There is much to love in Hungary’s capital. As one of the largest cities in Europe, buzzing Budapest is chock full of world-class historic sites, delicious eats and a booming nightlife scene. Divided into flat Pest and hilly Buda, the city will amaze at every corner of its neo classical, baroque and art nouveau styles. From thermal baths to a can’t-miss funicular, discover what makes Budapest a must-see European city.
1. Tour Buda Castle
Overlooking the city from Castle Hill, Buda Castle (also known as the Royal Palace or Royal Castle), is a must-stop on a tour of Budapest’s royal past. Originally built in the 13th century, the castle was occupied by several monarchies up until WWII. Today, Buda Castle is home to the Hungarian National Gallery, the Castle Museum, and the National Szechenyi Library.
2. Enjoy the view from Fisherman’s Bastion
Once you’ve toured Buda Castle, don’t miss the stunning panoramic views from Fisherman’s Bastion, a 17th-century fortress with seven lookout towers, each representing seven Hungarian tribes that founded the country. Sunrise or sunset, you won’t want to miss the jaw-dropping views of flat Pest below, not to mention wandering around the beautiful marble arches and grand staircases of the fortress.
3. Take a dip in a thermal bath
Budapest is famous for its thermal baths, which are part of a long Hungarian mineral bathing tradition. Szechenyi thermal bath, built in 1913, is one of the largest in Europe with 21 pools and helpful English-speaking attendants. For a more atmospheric experience, head to Rudas Baths, built during the Ottoman era in the mid-16th century. This Turkish-style bath is co-ed on the weekends, so keep that in mind when planning a visit.
4. Sip a beer at a “ruin” pub
Don’t be put off by the name. A “ruin” pub, a fairly new tradition in Budapest, is a bar built inside derelict buildings and abandoned outdoor spaces. Rather then let these spaces go to waste, clever entrepreneurs transformed them into friendly places where you can grab a cheap beer. One of the most well-known ruin pubs is Szimpla Kert, Budapest’s first ruin pub in the Jewish Quarter.
5. Cruise the Danube
There might not be a better way to see this stunning city than by cruising the Danube, the second-largest river in Europe. From your boat, see the sights of this UNESCO World Heritage site including the Hungarian Parliament, Chain Bridge, Gresham Palace and the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a riverside memorial honoring the lives lost during the Holocaust.
6. Walk across the Chain Bridge
Spanning the Danube from Buda to Pest, the Chain Bridge is one of the most iconic sights in all of Budapest. Completed in 1849, the suspension bridge was the first to connect both areas of the city and was meant to symbolize the connection between Western and Eastern Europe. While anytime is a good time to walk across the bridge, at night when the bridge is illuminated is an especially enchanting experience.
7. Stroll the Jewish Quarter
With an exciting mix of restaurants, trendy shops, nightlife and historic sites, the Jewish Quarter has gone through a full transformation to become one of the coolest neighborhoods in Budapest. Start your tour at Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe! Inside, you’ll find the Hungarian Jewish Museum & Archives, while outside you can admire the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial. The Jewish Quarter is a great place to experience the city’s ruin pubs as well as an impressive street art scene.
8. Climb to the top of St. Stephen's Basilica
The real treat at this neoclassical cathedral is the view from the top! Walk up the 364 steps or take the elevator up to the dome's observation deck, which offers incredible views of the sprawling city below. Before leaving, don’t miss the mummified hand of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary and patron saint of the church.
Pro tip: The observation deck is open April through October
9. Eat your way through Great Market Hall
This restored neo gothic market hall is a feast for all five senses. Built in 1897, the market has two floors bursting with fresh produce, meat, cheese, prepared dishes and Hungarian crafts. Pick up some Hungarian paprika to take home and enjoy a comforting goulash or langosz, a type of bread with a variety of sweet or savory toppings.
10. Ride the funicular from Buda to Pest
Don’t miss the charm of riding this 19th-century funicular, connecting Adam Clarke Square to Buda Castle. Destroyed during WWII, the cable car was lovingly restored to its original glory and reopened in 1986. Running every 10 minutes, the funicular is a fun and relaxing way to experience the city and save your legs for exploring Buda Castle.