The 40 Best Things To Do In Budapest

From the medieval old town to thermal baths, unique architecture, and ruin bars — discover the top attractions of Budapest.

If you're a first-time visitor to Budapest, the sites below will give you a snapshot of the city’s past and present. Refer to this map for the specific locations.

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#1 - Roam the streets of the Castle Hill: Budapest’s charming medieval Old Town is usually swarming with tourists, but if you go up here a little before sunset, after visitors have returned to the Pest side, you should have the Buda Castle, the Matthias Church, the Fisherman's Bastion, and the winding historic streets mostly to yourself. This step-by-step guide will help you navigate the Castle Hill.


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Photo: Országház Látogatóközpont

#2 - Visit the Hungarian Parliament & Liberty Square: Built during Budapest’s golden era when the city was a capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this monumental Gothic Revival building dominates its Danube bank. The 45-minute guided tour is just the right amount of time to appreciate the lavish interior without getting tired and lost in one of its 691 rooms. After the tour, stop by nearby Liberty Square for more dramatic buildings from this period.


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#3 - Stroll down Andrássy Avenue: Budapest’s version of the Champs-Élysées, this 2.3 km (1.4 mile) grand boulevard connects the city center with Heroes' Square and the City Park. Starting in downtown, you'll pass fancy retail stores, then end up among handsome villas, many of them embassies now, taking in the heart of the city along the way, including the impressive Opera House. Those with extra energy should visit some of the treasures hidden in the side streets.


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Photo: legenda.hu

#4 - Take a river cruise on the Danube: It's one of the best ways to appreciate Budapest's beauty in the fullest. As part of a cruise ride, which takes about an hour, the Chain Bridge, the Buda Castle, the Hungarian Parliament building, and Margaret Island all appear within arm's reach. There are many cruise operators to choose from; my experience is that Legenda offers a consistently comfortable experience (and audio guides in 30 languages).


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#5 - Learn about the communist-era at the House of Terror: Democracy may indeed be the way forward, but Hungary is still suffering the legacy of the four-decades-long communist regime that reigned until 1989. This museum, inside the building that once headquartered the communist secret police, is a must-see for anyone interested in exploring Hungary’s past and understanding its present. (Here’s a list of Budapest’s top museums.)


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The main bathing hall inside Rudas Thermal Baths.

#6 - Go to a thermal bath: Budapest's bathing culture harks back to the Romans, who first enjoyed soaking in the mineral-rich hot water here. Today, you can visit medieval hammams built during Budapest's occupation by Ottoman Turkey or ornate baths dating back to Austria-Hungary. This thermal bath guide will help you choose one that suits you best.


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The rear facade of the Kazinczy Street Synagogue.

#7 - Walk the “synagogue triangle” in the old Jewish Quarter: Before Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany and participation in the Holocaust, the country was home to a thriving community of almost one million Jewish people. In Budapest, Jews had been central to the development of commerce, the arts, and sciences. Inside the city's old Jewish Quarter, you can visit three dazzling synagogues near one another, including Europe’s biggest in Dohány Street.


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#8 - Explore the Great Market Hall: Opened in 1897, this enormous brick-and-steel indoor market is usually teeming with tourists, but plenty of locals, too, come here for fresh fruits, vegetables, and paprika-laced sausages. Upstairs, amid vendors of knick-knacks and tchotchkes, you'll find food stalls that serve lángos, a popular flatbread topped with sour cream and cheese.


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#9 - Eat your way through Budapest with our Foodapest card: We've logged the city's quintessential foods and drinks that locals rely on to get through their days. Note: this isn’t a list of strictly traditional Hungarian fare; it’s a deeply local, beloved cross-section of what Budapest residents actually eat and drink. So you, too, can feel like one, even if you’re visiting. Read this brief explainer to each of the featured items and then print the card.


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#10 - Go to a pastry shop: Dating back to the days of Austria Hungary, there's still a vibrant pastry shop culture in Budapest. After all, who doesn't like to socialize over luscious cakes and hot chocolate? Many pastry shops (cukrászda) scatter across the city; these places are my favorite for a Dobos or an Esterházy torte. Before you trip, learn more about the top traditional Hungarian cakes.


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#11 - Try Hungarian wine: Unlike beer, wine has been essential all throughout Hungary's history. The most renowned wine region is Tokaj, once the favorite of emperors and presidents. Native grapes include furmint, hárslevelű, and juhfark (white), and kadarka and kékfrankos (red), which you can try at these Budapest wine bars. If you're new to Hungarian wines, read our beginner's guide.


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The Garden Studio.

#12 - Go shopping: Budapest's shopping options span antiques, contemporary designer products, high-end china, vinyl records, Hungarian wines, craft chocolate, and more. See if the city's top stores offer something of interest to you.


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Photo: Vasarely Múzeum Budapest

#13 - Go to a museum: Be it a gigantic fine arts museum that could be the envy of most cities around the world, or a small, thematic exhibit about Hungary's iconic liqueur, the Unicum (which, yes, does include a taste), museums abound in Budapest. See which one strikes your fancy.


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Photo: videoblocks.com

#14 - Climb up to the Liberty Statue: The reward of the half-hour cardio exercise that's required to mount the verdant Gellért Hill is the sweeping 360-degree views of Budapest. For the best experience, take the quieter path setting off opposite the Gellért Baths and descend on the other side.


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Photo: Lakáskultúra

#15 - Take in the city's architecture: Budapest offers plenty of eye candy for architecture fans. The grand revival structures from the turn of the 20th century still dominate the cityscape, but also unique are the buildings of Ödön Lechner, who pioneered Hungary's distinct style of art nouveau.

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Parked BuBi bikes at a docking station on Andrássy Avenue.

#16 - Use BuBi, Budapest’s city bike system: With densely built streets and a flat surface, the Pest side lends itself to be discovered on two wheels. BuBi provides an excellent coverage of all downtown neighborhoods, featuring more than 1,800 bikes and 140 docking stations. You can pedal away for the whole day for the equivalent of less than €2 (within 30-minute intervals). Just keep your wits about you and be respectful of others sharing the road.


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#17 - Visit the food court inside the Hold Street Market: This historic downtown market hall has been transformed into a lively food court where many local celebrity chefs operate fast-casual restaurants. My favorites include A Séf utcája and Buja Disznó(k) on the upper deck.


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#18 - Amble through Várkert Bazár: These nicely refurbished historical buildings lie in between the Castle Hill and the Danube's bank. In the past, the area was home to everything from stores to artists' studios and open-air concerts but today you're here for the panoramic views. Note that there's direct access to the Buda Castle, so you can combine this with #1 above.


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Photo: Müpa Budapest.

#19 - Go to a classical music concert: Every year, many tourists head to Budapest specifically for its rich classical music scene. Here, classical music is far from stuffy or old-fashioned — and a poignant portal into deeper aspects of Hungarian life than you think. Start by perusing the musical calendars of Müpa Budapest, the Hungarian State Opera, and the Liszt Academy. If experimental contemporary art is what you're after, head to Trafó.


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#20 - Discover the Palace Quarter: With pre-war mansions and quaint courtyards, the Palace Quarter was once the most desirable and the playground of the wealthy. Communism’s gray pallor is still notable, but the area is currently springing back to life thanks to charming restaurants and cafés.


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#21 - Grab a drink at a ruin bar: Budapest’s ruin bars started when a few creatively minded locals opened unpretentious drinking joints inside the neglected buildings the old Jewish Quarter that barely escaped the bulldozers. Cheap drinks and a hodgepodge of flea-market furniture became their defining featues. Although Szimpla Kert, the city’s first ruin bar, has become a major tourist attraction, it's still worth a visit.


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#22 - Travel back in time at a coffeehouse: Similar to Vienna, Budapest also enjoyed a thriving coffeehouse culture in the late 19th century. The city's fast-growing population, especially artists and journalists, spent endless hours working and socializing under the sky-high ceilings. Though popular tourist attractions today, the few coffeehouses that remain offer a journey back in time apart from coffee and a cakes.


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#23 - Experience the contemporary side of Budapest: Sure, you don't need to come all the way to Budapest to try specialty coffee, craft beers, or bespoke cocktails, but if you're already here, you could see how the local artisanal scene stacks up against those in other cities you've visited. Budapest's specialty coffee culture is especially vibrant.


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#24 - Visit Újlipótváros, a hip residential area set along the Danube: With a unique architecture and well-heeled residents, Újlipótváros is a little city within the city that flies under the radar of most tourists. Specialty cafés, bookstores, and impressive modernist buildings from the 1930s and '40s line Pozsonyi Road, the main artery of the neighborhood.


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Kelet Café

#25 - Discover the coolest Buda neighborhood: Although the Pest side is where most of the action is, the lively Bartók Béla Boulevard in Buda gives it a run for its money. This revitalized area is teeming with cafés, bars, art galleries, and draws a local, bourgeois-bohemian crowd.


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Photo: Viltin Galéria

#26 - Go to an art gallery: After more than four decades of communist-era censorship, Budapest's art world is slowly coming back to life. At the city's top contemporary art galleries you can sample anything from conceptual art from the 1960s to works of the younger generations. Most artworks command high prices but the exhibits are free and open to the public.


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#27 - Visit the Lehel Market: Inside a quirky postmodern building lies one of Budapest's liveliest markets. You'll find here everything from Hungarian cold cuts to fresh and pickled vegetables and homemade jams. There's also low-priced drinking joints where you can accompany local regulars for a beer and a shot of Unicum. Compared with the Great Market Hall, Lehel draws fewer tourists. For the best experience, visit on a Saturday morning.


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#28 - Explore the Fiumei Road Cemetery: This vast 56 hectare (140 acre) park not far from the city center hides a beautiful garden cemetery. Stroll through the towering limestone mausoleums and impressively designed tombstones while getting to know Hungary’s prominent statesmen and artists, including Lajos Kossuth and Tivadar Csontváry. In the back but accessed from outside is the Salgótarjáni Street Jewish Cemetery, with elaborate tombstones of the Jewish upper class.


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#29 - Stroll down the Danube promenade in Ferencváros: Unfortunately, cars in Budapest have better access to precious Danube River views than people. An exception to this is the green promenade stretching from the Great Market Hall to the Müpa cultural center (a 25-minute walk). Along the way, you can grab a drink at the whale-shaped contemporary building where bars offer panoramic vistas.


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Photo: Danubius Hotels

#30 - Walk or bike around Margaret Island: This car-free, leafy area perched in the middle of the Danube River is a true paradise — no wonder the royal family kept it close to its chest before finally selling it to the city in 1908. Bike around the island's manicured lawns or join packs of locals on the running track ringing the island.

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The night market in Chinatown (open from May to September only).

#31 - Eat in Budapest's Chinatown: With more than 30,000 people, Budapest's Chinese community is the biggest in Central Europe. This means that excellent Chinese food abounds, be it Sichuan fare, seafood, noodle soups, or Chinese hotpot. Budapest's Chinatown (Monori Center) is located a bit outside the city center, reachable in half-hour by public transport from downtown.


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A dish at Costes Downtown

#32 - Go to a Michelin-starred restaurant: Budapest has six Michelin-starred restaurants, more than any other city in Central Europe. While a Michelin meal always runs the risk of being a bit over-the-top, these restaurants showcase a unique blend of traditional Hungarian fare and contemporary fine dining trends.


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A tangle of concrete overhead beams at the Fővám Square subway station. Photo: Architizer

#33 - Check out the award-winning M4 subway stations: A crisscross system of exposed concrete beams, playful lighting solutions, and customized designs lend a distinctly 21st century feel to the platforms of Budapest's recently completed M4 subway line. The Fővám Square and Szent Gellért Square stations won the prestigious Architizer A+ Award in 2014.


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View of the Danube river from a hilltop in Szentendre.

#34 - Take a day trip to Szentendre: Szentendre is a small, picturesque town about 45-minutes from Budapest, best known for its Mediterranean atmosphere and vibrant museum scene. If you need a break from the tumult of Budapest, it makes for a relaxing day trip. This Szentendre guide will help you get around.


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The underground cellar of Oremus Winery in the village of Tolcsva.

#35 - Take a weekend trip to the Tokaj wine region: "The wine of kings, the king of wines," said Louis XIV of France about Tokaj, the world's oldest designated wine region, located about three hours from Budapest by car. Our step-by-step guide, which includes winery visits, will help you plan your trip.


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The elephant house at the Budapest Zoo.

#36 - Visit the Budapest Zoo: Not far from Budapest's city center lies one of the oldest zoos in Europe, dating back to 1866. With elaborate Art Nouveau buildings housing the animals, it also offers a tour of architecture. Although open year-round, note that some of the animals might be hibernating in the winter months away from the public eye. Economically, the thermal water of the neighboring Széchenyi baths provides much of the zoo's heating.


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#37 - Visit a local supermarket: One of the best ways to see the real side of a city? Visit a grocery store! It's there that you get to see a broad cross-section of Hungarian people and what they actually eat and drink. Any grocery store will do, but try a CBA store, part of a domestic chain, for the truest-to-Budapest experience.


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#38 - Visit the scenic tomb of Gül Baba: Gül Baba, "father of the roses," was a muslim monk who died in 1541, when Ottoman Turkey occupied Budapest. His impressive octagonal tomb (türbe) is tucked away on a tranquil hillside with sweeping views. For the best experience, climb up on Mecset Street through the rose garden, and leave the area on the other side down the winding Gül Baba Street.


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Budapest's A38, a concert hall inside a repurposed ship docked on the Danube.

#39 - Go to a concert on the A38 ship docked on the Danube: The ship was a Ukrainian stone carrier lumbering on the Danube before being converted into the city's go-to concert venue, hosting well-known international and local bands almost every night of the week. For more Budapest concerts, check out our event guide.


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#40 - Experience the nightlife of the old Jewish Quarter: After the Holocaust, Budapest's Jewish Quarter was neglected for decades. Recently, though, thanks to an influx of young people and tourists, the streets are home to a revitalized culture, lined with cafés, bars, and restaurants.

My content is free and I never accept money in exchange for coverage. But this also means I have to rely on readers to maintain and grow the website. If you're enjoying this article, please consider supporting Offbeat.