Want to tick Budapest on your bucket list? Nice! Everyone should have Budapest on their list 🙂 Why? The Hungarian capital has a lot to offer such as diverse architecture, river, thermal baths, outstanding nightlife, tasty food and panoramas. Budapest is a beautiful must-visit city! To simplify your travel planning, I have another checklist for you featuring the best things to do in Budapest. Let me introduce you the Budapest bucket list with touristy sights, must-visit places, foodie tips, my local recommendations and more travel secrets to Budapest. Aaaaand I also created a downloadable checklist for you! Make the most out of your trip and download the bucket list.
Wander around Castle District
The large area of Castle District offers many attractions like the Royal Palace, Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya), Matthias Church (Mátyás templom).
The 78 meters high Matthias Church obtained its final look according to the plans of Frigyes Schulek in the early 19th century after occupations, wars, fire and reconstructions. You can also explore the interior of the church (admission fee: 1500 HUF) or climb 197 steps in the tower for the best panorama (admission fee: 1500 HUF including a guided tour). The panorama terrace offers a 360 degrees panorama of Budapest: Buda Hills, Margaret island, Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the bridges and Danube, Gellért Hill and the Castle District itself.
The panorama is also amazing from the Fisherman’s Bastion. Its 7 bastions represent the 7 settled down Hungarian tribes from the 9th century. The upper part around the equestrian statue of St Stephen can be visited with admission fee (1000 HUF), but go a bit further and for free you can go up in the biggest bastion.
After taking some photos of the view and the Neo-Gothic facade of Matthias Church, go to Ruszwurm Confectionery and try out some Hungarian cakes and desserts. They have a huge selection of sweets and the prices are cheap compared to its location. It might be busy through its popularity, but it’s worth to wait. I had my best “Somlói” style sponge cake there 😛
Walk along the Danube riverbank
The Danube is the river of Budapest, it divides Buda and Pest. Both sides offer wonderful view thanks to the bridges and historical buildings. The skyline of Buda is characterized by hills like Gellért Hill, Castle District and the Buda Hills. The Pest side is flat, so only the landmarks define the silhouette.
The sunsets are amazing from bridges and the embankment of Pest. Grab a drink and let the colours of the sun mesmerize you. You can choose from many bars to fancy the sunset.
Want to see the sunset with a view to Gellért Hill and Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd, the green bridge)? Have dinner and a drink in Esetleg in Bálna.
Would you prefer the Castle District with the colourful sky? Have a seat at Liberty bridge or walk through Erzsébet bridge (the white one) to Terasz. In Pontoon, at the foot of Chain bridge you can sit at the side of the river and watch the sun sets next to Fisherman’s Bastion.
Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István bazilika) is the tallest church in Budapest with its dome reaching the height of 96 meters. The dome’s inner height is 65 meters and the interior is covered with 50 types of marble and precious stone, decorated with mosaics instead of frescoes. Three architects designed and redesigned it over 54 years of construction. It was finished in neo-classicist style in 1905.
Don’t miss the Panorama Lookout Tower because for 2 euros (600 HUF) you’ll get a 360 degrees view of Budapest! The ticket office is at the church entrance, where the staircase starts. Climb 364 steps or take the elevators up to the dome. From the panorama terrace, you can have a closer look at the biggest bell of Hungary in the Southern tower, with a weight of 9 tonnes and to Budapest, of course 😉
Take a photo of the Parliament
The Hungarian Parliament is Europe’s 2nd largest parliament, it was designed by Imre Steindl in neo-Gothic style, inspired by the British House of Parliament (which is the largest in Europe). It has the same height as St. Stephen’s Basilica, both are 96 meters high and higher building can’t be built in Budapest according to current regulations. The 268 m long building dominates the Danube embankment. Its construction was finished in 1896, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of Hungary.
The facade is made of limestone and decorated with 90 sculptures of Hungarian leaders. The porous limestone needs a lot of restoration because of the air pollution, so you are lucky seeing the building without scaffolding.
The Parliament is open for visitors, book your ticket in advance to avoid queueing. The guided tours are available in 9 languages in various appointments. During the 50 minutes long tour, you’ll see impressive main halls and grand staircase, painted glass windows and the greatest Hungarian treasure, the Holy Crown of St. Stephen, Hungary’s first king.
Find your favourite ruin bar
After sightseeing, it’s time to discover the outstanding nightlife of Budapest and the legendary ruin bars. The 7th district is the best area to find ruin bars, where the abandoned houses have been filled with life, vintage furniture and a little hipster vibe.
The most famous is Szimpla Kert (on photo) and it can be very crowded on Friday and Saturday evening, you have to wait in queue to get in. So I’d recommend visiting it during the day or on Sundays when it turns into Szimpla Farmers’ Market. Another popular ruin bar is Instant-Fogas (used to be Fogasház), which is a good party place, but also busy during the weekend.
Ruin bars are the perfect places to try out the traditional Hungarian spirit called pálinka (just don’t ask for the cheapest one). It’s made of ripe fruits, the most commons are apricot (one of my favourites), pear, plum and cherry. Be aware, it’s very strong. Its alcohol content can be from 40 to 70%.
The suggested method to drink it: inhale deeply, drink (for one sip or more) and enjoy the fruity flavour during exhaling. Cheers! Or should I say Egészségedre!
Relax in thermal baths
After an eventful night in ruin bars, you deserve some time to relax in one of the famous thermal baths and to enjoy the water’s healing properties.
- Gellért Thermal Bath is my personal favourite, it’s perfect in every season. The building is super beautiful with the mosaics and its historical indoor pools. Aaaaand in summer the outdoor pool functions as a wave pool in every hour!
- One of the most unique experiences in Rudas Thermal Bath is the rooftop panorama pool with the view to the Gellért Hill and Danube. Its 450-year-old steam bath also offers an intimate atmosphere.
- Széchenyi Thermal Bath (on photo) is the most popular and well-known. The outdoor pools have a totally nice atmosphere, but the indoor area seems like a maze for the first time.
- Palatinus Bath on Margaret island has indoor pools and wellness area as well. The outdoor pools are very busy during hot summer days.
- St. Lukács Medicinal Bath and swimming pool is considered to have the most efficient healing water.
- Király Bath is a small hidden gem in Buda with steam bath, hot air chamber, jacuzzi and fitness room.
Stroll in Heroes’ square and City Park
Budapest’s biggest square, Heroes’ square (Hősök tere) is located at the end of Andrássy Avenue with the City Park (Városliget) and two museums (Museum of Fine Arts and Kunsthalle). It was built for the Millennium and the construction began in 1896, on the 1000th anniversary of the foundation of the Hungarian state.
The 36 m tall pillar of Millennium Memorial stands in the middle of the square. On its top, Archangel Gabriel holds the holy crown and the double cross of Christianity. The pillar is surrounded with the seven chieftains who led the Hungarian tribes to the country. 14 emblematic figures of the Hungarian history stand on the colonnades, representing the country’s long and complicated history.
City Park is the largest park of Budapest, Budapest Zoo, Capital Circus of Budapest, Museum of Transport (currently being renewed), Széchenyi Thermal Bath and Vajdahunyad Castle are located in the park as well. Vajdahunyad Castle is a reproduction of a Transylvanian castle and it’s surrounded with an artificial lake. The lake is used for boating in the summer and in winter it turns into an ice rink. If you like ice skating, don’t miss the opportunity of skating with a view to the Vajdahunyad Castle. Before going there, check the timetable on City Park Ice Rink (Városligeti Műjégpálya) because the ice isn’t available all day long.
Climb up Gellért Hill
Since 1987 Gellért hill (Gellért hegy) has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage. The Citadel on its top is a fortress built in 1851 by the Habsburgs after the end of the Hungarian Revolution. Its original goal was to frighten the citizens instead of protecting the city. Today it symbolizes freedom with the 40-meter high Statue of Liberty.
Approach Gellért Hill from either Liberty bridge (Szabadság híd) or Erzsébet bridge and follow the green triangle sign to the top, which stands at 130 meters above the Danube. From this height, you can see the contrast between Buda and Pest. Buda is characterised by hills and the Castle District in the foreground dominates the view. However, Pest is flat and only a few landmarks emerge from the skyline like the Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest eye and Great Market Hall.
I wrote more about Gellért Hill in my Top 5 viewpoints in Budapest post.
Discover the Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall (Nagy Vásárcsarnok) is visited by locals and tourist alike thanks to its fresh products and remarkable architecture. The roof of the building is decorated with ornamental tiles produced by the famous Hungarian Zsolnay manufacture. The ground floor offers fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses as well as pastries. You can buy a nice package of dried or powdered paprika and sausage as a souvenir. The upper floor awaits with even more souvenirs (handicrafts, embroideries and Budapest themed products) and the food stalls serve Hungarian dishes, be aware that it can be quite busy during lunch time. The basement displays the unique Hungarian products also known as Hungaricums.
While discovering the food stalls of Great Market Hall, don’t forget to stop at the lángos place! Lángos is fried bread dough and it’s served with different kind of toppings. The most popular (and my favourite) version is with sour cream and cheese. Would like to experiment with the flavours? Both Great Market Hall and Retro Lángos at Arany János street metro station offer Hungarian flavours like sausage, ham, tomato, onion and even more.
Want to try an even more special lángos? Lángos burger at Karaván Street food (next to Szimpla) waits for you with filled lángos burgers. They have the classical version with sour cream and cheese, but if you want to have something unusual, order a beef lángos burger.
Would you like to know more about lángos? Read my other post about must-try Hungarian food.
Try out traditional Hungarian dishes with paprika
Hungarian food is very delicious, it’s much more than goulash soup. True, goulash soup is unique and tasty, but Hungary has a lot more to offer. We also have tasty foods like fisherman’s soup (halászlé), Hungarian meat stew, mushroom goulash, stuffed cabbage just to mention a few. In my Budapest food guide to traditional Hungarian dishes I wrote about the best ones and also included some photos and descriptions.
My favourite Hungarian restaurant is Gettó Gulyás in the centre. The food is super tasty for affordable price and the wine selection is just perfect. I always book a table in advance to secure our seats. This lamb paprikash with butter noodles (3450 HUF) and the veal paprikash with baked curd cheese noodles rolled in bacon (3540 HUF) were also very delicious.
Download the checklist and complete your Budapest bucket list.
When following a checklist, sometimes we concentrate only on checking the items and we’re not enjoying the process. Don’t make this mistake, take your time and make the most out of your trip.
Do you like lists? I have another one for you 😉 40 reasons to fall in love with Budapest.
Enjoy your stay in Budapest and tell me which was your favourite point on the list! Leave a comment below.
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