When you're not into sweaty spas...
Reputation: a spa town. All that hot water, all those people…
Why you should go: loads of history and beautiful architecture. A surprising number of things underground. Many sites are open 24/7 and it's a gorgeous city at night.
Everything's free unless stated. And a quick note about locations: everything’s on the Pest side of the river unless otherwise stated.
Admire the city from all angles
Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill has amazing views of the city and Danube. It’s very popular with tourists but don’t let that put you off. Fisherman’s Bastion is always open, all year around and is free to enter. There's a small fee to visit the upper towers. It’s on the Buda side of the river.
Save your legs by taking the cable car up Castle Hill and then enjoying the walk back down.
For perfect views of the Hungarian National Assembly - the building that appears in pretty much every promotion of Budapest - try a river cruise. We like the Assembly Building best at night, when it's lit up and really comes into its own.
Take a stroll around Pest
Everywhere can be reached on foot. Start at Heroes’ Square and the fantastic pedestrian-only town centre, which has loads of stores, food, markets and coffee shops. It’s stroller and mobility friendly, which we like.
Then get lost in the side streets and alleys. Our favourite places include:
- The Great Market Hall. Check out the food on level 2.
- The gorgeous St Stephen’s Basilica.
- The Great Synagogue, one of the largest in the world, on Dohany Street. Make sure you see the Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs behind the Synagogue. Each leaf features the name of a Holocaust victim. An entry fee applies.
- The Hungarian National Assembly is just as glam inside as it is outside, and tours only take an hour.
Explore the Danube
Take a walk along the Danube and check out the views and statues including the Little Princess and Shoes on the Danube, which commemorates Hungarian Jews who were executed along the river during WWII.
If you get peckish, this is where you’ll find Budapest’s pricier restaurants with views of the river, cruise boats and the old trams. When we say ‘pricey’, we mean pricey for Budapest rather than pricey back home. So enjoy.
Take a walk over the Szechenyi Chain Bridge which spans the Danube and connects Buda and Pest. The bridge was considered a wonder of engineering when it opened and is still pretty damn good-looking. Stroll along the river and then cross back over a different bridge and admire the city from a different perspective.
Climb the hills of Buda
On the Buda side of the river is Gellert Hill, a nice green spot. It’s home to the Citadel and the Cave Church, which is literally a church inside a cave. Gellert Hill can be steep in places so may not be suitable for people with mobility devices. Entry fees apply to the Citadel and cave.
Buda Castle is another popular spot with great views, and is always open so you can enjoy the views day and night.
Check out the remarkable Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum under Buda Castle. The museum is exactly what it says on the box and is worth visiting. An entry fee applies.
Trundle around on public transport
The underground is very simple to use, fun and cheap. And – shock, horror – each station is staffed! Every time we went into a station there was someone selling tickets. Even though you can walk everywhere in Budapest, sometimes you just don’t want to…
The first underground line opened in 1896 and is still in use today. There's also a modern line, with super-modern architecture, that opened in 2014. The two lines make quite a striking pair and are both worth checking out, just for the contrasting designs.
If you’re really into transport, and even if you’re not, pop into the Millenium Underground Museum at Deák tér metro station. It has some great old carriages and photos, doesn’t take long to visit, costs peanuts and is all in Hungarian, which is part of its charm. Kids love it.
Eat, drink and be merry
We love a good café...and a slice of cake. Parizsi Nagyaruhaz* is a favourite with its Art Nouveau décor, good coffee and the most delicate pastries. The prices certainly don’t reflect the décor and quality of what’s on offer. You’ll find it on Andrássy Avenue. We’d like to tell you when it’s open but we never quite managed to figure it out. The café is above a book shop. Cake and books! We could be in heaven... * The website is in Hungarian.
For something more substantial, have dinner in one of the many bistro-style Hungarian restaurants. They serve good quality, traditional Hungarian food and excellent beer. Follow your nose and take a seat in a place that appeals.
And hunt out one of Budapest's ever-changing 'ruin pubs', a bar in an old, run-down building.
Experience life under communism
Living under communism for 40 years leaves its mark and this history is evident throughout the city.
Memento Park is the final resting place of statues of Stalin and co. Most former communist countries destroyed their Marxist statues when communism fell but Budapest gathered its in one place and it's quite a sight. While you’re there, check out the East German-made Trabant, a documentary on the life of a secret agent and the Red Star Store. An entry fee applies. The easiest way to get there is on the direct bus from Deck Square. See its website for details.
The House of Terror Museum is a museum and memorial to victims of torture and detention under fascism and communism. This museum divides our contributors like no other place we’ve visited. One of our contributors rates it at the top of their list of things to do in Budapest. Another describes it as “probably the single worst museum I have ever visited”. So we’ll leave it up to you. An entry fee applies.
If you do just one spa…
Try Szechenyi Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool in City Park. There’s been a spa here since 1881 and it’s one of the largest spa complexes in Europe. As well as hot pools, it offers a wide range of massages and treatments. An entry fee applies.
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Contributors: Teresa Amey, Kevin Nansett, Kevin Greaney
Updated: 22 May 2016