13 top things to do in Budapest

Budapest in the blue hour, as seen from the castle

Budapest is one of my favorite cities in Europe, and it is not even close to the sea.
What makes Budapest so special?
Mostly, it is the charme of this beautiful place divided by the river, and it’s buzzing city life.
The city consists of two pieces, “Buda” and “Pest”, divided by the river Danube.
From cultural sights to spas to amazing bars to clubs to great music festivals, you will find everything in this city. Great food, also. So let’s get an overview of the best things to do in Budapest!.

The best things to do in Budapest

Explore the castle area

On the Buda side of the city, you will find many historical buildings, including the whole district around the castle of Budapest. Especially nice is to take a walk on the walls high above the river, and stay there until the sun goes down. Budapest is a city of lights – and it is amazing to see everything light up at dawn.
There are also some nice restaurants and bars where you can take a drink, in some of them also while enjoying the sunset.
The streets around the castle are also a great area to explore. Plan enough time to wander around this area, as there is definitely a lot to explore!

Take a night cruise on the river

I organized this as a birthday present and therefore went for the advanced option including food and music. The evening tour seems like a better experience to me. This is because the river has much more spectacular views to offer with all the lights on. During the day, you can see that the water is a bit dirty. There are some uglier buildings in between the nice views. In the night, all this disappears, and only the most beautiful sights are visible and lit up beautifully. The food on the ship was a buffet with mostly traditional Hungarian food, which was nice. The music was funny as well, even though sometimes a bit much “entertainment” for my taste. As the boat is quite lit up, it was difficult to take good pictures. I managed to find an open window somewhere upstairs for my best shot – right on time to get the parliament building into sight. Overall, if you are looking for a special experience, this is one of the great things to do in Budapest.

Cross the river on the Chain Bridge

This bridge is very famous and also quite impressive, especially when crossing it on foot. You can admire the huge lion statues at the entrance, and the massive chain construction of the bridge. All this while having a beautiful view over the city.

Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica

The basilica is worth a visit and fascinating from the inside with its impressive cupola, sanctuary and altar. It is equally worth a visit for it’s views from the top!

Walk around the parliament

In the evening, you see the parliament building as a very bright spot on the city skyline. During the day, it is equally impressive in its sheer size and architecture. The area around the parliament is nice to explore as well.

Enjoy a bath in one of the traditional spas

Budapest has some wonderful baths and spas, so you have a lot of options to choose from depending on your preferences.

Szechenyi Baths
We chose to visit Szechenyi as it is a really nice historical bath. It has a good choice of pools for relaxation and swimming, and the outside pools are great for warmer days. In the swimming area, you are only allowed to swim with a cap. If you have one, don’t forget to bring it – otherwise you need to buy one in the bath, or stay at the side of the pool.
While enjoying the bath, we saw some pool party preparations going on for the evening. Too bad we were not allowed to stay, as the setup looked amazing. Something to find out more about!

Stroll through city park and Heroes’ Square

The Szechenyi baths are situated in a beautiful park, which in itself is worthwhile to explore in a nice stroll. Right next to it, there is also the largest square in Budapest – Heroes’ Square. It hosts the impressive Millenium Monument, containing giant statues of archangels, chieftains, kings and freedom fighters. My favorite time to see it was at sundown when the lights go on – the lighting gives it a very special atmosphere.

Food & Drink

Taste some wines in Faust Wine Cellar

If you like wine, one thing you should definitely do in Budapest is wine tasting! Hungary has some great wines to offer, and something for everyone’s taste – regardless if you prefer red, white, dry, fruity, or an extra sweet dessert wine. We did a wine tasting in a cellar next to the castle. It was a great experience also because of the place itself. If you want to visit this place, you should reserve in advance, as it is really small and quite frequented.
The cellar really has the ambiance of an old wine cellar. It is nicely decorated and has a very cozy atmosphere for sampling local wines.

Enjoy some great hungarian food

The choices of food are amazing in Hungary – and you will get good quality food and large portions in many eateries across the city. Try your way through a lot of options of cabbage, meat dishes, dumplings, goulash, crepes, stuffed paprika, potato dishes, sausages, and different types of stew. If you still didn’t have enough, try some desserts. You get the picture.

Enjoy a meal in the Jewish quarter

The jewish quarter of Budapest is definitely worth a visit, if only for the great restaurants and eateries you will find in its beautiful streets.
We went to Carmel, a nice restaurant with a great choice of Kosher dishes and a very traditional feel.
The food was amazing, and the quarter is in close proximity of a lot of nice ruin pubs. This makes it a great starting point for dinner before going out!

Have some flower-shaped ice cream at Gelarto Rosa

Looking for instagram-worthy summer moments? Then this is the place to go. Just interested in getting some good ice cream? Still go. You have probably seen the flower-shape style before. Still, this artisan shop is a great one to visit – especially as the products are really good, and the prices are very moderate compared to other places in Europe. IT is definitely worth a try on a sunny day!

Food & Drink

Watch the sun go down with a drink: 360 bar

If you want to get some real summer feeling and enjoy a nice drink on a nice rooftop overlooking the city, this is the place to go.
This bar offers nice views and also an incredibly laid back atmosphere for an early evening. This is a great place to go for a relaxed drink with a group of friends!

Explore some ruin pubs

An absolute favorite for me in Budapest is the ruin pubs scene. The city has such amazing bars and pubs that you never want to leave again!
Here is a selection of some of my favorite places:

Szimpla Kert

This is probably the most famous of all ruin pubs in Budapest, but there are reasons why this is the case. When you enter it, you are in a different world – and it is a real adventure to explore all of its different areas.
After the entrance, you come to an open hall. There is a bar on the right, and a place where you can rent shishas on the left. Further on, you find an area with standing tables, sometimes also for dancing. On the left, you will find some stairs, and the upstairs area is yet again something entirely different. You can walk around on the first floor and pass by various rooms with all kinds of decoration. A DJ is usually playing next to the open middle area.
The whole pub is entirely decorated with a wild mix of items, from lamps to toys or old furniture, featuring street signs, mirrors, drawings and also some nice paintings on the walls.
The place is perfect for a few drinks with friends. I have never missed to go there when being in the city.

Ankert bar

This bar was my 2nd favorite (together with Szimpla Kert) in the way it was decorated. The bar covers the inside area of a large old building, so the term “ruin bar” is quite literal here. This amazing backdrop is decorated with some beautifully arranged lights and a neon logo, which really makes this a special place to visit. There are some additional themed “rooms” with writings on the wall. Overall this one is more conceptual and less messy than Szimpla Kert, but nontheless beautiful and special.

Ellato Kert & Taqueria

This is another nice ruin pub in which we mostly stayed in the outside area. It offered some great summer vibes with nicely colorful chairs and areas, many people, a dj set, and good drinks.

Sziget Festival

Every summer in August, Budapest is overflowing with a nice party crowd, staying at the island of freedom. For a week, the island in the middle of Danube river becomes home to great bands, artists, and Djs. The lineup of Sziget is a nice mix of international stars, local European bands, alternative bands, and some other artists, like acrobats and theatre ensembles. Even when not listening to music, the festival is a real experience. There are different areas being decorated with wild imagination, bubble pools, passport stamp stations, hair braiding stands, and so much more.
Compared to other events, the festival is totally affordable even for a couple of days. It also has the benefit of low prices for drinks and food.
With the festival band, you also get some great reductions in the rest of the city – at baths, museums, and also for public transport. So be sure to see more of the city as well.
This is definitely a festival not to be missed!!

Where to stay

From my experience, the best way to find great accommodation in Budapest is via Airbnb. There are a lot of amazing apartments at reasonable prices to choose from, and usually you can find great places in nice locations.

My favorite so far was an apartment where the owner was also a painter, and the place was decorated in a very unique way – including a self-made batman-lamp!

I hope this post has given you some great ideas on things to do in Budapest!
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