Budapest is epic. Central and Eastern Europe have recently exploded onto the radars of American travelers, and for good reason. Cities like Prague, Vienna, and Krakow are incredible cities that come with a much more affordable price tag than their western European counterparts. However, in all of my travels through Eastern and Central Europe spanning over 11 countries, I’d easily call Budapest one of the three most beautiful cities I’ve visited in the region.
With magnificent architecture, mouth-watering food, a resilient culture, and an extremely interesting history, the capital of Hungary is a city I could return to time and time again, and I always enjoy it just as much. This Budapest travel guide will cover all of the best things to do in Budapest, plus how to get around, the best airports near Budapest, and more.
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We have some sippets from Budapest In this YouTube video.
Best Things to Do in Budapest
Budapest is incredible, and it is especially cool for people who like a little bit of history and culture. While the buildings in Budapest are beautiful and unique, the history behind each of them tends to be even cooler. This list will cover the top Budapest attractions, including some fascinating museums, some unique attractions, and some spots with epic panoramic views.
The city is split by the River Danube into two parts: Buda on the west and Pest on the east. Until the mid-1800s these two sides were actually separate cities, and a newly-built bridge connected them and spurred them to officially unite under the new name of Budapest. Nowadays, although well-connected by both the Margaret Bridge and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, each side retains its own unique characteristics.
Best Things to Do in Buda
1. Absorb the City Views from the Fisherman’s Bastion
The Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the most epic-looking places in all of Budapest, and it sits at the top of Castle Hill in the Buda Castle District. The area around the banks of the Danube River and Margaret Island is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Fisherman’s Bastion provides some of the best views of it.
While getting up to the Fisherman’s Bastion requires a bit of a hike, there is a restaurant and a Starbucks within the bastion where you can grab a drink or a bite to eat. Due to this prime real estate and the epic views, I commonly reference this Starbucks as one of my favorites in the whole world.
Stopping into Matthias Church is also a must-do while at the bastion. The Fisherman’s Bastion allows free entry for visitors to walk around and explore its spectacular views.
2. Descend into the Buda Castle Labyrinth
The Labyrinth under Buda Castle is a nifty place to check out. While walking through it doesn’t seem too scary or ominous, there is one detail that makes this place unique; Dracula was once imprisoned there. Now, Dracula the vampire wasn’t actually a real person, but the character was created in the image of Vlad the Impaler, a Romanian ruler from the middle ages.
This guy, though widely regarded as a Romanian hero, was hated by the Ottomans that were in control of Budapest, and thus thrown into an underground prison. This is that prison. Visiting the Labyrinth is definitely a unique experience!
3. Admire the Grandeur of Buda Castle and its Museums
Built originally in the 13th century, Buda Castle dominates the Buda side of the city, as it sits on the top of a steep hill and overlooks everything. Buda Castle can be toured, and there are endless cool rooms and chambers to see within its walls. The Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum are both located within the castle, too.
One of the best things about Buda Castle actually isn’t even inside of it; it’s the view you get from outside! From the top of Castle Hill, you can see the entire side of Pest as well as a large amount of Buda and Margaret Island off in the distance. The best views of the city and the Danube promenade are easily found here, at the Fisherman’s Bastian, and at nearby Gellért Hill.
The best views of the city and the Danube promenade are easily found here, at the Fisherman’s Bastian, and at nearby Gellért Hill.
4. Check Out the Church in the Cave
Inside of Gellert Hill, you can find a Catholic church run by Pauline monks. This cave was rumored to have been the home of a hermit monk who used mud to heal people centuries ago, and its history only developed further from there. The Pauline monks built this church into the cave and ran it until 1951. Nowadays it sometimes goes by the name Rock Church.
In 1951, the communist government threw the monks into labor camps, executed the head monk, and sealed the cave behind concrete. In 1989 the Pauline monks reclaimed the church, broke down the concrete wall, and reopened it to the public.
To add to the mysterious feel of the church, there is a famous Black Madonna painting located inside. This little church is so unique that it is absolutely worth a visit, even if you only have a little time in the city.
Best Things to Do in Pest
1. Take a Bath in One of Budapest’s Famous Thermal Spas
If you didn’t know this, Budapest is known all around the world for its natural thermal baths, or hot springs. The water in these thermal springs is supposed to be very good for your skin and body and has been used for healing purposes for centuries.
While there are baths on both sides of the city, the best ones are in Pest.
We went to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths, and it quickly became one of our favorite things we did on our trip. You pay an entry fee that gives you access to all of the spas on site as well as a locker for your personal belongings. You can also add on additional services if you wish.
The spas are co-ed, and you must bring a bathing suit. You can rent towels on-site at most of the spas, but the bathing suit must be your own. Right next door to Szechenyi baths is a Thermal Beer Spa, which is basically the same as the regular spas, except with a lot of beer. We didn’t have the time to go, but wow. That sounds really cool.
2. Look at Jaw-dropping Architecture on a Free Walking Tour
The Pest side of the city is a lot busier and more urban than the Buda side, but that doesn’t take away from its charm. The Hungarian Parliament Building is absolutely striking and is one of the most iconic and recognizable postcard images of the city. St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Hungarian State Opera House, the Royal Palace, the Central Market Hall, and the Great Synagogue are all stunning, too.
Wandering around in Pest you’ll find endless eye-popping buildings, and one of the best things to do in Pest is to simply admire your surroundings. There is no better way to do this than on a free walking tour with a local guide who can add context about all of the stunning buildings. After your guided tour, the perfect place to grab a bite to eat is the Great Market Hall, which is loaded with delicious food options.
3. Learn About the Country’s Sad Past at the House of Terror
The House of Terror is not a Halloween-esque haunted house; it’s a former torture facility. The period during and after World War II was a very rough time in Hungarian history, as the country struggled immensely with problems stemming from fascist and communist regimes.
The House of Terror was a torture facility used by the secret police forces of these same fascist and communist leaders that hosted the torture and death of countless Hungarians as the country navigated itself back to democracy. The museum is extremely informational and staggeringly sad, but it is absolutely worth a visit. This is one of the best cultural sites to visit in all of Budapest.
4. Grab a Drink in One of Budapest’s Ruin Bars
What is a ruin bar you might ask? It is exactly what it sounds like: a bar made out of ruins. Recently, developers have started buying up old, abandoned buildings and turning them into trendy bar spaces. We spent an evening at Racskert and really loved it, but there are so many great places to choose from including the internationally famous Szimpla Kert.
These ruin bars offer cheap drinks, a great, uniquely bohemian atmosphere, and often even live music. Hanging out at a ruin bar is a great way to enjoy a night in Hungary’s capital city, and it is also a great place to meet local friends.
5. See St. Stephen’s Mummified Right Hand in St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen was the first king of Hungary, and the Catholic cathedral in the city center is dedicated to him. The church itself is gorgeous, is the largest church in Hungary, and it is easily one of the best places to check out in Budapest. However, something that makes this basilica especially worth visiting is that it houses the mummified hand of St. Stephen himself, preserved in a glass observation box on the right-hand side of the church.
St. Stephen is regarded as one of the greatest Hungarian kings to ever live, and having a church dedicated to him in the Hungarian capital is the perfect testament to his legacy.
6. Walk Around the Old Jewish Quarter
Budapest used to have a huge Jewish population, and walking around the Old Jewish Quarter is a testament to that. From seeing Jewish restaurants and bakeries to the massive Dohány Street Synagogue, there are a lot of nifty things to do in this area of the city that make it pretty unique.
Dohany Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue not just in Hungary, but in all of Europe. This Moorish-style building can fit up to three thousand people at once, and it is a sight to behold. While the synagogue itself is very pretty, there are two additional parts of it that I recommend checking out.
Firstly, there is a Holocaust Memorial located within the synagogue that I recommend checking out. Hungary’s Jewish population was very affected by the Holocaust, and this memorial is an incredibly solemn place to visit. You can learn more at the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, which is also located within the synagogue complex.
7. Get Some Fresh Air at Heroes’ Square
Heroes’ Square is a city park located on the eastern end of Pest. This is where the Széchenyi Thermal Baths are located, and it is also where you can find the famous statue of Archangel Gabriel. If you are interested in local Hungarian history, I recommend checking out Vajdahunyad Castle, which is a history museum and is where our Budapest YouTube video begins!
There are a couple of other museums located here, like the Museum of Fine Arts, but I recommend just going for a walk around the park after spending an afternoon at the thermal spas. Heroes’ Square offers a refreshingly different angle of Budapest as a city.
How to Get to Budapest
Budapest is a big city, and regionally it is very well connected. Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD) serves many regional flights as well as a handful of direct flights to countries outside of the region, like the United States. Since Budapest is a lot less popular than a major hub like Paris, you’ll probably need to have a layover if you’re coming from anywhere outside of Europe.
For example, there is currently only one direct flight from the United States to Budapest, and that is out of New York City. Still, a quick stop in London, Munich, or Paris isn’t the worst thing in the world! Since Budapest isn’t a major hub airport, a flight from the United States may be a bit more expensive than a flight to a bigger European city. For some tips on saving a little money on your flight, I’d recommend that you check out my detailed guide to finding cheap flights.
If you do decide to fly right into Budapest, the best way to get from the airport to your hotel is by booking a private transfer with our partners at Welcome Pickups.
Welcome Pickups offers personalized, private, comfortable rides from the airport into the city for about the same price as a standard taxi. They monitor your flight status while you are in the air, and a driver will be waiting for you holding a sign with your name on it as soon as you arrive.
If you’re already in Europe or will be when you travel to Budapest, things get much easier and cheaper. Firstly, flights to Budapest from within Europe are extremely affordable thanks to budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet.
Using these airlines is one of my favorite parts of European travel because they make it so affordable! You can find flights for as little as $15, and as long as you don’t need luggage, there are no more fees. A carry-on won’t cost you much, either.
For tips on using budget airlines, check out my post on flying with budget airlines.
If flying on a budget airline doesn’t sound appealing to you and you’re close enough to Hungary, you should consider taking a bus. Flixbus is an awesome, reliable bus company that offers very competitive prices. Like, $5.
I’ve ridden with them many times and only had great experiences. I actually took a Flixbus from Bratislava to Budapest once, and it was fantastic. They even have free wifi.
How to Get Around Budapest
TAXI | METRO | ELECTRIC SCOOTER
When it comes to how to get around Budapest, you have three main options: taxis, public transportation, and electric scooters. Unfortunately, there is no Uber or Lyft in Budapest. If you want to use taxis, download the Bolt or Taxify apps. Both of these function similarly to Uber, but they call you a true taxi instead of a privately owned car.
These apps are perfectly safe, and they make the trip much easier as you don’t need to negotiate prices in Hungarian! We used Taxify and had nothing but positive experiences.
There is no Uber or Lyft in Budapest.
As far as public transport goes, the metro system of Budapest is actually the oldest in Continental Europe and the oldest in all of Europe other than London’s Tube. It is decently connected, but pretty pricey compared to your other options. A single ride on the metro costs 350 HUF, or a bit over a dollar, and a 24-hour pass costs a bit over $5.
If you plan on using the metro line several times a day, you can’t beat the day pass. They also sell passes that can be used over a 72-hour period if your trip is a bit longer. If the metro stops are convenient to your origin and destination, I’d recommend using the metro, but if there’s a lot of walking involved, just grab a taxi or a scooter.
The third option is my favorite, not just in Budapest, but everywhere that has them – electric scooters. If you haven’t heard of or used shareable electric scooters before, I have written the internet’s most comprehensive guide to using them. Basically, these are battery-powered scooters that travel up to ~20 miles per hour that can be unlocked and used within city limits with an app on your phone.
We love them because they’re fun to use and connect you directly from point A to point B without any waiting or negotiating in between. These scooters are everywhere in Budapest, and for getting around the main parts of the city, they are the best way to get around.
Budapest Card: An All-Access Pass to Budapest
What is a Budapest Card?
A Budapest Card is a tourism pass offered in Budapest that gives visitors unlimited access to public transportation, free entry into several museums and a thermal bath, and steep discounts on many other attractions, like river cruises.
Is a Budapest Card worth getting?
Budapest Cards offer extreme value to visitors who want to see as much of the city as possible in a short time span. They are quite cheap given all that they include, and they are sold at 24, 48, and 72-hour durations.
Where do you get a Budapest Card?
Budapest Cards are sold online on the official Budapest Card website, as well as in convenient locations around the city, like in the airport. I recommend purchasing one online in advance if you have the time.
Best Time to Visit Budapest
While every season offers a different perspective on Budapest, the best times to visit are during the spring and the fall. Hotel rates drop during these seasons, crowds diminish, and the weather remains fairly pleasant until November and after February.
Many visitors prefer to capitalize on the city’s beautiful weather in the summer or the Bohemian Christmas vibes in the winter, but the overarching best time to visit is while crowds are at their smallest during the spring and fall.
Is Budapest Worth Visiting?
Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe. When you add in the great museums, unique attractions, delicious food, and bustling nightlife, there is no doubt that Budapest is one of the top cities to visit in all of Europe.
Budapest is one of the top cities to visit in all of Europe.
Budapest is a city that has a little something for every kind of traveler. The thermal baths are as fun as they are iconic, the ruin bars are unique and enjoyable, and the architecture and heritage within the city are enough to please anyone. Few cities in Europe pack as much of a punch for tourists as Budapest, and Budapest does it at an affordable price.
That’s all we have for you about traveling to Budapest! Hopefully, this Budapest travel guide helps you to plan an unforgettable trip and save money next time you head to Hungary’s capital city. If you have any questions about planning your own trip to Budapest, be sure to drop a comment!