Know Before You Go
As most big cities, Budapest has plenty of museums. Hungary's history alone offers a wealth of museum-worthy materials — just consider the last century, most of it tragic, which included two lost world wars, the Holocaust, and more than four decades of Communist rule. Those interested in understanding the country's past and present should consider visiting the Hungarian National Museum, the House of Terror, and the Holocaust Memorial Center.
For visual arts, the National Gallery is home to the finest Hungarian paintings, while both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art showcase prestigious international collections. There are also smaller, thematic museums portraying the lives of well-known Hungarians such as Ferenc Liszt, Béla Bartók, and Imre Makovecz. The Zwack Museum is dedicated to Unicum, Hungary's signature liqueur that first caught the attention of the Habsburg Emperor and is still widely popular today.
Budapest's public museums are open Tuesday through Sunday, normally from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and closed on Mondays. Unless noted differently below, wall texts appear in both Hungarian and English. English audio guides are available at the House of Parliament, the House of Terror, the Hungarian National Gallery, and the Liszt Memorial Museum. Admission fees range from the equivalent of a few euros to up to €20 (the Dohány Street Synagogue and the House of Parliament are priciest but both are worth it).
In 2013, the Hungarian Parliament approved the Liget Projekt, a €500 million development which is profoundly shaping Budapest’s cultural landscape by creating a museum quarter inside the City Park. Overall, this is a welcome improvement as several museums currently don't have the platforms their rich collections would deserve, but the project has also sparked public debate about the loss of precious green space.
#1 - Hungarian House of Parliament (location; usually 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; HUF 3,200 admission for EU citizens, otherwise HUF 6,400 which includes a multilingual guide; advance ticket purchase here): This enormous Gothic Revival building perched on the Danube's bank is Hungary's largest building, erected when Budapest was a capital of the Austro Hungarian Empire. The 45-minute guided tour features Hungary's Holy Crown and the jaw-dropping interior of what used to be the Upper Chamber.
#2 - House of Terror (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 3,000 admission): One of the most visited museums in Budapest won't lift your spirits — the House of Terror details the brutalities committed by the Hungarian fascist and the subsequent Soviet-led Communist regimes. Oddly, both the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party and later the Communist Secret Police occupied this very same building, using it for detention, interrogation, and torture. The everyday cruelty and stupidity of the Communist system comes alive through old newsreels, interviews with survivors, and curated objects.
#3 - Museum of Fine Arts (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 3,400 admission): One of Central Europe's main museums for international, mainly European art. The Italian Renaissance collection, much of which was purchased from the Esterházy family in 1871, is considered among the finest in Europe, featuring works by Raphael and Titian. The museum is also home to paintings by El Greco, Rembrandt, and Velázquez. The stupendous Romanesque Hall has recently regained its former glow after decades of neglect.
#4 - Hungarian National Gallery (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 3,400 admission): Located inside the Buda Castle, this museum features Hungary's top artworks from the Middle Ages through the current day. It's here that you can take in the Art Nouveau paintings of József Rippl-Rónai, the monumental works of Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka, the Expressionist portraits of Lajos Tihanyi, and the haunting drawings of Lajos Vajda. This interview can help you prep for a visit. As you saunter through the museum, the Danube's bank and the Pest skyline provide a panoramic backdrop.
#5 - Dohány Street Synagogue and the Hungarian Jewish Museum (location; opening hours vary, closed on Saturday; HUF 8,000 admission includes a guided tour to the synagogue and entry to the Jewish Museum): Europe's largest synagogue has been the main temple of Budapest's assimilated Jewish residents since 1859. The building encloses the Garden of Remembrance, a mass grave for Jews murdered in 1944-45, and the weeping willow Holocaust memorial. Attached to the synagogue is the Jewish Museum, featuring objects from the lives of Hungarian Jews, including an ornate seder plate made by the renowned Herend Porcelain.
#6 - Hungarian National Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 2,900 admission): Visit this imposing Neoclassical building for a deep-dive into Hungarian history. Four permanent collections trace the Carpathian Basin's history from the Stone Age through the Romans and finally the Hungarians up to the end of the Communist reign (1989). Even if you don't feel like spending a whole day here, the National Museum’s rich and varied artifacts are worth at least a glance.
#7 - Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art (location; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,600 admission): The scenic way to reach Budapest's main outlet for modern artworks is through the Danube promenade stretching from the Great Market Hall all the way down here. The Pop Art collection boasts pieces by Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol, but lesser-known Eastern European artists from the era receive equal floor space, allowing visitors to note parallels and differences.
#8 - Museum of Ethnography (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,700 admission): Partially buried underground, the striking new building of Hungary's Museum of Ethnography with a vast rooftop garden is itself worth a visit. The museum has an incredibly rich collection of all things folk culture but they're still moving to this new location, meaning that the exhibits are only partially complete.
#9 - Holocaust Memorial Center (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,400 admission): This poignant exhibit follows the gradual disenfranchisement of Hungarian Jews that culminated in the murder of more than half a million people. Apart from the museum, there's also a synagogue, a memorial garden with a wall of victims, and a tower listing all Hungarian towns where Jews have ceased to exist. The exhibit offers a 21st century museum experience through newsreels, photos, and interactive objects.
#10 - Budapest History Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, with extended hours to 6 p.m. on weekends, closed on Monday; HUF 2,400 admission): In 1967, this was the first museum to move into the Buda Castle, decades after the building was decimated in World War II. The below-ground levels contain the remains of the original Gothic and Reinassance halls of the castle, while the top floor presents Budapest’s history from the Bronze Ages to the present day.
#11 - Museum of Hungarian Agriculture (location; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, 10-5 on weekends, closed on Monday; HUF 2,500 admission): One of Budapest’s oldest and grandest museums is a tribute to Hungary’s rich soil and animal life. Perhaps there’s more information than you ever wanted to know about plowing techniques, field crops, and forestry, but the best parts require little reading: nomadic yurts, mounted animals, and Habsburg hunting trophies. Don't miss this adorably quirky, under-the-radar museum to which we even wrote an ode.
#12 - Zwack Unicum Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Sunday; HUF 2,750 admission): Unicum is a widely popular Hungarian liqueur, made from a secret formula containing more than forty types of herbs. The museum traces the dramatic history of the company's founding Zwack family and also includes a guided visit to the cellar with a taste. If you like the complex flavor of this royal concoction, you can fuel up on Unicum at the gift shop.
#13 - Victor Vasarely Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,400 admission): Hungarian-born and educated Victor Vasarely was the founder of the Op Art movement, a popular form of abstract art in the 1960s that relied on optical illusions and spatial tricks. The roots of Vasarely’s works go back to the Bauhaus-type Budapest art school he attended before moving to Paris in 1930. The collection includes 150 selected pieces from across his lifetime.
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#14 - Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center (location; 11 p.m. to 7 p.m., open every day; HUF 2,000 admission): The moniker of this museum is somewhat misleading because they display only about 50 photos of Robert Capa, the renowned Hungarian war photographer. Nonetheless, it's a well-curated museum specializing in contemporary photography, both local and international. Before you leave, take a glance at the facade of this grand art nouveau building whose top floor still houses an artist's studio.
#15 - Goldberger Textile Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,400 admission): An informative, interactive, and ultimately heartbreaking exhibit about the Goldberger family’s thriving textile manufacturing business. It follows the company's development from a one-man shop to a vertically integrated conglomerate to which even Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph paid a visit. Besides family history, you can learn about blue-dyeing and roller printing, and try your hand at pattern designs.
#16 - Ferenc Liszt Memorial Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9-5 on Saturday, closed on Sunday; HUF 2,000 admission): A small exhibit inside the apartment where Hungary's famous composer, Franz Liszt, spent his final years. While the modest furnishings speak of an unpretentious life, the array of memorabilia and unique musical instruments — many of which were sent to him as gifts — convey Liszt's worldwide fame. It's worth getting an audio guide as it contains more information than the handout.
#17 - Béla Bartók Memorial House (location; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,600 admission): A small museum a bit away from the city center, inside the house where composer Béla Bartók lived before leaving the increasingly pro-Nazi Hungary in 1940. Highlights include the phonograph Bartók used for his famous field recordings, his metronome, and folk clothes and other items he collected in Transylvania. Note that there are no wall texts but the admission fee includes a short guided tour in English.
#18 - Walter Rózsi Villa (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday and Tuesday; HUF 1,900 admission): Fans of architecture shouldn't miss this jewel of a modern house from 1936 that a critic referred to as "Budapest's Villa Tugendhat." The gleaming white building raised on pilotis was designed by local architect József Fischer for the opera diva Rózsi Walter and her husband Géza Radó. While the main attraction is the building itself (be sure to also go to the backyard), there's a short exhibit inside about modern living with a few design pieces by the likes of Marcel Breuer.
#19 - Hospital in the Rock (location; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., open every day; HUF 5,000 admission that includes a guided tour leaving every hour): Carved into the belly of Budapest's Castle Hill, this labyrinthine hospital was built on the eve of WWII to provide care for the wounded. Hundreds of people were treated here during the months-long siege of Budapest, though survivors describe hellish conditions. In the Communist era, the place doubled as an atomic bunker. Sidenote: If you suffer from claustrophobia, this museum isn't for you.
#20 - Imre Varga Collection (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 800 admission): Located a bit outside the city center, this museum is dedicated to the works of Imre Varga, one of Hungary's most prolific sculptors in the 20th century. Some of Varga's works you might have already seen: he did both the willow-tree Holocaust memorial behind the Dohány Street Synagogue and the bronze-and-granite Raoul Wallenberg monument in Buda. The museum is a bit run-down and without wall texts, but the sassy guide more than makes up for it.
#21 - Róth Museum (location; 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,000 admission): Name a famous Budapest building and chances are that its stained glass windows were made in Miksa Róth’s renowned atelier (for example the Hungarian Parliament). The small museum features sixty or so impressive works of stained glass and more than a dozen glass mosaics. The exhibit follows Roth’s evolution from eclecticism to art nouveau and art deco.
#22 - Kassák Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Monday and Tuesday; HUF 800 admission): The father of the Hungarian avant-garde, Lajos Kassák (1887-1967) was a poet, a writer, a painter, a typographer, and also the founder of the activist Ma (Today) art magazine to which people like Chagall, Picasso, and Moholy-Nagy contributed. The small exhibit, which details Kassák's continuous struggle with the Hungarian authorities, should be interesting to anyone curious about the European avant-garde movements. The museum is near the Vasarely and the Imre Varga collections (see above), so you can bundle them all together for an immersive day of art.
#23 - Hungarian House of Photography (Mai Manó House) (location; 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,500 admission): This quirky building off Andrássy Avenue used to be the studio of Manó Mai, a royal court photographer during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, temporary-only exhibits present local and international photos across different styles and periods. Be sure to visit Mai’s studio on the second floor with sweeping views. There's a small bookstore on the mezzanine and a snug café on the ground floor. For more photography, walk a couple of blocks over to the Robert Capa Center (see above).
#24 - Imre Makovecz Center (location; 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., open on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday only; free admission): Apart from Hungarian-born Marcel Breuer, it's Imre Makovecz (1935-2011) whose name might ring a bell for architecture fans around the world. Makovecz's unique brand of organic architecture was inspired by nature and folk culture. His buildings are mainly in the Hungarian countryside, but the Makovecz Center — inside the residential home he designed for his family — offers a peek into the life of a genius. Books are available also in English.
#25 - Postal Stamp Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,000 admission): This charmingly old-school museum just past the Grand Boulevard in District 7 is a haunt of stamp collectors. Through the permanent exhibit's more than half-a-million stamps, which includes the first ever stamp issued in Hungary, visitors can trace the country's eventful history (Emperor Franz Joseph and Lenin both make appearances). There are also foreign stamps from nearly every country around the globe. Part of the fun is navigating the pull-out metal-framed glass plates that hold the stamps since the museum opened in 1938.
#26 - The museums of Szentendre: Apart from its cobble-stoned streets and Mediterranean charm, Szentendre is best known for its array of museums. This adorable town just 45-minutes from Budapest is home to the Ferenczy Museum, the Béla Czóbel Museum, and the Lajos Vajda Studio. You can read about those, as well as other activities in the Szentendre guide.