A magical city with historic architecture, ornate landmarks, and a serious food and drink scene, Budapest deserves a spot on your bucket list. Buda and Pest, districts divided by the Danube River and connected by the Chain Bridge, comprise the modern city that stands today. Between the two sides of the river, there are so many things to do in Budapest. Walk through historic buildings, hike to an unbeatable view of the city, embark on a boat ride along the River Danube, venture inside a ruin bar, and take a dip in a thermal bath.
Here are 12 things to do in Budapest that will make you see why this is one of the most popular destinations in Central Europe.
One of Budapest's top attractions, the Fisherman's Bastion (aka the Halászbástya) was built in the 19th century as an observatory offering incredible views of the city, including the Danube River and colorful rooftops. With fairy-tale–like towers, this castle will make you feel like royalty. It's the perfect place to begin your exploration of the city and snap a few pictures. Pro tip: Arrive early to beat the crowds and capture the architectural marvel before the tourists arrive.
Even if you haven't booked a room at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest, you'll want to make a point of visiting this historic hotel, which first opened in 1896 under the name the Grand Hotel Royal. Fans of Wes Anderson will note that this building served as the inspiration for his 2014 film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The property has managed to hold on to its rich past while updating modern luxuries. In addition to the meticulous architecture, one relic from the past that remains is the original 19th-century spa inside the hotel.
Be sure to add this landmark to your list of things to do in Budapest.
Venture on a hike up Gellért Hill for a view of both sides of the city that line the Danube River. Aside from its breathtaking views, the rocky hillside holds historical significance for the city and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can get there by bus, but walking is the best way to experience the area. Start at the Gellért Hotel or at the end of Elisabeth Bridge to follow steep stairs up to statues and a winding path that leads to a panoramic view of the city.
The best way to take in all the major sights of both Buda and Pest is by speedboat tour on the Danube River. You'll get a fantastic view of the House of Parliament, the Royal Castle, Gellért Hill, the Chain Bridge, the Liberty Bridge, the National Theatre, and the Palace of Arts. You'll also see countless other details of the city and have the opportunity to make stops along the way.
For a taste of the local cuisine, stop into the Great Market Hall (aka Nagycsarnok). It was built in 1897 and is located just steps away from the city center. Wander through the hall to find fresh food and other local goods. The market is open Monday through Saturday, and the best time to visit is in the early morning before the crowds get too overwhelming. The market also offers tours and tastings so you can truly experience what the vendors have to offer.
Budapest is known for its immaculate indoor and outdoor thermal baths. If you only visit one, make it the Széchenyi Baths. The water is heated so you can experience the baths year round (even in the snow!). If you're looking for a truly unique evening out, venture to a "Sparty," a spa party hosted at Széchenyi Baths most Saturdays during the summer months. The place comes alive with lights, DJs, and plenty of drinks.
No exploration of a new city would be complete without exquisite culinary experiences. While in Budapest, there are a few restaurants that can't be missed. Plan for an evening at New York Café, an establishment on the Grand Boulevard situated in a building over a century old formerly known as the New York Palace. The spot has a history of hosting famous, writers, poets, and artists, and has been renovated into a stunning eatery. Other hot spots include Baraka, Callas Café & Restaurant, and Gettó Gulyás.
After dining at one of the best restaurants in the city, take a stroll to Gelarto Rosa for an Instagram-worthy rose-shaped gelato cone. Everything is handmade using organic ingredients for a guilt-free local indulgence. Be sure to snap a picture with St. Stephen's Basilica in the background before taking a bite out of the beautiful rose creation.
Plan to spend an afternoon walking the halls of the House of Terror (aka Tera Háza). It's a museum meant to memorialize victims of the Nazi and communist regimes that controlled Hungary in the 20th century. Housed in the former headquarters of the Nazi party and communist leaders, the museum stands in the actual site where much violence took place. The exterior architecture alone makes a statement while the interior is dedicated to the injustices that occurred decades ago.
The largest church in Hungary, St. Stephen's Basilica should be on your list of things to see in Budapest. This monument holds some of Hungary's most sacred treasures and took more than 50 years to build. Take in the ornate architecture, and venture up to the cupola for a sweeping view of the surrounding area.
This iconic square was built in 1896 to mark the thousandth anniversary of Hungary. Today it's surrounded by the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hall of Art called Kunsthalle. Take some time to walk through the open square before popping into one of these popular museums. The site is also a station of the Millennium Underground subway line, making it extremely accessible if you're making your way through the city by public transit.
Before you depart from Budapest, you'll want to be sure to have a proper night out on the town. The city is known for its ruin pubs, which are essentially abandoned buildings that have been renovated into bars and clubs. Brave inside one to find affordable drinks, eclectic interiors, and walls of street art. Some of the most popular ruin bars include Mazel Tav, Szimpla Klert, Filter Klub, Fogas Ház, and Instant.