Ahh, Budapest! A city known to all, yet only a handful truly comprehend its grandeur.
Often referred to as the “Pearl of the Danube,” Budapest boasts a unique character and rich history. On the Buda side, is home to UNESCO historical sites like Buda Castle, providing breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Crossing over to the Pest side, you’ll be greeted by the magnificence of the Hungarian Parliament building. It is also the modern side of the city, characterized by a lively atmosphere and an array of cultural, historical, and entertainment attractions.
Whether you are a history enthusiast, a culture lover, or an intrepid explorer on a budget, Budapest is going to leave leave an lasting mark on your heart.
To start off………
You may begin your itinerary by joining a Budapest Free Walking Tours. These tours offer budget-friendly city exploration and a chance to bond with fellow travelers. The tours are daily and there’s no need to book ahead of time, just turn up at the designated meeting location. If you’re happy with your guide, make sure to tip them what you can at the end of the tour!
Alternatively, you may hop on to tram #2, often referred to as the “sightseeing tram”. This tram covers the Pest side starting from the Jászai Mari Square (Jászai Mari tér) and goes along the Danube River. The ride offers views of famous landmarks such as the Hungarian Parliament Building, the Buda Castle, and the Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya). Comparing to the typical touristy rides, this scenic tram only cost 350 HUF (€0.95)!
Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház)
The Hungarian Parliament Building is not only an architectural masterpiece but also a significant symbol of Hungary’s democracy and national identity. With 691 rooms, 10 courtyards, 27 gates and 29 staircases, it is the third-largest Parliament building in the world and the most expensive building ever built in Hungary! Although you have to pay to enter the Hungarian Parliament Building, you can admire its stunning exterior for free. Stroll along the river bank for the best views of the whole architecture. If you choose to go for a 45-minutes guided tour of the inside, be sure to plan beforehand as there are specific timeslots for different languages.
Danube Promenade (Dunakorzó)
Stretching about 2,860-kilometers and being the second-longest river in Europe, the Danube River is one of Europe’s most iconic waterways. Starting from Germany’s Black Forest to its delta in the Black Sea, the river spans through ten countries. As the Danube River takes a notable turn in Hungary, it winds through a scenic region characterized by rolling hills, charming historic towns and ancient castles. A leisure walk along the Danube Promenade offers breathtaking views of the river, several iconic landmarks and historical sites on both the Buda and Pest sides of the city.
Located about halfway between the Parliament and Széchenyi Chain Bridge, one can hardly miss the art installation “Shoes on the Danube Bank”. 60-pairs of cast iron shoes line the boardwalk to represent the 3,500 Jews whom were told to remove their shoes before being shot, with their bodies falling into the river below.
Below Margaret Bridge (Margit híd) not far from the Parliament Building, is a Wall of Remembrance of Hableány disaster, happened on May 29, 2019. The incident involved a sightseeing vessel named “Hableány” (Mermaid in Hungarian) collided with a much larger cruise ship. Tragically, 26 South Korean tourists and two Hungarian crew members lost their lives after the vessel capsized.
Buda Castle (Budavári Palota)
Buda Castle is the centerpiece of the Castle District (Várnegyed), a historic neighborhood characterized by charming cobblestone streets, medieval houses, and other significant landmarks like Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. Used to be residence for the Hungarian Kings for centuries, today it houses several important museums, including the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Széchenyi Library. You can either hike up the hill, or ride the 150-years old UNESCO funicular!
Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya)
One of the most instagrammable places in Budapest, Fisherman’s Bastion was built as a lookout tower to get the best panoramic views of the Danube. Fisherman’s Bastion is part of Buda Castle and it was said that the walls were protected by the guild of fishermen who lived under them – hence the name. As this is a popular place for tourists and wedding shoots, be sure to arrive before sunrise to avoid crowds.
Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom)
Adjacent to Fisherman’s Bastion is a Catholic church originally built in Romanesque style. Over the centuries, it underwent several renovations adding a mix of Gothic and Baroque elements. Matthias Church’s unique design, decorative elements, and colorful roof tiles make it stand out among other churches in Budapest. The church has witnessed several important events in Hungarian history, including the coronation of kings and royal weddings.
Central Market Hall (Nagycsarnok)
Strategically located at Fővám Square close to the Liberty Bridge, Central Market Hall is the largest market in Budapest. A beautiful gothic-styled architecture adorned with colorful Zsolnay tiles, this market has been visited by famous people like George Bush, Lady Diana and The Emperor of Japan.
Spanning over 3 floors, you can buy any kind of fresh food, or simply just have a hearty local meal at one of the food stalls. There are many art shops and quirky kiosks to shop for souvenirs or gifts. Bartering is welcome here, so don’t feel like you have to pay the sticker price for everything. Keep in mind that the market is closed on Sundays and it gets very busy with group tours starting from 10am. I would recommend to visit after 1pm for a more relaxed experience.
St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István Bazilika)
St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest, built in honor of the first king of Hungary. The interior of St. Stephen’s Basilica is adorned with intricate frescoes, exquisite sculptures, and beautiful stained glass windows. The main altar and the high dome create a grand and awe-inspiring atmosphere. Visitors can climb 364 steps or take an elevator to the basilica’s observation deck for a small fee of 600 HUF (€1.55). Being one of the two tallest buildings in the city, the top provides a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. I attended a 90-minutes organ concert one of the evenings, and the experience was just magical.
State Opera House (Magyar Állami Operaház)
Known for its exceptional acoustics, the State Opera House is one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the country, serving as a hub for opera, ballet, and classical music performances. With a grand façade adorned with statues and ornate decorations, visitors can take a behind-the-scenes guided tours of the opera house. A 60-minutes tour costs 7000 HUF (€18), with English guide only at 13:30, 15:00, and 16:30 daily. Luckily, it is possible to take a peak of neo-Renaissance styled interior at the lobby at no cost!
Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd)
The Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge to be built across the Danube River connecting Buda and Pest. An icon of Budapest, it was the only bridge not destroyed during the Nazi occupation of WWII. Unfortunately, the Chain Bridge was under renovation during my visit to Budapest. Nevertheless, there are still another 7 bridges to cross on either side!
Budapest Street Art
You’ll find this open-air art gallery centered mainly around the Jewish District. A spot that holds a turbulent history, but has risen from the ashes as the trendiest spot in the city. From striking wall murals to life-sized bronze statues, keep your eyes peeled on these creative and dynamic touch to the streets and neighborhoods of Budapest.
Historically, this area was considered the ghetto of Budapest where the Jews were confined during the Nazi’s Occupation. Despite being the smallest district, Budapest’s Jewish Quarter brims with a charming mix of modern and traditional. Take a free Jewish Tour to witness the numerous monuments to honor the Jews who died during the Holocaust. Find out some of the hidden gems in the neighborhood and important pieces of history.
The most prominent landmark at the edge of Jewish Quarter, Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe. The complex includes the synagogue which seats 3,000 people, the Heroes’ Temple, a graveyard, a Memorial garden and the Jewish Museum. The most touching sight is the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial. The memorial tree stands over mass graves of those murdered by Nazis, with family names inscribed on each metal leaves of the tree.
The Jewish Quarter’s Ruin Bars came about in the early 2000s, started with Szimpla Kert. Ruin Bars are special as they make use of everything unwanted, from the crumbling buildings themselves to the random décor and vintage artifacts. These bars became so popular and frequented by people from all over the world to embrace this unparalleled experience.
New York Café
Often referred to as “The Most Beautiful Café in the World”, the New York Café was built in eclectic Italian Renaissance-style with sparkling chandeliers dangling from high ceilings. Opened since 1894, the iconic café was used to serve as a local hangout for Hungarian writers, poets and artists. Nowadays, this café is so popular that you might need to wait for hours without reservation!
Széchenyi Thermal Bath
Budapest is crowned the “Capital of Spas and Thermal Baths” for an obvious reason. There are 15 public thermal baths, featuring a total of 47 mineral pools in the city itself. The city’s first bath – Szechenyi Bath – opened in 1913, is the oldest, largest, grandest and busiest bath. This beautiful Baroque style facility has 15-indoor pools and three grand outdoor pools with varying temperatures. In addition to the thermal pools, Széchenyi Bath offers a range of spa services including massages and beer spa. During Summers, the complex open till late to host night-time “Spartys”!
Despite its prime position in City Park (Városliget), Vajdahunyad Castle remains somewhat of a hidden gem in Budapest. Vajdahunyad Castle was built for the Millenium Celebration in 1896, and legend has it that the castle once imprisoned Count Dracula! The castle’s ground is free to explore and I happened to attend an event host by the Hungarian’s Army. Right outside the castle, the Heroes’ Square was erected in 1929 as a tribute to those who died defending Hungary’s 1000-year-old borders.
Less popular than Fisherman’s Bastion, Gellért Hill is another place for panoramic vistas of Budapest. Making your way up Gellért Hill takes about 20-minutes on well maintained paved trails and stairs. The hill is steep but the Liberty Statue (Szabadság-szobor) and the stunning views make the effort worthwhile.
Tucked beneath Gellért Hill, you’ll find an unusual Saint Ivan’s Cave Church (Szent Iván-barlang templom). The church combines natural rock formations with architectural elements, creating a unique and intimate space for worship. The interior features altars, religious icons, and statues that blend harmoniously with the cave walls. For a 500 HUF (€1.30) donation, you can enter inside the church which includes an audio tour.
Margaret Island (Margitsziget)
Between Buda and Pest, in the Danube River, rests Margaret Island—a tranquil retreat from the urban buzz, offering attractions and green spaces for all to relish. The island is easily access by foot, bike, or using the public transportation options available. One of the island’s highlights is the musical fountain, which hosts regular water and light shows choreographed to music. There are also several other notable attractions, including Palatinus Thermal Baths, a Japanese Garden and a small zoo.
Interestingly, some of the best-hidden gems in Budapest are located underground. Budapest is the only European capital where there are natural caves in the heart of the city. For those keen on an adrenaline-pumping adventure, I recommend the Pál-völgyi Cave tour. This cave system is the longest in Hungary and takes about 2.5-3hours to explore. During the adventure, you will climb on walls and crawl through narrow passages. A full overall, helmet and headlamp will be provided by the guide. I truly enjoy this experience and probably my favourite activities in Hungary.
Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!