Budapest is a place that is close to my heart. My paternal grandparents were Hungarians who fled during WWII. In October, I took a Viking River Cruise from Bavaria to Budapest. We had two days and I added another two days to explore more of the city and make some day trips.
This is one of the most culturally vibrant cities on the Eastern side of Europe, and it has even been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
The city came to life in 1872 when the three formerly independent cities of Buda, Óbuda (Old Buda) and Pest were amalgamated to become the commercial, administrative and industrial center of Hungary, Budapest.
It is full of history and stunning architecture that have for long been a major tourist attraction.
During my visit to Budapest, I worked with Joan VIP Travel which is a full service, independently owned and operated company based in Budapest. They provided me with the ultimate experience I could have wished for with their unique and personalized services. Here is a list of the best 15 things you must do in Budapest to help you maximize the experience.
Explore the Castle District
This is definitely one of the things you must do when in Budapest. Take a guided 2-hour tour of the beautiful Castle District, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you climb the Castle Hill, you’ll find the Fisherman’s Bastion which is a neo-Gothic terrace that resembles a fairy-tale structure.
Its name is derived from the medieval guild of fishermen who made their mark by protecting Budapest from invasion. Although it looks like a medieval monument, it is actually just over 100 years old. Next to the Fisherman’s Bastion, you will find Mathias Church. This is a stunning church both outside and inside and is a sight not to be missed.
Outside these two buildings is an excellent place to take some beautiful photos of the Pest side of the City. From here, you’ll also have fantastic views of the Danube River, the Parliament building, and the Chain Bridge. This is a grotesque spot to take a break from wandering.
Visit the Jewish Quarters
The Jewish Quarter is a historic and architecturally rich area located not far from St. Stephen’s cathedral near the Andrassy Avenue. It is a commemoration of the once big population of Jews in Budapest and Hungary in general. This is where over 70,000 Jews lived and died during the WWII.
Found here is the Great Synagogue. This is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. Its appearance is just impressive. It is beautiful and just a marvel. When you pay the entry free, you’ll get a guided tour with a story that you definitely would like to hear.
The buildings and the courtyards of this Synagogue include the Heroes’ temple, the Jewish Museum, the Jewish Cemetery and the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park. Make sure you don’t miss the heartbreaking “weeping willow” monument behind the synagogue.
Eat Gulash at Rezkakas Bistro
Rezkakas is an absolutely amazing restaurant with world class atmosphere and service. There is a menu of traditional Hungarian dishes that have a modern twist and one of the dishes you surely should not miss while in Budapest is Gulash at Rezkakas Bistro. You will also get served by attentive and friendly staff who are always ready but unobtrusive.
What’s more, there is always some soothing live music played by Hungarian musicians who put together a medley of traditional Hungarian pieces. This adds to the great atmosphere and the great food to create a lovely place to dine, that is also streetscape interesting. You will definitely love to go back.
Visit the Gellert Baths
The Gellért Baths were built between 1912 and 1918, and till this day, they remain one of the most beautiful spas in Budapest. They have since been renovated a number of times, with the recent renovations taking place in 2006/2007. These baths have for long been referenced as having healing waters, and they are fed by hot springs that rise from deep within the Gellért Hill.
First, you will be amazed at the architecture. There are all different kind of thermal baths, saunas, steam rooms, inside and outside swimming pools. The outside pool can be referred to as an ‘adventure pool’ as it has artificially generated waves that run in every 30 minutes in the summer.
A ticket gives you a full day access, and you can hop between the pools as they have different temperatures. There are signs on every pool, sauna and steam bath that show the temperatures, and there are many showers available that you can use to cool down and refresh. If you visit in the summer, remember to bring some sunscreen with you. If you are interested in skipping the line you can get your tickets HERE.
Visit the Citadella for Incredible Views
The Citadella is a fortress that was built by the Habsburgs after 1849. It has been a military checkpoint, a prison, an anti-aircraft missile launch pad, and now it’s a great tourist attraction that you simply must visit when in Budapest. It is located on top of the Gellért Hill, which is on the Buda side of the river.
Climbing up is quite an exercise because of the steps and steep paths, but then it’s worth it as it offers you some of the best panoramic views of Budapest you can get. If you don’t wish to climb, you can still take a bus that goes there.
It is actually a good place to start your Budapest sightseeing as apart from giving you a good impression of the city, it will make orientation much easier. It offers you a perfect place for photographs, and if you visit before sunset, you’ll have a beautiful sunset view over the city from the top.
Admire the Parliament Day & Night
The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of Budapest’s most famous landmarks. It was completed in 1904 and is the third largest parliament building in the world. It is a magnificent example of the Neo-Gothic architecture, although it displays some Baroque and Renaissance characters too.
The architecture, beautiful statues, the paintings, and the national significance are some factors as to why both locals and travelers say it’s a must see when in Budapest.
The parliament is beautiful during the day, with the interior just as striking as outside. However, it becomes stunning when it’s all lit up at night. At sunset, the lights slowly come on and illuminate the building with an intensity to behold.
When at a distance, you can also have some beautiful views of the Parliament from the Danube, especially from the Batthyány Square. Admiring the building from a distance helps you absorb the beauty and harmony of this historical building.
Stay at the Baltazar Hotel
The Baltazar is a great boutique hotel located in Castle District on top of the hill. It actually is a little-known gem at a prime location close to historical sights, museums and churches yet in a serene neighborhood.
It offers you an excellent place to stay if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Being located on top of the hill also means that the outside is also made fantastic by the views of the city that it offers.
The hotel, due to its size, has only 11 rooms and suites, with each of them uniquely themed. They are modern, comfortable, quiet and due to the size and location, offer you a homely environment that is not easy to come about in this busy city. Their restaurant is also exceptionally good with a gorgeous terrace.
All these added to the lovely and helpful staff make Baltazar hotel the perfect place to stay if you want to make your tour in Budapest memorable. We recommend you get a private car from the airport to the Baltazar hotel. Here are more boutique hotel options in Budapest.
Visit the New York Café
The New York café has been in existence for about 123 years and is more than just an ordinary coffee house. It’s a pack of the Hungarian literary life bringing together tourists and art enthusiasts in a place of excellent gastronomy. The café is so beautiful that it was once chosen as the most beautiful café in the world. It’s located on the ground floor of the Boscolo Hotel, which is in the Budapest downtown.
Breakfast at this café can just brighten up your day. The Menu focuses on tradition Hungarian cuisine with a new twist added to the classic tastes. The food is superb quality and the hot chocolate just amazing.
However, what strikes more about this Café is not just the food but its beauty with an interior decorated with brass elements and marble tiles as well as the dazzling galleries, chandeliers, staircases and murals. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself having forgotten about the food and just staring at the beautiful surroundings!
Taste Hungarian Wines at Cultivini
If wine is your thing, then a visit to Cultivini simply has to be on your list. The place is awesome and is just the perfect place to sample wine from the 22 Hungarian wine regions in a pleasant and accessible environment. Here, you can taste many different wines, and you can buy the bottles you’ve liked or even choose not to. You will get to enjoy the experience at your own pace, enjoy privacy and get professional support.
The place is atmospheric, and they present premium wines from the most typical local grape varieties as well as comprehensive information on all the Hungarian wine regions, wines, and wine producers.
They offer tasting by the sip, by the glass, buying in small or large quantities, and delivery right to your home, in Hungary or abroad. Generally, wine tasting at Culvitini is an awesome experience that should not pass you by.
Eat Langos at the Central Market Hall
The Central Market Hall was built in the 19th century and is the largest indoor market in Budapest. Its massive size made it be chosen as the ‘Central’ market hall ahead of every other market in Budapest. It was opened on February 15th, 1897 alongside 4 other markets.
The market sells typical Hungarian products. The first floor is the food hall and has quite a number of food stalls. You’ll find a large selection of meats, sausages, cheeses, fruits, vegetables and typical Hungarian Cuisine in general. While here, one thing you must do is eat Langos, which is a Hungarian deep fried flatbread.
You can then move to the second floor which is full of vendors that sell ware-like traditional Hungarian handicrafts, embroidery, clothing and other souvenirs. This is easily the best place in Budapest to buy your souvenirs.
Visit the Basilica for Breathtaking Views
St. Stephen’s Basilica is no doubt one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest. It is the largest church in Budapest, and it’s easily recognizable. It was inaugurated in 1906 after taking over 50 years of construction. This is mostly attributed to the fact that the dome collapsed in 1868 during construction and it had to be started again from scratch.
Though impressive on its own, what strikes me the most is the landscape view it offers you. If you have no fear of heights, you can walk through the steps up to the base of the dome, and from there you can be able to have beautiful sights of the city.
You can still use an elevator to the observation deck. On a bright day, it will be just like surveying the city from the air!
See the Heroes’ Square & the Millennium Monument
The Heroes’ Square is another great place to visit on your trip to Budapest. It makes the end of Andrássy Avenue and its home to the iconic Millennium Monument.
The Millennium Monument is a 36-meter column that was unveiled in the 19th century. It features a depiction of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars, who are believed to have led the Hungarian people from central Asia to the Carpathian basin.
The Millennium Monument is crowned by a figure of the Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian crown. The monument depicts that Hungary was once strong and powerful. There are also impressive buildings with beautiful old architecture on either side of the square. Don’t miss to take a walk from the city Centre and pay the Heroes’ Square a visit.
Walk across the Chain Bridge
The chain bridge, called the Lánchid in Hungarian, is one remarkable piece of architecture in Budapest. It spans from the Danube Clark Ádám tér on the Buda side to the Széchenyi István tér on the Pest side. It was the first bridge ever to connect Buda and Pest, and it was completed in 1849. At that time, it was actually considered one of the wonders of the world.
A story goes round that Adam Clark, who was the Chief Engineer and Master builder was so impressed with his masterpiece that he challenged anybody to find a fault in his work. It was later discovered that the guard lions at the two sides of the bridge didn’t have tongues, and he was so ashamed that he even committed suicide. In reality, the Lions actually have tongues, only not visible from the street below.
Crossing the bridge avails you a sensational view. At night, it’s usually all lit up and just astonishing. Events get held at the bridge almost on every weekend in the summer. At the bridge, you will be able to have breath-taking views of the city on both sides, as well as the magnificent view of St. Stephen’s Basilica. Whether during the day or the night, taking a walk on the Chain Bridge is a must do!
Visit the Town of Szentendre
Szentendre is a small town just a 25-minute drive away from Budapest. The town was settled by Serbians that fled from the Turkish occupation in the 17th century. The influence they made has since given the town a Mediterranean feel. The town is full of museums, churches, galleries and cafes.
When in Budapest, you should make sure you enjoy a half-day tour to this picturesque village that lies in the beautiful natural setting at the gate of the Danube Bend, which is where the Danube River meets with the Pilis hills.
You can stroll through the baroque settlements built on the medieval ruins and the narrow streets of the town as you enjoy the atmosphere. If you happen to have traveled during the summer, take a boat ride along the Danube River to take you back to Budapest.
Visit the Sparkling Wine town of Etyeki
Etyek is one of the major wine producing areas of the Etyek-Buda region. The town is just 30 KM west of Budapest and is famous for its sparkling wine. The wine village is widely recognized for its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and therefore the wine produced here is mostly crisp white wine, but there is also some of the best pinot noir you can come across in the country.
The charming village is full of excellent boutique wineries and also lots of other small family-owned wineries that are set between vineyards. Actually, everyone who lives in this town is somehow connected to winemaking. A visit here will definitely teach you more about the process.
You’ll also be able to sample various fresh and fragrant white wines, which are some of the best the country can produce.
After spending four incredible days exploring Budapest, I can’t say enough about how amazing this capital is. This is one the best cities in Europe you can visit as it combines a great deal of historical, architectural, emotional and scenic beauty, all in one place. I definitely enjoyed a great tour and thanks to Joan VIP travel for being excellent guides and proving a highlight for my Viking River Cruise!
Have you been to Budapest? What are your recommendations for must visit places? Leave us a comment below!