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. Admission fees range from the equivalent of a few euros to up to €20 (the House of Parliament and the Dohány Street Synagogue are priciest but both well worth it).
#1 - Museum of Fine Arts / Szépművészeti (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 4,800 admission): Beside Vienna's Kunsthistorisches, the Szépművészeti holds the most glamorous collection of old masters paintings in Central Europe. Much of the collection had belonged to the Esterházy family, one of the wealthiest in Austria-Hungary, before the Hungarian state purchased it in 1871 from the financially strapped Miklós Esterházy. There are works by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Giorgione, Correggio, Titian, Bronzino, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, El Greco, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco Goya.
The Dutch and Flemish golden age is also well-represented with Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Salomon van Ruysdael, Willem Claesz. Heda, and Pieter Saenredam. These are some of my favorites.
#2 - Hungarian House of Parliament (location; usually 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; HUF 5,000 admission for EU citizens, otherwise HUF 10,000 which includes a multilingual guide; advance ticket purchase here): Perched on the Danube's bank with 691 rooms, this enormous Gothic Revival building was erected when Budapest, together with Vienna, was the capital of Austria-Hungary. The 45-minute guided tour features Hungary's Holy Crown and the jaw-dropping interior of what used to be the Upper Chamber.
#3 - Hungarian National Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 3,500 admission): This imposing Neoclassical building is dedicated to the history of Hungary, charting the Carpathian Basin's history from the Stone Age to the present day. Even if you don't feel like spending a whole day here, the National Museum – the first public museum in Hungary, founded in 1802 – has an astonishingly rich and varied collection that's worth at least a glimpse (kid-friendly, too). A special exhibition on the ground floor displays the Seuso Treasure, a collection of fourteen peerless late-Roman era (4th century AD) silver vessels that had been unearthed in Hungary.
#4 - Hungarian National Gallery (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 4,200 admission): Located inside the Buda Castle but fitted in the late-modern style of the 1970s, this museum features Hungary's top artworks from the Middle Ages through the current day. It's here that you can take in oversized Gothic triptychs from northern Hungary; strangely fun Biedermeier paintings of Miklós Barabás; the post-impressionism of József Rippl-Rónai; the monumental Henri Rousseau-esque works of Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka; the Expressionist portraits of Lajos Tihanyi; and the haunting drawings of Lajos Vajda. As you saunter through the museum, the Danube's bank and the Pest skyline provide a panoramic backdrop.
#5 - House of Terror (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 4,000 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 Communist regime of the 1950s (later, the system softened). 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 sheer stupidity of the Communist system comes alive through old newsreels, interviews with survivors, and curated objects.
#6 - Dohány Street Synagogue and the Hungarian Jewish Museum (location; opening hours vary, closed on Saturday; HUF 9,000 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.
#7 - Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center (location; 11 p.m. to 7 p.m., open every day; HUF 4,000 admission): Home to one of largest photo collections of Robert Capa, the renowned war photographer who grew up in Budapest. The permanent exhibition features a rotating set of 140 pieces, including his famous pictures from the Spanish Civil War and D-Day. Also here: photos by André Kertész, another big name, taken as a young man in the Hungarian countryside. Before you leave, glimpse the Art Nouveau stained glass windows in the staircase designed by József Rippl-Rónai.
#8 - House of Music Hungary (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 3,600 admission): A recently opened Budapest museum, the House of Music charts the evolution of music from its tribal beginnings to the present day. The interactive and well-curated show takes detours to Hungary's greats, such as Ferenc Liszt, Béla Bartók, and Zoltán Kodály. Each visitor gets a high-quality wireless headphone for an immersive musical experience. Keep an eye out for the concerts on the upstairs, too. The museum is located in the City Park, inside a striking building designed by Japanese star architect, Sou Fujimoto.
#9 - Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art (location; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 2,000 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.
#10 - Museum of Ethnography (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,700 admission): The striking rooftop garden of Hungary's Museum of Ethnography is quickly becoming a must-see in Budapest. Inside, the museum has a deep collection of all things folk culture, although they're still finalizing the move so the exhibitions are partially complete currently. The pottery displays from around the world and the astonishingly detailed model of Budapest in the vestibule are reasons enough to go at this point.
#11 - Holocaust Memorial Center (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 3,600 admission): This poignant exhibition follows the gradual disenfranchisement of Hungarian Jews that culminated in the murder of more than half a million people (and the creation of Hungarian Jewish communities in unexpected places). 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.
#12 - 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 3,800 admission): In 1967, this was the first museum to move into the Buda Castle, decades after the building was decimated in World War II bombings. The below-ground levels contain the remains of the original Gothic-Reinassance halls, while the top floor presents Budapest’s history from the Bronze Ages to the present day.
#13 - Zwack Unicum Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Sunday; HUF 3,000 admission): Unicum is a popular Hungarian liqueur, made from a secret formula containing more than forty types of herbs (an early fan: Joseph II, the enlightened Habsburg Emperor). 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.
#14 - 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've 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.
#15 - Ferenc Liszt Memorial Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9-5 on Saturday, closed on Sunday; HUF 3,000 admission): A small exhibition inside the apartment where Hungary's famous composer, Franz Liszt, spent his last 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 – betray Liszt's worldwide fame. It's worth getting an audio guide, which provides more information than the handout.
#16 - Hungarian Museum of Commerce and Hospitality (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, closed on Monday; HUF 1,800 admission): This adorable museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and displaying objects related to Hungary's hospitality industry and gastronomic history. The period rooms are fun and educational: Why were Budapest's cafés important? How did a typical middle-class dining table look? How about a pantry and a kitchen? What were good table manners? Logos of legendary Hungarian brands appear throughout (Unicum, Gerbeaud, Kőbányai, Szerencsi). English translations are available; enjoyable for children too.
#17 - Hungarian House of Photography (Mai Manó House) (location; 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 2,000 admission): This quirky building off Andrássy Avenue used to be the studio of Manó Mai, a royal court photographer in Austria-Hungary. Today, temporary-only exhibitions present high-end photography across different styles and periods. Don't miss Mai’s studio on the top level and note the bookstore on the mezzanine and the snug café on the ground floor. For more photography, walk a few blocks over to the Robert Capa Center (see above).
#18 - Goldberger Textile Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,400 admission): An informative, interactive, and ultimately heartbreaking exhibition 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 Hungary's King, Franz Joseph, paid a visit. Besides the Jewish-Hungarian family's history, you can learn about blue-dyeing and roller printing, and try your hand at pattern designs.
#19 - 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 view it from the backyard), there's a short exhibition inside about modern living with a few design pieces by the likes of Marcel Breuer.
#20 - Kassák Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Monday and Tuesday; HUF 1,200 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 Picasso, Moholy-Nagy, and Chagall contributed. The small exhibition, which details Kassák's continuous struggle with the Hungarian authorities, no matter of what disposition, should be interesting to anyone curious about the early avant-garde period. The museum is near the Vasarely Museum (see below), so you can bundle the two.
#21 - Victor Vasarely Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 2,400 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.
#22 - 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 impressive works of stained glass and more than a dozen glass mosaics, charting Roth’s evolution from eclecticism to Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
#23 - 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 located 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.
#24 - Postal Stamp Museum (location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday; HUF 1,200 admission): This appealingly old-school museum just past the Grand Boulevard is a haunt of stamp collectors. Through the permanent exhibition's half-a-million stamps, which includes the first ever issued in Hungary, visitors can trace the country's eventful history (both Emperor Franz Joseph and Lenin make appearances). There are also stamps from nearly every country around the globe. Part of the fun is navigating the pull-out metal-framed glass plates that have been holding this precious collection since the museum opened in 1938.
#25 - 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 Vajda Museum. You can read about those, as well as other activities in my Szentendre guide.
#26 - Hospital in the Rock (location; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., open every day; HUF 7,600 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 (1947-1989), the place doubled as an atomic bunker. Note: If you suffer from claustrophobia, this museum, which is pricey, isn't for you.