditorium for classical and popular music concerts, opera, dance, circus shows and many other events. Check the schedule and book early for events that suit you.
• Miniversum in central Buda is a huge, beautifully detailed and decorated model layout over 300 sqm featuring sights and landmarks from Hungary, Austria and Germany scaled to 1: 100 of original size. Kids love it.
• Sziget Music Festival, for a week in mid-August on Budapest’s Óbudai Island this is one of Europe’s biggest Rock Music Festivals with masses of facilities including camping and the usual crazed alternative attractions. Check dates.
• Cruises on the Danube River, a short night cruise is especially worthwhile with many buildings beautifully lit up and a glass of wine in your hand.
Buda Castle, the Castle District and some of the Danube tour boats. Photo by Andrzej Otrebski.
• Puzzle-solving team games are a big fashion in Budapest with riddle-rooms designed by companies such as TRAP, Claustrophilia or Locked Escape. Families or friends enter themed rooms and have to solve a series of puzzles to leave, which usually takes an hour. Fun and very popular but not exactly cheap. The first two experiences are in Pest and Locked Escape is in Buda.
• Shooting! Celeritas is a gun club in southern Pest that offers a wide variety of real firearms to try out in a safe and controlled environment. Quite a long way so best to go by taxi. It’s relatively inexpensive.
• Caving in north Buda, a proper, crawling, squeezing experience with a hint of claustrophobia, but probably best avoided by very large people.
• Invisible Exhibition in north Buda, another unusual experience for the game tourist! In this case you are guided by a blind person through some pitch black mock-ups of an apartment, a street and a bar. It’s an eye-opener if you’ll forgive the cheap pun giving the fully-sighted visitor a new understanding of the value of sight.
Buda Castle, a World Heritage Site, has been the palatial home of Hungarian kings since 1265, also known as the Royal Palace.
Buda Castle is located on the south side of Castle Hill in the Castle District (Várnegyed), known for its Medieval, Baroque and 19th-century houses and public buildings. There is a funicular (cable car) to get up there if it’s working.
Hotel Gellert Baths
And outside there is the action-packed Gellert wave pool. Photo by Zairon.
This is a wonderful and relaxing place though staff are not good at explaining what to do and how to do it (alt. don’t try very hard) so be prepared to explore. There are saunas, steam rooms, beautifully tiled showers, plunge pools to chill in and hot baths to broil in, just like in ancient Rome except you’re in ancient Hungary.
Bring a swimming costume, towel and cap for long hair. There is a small café for snacks and it is possible to buy towel, costume, cap there if necessary.
The Thermal Baths of Hotel Gellert were finished in 1918 in Art Nouveau style, but the waters have been known to have healing powers since the 13th century. One bath naturally heats to about 36C and the other to 38C. Some believe the baths cure or at least relieve asthma, bronchitis, degenerative joint disease, circulation problems, gout, arthritis, and more.
In the middle of Heroes’ Square is the Millennium Monument, designed in 1894 but not completed until thirty-five years later.
The Millennium Column is the focal point of the Millennium Monument with a base ringed by the seven Hungarian chieftains on horseback who conquered what is now known as Hungary. The column is topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel and circled with statues of famous Hungarians.
This open air museum houses statues from Hungary’s Communist period 1949–1989 with Lenin, Marx and Engels sharing with Hungarian Communist apparatchiks. The architect said: “This park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described, built, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy is able to give the opportunity to let us think freely about dictatorship. “
Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts, Szépművészeti Múzeum, Buda. Photo by Kontiki.
On the north side Heroes’ Square is Budapest’s Museum of Fine Arts. It’s main attraction is European old master’s, with masterpieces from Raphael, Titian, El Greco, Goya, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rubens as well as sculptures and artifacts from the Middle Ages.
Best: May – September (July has the most sunshine, August the most tourists) when average high temperatures range from 22C/72F to 27C/81F and lows from 12C/54F to 17C/63F. Spring and Autumn arts festivals are well worth attending even if the weather is a little unpredictable.
Worst: Winter tends to be grey and cold with temperatures ranging from 0C/32F to 8C/46F though rain is not so bad.
The Aquarena water park just outside the city is a big hit with kids, and the Tropicarium (animals, birds, fish and plants) works well too.
City Park offers varied childish treats, from the Zoo – a popular Art Nouveau family destination – to a circus, funfair and pond for rowing in summer and skating in winter.
Buda’s Children’s Railway Line – staffed mostly by children – is a pleasant peculiarity.
end of March: Budapest Spring Festival – a huge and well-respected all-round arts festival.
mid July: Visegrad Palace Games. A medieval festival including arts, archery and jousting in this pretty town near Budapest.
early August: Sziget Festival. A massive and excitable international music event held on Margaret island, with over 1, 000 performances on 15 stages.
August 20: St Stephens Day – a nationwide celebration, especially lively in Budapest, with parades, folk singing, fairs and fireworks.
end of October: Budapest Autumn Festival, more contemporary arts, from music to dance to computer art