When I backpacked through central Europe I added Budapest to my itinerary almost as an afterthought. I saw post after post of travelers trekking from Prague to Vienna to Budapest, so I figured I may as well check it out and add another country to my country count. On that trip I visited Prague, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, and rounded it off with Budapest.
Everyone said Budapest was the slightly dirtier cousin to Prague. Nothing about it necessarily caught my eye so I visited without really having any expectations. I had only planned to stay 3 or 4 days but Lufthansa had a monumental strike while I was there so I ended up staying almost an entire week.
Let me tell you: Budapest was wonderful. The people are so friendly, there’s so much to see & do, the history is captivating (and, frankly, underrepresented in American schools), and English is spoken more frequently than in western Europe. I think Budapest is the most interesting city I’ve visited in Europe and if it’s not on your bucket list, you need to add it.
Take a free walking tour
My opinion is every trip should start with a free walking tour. It gives you a quick, cheap introduction to a city. Even better, I find they usually are filled with excellent tips for places to eat and check out.
Check out the thermal baths
Pack your swimsuit because the thermal baths of Budapest are not to be missed. The biggest and most popular is Szechenyi, but there are many more. There are internal and outdoor baths with waters of varying temperatures but all the water is warm.
If you’re looking for a party, check out the parties at Szechenyi! I haven’t done it, but knowing Budapest culture, it’s probably a lot of fun.
I recommend renting a cabin instead of a locker – I think the extra cost is worth the privacy and comfort.
Tour the Parliament Building
The Parliament Building is unbelievable on the outside and just as gorgeous inside. The history is especially interesting given their Communist history. I won’t spoil it for you, but the tour is worthwhile.
See the Shoes on the Danube Bank
Just on the Danube adjacent to the Parliament Building is the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial. Very rarely does a memorial installation bring me to tears, but this one did. The shoes honor the Jews who were killed in Budapest during WWII. The Arrow Cross militia would force Jews to take their shoes off, line the Danube, and await being shot. So many Jews were killed on the Danube during WWII that it was eventually called “the Jewish cemetery.”
Go to the House of Terror
I’m not a museum person, but the House of Terror is gripping. The museum details the chilling reign of both the Hungarian Nazis and the Soviets in Hungary. It was so wicked that I frankly left with an upset stomach. It’s a must-see, but be warned, it’s haunting.
Enjoy a drink at the ruin pubs
Ruin pubs are quicky, semi rundown dives almost reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. Szimpla Kert is the OG ruin pub so you obviously have to check it out. If you’re looking for a group to hang with, check out a ruin pub crawl!
Ride the Budapest Metro
Quick, easy, and cheap – but most interestingly, the Yellow Line is the oldest operating Metro in continental Europe!
Walk the Chain Bridge
The Chain Bridge connects the Buda side with the Pest side (hence the name Budapest). There’s a walking path that’s safely isolated from vehicle traffic, so crossing the bridge is something you can’t miss. There’s a funicular on the Buda side to take you up the hill!
Go to Buda Castle & stick around for the Changing of the Guards
The grounds of Buda Castle are huge and beautiful. On the top of every hour you can catch the elaborate Changing of the Guards routine.
Explore around Buda Castle, including Fisherman’s Bastion and Dracula’s Labyrinth
Part of what I consider the Buda Castle campus, Fisherman’s Bastion is the structure overlooking the Danube. Walk around and explore the lovely structures and views that exist on Buda Hill. When you’re done exploring near the castle and the Bastion, continue down a bit and check out the Labyrinth. Buda Hill has a natural cave system underneath and in this labyrinth, Vlad Tepes (aka Count Dracula!) was housed as a prisoner!
Go to the Hospital in the Rock museum
Connected to the Buda Hill cave system is my favorite museum, EVER, called the Hospital in the Rock. I’ve said it before: I’m not a museum person. Budapest, however, has some of the best museums I’ve ever visited, and this is one of them.
This isn’t a museum that you just wander around but rather a guided tour. This facility served as an underground hospital first and the tour focuses on the facility during the Siege of Budapest between Hitler and the Soviets. You’ll learn about the conditions the patients faced and how the nursing staff dealt with the terrible conditions. After WWII the hospital transitioned to a nuclear bunker and the tour covers that history as well. Completely fascinating!
Eat some kind of paprika dish (like chicken paprikash!)
Hungarians love paprika. Like seriously, love it. Variants of paprika exist that you won’t find likely anywhere else. Chicken paprikash is the most popular dish, as far as I can tell.
Shop at the Great Market Hall
You could easily spend a few hours here. I wandered around too full to enjoy the food but I bought basically all my souvenirs here, as well as my entire family’s Christmas gifts. Be sure to check out vendors selling ceramics – Hungary is famous for their ceramic crafts!
Taste Hungarian wine at the Faust Wine Cellar
Faust Wine Cellar is built into the cave system underneath Buda Hill and offers wonderful, but unpretentious, wine tastings. The space is cozy so reservations are a must.
I tasted 8 glasses of wine (not samples, but full glasses) along with cheese scones for 35 EUR. Not bad, really!
While you’re at it, take a wine tour of the Etyek wine region!
This tour is fantastic. Transport from your hotel, stops at 3 vineyards, dinner, & dessert are included in the price. At each winery we had 3 or 4 full glasses of wine and one winery offered us a wine that they were working on. I think I had 12 glasses! On top of that they gave us a shot of palinka. I should’ve had a monumental hangover but I surprisingly didn’t – thank you sulfate-free wine.
The dinner we had was a roasted duck with some veggies and a delightful sweet onion compote. Honestly, I don’t remember much… remember, I had like 13 drinks. But it was delicious and the tour was so fun.
Visit Heroes Square & continue on to the nearby park & Vajdahunyad Castle
Ride the Metro to Heroes Square and explore around. Immediately adjacent is a huge, beautiful park with a lovely castle. It’s worth a stroll if you’re looking to get away from some of the hustle and bustle. I sat on a bench for a couple hours and read. I was lucky: it was autumn so the air was slightly crisp and the leaves were just changing.
Check out St. Stephen’s Basilica
If you’re into churches, this one is beautiful. If you’re sick of touring churches, it’s still worth a stroll by. Especially at dusk 🙂
Say “cheers” in Hungarian while drinking pálinka
Hungarian is a crazy language y’all. “Cheers” is my favorite Hungarian word (but, admittedly, I only know three: thank you, peach, and cheers).
Egészségére. The locals tell me it vaguely sounds like “I guess she can drive” which actually helps me pronounce it. “Eh-geh-shuh-geh-druh” is how I pronounce it which is probably only about 75% right, but at least I tried.
It’s extra fun when mixed with palinka. This is basically Hungarian moonshine (although they call it brandy). It’s strong!
Take a nighttime river boat tour
Not a daytime tour. Nighttime is the only acceptable tour time. See below.
Enjoy the annual Hungarian birthday cake
Yes, Hungary has an annual national cake. Yes, you need to try it. And you should probably try the cakes from the years prior, too.
Budapest surprised me. I figured three days would be more than enough to really enjoy the city but I found that I was fully occupied during all my time there, including my extra time! This list only includes the best things to do in Budapest. There is so much more that the city offers. Next time you’re planning a trip to Europe, Budapest definitely should make your list. is everything you need to do when you visit!