What elements are present in your dream destination?
Would you like it to have gorgeous, old-world architecture, vibrant colors and profound history? Perhaps, you value scrumptious food, sharp spices and unusual flavors. Or, maybe you are looking for a gem that is a little bit rough on the edges.
If any of the previous descriptions make your eyes twinkle, I have a suggestion for you: go to Budapest!
Not a surprise, right? After all, I have been writing about this Central European capital for quite some time. That is why I have decided to compile a list of the best sights in the city. Believe me, this is not an easy feat. This beloved city has 1,001 places to visit and experience (actually, I made up that number).
And, if your eyes are not twinkling when you hear the word Budapest (please, do not disappoint me), I hope they start to move a bit faster after reading this guide.
Remember what we know today as Budapest was created by merging three cities: Obuda, Buda and Pest.
Obuda means Old Buda and it is the area where the Romans settled in antiquity. Buda was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary (during Medieval times) and it is located on the west bank of the Danube. Pest is the flat part of the capital and it occupies two thirds of its territory.
The sights on this post are going to be categorized depending on their location with respect to the river. In addition, I am going to provide day trip and itinerary ideas.
Are you ready to discover the best of Budapest? Let’s jump into it.
Best of Budapest – Sights in Buda
Being one of the most prominent buildings in the city, this is a compulsory stop for visitors. The Castle (the appearance is more of a capitol building than a castle) has played a significant role in Hungary’s history and a version of it has existed since the 1200s.
Make sure you walk the entire path in front of the building and brace yourself for marvelous views of the Danube and Pest. Do not forget to check the back of the building!
The Budapest History Museum, the Hungarian National Gallery and other exhibitions spaces are located inside the structure.
Related: The Chain Bridge and Buda Castle
A short walk from the Castle will take you to the Matthias Church. Its pearly exterior and bright orange roof will make you feel on some sort of fantastic story. The Church is of special significance since it was founded by Saint Stephen, the first king of politically recognized Hungary.
This striking white neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque terrace looks like it was constructed three hundred years ago. In reality, the building was erected between 1895 and 1902 and its seven towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that settle the Carpathian Basin and later became the Kingdom of Hungary.
This is another great point to get panoramic views of the river, Margaret Island and Pest.
This 200 year, family-run café is said to have some of Budapest’s best cakes, strudel and coffee. It kept popping everywhere when I was researching the city. Therefore, I had to visit.
I tried the Dobos Torta and the Cream Cake. I wanted to love the place but didn’t. I found the sweets average. But, my husband works at a bakery. I may be biased.
While on the Buda side, why not make another spectacular stop? Gellert Hill is a 235 m (771 ft) overlook. The Gellert Hotel, baths, hill cave and Citadella are located around this point. At the top, a Liberty Statue was erected by the Soviets to commemorate their victory in World War II.
Now, let me give you some words of caution. Getting to the top of the hill is rough. I felt like I was going to pass out. So, take it easy, bring comfy shoes and have water at hand. Even though I felt like quitting every two seconds, I felt like the views from the top were worth every drop of sweat.
Best of Budapest – Across the Danube
The Chain Bridge has to be the most famous of the many bridges in Budapest. It was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary and its construction bought the country a sense of advancement.
The bridge is known for its extensive cast iron work and for the lions guarding the span at both ends. During the Siege of Budapest in 1945, the bridge was blown up. It was rebuilt and reopened four years later.
Do not miss the experience of crossing the bridge by foot!
Liberty Bridge and Elizabeth Bridge
Even though they are simpler looking than the Chain Bridge, these bridges are attractive on their own right. Walking them is pure pleasure!
I know I have described several viewpoints in the city but seeing all the prominent sights from the legendary Danube is something else. Plus, you will get addicted to the feeling of cruising Europe main waterways.
Best of Budapest – Pest Side
The country’s largest building and the house of the Holy Crown dominates the east bank of the Danube. The Parliament Building was built in a Gothic Revival style, it has a symmetrical façade and a central dome. The inside is symmetrical and has two absolutely identical parliament halls out of which one is used for the politics, the other one is used for guided tours.
It has a height of 96 m (315 ft) since it commemorates the Hungarian millenium (896 – 1896). I regret not having the time to tour this building. Tickets for tours can be bought in here.
St. Stephen‘s Basilica
This is another building that should be added to the best of Budapest list. Like the Parliament, it has a height of 96 m (regulations prohibit erecting a taller building).
The large plaza in front of the basilica is the premier meeting point in the city and many consider it the “center.” As a result, lots of eateries and trendy shops are located in the immediate area. Plus, events and festivals take place here. As a result, this is an optimal place to relax and meet some locals.
You can ascend to the top of the dome and admire great views of Pest.
Inner City and Vaci Street
The Inner City is part of what is considered the Old Town of Pest. Vaci Utca (Street), one of the most commercial arteries of the city, is located here.
The Inner City is lively and walkable but I loved the Jewish Quarter (I stayed there).
The area is full of huge synagogues, grandiose houses, arcades, courtyards, cafes, restaurants and tons of reminders of what happened during WWII (the Quarter follows the Jewish Ghetto boundaries established by the Nazis).
Several websites offer instructions on how to do a self-guided walking tour. However, this is a place where you can wonder and explore freely. If you are spending several days in Budapest, I cannot recommend the area more.
Related: What and Where to Eat in Budapest
Dohany Street Synagogue
This synagogue, located on the Jewish Quarter, is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world. The building houses the Hungarian Jewish Museum and a memorial to Holocaust victims.
The building survived World War 2 because it was used as a radio transmitting station by the Nazis.
House of Terror
This museum contains exhibits related to the brutal regimes that oppressed 20th-century Hungary. In addition, it is a memorial to the victims detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building. This is a place for those who want to learn more about the history of the city.
This is one of Budapest’s most famous boulevards since it is lined with Neo-Renaissance palaces and houses (and by the way, it is classified as an UNESCO site). It connects the center to the City Park.
Related: Bike Tours in Budapest
The largest square in the city has monuments commemorating the thousand anniversary of Hungary, the seven leaders who directed the first settlers and the lives of famous Hungarian personalities.
The square can be reached from the center by taking the Metro 1, the oldest line of the city’s metro, a sight in itself and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002.
Budapest is unique since it is located above 125 thermal springs. Public baths have operated in the area since Roman and Turkish times. Because of that, getting immerse in the water have became a part of living in the city.
Visitors can be part of the “ritual” by visiting one of the many baths scattered throughout the city. Some of the most popular ones are Rudas, Gellert, Szechenyi, Veli Bej, Kiraly and Lukacs.
Locals have their own favorites. It would be nice to ask around and see if they want to share their secrets.
Turns out Budapest has another castle. And, this one has the fairy tale look most people are looking for (sorry Buda Castle). It was built in 1986 to commemorate the Hungarian millennium. It mimics the castles in the Carpathian Basin (located in what is known as Transylvania). This was the area where the kingdom was settled around 895. Hungary lost this land to Romania after World War 1.
This is a very lovely place and it is another place I recommend with all my heart.
Related: The Most Romantic Place in Budapest
This is another aspect that differentiates Budapest from other cities (like there are not enough). Derelict places such as factories, department stores and apartments have been converted into bars and hangouts. People are attracted to them because of its cheap fare, eclectic feel and abundance of Communist relics (in some).
For a great time, stop by Szimpla Kert, Fogas Haz, Instant, Mazel Tov, Grandio and Ellato Kert. If you do not enjoy crowds and loud music, several of these places can be visited during the day when they are nearly empty but the uniqueness of the place can still be appreciated.
Historic Coffee Houses
The café culture in Budapest is one of the most thriving in Europe. Intellectuals and artists started to congregate in these intricate decorated spaces in the early 1900s. Most of the cafes were shutdown during WWII since the Nazis considered them centers of conspiracy. After the war, many of these houses were restored to their original splendor.
The list of the cafes you can visit is long. Café Gerbeaud, New York Café and Central Café are some of the most well known. Try to visit as many as possible!
Great Market Hall
If you love food, this is a must visit!
This market is full of paprika, sausages, fruit, vegetables, pastries, bread, cheeses, candies and much more. Traditional Hungarian food is sold on the second level. This is an experience that involves all the senses. Yum!
Related: Great Market Hall in Budapest
A guide listing the best of Budapest must include info about one day trip or two. I am an advocate of not only seeing a city but having a sense of its surroundings too. That is why I like to stay put for three to four days.
If you are staying in Budapest more than two days, you have several options. Here are some suggestions.
Within the city but a bit far from the center
- Aquincum – Roman ruins of the city
- Memento Park – Outdoor museum park of Communist era public sculpture removed after the fall of communism
Outside the city
- Esztergom – Biggest church in the country and birthplace of Hungarian statehood
- Visegrad – Castle and Danube views
- Szentendre – town of artist and Danube beaches
- Combine the previous three on a Danube Bend Tour
- Godollo Palace
- Eger – Baroque heritage and thermal baths
- Pecs – Old town and cathedral
- Gyor – Old town and Bishop’s Castle
Related: Danube Bend Tour
I believe Budapest has enough attractions and charm for you to stay three or four nights. I know a lot of people will have less time in the city and that is fine. Here are some ideas on how to distribute time based on length of time staying in the city.
Visit the sights on the Buda side (Castle, Church, Fisherman’s Bastion), cross the Chain Bridge and visit the most notorious sites on the Pest side (Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Inner City and Vaci Street). Visit one of the cafes and try to fit a boat ride along the river. Do not forget to watch the sunset from the banks of the Danube.
Add the City Park and its attractions (Heroe’s Square, Vajduhunyad Castle and Szechenyi Baths). Have lunch at one of the nice eateries on the Jewish Quarter and walk around the area after that. Stay to experience the night vibes or move on to one of the gastronomic spots of the city.
Add the Great Market Hall, Liberty Bridge, Gellert Hill (and you may want to visit Gellert Baths) and Memento Park. Or, take one of the day trips mentioned above
Day trip, museums, House of Terror, Zoo, Opera House or Tropicarium.
Find more ideas on websites such as Like a Local Guide, Big Boy Travel and Budapest by Locals (excellent resource)
To wrap up, I hope you are seriously considering a visit (or a revisit) to Budapest. For many of the reasons mentioned above, the city is an essential stop for those in love with all things Europe.
Have you visited? What would you add to a list including the best of Budapest?
Ready to pin? Let’s do this!