Planning a trip to Budapest, Hungary and wondering “what should I know before going to Budapest”? In that case, you’ll love this local’s tips for visiting Budapest, Hungary shared by Kata from Budapest Connection.
Everything you need to know about visiting Budapest – from the best time to visit Budapest to the top tourist attractions in Budapest for first-time visitors and special off the beaten path places to visit in Budapest for experienced travelers are included! You can easily include Budapest on your next E local’s tips for visiting Budapest, Hungary Europe trip and have the best time in this city!
Use these recommendations to plan your Budapest trip and to create your Budapest bucket list.
Tips for visiting Budapest and the best things to see in Budapest
Reasons why Budapest should be on top of your bucket list
Budapest is not only a lovable city to live in, but it is also one of the most desirable tourist destinations and one of the most affordable European city to visit. Here are the proofs:
Budapest has won the “European Best Destination 2019” award with its stunning architecture, rich historical and cultural heritage. The city is also called the “City of Waters” because there is no other capital in the world that has as many thermal springs as Budapest.
Post Office Travel Money compared 18 cities around the world and Budapest turned out to be the cheapest travel destination when we compare the prices of cultural vacations.
It doesn’t matter if you are coming for a short city break, a fun vacation with your friends, a family vacation or a romantic getaway, Budapest offers plenty of attractions and programs.
Best time to visit Budapest
Budapest is a location made for all-year-round visitation. It has four distinct seasons and is stunning throughout the year – whether it is blanketed by flowers or snow.
Every season offers a different flavor of this vibrant city, so come whenever you get the chance.
That being said, every season has its own merits and flaws:
Summer can be burning hot and humid but several outdoor events are held this season and you will never run out of things to do.
Winter, on the other hand, can be bitter cold with wind, rain, and snow. The roads can be icy and slippery.
On the bright side, it is also a magical season: Budapest is famous for its Christmas markets and there are some unique experiences such as skating in the largest ice rink of Europe, or right in the middle of a Christmas fair, where you can also watch a Christmas themed laser show projected on the largest church of Hungary, the Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Visiting the famous thermal baths during winter is an unforgettable experience: you can sit in one of the outside pools of Széchenyi Bath, filled with nice, warm healing waters while snow falls on top of your head (or hat, if you are prepared).
Spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit Budapest. The temperature is perfect for sightseeing, but they can be a bit rainy. On the other hand, there are many cultural programs and gastronomy festivals during these seasons.
Unmissable Budapest attractions for first-time visitors to Budapest
1. Castle Hill
Castle Hill is home to several World Heritage sites and must-see attractions.
Some of its buildings on the hill date back to the 13th-15th centuries.
The cobblestone streets of the Castle District have many hidden gems, so pay attention when you are walking around here as you do not know what will unfold around the corner: medieval details, secret gardens or maybe an art gallery with a statue garden? They are all there, waiting to be found.
The depth of the hill has its own secrets, too. There are huge, interconnected cellars under our feet, caved by thermal waters. These caves have been in use since the middle ages as shelters and storages. Visit Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum to gain some insight into one of these. This hospital was used during the WW2 and hundreds of lives were saved here.
Must-see attractions of the Castle Hill
The history of the palace dates back to the 13th century. It was built to serve as a defense point from the attacks of the Mongols. Since that time the palace was destroyed and restored several times. It was also expanded during the centuries. The building got its current form after WW2.
Today the inner courtyard hosts summer concerts, gastronomy, wine and beer festivals during summer and autumn nights. The Royal Palace is one of the top tourist attractions in Budapest.
The Royal Palace is also home to 3 institutions:
- Hungarian National Gallery
- Budapest History Museum
- National Library
- Fisherman’s Bastion
The Bastion is the most famous and visited sightseeing spots in Budapest. Actually, it was built to serve as one. So contrary to its looks, the Bastion has never had any defensive purpose and is only about 100 years old.
It is named after those fishermen who lived right under this section of the castle wall and sold their goods on this spot. It was also their task to defend this area in case of an attack.
Have a look at this fairytale looking monument: it has seven turrets, symbolizing those Hungarian tribes who arrived at the Carpathian Basin in 1896.
This church is one of the oldest buildings in Buda and one of the top things to see in Budapest. Its shape changed a lot since it’s the first form that was built about 700 years ago.
Step inside to see its details, the hand-painted frescoes, the chapels. The church also has a lookout terrace on its top. It can be visited with a guide.
Getting to the Castle District
For many of the visitors, the obvious choice is riding up with the funicular. It is, of course, the most fun way to arrive at the top of Castle Hill but it is also the most expensive one and the queue can be very long.
You can take a public bus (“Castle bus”) from downtown Pest (Deák Ferenc square) or you can also walk up to the hill on one of its many staircases and paths. The easiest option is through the Castle Garden as there is an escalator and an elevator to use.
2. Jewish Quarter
This quarter is one of the most unique neighborhoods of Budapest with a laid-back atmosphere.
This area – that is situated right behind the Great Synagogue in Dohány street – is full of history and art. Quirky design shops, ruin bars, restaurants, live together with synagogues and reminders of the district’s troubled history.
Visit this quarter on a Friday or Saturday afternoon and stay here until night. See how the atmosphere changes as the sun sets. Do not forget to look around you: this area is also famous for its street art.
Some of the most significant murals in the Jewish quarter:
- Alice in Wonderland (27. Kertész street)
- Greengrocer’s (48. Dob street)
- Man of the Year (40. Wesselényi street)
- Rubik’s Cube (10 Dob street)
3. Ruin bars
Most of the ruin bars of Budapest are located in the Jewish District.
These are the quirky, unique hubs of Budapest nightlife. They show different sides of their vibe depending on the time of your visit. They are laid-back, chill pubs during daytime while in the evening they turn into dancefloors.
If you only have time to visit one of the bars, make sure to choose Szimpla Kert, the oldest ruin bar in Budapest.
4. House of Parliament
Visiting the Parliament, this Neo-Gothic architectural masterpiece is a must for first-time visitors to Budapest.
It is the largest building in Hungary with 18,000m2 floor space and 691 rooms.
Its height is 896 which is a symbolic number: it was the year of the Hungarian conquest. The height of the St. Stephen’s Basilica nearby is exactly the same representing the balance between church and state in Hungary.
When the National Assembly is not in session, it is possible to visit the inside of the Parliament where the Hungarian crown is also in display. Guided tours are in high demand so it is recommended to book in advance. You’ll realize easily why this one of the best things to see in Budapest, Hungary.
Getting to the Parliament Building:
Tram 2 (that runs along Danube promenade – Kossuth square)
Metro 2 ( “Redline” – Kossuth square)
5. St. Stephen’s Basilica
The Basilica – named after the first Hungarian king – is the largest church in Hungary and one of the top tourist attractions in Budapest.
St. Stephen’s mummified right hand can be seen inside.
There is a lookout terrace on top of the Basilica that provides the best panoramic views of downtown Budapest, Castle District, and Gellért Hill.
Getting to St. Stephen’s Basilica is easy: you can walk there in just a few minutes from downtown Budapest or you can take the subway (M3) to Arany János utca.
6. Danube Promenade
The part of the Danube bank between Elizabeth Bridge and Chain Bridge on the Pest side is called Danube Promenade (or Dunakorzó in Hungarian).
This section of the riverbank has always been a popular place to see and to be seen.
It also provides perfect views of the Castle District, Gellért Hill, and the Danube which makes it a perfect addition to your Budapest itinerary.
The best time to stroll along the promenade is during and after sunset when the setting sun colors the sky and the buildings around you.
Elizabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd)
This bridge was named after Queen Elizabeth.
The bridge you see today is not the original one, though. The original suspension bridge was damaged during WW2. Using the pillars of the old, 19th-century bridge the new bridge was built in the 1960s. Still, it is one of the best things to see in Budapest.
Chain Bridge (aka Széchenyi Bridge)
It was the first permanent bridge in Budapest, the first that made Buda and Pest connected and united.
This bridge played important roles several times during Hungarian history.
The lion sculptures at the bridgeheads make this bridge unmistakable and one of the top places to see in Budapest.
The Shoes on the Danube Promenade
This memorial is situated a bit to the north of the original section of the promenade. It can be found right between the Parliament and Chain Bridge.
It commemorates those who were shot by the Arrow Cross between 1944 and 1945.
The victims had to step out from their shoes before they were shot into the Danube. Shoes were valuable things at that time. Unfortunately, people were not.
7. Gellért Hill
Climbing up to the Gellért Hill is a bit of an exercise for sure (there are other options of course: you can take a bus, etc.), but you get the best views if you climb up on its stairs and paths.
You will be rewarded with the best views of Budapest. The city will lay under you and you will have the chance to observe it like it was an open map.
All the main Budapest attractions can be seen here: St. Stephen’s Basilica, Parliament, Margaret Island, the Buda hills, Castle District, both sides of the Danube promenade.
If the sky is clear, you can also see the 36m column in the middle of Heroes’ Square and the big rock of the Budapest Zoo. If you have small binoculars, you also have the chance to watch the arriving and departing airplanes at Liszt Ferenc International Airport.
8. Budapest – the “City of Waters”
The baths are very famous attractions of the city. There is no other capital in the world that has as many thermal springs as Budapest.
You can choose between traditional Turkish baths such as Veli Bej, Király or Rudas or bathhouses from the turn of the 20th century like Széchenyi or Gellért Baths. One thing is for sure: when you explore Budapest, going to one of these baths is a not-to-miss experience.
9. Heroes’ Square
This square that is a popular meeting point today, was built for the 1896 millennium celebrations.
The monuments of the square display Hungarian history.
The statues of the colonnades represent the most important historical figures of Hungary.
Under the 36-meter height center pillar, seven chieftains sit on their horses. They were the tribal leaders who led the Hungarian tribes to the Carpathian Basin. This is one of the top things to see in Budapest.
Getting to Heroes’ Square:
Take the Millennium Underground (M1) to Hősök tere.
I recommend visiting City Park at first (Vajdahunyad Castle, City Park Lake, or bathing in Széchenyi Bath) and heading to Heroes’ Square right before sunset. This way you will be able to have a look at the statues and see the square illuminated.
10. Andrássy Avenue
City Park was a very popular recreational area in the 19th century. As more and more people wanted to visit it, the streets leading to the square were full-on beautiful weekend days. The idea to make a boulevard that leads to the park emerged.
The avenue was built between 1872 and 1885.
Its first section from downtown Pest is full of high-end fashion shops. The section that stretches from Oktogon to Heroes’ Square is home to embassies and Neo-Renaissance mansions and palaces. It has always been home to bankers, nobles and aristocrats.
You can leisurely walk along the avenue in about an hour.
Getting to Andrássy Avenue:
Millennium Underground Railway (M1) runs directly underneath it between Vörösmarty Square and Széchenyi Bath (and a bit further).
3 unique attractions to visit in Budapest
There are some hidden gems in Budapest that are not widely known – even for locals. Here are some of the best off the beaten path things to do in Budapest, that can easily be inserted in your itinerary.
Castle District: Koller Gallery
In just a few minutes walking from Matthias Church, you can find an art gallery with a secret, renaissance-style statue garden.
This contemporary gallery has a focus on modern art, featuring Hungarian artist.
To enter the gallery just ring its bell. Do not feel embarrassed, you will be greeted by very kind staff. (The admission is free.)
You will be able to explore the gallery by yourself.
The building of the gallery was home of an Italian-Hungarian sculptor, America Tot.
After admiring the artworks, visit Tot’s memorial room on the third floor.
Before leaving the gallery, visit the sculpture garden that opens from the first floor.
Getting to Koller Gallery
The gallery is located on Castle Hill.
Address: 5. Táncsics Mihály street
2. Palace Quarter
The Palace Quarter has a rough history. Even just a decade before it was a no-go zone for tourists. Today it is one of the most unique districts of Pest, with charming squares and laid-back atmosphere.
The neighborhood is tiny. It is made of just a few blocks right behind the National Museum, but it is full of architectural gems.
From the late 19th century till WW1 about 30 mansions and palaces were built here by nobles. Many of the buildings suffered serious damages during the harsh decades of the 20th century.
Today most of the palaces are restored and are homes to institutions, hotels or universities.
The building of the Hungarian Radio (Eszterházy Palace) – 4 Pollack Mihály square
Italian Cultural Institute – 8 Bródy Sándor street
German-Language University (Festetics Palace) – 3 Pollack Mihály square
Szabó Ervin Library (Wenckheim Palace) – 1 Szabó Ervin Square
3. Garden of Philosophers
This garden is actually a small group of eight bronze statues in a small park.
Five of them symbolize different religions and cultures around the world. They are Buddha, Lao Tse, Jesus, Echnaton and Abraham. The three other statues represent people from different times and cultures: Saint Francis, Daruma Taishi, Mahatma Gandhi.
The composition aims to strengthen a better mutual understanding between cultures.
The statues stand on the northern slope of the Gellért Hill, facing the Buda Palace. The view is gorgeous from here. You can sit on one of the benches and watch as the sun sets behind the Buda hills in the distance.
I hope that I could prove you that Budapest deserves to be on top of European travel bucket lists.
About the author
Kata Németh wanders around her home city, Budapest with her daughter. On her blog, Budapest Connection, she writes about the attractions of the city they explore. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest too.