Know Before You Go
Hungary's turbulent history offers a wealth of museum-worthy materials—just consider the country's recent past, which included two lost world wars, the Holocaust, and over four decades of communism. 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 own collections that could be the envy of most cities around the world. For the best temporary exhibits, refer to our weekly event guide.
There are also smaller, thematic museums that portray the lives of famous Hungarians like Ferenc Liszt and Béla Bartók, or tell the story of Unicum, Hungary's signature liqueur that first caught the attention of the Habsburg Emperor and is still widely popular.
Budapest's public museums are open Tuesdays through Sundays, 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 €15 (the House of Parliament is the priciest—€22 for non-EU citizens—but it's worth it).
There's always room for improvement. Painfully absent is an architecture museum in Budapest, and permanent exhibits about internationally accomplished Hungarians, including Ferenc Puskás, Marcel Breuer, László Moholy-Nagy, André Kertész, and Ernő Rubik.
In 2013, the Hungarian Parliament approved the Liget Projekt, a €500 million development that will profoundly alter Budapest’s cultural landscape by creating a museum quarter inside the City Park. Overall, this is a welcome improvement as some museums haven't had the platforms their collections would deserve, but the project has also sparked public debate about the loss of precious green space.
The Top 21
#1 - Hungarian House of Parliament (location; usually 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; HUF 3,500 admission for EU citizens, otherwise HUF 6,700 which includes a multilingual guide; advance ticket purchase here): This enormous, turn-of-the-century Gothic Revival building perched on the Danube's bank is Hungary's biggest building, erected when Budapest was a capital of the Austro Hungarian Empire. As part of a light, 45-minute guided tour, you'll get to see Hungary's Holy Crown and the jaw-droppingly ornate 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 cheer you up. The House of Terror remembers 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. Through old newsreels, interviews with survivors, and curated objects, they portray the everyday cruelty and stupidity of the communist system.
#3 - Museum of Fine Arts (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 2,800 admission): Central Europe's most important museum for international, mainly European art. The Italian Renaissance collection, much of which was purchased from the royal Esterhazy family in 1871, is considered among the finest in Europe, featuring works by Raphael and Titian. Don’t miss the exquisite Romanesque Hall, which regained its former glory after decades of neglect. Note that parts of the building are closed for renovation until the fall of 2019.
#4 - Hungarian National Gallery (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 2,800 admission): Located inside the Buda Castle, this museum features an exhaustive collection of local artworks spanning from Gothic winged altars to avant-garde paintings. Here is where you can see the works of Hungary’s best artists, including József Rippl-Rónai, Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka, and Lajos Vajda. As you take in the artworks, the Danube's bank and the Pest skyline provide a panoramic backdrop.
#5 - Dohány Street Synagogue and Hungarian Jewish Museum (location; opening hours vary, closed on Saturday; HUF 4,500 admission includes a guided tour to the synagogue and entry to the Jewish Museum): Europe's biggest 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 subtle weeping willow Holocaust memorial. Attached to the synagogue is the Jewish Museum, featuring an ornate seder plate made by Herend, the famed Hungarian porcelain manufacturer, and also a Hebrew-inscribed tombstone from the 3rd century A.D.
#6 - Hungarian National Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 2,600 admission): This imposing Greek Revival building is the place 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 communism. Even if you don't feel like spending a whole day here, the National Museum’s incredibly 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, enabling visitors to appreciate the parallels and differences.
#8 - Holocaust Memorial Center (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,400 admission): Located in Ferencváros, this deeply moving exhibit follows the gradual disenfranchisement of Hungarian Jews that culminated in the killing of nearly 500,000 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.
#9 - 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 WWII. In the below-ground levels you can explore 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.
#10 - Museum of Hungarian Agriculture (location; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, 10-5 on weekends, closed on Monday; HUF 1,600 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.
#11 - Zwack Unicum Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Sunday; HUF 2,400 admission): Unicum is a popular liqueur in Hungary, made from a secret formula of more than 40 types of herbs. The museum tracks 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 taste of this royal concoction, you can fuel up on Unicum at the gift shop.
#12 - 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.
#13 - Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center (location; 11 p.m. to 7 p.m., open every day; HUF 1,500 admission): The moniker of this museum is somewhat misleading because at any given time there are only about 50 photos on display by Robert Capa, the legendary 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 gracious-but-rundown art nouveau building whose top floor still houses artists' studios.
#14 - Goldberger Textile Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,400 admission): This is an interactive, informative, and ultimately heartbreaking exhibit about the Goldberger family’s thriving textile manufacturing business. It traces the company's development from a one-man shop to a vertically integrated conglomerate to which even the Habsburg Emperor, Franz Joseph, paid a visit. Besides family history, you can learn about blue-dyeing, roller printing, and screen printing techniques, and try your hand at pattern designs.
#15 - 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. Be sure to get an audio guide, as it contains more information than the handout.
#16 - Béla Bartók Memorial House (location; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,600 admission): This is a small museum a bit away from the city center, inside the house where composer Béla Bartók spent his final years before leaving Hungary in 1940. Highlights include the phonograph Bartók used for his field recordings, his metronome, and a range of vases, folk clothes, and other items he collected in Transylvania. Note that there are no wall texts but the admission fee includes a short (c. 40-minute) guided tour in English.
#17 - Imre Varga Collection (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 700 admission): This museum, which is a bit outside the city center, is dedicated to the works of Imre Varga, one of Hungary's most famous and prolific sculptors in the 20th century. Some of Varga's works you might have already seen: he did both the poignant willow-tree memorial behind the Dohány Street Synagogue, and the bronze-and-granite Wallenberg monument in Buda. The museum is a bit run-down and has no wall texts, but the bubbly guide more than makes up for them.
#18 - Róth Museum (location; 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 750 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 Building). The small museum features 60 or so splendid works of stained glass and over a dozen glass mosaics. The exhibit traces Roth’s evolution from eclecticism to art nouveau and art deco. One of the staff members speaks English and she can navigate you through the small exhibit.
#19 - Kassák Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Monday and Tuesday; HUF 800 admission): Lajos Kassák (1887-1967), the father of the Hungarian avant-garde, 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 both the Vasarely and the Imre Varga collections (also on this list), so you could bundle them together if you're hungering for more art.
#20 - Hungarian House of Photography (Mai Manó House) (location; 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,500 admission): For more photography, walk a couple of blocks from the Robert Capa Center (see above). This quirky-looking building just 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 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, too.
#21 - The museums of Szentendre: Apart from its cobble-stoned, winding street that exude Mediterranean vibes, Szentendre is best known for its array of museums. This charming 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 our Szentendre guide.
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