Split by the River Danube, scenic Budapest is often referred to as “The Paris of the East”. Made up of three distinct areas, Budapest boasts interesting architecture, numerous thermal spas, a thriving classical music scene, and a pumping nightlife.
With plenty of history and a youthful outlook, the Hungarian capital appeals to people of all ages. And, a visit won’t normally break the bank!
But, with so many things to do and in such a large and sprawling city like this, it is easy to overlook some of the best bits of Budapest. Knowing where to start can be tricky.
That’s where we can help! Written by our expert travel panel, this bargain guide to the best things to do in Budapest includes not only the famous tourist spots but places that help you discover the city like a local too.
Here are the best things to do in Budapest; some will definitely amaze you!
Who doesn’t want to have fun on vacation?! Luckily, Budapest offers many ways to enjoy yourself, from food tours and bar crawls to fabulous days of sightseeing and quirkier activities. Here are our top recommendations.
Access areas that would be difficult to reach in larger vehicles and to more places than you could manage by foot on a cycling tour of Budapest. You’ll benefit from interesting explanations and local stories as well as simply seeing the sites. Plus, you’ll get to practice your peddle power and get some exercise!
Soak up the revolutionary air at Liberty Square before admiring the impressive neo-Gothic wonder of the cream and red Houses of Parliament, its spires and domes making it look like something from a fairytale. Other highlights include Heroes Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, the synagogue, and the elegant Andrassy Street.
Take a trip to Danube-Ipoly National Park where you can head underground to explore the biggest system of caves in Budapest. It’s incredible to think that sections run right below the bustling city streets!
Created by the flow of naturally heated water, you can see where Budapest’s famous hot springs start. The maze-like chambers stretch for miles.
You’ll need to crawl in some areas, and climbing is required, so make sure that you’re up for the challenge! You will have protective clothing and equipment and a professional guide will be by your side.
Feast on a choice of tasty pizzas and swill as much free beer (or soft drinks) as you like as you cruise along the scenic Danube River. A great way to enjoy the sights, have a blast and mingle with new people, the cruise leads between Elizabeth Bridge and the city’s last bridge. Passing under several other pretty bridges, your cruise lets you experience the city from a different perspective and enjoy lovely views.
Watch riverside life unfold as you sail along the river and snap plenty of pictures of some of Budapest’s iconic buildings and day-to-day scenes. You and your new mates might like to carry on the party afterwards too in some of the city’s awesome bars.
Budapest is a perfect city for a romantic getaway. Lovers will find plenty of opportunities for romance and ways to strengthen bonds.
Two things that Budapest is famous for are its relaxing thermal baths and the picturesque River Danube. Why not combine these two things for a great day of watery fun?
Spend the daytime luxuriating with your love in the opulent Szechenyi Thermal Baths, soaking in warm pools with varying temperature levels. Don’t worry if it’s a bit chilly outside; not only is the warm water sure to heat you up but there are indoor pools too.
When you feel suitably refreshed and relaxed, it’s time to freshen up ready for a romantic evening cruise along the majestic Danube. Enjoy drinks or a buffet dinner as you glide along the waters and see the city by night.
The scenic countryside around Budapest makes for a pleasant trip in its own right, but adding in wine experiences only enhances the romantic air.
Visit the charming village of Etyek to learn more about local wine production and visit small family-run wineries. Watch the wine-making process in action and, of course, taste a selection of delicious Hungarian wines. You might want to buy a bottle or two to take away with you for later!
You’ll be given snacks and nibbles throughout the day to keep hunger at bay, and you can look forward to a hearty traditional home-cooked meal in a cute farmhouse at the end of the day.
Music can stir the soul, and listening to melodic sounds with your beloved is a lovely way to spend time together. And, it’s even better when it’s a hauntingly beautiful classical concert in a gorgeous setting.
Take your seat in one of Budapest’s most glorious buildings, the gorgeous neo-classical St. Stephen’s Basilica and be captivated by the powerful sounds of the organ, accompanied by flute and singing. You’ll hear pieces from some of the world’s greatest composers, including Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, and Schubert.
Families can make many happy memories in Budapest, with a terrific selection of activities to suit all.
Although the adults may love to spend hours discovering Budapest’s many architectural gems and significant landmarks, little legs can tire easily and young minds can bore quickly. Compromise and hit the highlights by bus. But not just any bus … an amphibious bus that can also dive into the Danube! It’s sure to thrill kids!
Feast your eyes on the magnificent St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Opera House, the huge Tobacco Street Synagogue, Heroes Square, the Royal Palace, and the stunning Houses of Parliament. You’ll pass under the famous Chain Bridge as you bob along the waters.
The busy city can become a bit too much for the younger members of the family, so take a day to escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy the tranquil and scenic countryside.
Just a short drive from Budapest you’ll come to Puszta, the picturesque Hungarian plains. Soak up the scenery along the Rivers Danube and Tisza and learn more about the rural way of life. A horse show is sure to entertain people of all ages, and a quaint farm is often appealing to kids.
Dig into a traditional Hungarian meal, prepared with the rich bounties from the countryside, and listen to the enchanting sounds of live folk music as you dine.
Few children can resist the magic of watching interesting creatures. With lovely grounds and gardens, interesting architecture, and more than 1,000 species of animal from all four corners of the globe, there’s enough at the pretty Budapest Zoo to keep everyone happy.
Right in the heart of the city, it’s one of the oldest zoos in the world. It also has a very sad history—the zoo has floundered and flourished through the ages, but it was almost completely destroyed during WWII. Many animals were killed in bombing campaigns, and those that survived were eaten by starving locals.
The zoo is creating a much happier story today, with large comfortable enclosures for its healthy animals and a modern outlook. You can see lions, rhinos, elephants, kangaroos, monkeys, birds, crocodiles, reptiles, and other fascinating fauna throughout the zoos well-organised zones. Little kids can delight in getting up close and personal with smaller creatures at the petting zoo.
Although Budapest is generally a wallet-friendly city, finding excellent free things to do is always a happy bonus.
Connected to the mainland by bridges, Margaret Island is an artificial island in the Danube River. Previously a royal hunting ground and today mostly covered by pretty parks, it’s an ideal spot for a picnic. Inquisitive squirrels scamper through the trees and there are many birds, butterflies, and insects.
Climb the Art Nouveau water tower for nice views of the island, see old ruins of a convent and church, enjoy the lovely Japanese Garden, and stroll through the Rose Garden. Don’t miss seeing the UNESCO-listed musical fountain in action. The island has various sports facilities, a thermal water park, accommodations, restaurants, and bars. Novel electric cars are a common way for people to get around the island.
Budapest has several lively markets around the city, each one offering something new to see and a different vibe. They are great please for browsing, buying, photography, and observing local life play out.
Exploring Vásárcsarnok Market, also known as the Great Market Hall, is like stepping into another world. The huge three-floor indoor market has stalls dedicated to all manner of fresh produce and local dishes, spices, wines, embroidery, ceramics, souvenirs, and more. It’s famous and busy for a reason!
The open-air Hunyadi Square Market is perfect for picking up picnic supplies and the attractive Klauzal Square Market Hall and Hold Utca Market are other top shopping spots for foodies. Lehel Square Market has one of the widest selections of goods and Fény Street Market is one of Budapest’s biggest markets.
Others include the Sunday Vegan Market, Fehérvári Street Market, and Rakoczi Square Market.
Although you’ll need to cough up the metro fare to reach Szentendre Town, once there you needn’t spend a cent. The charm is in strolling through the atmospheric and attractive town and experiencing a slower pace of life outside of the bustling city.
Sitting next to the river, the historic architecture is eye-catching. Annunciation Church is well worth a quick photo stop. There are also several small art galleries and museums, some of which are free to enjoy. Fans of culture might like to stump up the admission fee for the Hungarian Open Air Museum, though it’s not necessary to fully enjoy your day.
Youthful Budapest really comes into its own at nighttime, with young professionals, students, and tourists all coming together to party the night away. From chilled-out evenings to nights you may not remember, Budapest’s nightlife is exciting. Plus, there are other cool ways to enjoy the city by night too.
The so-called ruin bars in Budapest offer some of the city’s most unusual nighttime venues. Atmospheric, lively, and unique, the idea behind the bars was simple—to provide welcoming and homey spaces where people could socialise over a cheap drink.
Set up in derelict buildings, abandoned spaces, old car parks, and the like, the ruin bars typically feature mismatched furnishings, interesting artwork, and a sense of shabby chic. Some serve meals. The quirky bars attract everyone from young professionals and students to hipsters, tourists, and pensioners. Start your night by hopping between a few ruin bars before continuing onto a club.
Blend two popular activities—a classical concert and an evening cruise along the Danube—for a classy and memorable night out in Budapest.
Enter an elegant concert hall, take your seats, and be mesmerised by the magical music. With a strong Hungarian feel, you’ll hear classical pieces performed by the Danube Symphonic Orchestra and the Ballett Ensemble of Budapest Operetta Theatre, and there’s also some soulful Gypsy music too.
After a beautiful concert, board the boat for a buffet dinner by candlelight as you cruise the Danube. See the city beautifully illuminated and admire the riverside vistas as you relax and fall in love with Budapest anew.
Step into the shoes of a Hungarian for a traditional and authentic night’s entertainment at an energetic, colourful, and exciting folk show.
Performers wear traditional outfits and show off their skills in music, singing, and dancing from various periods in Hungary’s past. There are regional performances from small villages as well as nationally celebrated pieces. The show is a fabulous way to appreciate and discover more about the nation’s folk heritage.
From stunning landmarks, cultural activities, and foodie adventures to fun family days out and nights on the tiles, Budapest offers a wealth of experiences.
Armed with this list of the best things to do in Budapest, have a great time exploring the fabulous Hungarian capital city and discovering its many exciting faces.