If you're a first-time visitor to Budapest, the below sites will give you a snapshot of the city’s past and present. Refer to this map for the specific locations.
#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. Read this step-by-step guide about the Castle Hill.
#2 - Visit the Parliament & Liberty Square: Built during Budapest’s golden era when it 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.
#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. Be sure to pause at the Opera House and the House of Terror. If you have extra energy, visit some of the treasures hidden in the side streets.
#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 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).
#5 - Learn about communism in Hungary 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 our overall list of Budapest’s best museums.)
#6 - Go to a thermal bath: The city's bathing culture dates back to the Romans, who first enjoyed soaking in 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. Read our thermal bath guide to find the one that suits you best.
#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 old Jewish Quarter, you can visit three dazzling synagogues near one another, including Europe’s largest in Dohány Street.
#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.
#9 - Eat your way through Budapest with the Foodapest card: Craving a true-to-Budapest food experience? 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.
#10 - Go to a pastry shop: Harkening 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 in Hungarian) scatter across the city, but these ones serve excellent traditional Hungarian cakes.
#11 - Try Hungarian wine: Historically, Hungary has been a wine-drinking rather than beer-drinking nation. The most renowned wine region is Tokaj in the northeast, which once counted emperors and presidents among its admirers. The native grapes include furmint, hárslevelű, and juhfark (white), and kadarka and kékfrankos (red), all of which you can try at these Budapest wine bars. If you're new to Hungarian wines, read our beginner's guide.
#12 - Go shopping: Budapest's shopping options span from antiques to 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.
#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.
#14 - Climb up to the Liberty Statue: In exchange for the half-hour cardio exercise that's required to mount the verdant Gellért Hill, your reward will be sweeping 360-degree views of Budapest. For the best experience, take the quieter path that's to the south of the hill, setting off opposite Gellért Bath, and descend on the other side.
#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 interesting are the buildings of Ödön Lechner, who pioneered Hungary's distinct style of art nouveau. Here, the most unique buildings of Budapest.
#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.
#17 - Visit the food court inside the Hold Street Market: This historic downtown market hall has been transformed into a bustling 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.
#18 - Amble through Várkert Bazár: These nicely refurbished historical buildings in Buda lie in between the Castle Hill and the Danube's bank. In the past, the area was home to everything from shops to artists' studios and open-air concerts. Today, you're here for the stunning views. Note that there's direct access to the Royal Palace, so you can combine this with #1 above.
#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.
#20 - Discover the Palace Quarter: With pre-war mansions and quaint courtyards, the Palace Quarter was once the most desirable — the playground of the wealthy. Communism’s gray pallor is still notable, but the area is springing back to life currently thanks to charming restaurants and cafés.
#21 - Grab a drink at a ruin bar: Budapest’s ruin bars started when some creatively minded locals opened unpretentious drinking joints inside neglected buildings 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 for the experience.
#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. The few coffeehouses that remain today are popular tourist attractions, but if you enjoy a journey back in time, drop by for coffee and a cake.
#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 might as well see how the artisanal scene stacks up against those in other cities you've visited. Budapest's specialty coffee culture is especially vibrant.
#24 - Visit Újlipótváros, Budapest’s West Village: With a unique architecture and well-heeled residents, Újlipótváros is a little city within the city that flies under the radar of most tourists. Striking modernist buildings from the 1930s and '40s line Pozsonyi Road, the main artery of the neighborhood. There are also specialty cafés and bookstores.
#25 - Discover the coolest Buda neighborhood: Although the Pest side is where most of the action is, the stately 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.
#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. These are serious artworks commanding high prices, but you can visit the exhibits, which are free and open to the public.
#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 feels more local. For the best experience, visit on a Saturday morning.
#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.
#29 - Stroll down the Danube promenade in Ferencváros: Unfortunately, cars in Budapest have better access to precious Danube River views than people. An exception is the green promenade running from the Great Market Hall to the striking modern building of the Müpa cultural center (the trip takes about 25 minutes). Along the way, you can grab a drink at the whale-shaped contemporary structure where bars offer panoramic vistas.
#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.
#31 - Eat in Budapest's Chinatown: With over 30,000 people, Budapest has the largest Chinese community in Central Europe. This of course means that excellent Chinese food abounds, be it Sichuan fare, seafood, noodle soups, or Chinese hotpot. Chinatown (Monori Center) is located a bit outside the city center, reachable in half-hour by public transport from 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.
#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.
#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 Budapest’s bustle, it makes for a relaxing day trip. Our Szentendre guide will help you get around.
#35 - Take a weekend trip to the Tokaj wine region: If you're interested in wine, consider visiting Tokaj, the world's oldest designated wine region in northeastern Hungary, about three hours from Budapest by car. "The wine of kings, the king of wines," said Louis XIV of France about Tokaj. Our step-by-step guide, which includes winery visits, will help you plan your trip.
#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. Bizarrely, the thermal water of the neighboring Széchenyi bath provides much of the zoo's heating.
#37 - Visit a local supermarket: One of the best ways to see the real side of a city? Visit a grocery store! It stocks items that local residents need, so 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.
#38 - Visit the scenic tomb of Gül Baba: Gül Baba, "father of the roses," was a Bektashi monk who died in 1541, when Ottoman Turkey occupied the city. His octagonal tomb (türbe) is still a popular destination of Islamic pilgrimage and also a scenic and tranquil area 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.
#39 - Go to a concert on the A38 ship docked on the Danube: This commercial-ship-turned-concert-venue is another unique Budapest invention similar to ruin bars. 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.
#40 - Experience the nightlife of the old Jewish Quarter: After the Holocaust, Budapest's Jewish Quarter was neglected for decades. Recently, however, thanks to an influx of young people, the streets are home to a revitalized culture, lined with cafés, bars, and restaurants. Thronged with both locals and tourists at night, the area has become Budapest’s party district.
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