- Jonathan Chum
Budapest is a city that has everything you could want in Europe. It has amazing food, beautiful architecture, and lots to do. So here are some of the best things to do in Budapest!
Sample the city's rich culinary offerings
Hungarian cuisine is one of the richest in Europe, and it's no surprise that Budapest has a lot to offer when it comes to food. First and foremost, there's Hungarian Goulash (gulyás), which you'll find everywhere in the city. The dish was born out of poverty; the meat was difficult for peasants to obtain, so they used potatoes instead. Today you'll find this hearty stew on menus everywhere from tiny holes in the wall by the metro exit up through five-star hotels---and with good reason!
The variety of dishes available in Hungary is astounding; every region has its specialty that adds to the cuisine's rich history as well as its diversity today. In Budapest alone, there are hundreds of restaurants serving traditional fare alongside modern interpretations using local ingredients or international influences such as Chinese and French cuisine being incorporated into classic recipes like chicken paprikash (paprikás csirke).
See the Shoes on the Danube Bank
You can see the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a memorial created by sculptor Gyula Pauer in 2006. It commemorates the Hungarian civilians who were killed by Soviet troops during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
The sculptures were placed on their sides in pairs to resemble shoes, and are meant to represent both men and women of all ages who died during this turbulent time from 1956-1957.
Take a break in Széchenyi Baths
One of Budapest's most famous landmarks and an icon of the city, Széchenyi Baths is a public bath that was built in 1913. It is named after István Széchenyi (1791--1860), a Hungarian politician who is often referred to as the "father of the modern spa industry". The baths are located on the Buda side of the Danube River and are accessible by bus or tram from many parts of town.
The oldest surviving baths in Hungary were built in 1782 and expanded upon several times over their history until they reached their current size: there are separate men's and women's pools, saunas, hot tubs, and steam rooms (including large Finnish saunas), stone massage pools with cold waterfalls cascading down into them, footbaths with underwater jets massaging your feet while you relax with a drink at an outdoor café table overlooking Budapest's Parliament Building across the river; even a music hall where concerts take place throughout the year!
Visit Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion
The Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion are two of the most significant sites in Budapest, so it's a good idea to visit them while you're in town. To get to Matthias Church, take the metro to Deák tér station and head out of the station toward Váci utca. Walk toward your right when you exit the station; after about five minutes, look for a large baroque church on your left. The beautiful building has two towers with golden domes attached to its exterior---it's hard to miss!
Once inside, you'll find ornate paintings on all sides of the walls (as well as some modern artworks) and several stunning stained glass windows that make for excellent photos. If you have time before or after visiting Matthias Church, check out its neighbor: Fisherman's Bastion is just across from this church on Váci utca. It offers incredible views of Budapest along with several statues depicting Hungarian legends and heroes from history.
Tour Budapest's market halls
Some of the best markets in Budapest are found in the city's indoor market halls. There are several of these to choose from, so you can pick and choose depending on your interests and budget. Here's what you should know about them:
The Central Market Hall is located at Vámház körút 1-3, District VIII., right next to the river bank. This is the most popular market hall in Budapest and one of its oldest; it was built in 1896 by architect Ödön Lechner as part of a larger complex that included a restaurant (now gone), butcher shop (still there), and even a hotel! The main floor contains dozens of stalls selling every type imaginable: vegetables, fruits, meats (veal tongue!), fish, cheese...you name it! The second floor houses more stalls selling spices and herbs---about which I learned quite a bit when I visited with my girlfriend who has been cooking Hungarian food for years now :) You'll also find local artists here selling handmade goods like pottery vases or handpainted wooden toys for kids. Markets like this are open daily from 5 am until 8 pm (9 pm on weekends).
The Great Market Hall is located at Wesselényi utca 2., District VII. This building has been operating since 1873 but was recently renovated by architects Mihály Pollack & János Vaszary between 1904-1907; they added skylights above each stall so shoppers could see everything clearly without getting rained out underneath their umbrellas ;) It has two floors containing roughly 200 seller stands offering fresh fruit/vegetables galore (including tomatoes!), meat products like salami/hams/sausages...also bread baked fresh every morning before opening hours begin! You'll often see long lines forming outside because people want those amazing pastries made fresh each morning too--good luck trying not to go home with a bag full of goodies!
Hop on a river cruise
When you're in a new city, it's always good to take a look at it from a different perspective. You'll see things that you may have missed before and get a better idea of what the city is all about. One of the best ways to do this is by taking a river cruise through Budapest during the day or evening.
During the day, there are two main types of cruises: sightseeing tours and dinner cruises. The former lasts about 90 minutes, while the latter lasts about 2 hours and 15 minutes (including dinner). On both types of tours, you'll get an audio guide that describes what's happening around you in English as well as other languages---the choice is yours! Other than sightseeing and learning some interesting facts about Budapest along the way, one of my favorite parts was seeing how beautiful everything looks lit up at night when we were up on deck! It was also nice because there weren't too many people crowding around us; it was just us out there enjoying ourselves while appreciating all that nature has to offer!
Visit Heroes' Square
Heroes Square is a large public square in Budapest, Hungary. It is located in the City Centre, at the eastern end of Andrássy Avenue. It features equestrian statues and monuments that have become a symbol of national identity. The forecourt of the Hungarian Parliament building is situated at its north-western corner.
House Of Terror
The House of Terror is a museum that tells the story of the communist regime in Hungary. It is located in the former headquarters of the Hungarian secret police, and it focuses on documenting and remembering how these institutions used violence and intimidation to rule over people's lives.
The exhibits include photographs, films, brochures, and personal belongings from victims. There are also interactive displays where you can learn more about some of the horrors that took place at this location during WWII: torture techniques used by different regimes; methods for extracting information; life inside prisons or concentration camps; etcetera.
Fisherman's Bastion is a landmark of Budapest, built in 1896. It's located on Castle Hill, and it was built to commemorate the Hungarian siege of 1596. While you can't get into the bastion itself---it's currently an art gallery---you can enjoy the great view of Castle Hill, including Matthias Church and Fishermen's Bastion as well as the Danube River below.
Location: The Parliament Building is located in the heart of Budapest, just west of the Danube River. Merely a few blocks to the north is Heroes' Square, a large public square that was used as a gathering place for Hungary's citizens during World War II.
History: Construction on the building began in 1885 and was completed by 1904. When it opened its doors on May 1st with great fanfare and celebration, it was hailed as one of Europe's most beautiful buildings (and still is!). This neoclassical-style structure has undergone several renovations over time but nothing too drastic---you can see evidence of its former glory throughout every room.
Architecture: It's hard not to be impressed by this towering structure with intricate carvings along its facade and elaborate marble staircases leading up from street level. As you enter through one set of doors into an octagonal vestibule, you'll see ornate mosaics depicting scenes from Hungarian history including Stephen I defeating his enemies at Maros River (now part of Romania) during his ascension to power in 1000 AD; King Matthias Corvinus holding court inside Buda Castle during 1458-1490; Queen Mary entering Buda Castle after her marriage with Louis IV in 1385, and Saint Stephen being crowned king by Pope Sylvester II around 1000 AD (the year that Christianity spread throughout Hungary).
St Stephen's Basilica
St Stephen's Basilica is the largest church in Hungary. It was designed by Miklos Ybl and is the third-largest church in the world. The building was constructed between 1851 and 1905, with an interior modeled after St Peter's Basilica in Rome. The inside of this beautiful building features an impressive dome that rises 100 feet above your head and holds 70 bells!
You can take a tour of St Stephen's on Saturdays at 10:00 am or 3:30 pm (English tours start at 11 am).
Dohany Street Synagogue
The Dohany Street Synagogue is the largest in Europe. It was built in 1859 and was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. The synagogue was rebuilt after the war, but it's now open to visitors and tourists. Visitors are welcome to enter via guided tours (available in several languages) or they can wander around on their own.
The Memento Park is a memorial to the victims of communism, located in Budapest. It was opened in 2014 and contains statues of communist leaders as well as pieces of demolished buildings. While visiting Memento Park, you can reflect on the horrors of the past and learn from them.
The park has many interesting statues that were originally built for political purposes but then destroyed by protesters in 1956. There are also other artworks made from pieces of demolished buildings like a mosaic staircase made from tiles taken from the People's Art Studio and an abstract sculpture made from rocks used in building highways during Soviet rule.
Szechenyi Thermal Baths
When you arrive at the baths, head inside and find the changing rooms. These are private areas that you can use to take off your clothes and put them in a locker before proceeding through to the bathing area.
Once you're ready to go into the pool, strip down and leave your belongings in a locker (not valuables though---keep those on your person). You will be given a towel and robe when you enter; don't forget to bring these with you as well!
While there's no one "proper" way of dressing for this experience, I would recommend covering up as much skin as possible since most people wear swimsuits or underwear only during their stay here (I prefer bikini bottoms). If possible, bring flip-flops or sandals so that if anything were to happen while walking around outside afterward (you know...people slipping on wet floors or something), then it wouldn't ruin anything expensive from home :)
Hungarian National Gallery
The Hungarian National Gallery is the most important fine arts museum in Hungary. It is located on Castle Hill, in Buda Castle. Its collection features European art from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, especially paintings by Hungarian artists such as Mihály Munkácsy and László Mednyánszky.
The museum opened on 1 March 1881 as the National Picture Gallery (Nemzeti Képtár). It was founded with a collection of 906 paintings, mainly acquired through royal donations: Louis I gave 400 pictures from his collection, while his wife Queen Elizabeth donated 276 works from hers. The crown prince Francis Joseph followed their example by donating 200 works from his gallery after he came of age in 1870; he later became Emperor of Austria-Hungary in 1867 when this country was created out of territories belonging both to Hungary and Austria (the so-called Compromise).
Hungarian State Opera House
The Hungarian State Opera House is a beautiful building located on Andrassy Avenue between Deak Square and Erzsébet Square. The opera house was built in 1884 by Miklós Ybl, one of the most famous architects in Hungary. It is one of the most significant examples of historicism in architecture, with its façade resembling that of an ancient Roman palace.
The opera house has been home to many performances over its long history, including ballet, opera, and orchestral concerts featuring classical music by famous composers such as Mozart and Beethoven. There are also regular plays put on in Hungarian with subtitles so visitors can enjoy a night at the theatre without knowing any Hungarian!
During your visit, you should take some time to look around inside this beautiful building - take it all in from balconies where you will have an excellent view over Budapest (especially if there's an evening performance).
There are so many things to do in Budapest, Hungary. I hope you have enjoyed my list and found some inspiration for your next trip to this beautiful city.