What to See in Budapest
Budapest is known as the Paris of Central Europe and the Pearl of the Danube—and for good reason. This city is absolutely stunning!
If you're not familiar with Budapest, it's the charming capital city of Hungary. With over 1.7 million inhabitants, this city has a seemingly endless amount of things to see and do. Love history? Budapest is chock-full of architecture, art, and remnants from past wars and empires. Of course, nearly every European city has a big stake in the claim of having a "rich history," but I'm not kidding you, Budapest is magic.
When I first went to Budapest, I felt as if I'd been sent back through time. The architecture is a beautiful reminder of the past, and the people are so friendly and warm it's as if time has changed nothing. If you're looking to have a blast and are headed to Central Europe, you've got to put Budapest at the top of your list.
Budapest is actually composed of three cities which were unified in 1873. Óbuda and Buda were on the west-bank of the Danube (the hilly side) and Pest was on the east-bank.
Don't forget there are islands, too!
There is so much to do on Castle Hill, you may want to set aside an entire day to explore it. For a fun experience, you can take the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló) to the top of the hill (we ended up just taking the 20 minute walk to the top.)
You can walk around the beautiful Buda Castle walls and Fishermen's Bastion to enjoy views of Castle Hill's architecture as well as some views of Budapest itself. Stop in at Cafe Ruszwurm for a quick bite and some coffee. You'll want to rest for a bit, anyway, before exploring more of what Castle Hill offers. You can also take a quick stop off at the Faust Wine Cellar or the Royal Wine House to pick up one of over 50 regional wines. (Hungary is known for some fantastic wine, wines from the Tokaji region is my favorite!)
Because of its spire, you can almost see Matthias Church from anywhere in Budapest. The church and its spire have beautiful components of Gothic architecture, complete with gargoyles making it a must-see. Matthias is home to the Ecclesiastical Art museum which contains medieval stone carvings and sacred relics.
Want to do something unique? Check out the Buda Castle Labyrinth (Budavári Labirintus). This is an underground labyrinth underneath Castle Hill complete with guided tours. This particular locale is family friendly making it a great stop if you have children.
If you're in the area at the end of August, you might want to head up to Castle Hill to check out the Festival of Folk Arts.
Outside Budapest: Beautiful Sites Around Hungary
Hungary is well-known for being home to some of the world's most beautiful castles. If you have time to wander the countryside, I highly recommend checking out Hungarian Castles and Fortresses.
Budapest's Turkish Baths
Budapest is known for being a spa city. The Turkish baths are left over from when the city was a part of the Turkish empire. While Turkish influence is more apparent in other European cities, the Turkish influence is not immediately evident in Budapest. The baths, however, do show the influence of Turkish culture on the city.
Budapest's baths are built around hot natural springs and each usually contains at least one thermal pool. I went to a bath in Budapest, but unfortunately I did not go into a thermal pool. I wish I had as I hear nothing but amazing things about the thermal baths.
The Gellért Baths, located on the Buda side, are arguably the most beautiful example of art nouveau pools across Europe. My personal favorite is the Széchenyi Bath & Spa, located on the Pest side. Széchenyi is the largest spa in Europe with two outdoor thermal pools (so warm, they're even open during the winter) and an outdoor swimming pool, an indoor steam bath, both an indoor and outdoor swimming tube, an indoor swimming pool, an indoor aqua-gym pool, and a number of indoor hot tubs and saunas.
If you're looking for an authentic experience, head out to the Király Baths. Keep in mind that the Király Baths are not co-ed and they rotate between male-only and female-only days.
Hungarian State Opera House
Hungarian State Opera House
The Hungarian State Opera House (Magyar Állami Operaház) is definitely worth a visit even if you're not interested in seeing a show. Both the architecture and the interior décor are absolutely stunning.
Richly decorated in neo-Renaissance style interwoven with Baroque style architecture, this is perhaps one of the most ornate opera houses in the world. To top it off, it is considered the 3rd best opera house in all of Europe, when it comes to acoustics. It was beat out only by La Scala in Milan, Italy and Palais Garnier in Paris.
Hősök tere, which is Hungarian for "Heroes' Square", is just steps away from the opera house. The Millennium Memorial, located on the grounds is comprised of the leaders of the seven tribes that founded Hungary.
While Hősök tere has been named such since its completion in 1900, it gained major political significance in 1989, when Imre Nagy was reburied there.
Imre Nagy, a national hero of Hungary had been executed for treason against the communist party in 1958. It was only fitting that this hero be buried at Heroes' Square.
Great Market Hall
Items such as medieval children's toys and the tooth of King Matthias Corvinus' leopard (he kept it as a pet) were found during an excavation of Castle Hill.
Where to Shop
Shopping here is fabulous (it's what I loved most about the city.) On my trip to Budapest, we shopped at two malls. Mammut is a large shopping mall which was located just a few blocks from the bed and breakfast where we stayed, Mohácsi Panzió. We shopped here literally every day we were in Budapest. This mall has an amazing European clothing store called Mango, which I highly recommend checking out.
The City Center mall is considerably larger than Mammut. It's actually the largest mall in Budapest with over 400 stores. That said, if you're looking for a fun place to really do some shopping, I highly recommend going to a market. There are a few open-air markets around Budapest where you can pick up some nice items at great prices. Central Market Hall, an indoor marketplace is a must-see.
The Margitsziget Water Tower
Budapest is split in half by the River Danube, but did you know there are seven landmasses (islands) in the Danube within the city of Budapest? The most famous island here is Margaret Island, or Margitsziget.
Margaret Island is essentially a huge park that has everything including a 5350 meter jogging track, a Japanese garden, a zoo, areas for performances, and an absolutely stunning water tower.
We had a picnic on the island and played a little bit of soccer with locals. It was a blast and highly recommend spending some time on the island. Access to the island can be difficult as no cars are allowed on the island (aside from buses and emergency vehicles.) You can get on the island via a walk bridge.
Wear a comfy pair of shoes as you'll want to spend some time strolling around the island. If walking's not your thing, you can rent a bicycle or a strange, four-wheeled, four-seat bicycle. (It looks something like a golf cart.)
The Budapest Parliament
If you're looking for a place to get the best views of Budapest, head up to Gellért Hill. By taking the short, brisk walk up the hill, you'll reach the Citadella. Once here, you'll be able to walk around and take in the best view of Budapest. From here you can see both the Buda and Pest sides of the city including the hills of Buda and the parliament (which lies in Pest.) You will also be able to see Budapest's beautiful bridges and Margitsziget in the distance.
Because of the strategic location of the Citadella, some of the best photos of Budapest are actually taken from here. If you're an aspiring photographer and are in town, come up here to get an amazing shot for your portfolio.
Interested in History or Art?
Budapest is chock-full of museums. If history is your thing, you'll definitely want to head to a museum here. The Budapest History Museum will give you a glimpse of life in the city from when the city was first settled, through the Gothic period, all the way to modern day. Alternatively, you can check out the Aquincum Museum which features items from Hungary's Roman Era which includes the ruins of Aquincum (what the area was called when it was first settled.)
Looking to learn more recent history? The Budapest Memento Park (also known as Statue Park) to learn about life behind the iron-curtain. Perhaps the most popular museum in Budapest is the House of Terror which houses items from both the fascist and communist regimes in Hungary. The museum serves as a memorial to those tortured and killed when the country was under control of Nazi Germany as well as when it was a part of the Soviet Union.
If you'd like to check out some popular art museums, head out to the Museum of Fine Arts ( Szépművészeti Múzeum) which is located near Hősök tere. The Museum of Applied Arts (Iparművészeti Múzeum) contains furniture, textiles, woodwork, and ceramic pieces and is also highly popular. I also recommend checking out the Hungarian National Gallery (Magyar Nemzeti Galéria) which is a fine arts museum.
Budapest is a fast-paced city in the midst of beautiful architecture, parks, and a rich history. There are many reasons you may consider spending time in Budapest. Whether you like to shop, go sightseeing, snap photos, or just relax and take it all in, this city has it all. No wonder it's called the Paris of Central Europe!