Budapest is no longer a hidden gem for travelers as it grows in popularity each year. It doesn’t welcome as many tourists as Paris or Rome yet, but it does offer just as much in terms of things to see and do.
Not only is it amazingly beautiful, but it has a rich history, exciting nightlife and an array of great spots to enjoy and explore. Not to mention how much flavorful local dishes there are to sample.
Did I mention that Budapest is one of my top favorite cities in the world? I have spent months here throughout the years – starting in my early 20s and continuing now in my 30s and I still LOVE the city!
As is with many other awesome cities, in Budapest there is always something new to see, taste and do. Still, some are unmissable.
If you’re looking for what to do in Budapest, look no further than right here: the top attractions are listed below. (But do know that there’s a lot more to see and do!)
#1. Visit the Buda Castle
Since it is one of the most popular Budapest landmarks, the Buda castle is a great place to start your exploration of the city.
The mighty palace was originally built in the 13th century, but is now famous for the mixture of Medieval, Baroque and 19th century architecture.
It was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1987. For the lovers of spook, there is a labyrinth of caves and cellars underneath the building.
It was originally a prison. And the infamous Count Dracula (also known as Vlad Tepes) is one of it’s most famous prisoners.
#2. Check Out the Danube River (At Night)
Budapest shines in it’s full glory by night when the river reflects the lights of the Buda Castle, the Parliament, the Fisherman’s Bastion and all those other buildings that make up the city’s impressive skyline. A cruise by day is fun, but by night it is truly an awe-inspiring experience.
There are plenty of options, too.
You can do a fancy dinner boat-ride (slightly expensive, but certainly worth it), a guided tour (which is probably the most touristy way to do it), a party cruise (highly recommended) and a huge variety of other themed cruises.
Of course, if you are the DIY type – just start walking along the shores of the Danube – either shore is great, but I actually recommend being on the Pest side for the best views during the night.
#3. Spend Time at Margaret Island
If you’re looking for what to do in Budapest to recover from all the food and drink you’ll be consuming (more on that in a minute), look no further than Margaret Island.
This island is but a tiny strip of land right in the middle of the Danube River. It is popular with locals and tourists alike, since most of it is covered by parks.
Take a lazy Sunday afternoon and turn it into a picnic on one of it’s grassy meadows. Do not forget to visit the ‘Music Fountain’ that plays classical music and is so constructed that it seems like it dances to it.
If you are looking for interesting accommodation, there is the Ensana Grand Margaret Island, a gorgeous fin de siècle hotel that also has a great spa area.
And for the party animals out there – there are some awesome open-air clubs, if you happen to be visiting in summer.
Of course, you can choose to spend an entire day (or less) at their open-air pool. It’s an amazing place to be in – multiple pools, too. You will love it.
Margaret Island is actually so nice and amazing that during one of my stays, I actually booked a room at the Ensana Grand Margaret Island for seven days and only left the island on a very few occasions (mainly to visit nearby supermarkets).
I regret nothing.
#4. Enjoy the View from the Water Tower
This goes hand-in-hand with Margaret Island. The Water Tower (which by the way is a UNESCO site, along with the Music fountain) was built in 1911 and is in an Art Nouveau style.
At the time, quite innovative technology was used in its’ construction. It was created to be both functional and visually pleasing.
More than a hundred years after the construction, it is just that. It still functions as a water tower for those who live on the Margaret Island, but it was also recently opened as a lookout tower.
It is open from 11 AM to 10 PM daily, but I highly recommend to go at sunset – the golden hour makes for some truly stunning views.
#5. Enjoy a Thermal Bath
Since the city has so many underground thermal water sources, it is no surprise its’ baths are a quintessential part of the full Budapest experience.
The usual choice for tourists is the Széchenyi Bath, which offers not only a huge pool of mineral water, but can also be distinguished for it’s gorgeous architecture.
Also, don’t think this is a summer-only activity.
Since the water is so hot, even though the pools are open-air, they remain open and quite popular during the winter.
In fact, they might even be more enjoyable in colder weather. There is nothing quite like relaxing in hot mineral water, as you watch the snow fall idly over the city.
Each city has it’s own unique party scene. Nightlife in Budapest is certainly worth experiencing. You’ll find all sorts of local Eastern European women (and men) having a great time.
So what are some of the clubs to not miss?
Ötkert, for instance. It is mostly top 40 style music there, but the party is always wild, which makes it a really cool place to dance off that travel stress.
The A38 club, located inside an old military boat, is another that hosts a lot of theme party nights, as well as open air parties in summer. Both of these options are more electronic/charts music.
If you are looking for rock and metal, you might have a somewhat harder time. Club 202 and the KVLT bar are two great options, the second one focusing more on live music, while Club 202 is more about that classic rock’n’roll.
A favorite bar for tourists is Szimpla Kert.
And one more thing: the Szecska parties at the Széchenyi Baths! They take place from June to September every year and are the place to be on a summer night. Because the only thing better then a spa is a spa-party.
#7: Take Stunning Photos from Gellért Hill
Gellért Hill dominates the Budapest skyline. The name of the hill is linked to the curious legend of Saint Gerard.
Hungarians say that he was squeezed into a barrel and rolled down the hill towards the river by pagans during a rebellion that took place in the 11th century.
In spite of this somewhat grim story, this is a great spot to enjoy spectacular views to the city. At the top of the hill you will find a citadel from which you get a view down both directions of the Danube River – an unmissable site for professional and amateur photographers alike.
#8: Enjoy Hungarian Food
Hungary’s cuisine does not really get the fame it deserves. Make a point not to leave the city without enjoying it.
One awesome street food are the lángos that you can enjoy at the Central Market (or find scattered throughout the city). A sort of deep fried flatbread, they are best enjoyed topped with cheese or bacon. Or both.
Then there is gulyás (aka goulash), a hearty meat soup made with beef, potatoes and plenty of veggies and spices.
I personally am not the biggest fan of goulash – but you do have to try it. And even if you are like me, you will still find a TON of other Hungarian dishes to enjoy.
For those who do not particularly like meat, there is lecsó, a delectable stew made with peppers and tomatoes.
Körözött is a cream made with cheese and carrots, a great dip for veggies, or a spread for sandwiches (after all, do not forget that picnic at the Margaret Island).
For dessert, don’t miss gesztenyepüré which is a heavenly chestnut purée served with plenty of whipped cream.
Then there is this weirdly amazing sour-cherry soup, that you might see as dessert, but you should definitely try as a meal in its’ own right.
Hey, you’re on vacation, screw the diet!
#9: Enjoy Hungarian Drinks
You need something to wash down all that food, don’t you? Well, first tip – if you do not specifically insist on beer, don’t get it.
Domestic beer at Hungary is average at best, and there is no need to spend those hard-earned bucks on that.
They are cheap though, so at least that is a perk. OK, so now that we have this settled, onto hard liquor we go.
By all means, have some pálinka – a fruit brandy typically made of plums, apples and pears. Take your time and sip it slowly as the Hungarians do – shots are not really a thing when it comes to brandy that flavorful.
And if you prefer something slightly less alcoholic – go for wine (you fancy people out there) or fröccs, which is essentials (slightly cheaper) wine with soda.
Fun fact about that last one – the name comes from the sound produced when you mix the drink (the fizzy soda and the wine).
#10: Visit the Parliament
Remember how I told you that the Buda Castle is one of Budapest’s iconic landmarks and hence, you can’t miss it.
Well, the Parliament building is the other one. There is an option to take a guided tour inside, but honestly, you are better off exploring at your own pace.
There is certainly more to the building than its’ stunning façade, reflected by the Danube waters.
Stop by the magnificent Assembly hall of the House of Magnates or the Old Upper House Hall (this one they no longer use since the modern Hungarian Parliament only has one chamber).
#11: Get Souvenirs at the Central Market
The Central Market of Budapest is an indoor one. Constricted in the 19th century, the building has three floors, one of which full of cool thing to bring back home as a memory.
On the first floor you can enjoy an inexpensive, yet truly delicious meal, or buy fresh produce, meat, cheese, sausages (these are something Hungarians take pride in, so try them) to try and whip up something yourself.
Each month, there are days where cultural and foodie events take place, so check in advance if you can arrange your visit on one of those.
You can also do a cooking class that starts with a shopping session at the Central Market Hall.
Hopefully now you’re no longer asking yourself what to do in Budapest, but rather how you plan to fit everything in to a busy schedule.
Of course, these are just the top things to do in the city. There is a LOT more and honestly, even if you spend a month there, you will probably still have enough things left on your “to do list” for a future visit.
But at least you know that you’ve ticked the most important ones thanks to the list in this article.
If you’ve got questions or suggestions on what to do in Budapest, drop them below in the comments section! We look forward to hearing from you.