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Top 12 Things to Do in Budapest

After five years of living in Europe, Budapest remains our favorite city on the European continent. Yes, we like it more than Paris, Rome, or even London. It’s the only place, aside from St. Maarten in the Carribbean, that we have returned to time and time again. So just what it is about the city that has us answering its our favorite without a second thought? It’s not just any one thing that makes Budapest our favorite European city. It’s known as the Paris of the East and that it certainly is with the Danube splitting Buda from Pest, its elegant architecture, and sophisticated scene. Budapest is also far less expensive than Paris and we love the variety of activities to do there. So we’ve compiled this list of what we think are the top things to do in Budapest:

Szechenyi

Szechenyi Baths

1. Soak in the Széchenyi Baths

One of the last remnants of the Turkish influence in Hungary, a visit to the thermal baths is a quintessential Budapest experience. We haven’t visited all of the baths in Budapest, but we have been to several of the most famous Budapest baths and the grandiose Széchenyi Baths are by far our favorite. (Check out our comparison in Battle of the Budapest Famous Baths.) Early morning or just before sunset are our favorite times for a soak in the thermal, healing waters of Széchenyi’s outdoor pools.

2. Take a Danube River Cruise

Budapest is beautiful by day, but absolutely stunning by night as the buildings lining the banks of the Danube twinkle and reflect on the dark waters. We’ve taken a Danube River sightseeing cruise twice, both times at night. One hour evening sightseeing cruises are available with audio headsets that give interesting facts about the history of Budapest, the buildings, and little known facts like that the Rubik’s Cube was invented by a Hungarian in Budapest in 1974. Longer and more romantic buffet-style dinner cruises are also available. We’ve done both and recommend both.

Chain Bridge, Budapest3. Walk Across the Chain Bridge

Ah, the Chain Bridge – one of my very favorite bridges in the world. It was the first bridge to permanently connect Buda and Pest and was completed in 1849. At the time, the Chain Bridge was considered to be one of the wonders of the world and the architect was so immensely proud of his work that he challenged anyone to find fault with the bridge. It is said that when it was discovered that the lions that stand guard at either end are missing their tongues, the architect committed suicide. We haven’t missed an evening stroll across the bridge when it is all lit up on a trip to Budapest yet.

Faust Wine Cellar

Wine tasting at Faust Wine Cellar

4. Go Hungarian Wine Tasting

Faust Wine Cellar is part of the vast labyrinth system winding beneath Buda Castle. Gábor Nagy, owner and wine sommelier at Faust Wine Cellar, travels throughout Hungary’s 22 wine regions regularly in search of only the best to supply their cellar with. The cellar is such a relaxed and romantic setting and you’ll be sure to leave your tasting with a rich understanding of Hungarian wine.

Related: Faust Wine Cellar

Caving Beneath Budapest5. Go Caving Beneath Budapest

Those soothing thermal waters of Budapest’s famous baths are responsible for me than a city full of relaxed Hungarians. The rushing waters formed a huge cave system, which is thought to be more than 100 kilometers long. Pulling on overalls, helmets, and headlamps, we prepared to get dirty and we inched on our bellies and wormed our way through tight crevices in “Superman” poses in the longest cave of Hungary, the Mátyás-hegyi cave in the Pál-völgyi cave system. The cave tour lasts 2.5 – 3 hours and is lead by a caving guide. This adventurous activity is definitely not for the claustrophobic since it goes through natural parts of the cave. You won’t find any nicely paved paths a la “show” caves.

Buda Labyrinth

Tim trying to imprison Jen in Buda Labyrinth

6. Slink Around the Labyrinth of Buda Castle

Speaking of the worlds beneath Budapest, the Labyrinth of Buda Castle is one of the 7 wonders of the underground world and adding to its’ allure and mystery, was closed down in 2011 after police raided it and forced everyone to evacuate immediately. It since re-opened and 1 mile of the 6 mile long labyrinth can be visited. Raining outside, we (including Emma) slinked around the slightly misty former prison where its most famous prisoner Vlad Tepes, better known as Count Dracula, was held in captivity by Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus during the 15th century with nothing but the light of candle-lit lanterns to guide us.

Budapest Segway Tour7. Take a Segway Tour of Budapest

No experience with a segway? No problem! A Budapest segway tour starts out with an orientation on a quiet street to get the hang of operating it. And then we were off, zipping along Budapest’s streets to all the major attractions with our guide Agnes giving us plenty of info along the way. The 2.5 hour tour gave us an excellent introduction to the city and there were plenty of photo opportunities along the way.

Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman’s Bastion

8. Lookout from the Fisherman’s Bastion

The neo-Gothic terrace of the Fisherman’s Bastion is located on the Castle Hill and provides panoramic views of the city. Blown away by the views, don’t forget to explore the seven ornate turrets, of the fairytale like structure.  The turrents symbolize the tents of the seven Magyar tribe leaders who settled the Carpathian Basin in 896, which ultimately lead to the existence of modern-day Hungary.

Central Market Hall

Central Market Hall

9. Shop at the Central Market Hall

Built in the 19th century, the Central Market Hall is the largest indoor market in Budapest and the focus is on typical Hungarian products. The first floor is the food hall with vendors selling everything from fresh vegetables to Hungarian sausages and Hungarian paprika to Hungarian wines. The market is a great place to visit several vendors for an inexpensive lunch of traditional Hungarian foods. The second floor is full of vendors selling wares like souvenirs and traditional Hungarian embroidery.

Hungarian cuisine at Palinka Bistrot

Hungarian cuisine at Palinka Bistrot

10. Try a Traditional Hungarian Dish Paired with Hungarian Wine

Budapest, like any other major European city, is filled with touristy restaurants. But it is also filled with local haunts serving sophisticated Hungarian cuisine at reasonable prices. We apply the same logic here as when traveling anywhere else. Avoid restaurants along the beaten tourist path and ask the locals where to eat. Pálinka Bistrot offers home made traditional Hungarian dishes and we had a delicious meal of Hungarian goulash soup, rabbit with dumplings, gravy, and cream, and paired it all wonderfully with Hungarian Tocai.

Cafe Ruszwurm

Cakes, truffles, and coffee at Cafe Ruszwurm

11. Indulge on Pastries From Budapest’s Oldest Confectioner

Budapest is full of cafes to have a delicious cuppa joe and try one of the sweets Budapest is famous for. Cafe Ruszwurm, on the Castle Hill, is one of Budapest’s oldest traditional confectioners still operating as a cafe. We sought out the cafe, which has just about a dozen seats, and though we had a little wait for a table we weren’t disappointed. There is a wide selection of the day’s fresh pastries, truffles, and coffee concoctions to choose from. The decor is charming too with antique furniture and tools of the old confectionery trade in the glass curio cabinets.

Cafe Ruszwurm is located at Szentháromság u. 7 and is open 9am – 8pm Spring through Fall and 10am – 7pm in Winter.

12. Hike Up Gellért Hill to the Citadella

From the Elisabeth Bridge, hike up the sets of stairs and paths for a stunning panorama over both Buda and Pest from the Citadella. Once a fortress built by the Habsburgs in 1854, it was an important strategic point to see over all of Budapest. Nowadays there is a market set up at the top where you’ll find Hungarians pedaling their handicrafts like dolls, wooden toys, and handmade clothing and scarves.

What is your favorite thing to do in Budapest?

Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter and bases herself in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and innovation strategist in higher education and is a regular contributor on johnnyjet.com. Her website, jdombstravels.com, is the 2012 Destinology Travel Bloggy Best Newcomer award winner. Google+

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21 comments

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  1. Andrea

    Don’t forget the House of Terror museum!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    We haven’t been to the House of Terror museum. Now I need to look it up for our next trip to Budapest!

    [Reply]

  2. Bourdais Suzanne

    Born in Budapest, Hungarian, and living in France, I was happy to read your nice comments about my city. I am so happy that you appreciate Budapest.
    Kindest regards,
    Suzanne

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Suzanne! Budapest is our favorite European city and we’re always happy to visit again and again. With so much to see, we don’t return to many places often.

    [Reply]

  3. Stef

    Thanks for sharing these tips with me. Budapest is one of the cities on my absolute Bucket List, when I’m going, I will check your list again ;)
    Regards and happy easter
    Stef

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Happy Easter to you too, Stef! We hope you make it to Budapest soon. It’s such a fantastic city to visit.

    [Reply]

  4. Jemma

    Budapest is really a great place for travelers. It’s really nice if you can do a lot of things in just one city – though it’s a very large city… ;)

    The Labyrinth of Buda Castle looks so stunning… Are travelers allowed to get inside it?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Jemma! Yes, the Buda Labyrinth re-opened to the public and although a bit cheesy with the wax figures in the opera scenes, it is fun to visit.

    [Reply]

  5. Leigh

    What a great list. A visit to Budapest is definitely in my sights and I find it interesting that you like it even more than Paris. There are some unique sounding things to do in the city. Thanks for the great suggestions.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    You’d love the caves, Leigh! And there are some great bike tours around the city too.

    [Reply]

  6. Andrew

    I haven’t been in Budapest since 1997 and even then only for a weekend. I liked it well enough to want to go back, but haven’t managed it yet. Was kind of rooting for TBU being there. Ali hasn’t seen it yet, so it will be an easy sell to get her to go along.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Now that would be a fun TBU! I absolutely love Hungary and it never takes much even to twist to my to hop in the car an go for the weekend.

    [Reply]

  7. Ali

    Great list! I think I’ll pass on the cave stuff, not my thing at all, but everything else sounds great. Like Andy said, I haven’t been yet, but just about anyplace in Europe is always high on my list. Good to know you and Tim like Budapest so much!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    A lot of Europe is beginning to feel exactly the same from one city to the next. But we could go to Budapest again and again. For us, there’s the perfect mix of activities there!

    [Reply]

  8. Aiko Aiko

    Yes, not only visiting the House of Terror, but having tea and cake at Gebreaud cafe on Vaci ut. which is one of the oldest cafes in Budapest. Vaci ut. is also a pedestrian-only area with loads of shops (the usual proliferation of brand names + tourist-centred shops). Also recommend the Jewish quarter esp. the little streets behind the main synagogue, as well as the Oktagon area not far from Nyugati main train station.

    I love Budapest too! I don't live too far from this magnificent city (about a 7-hour ride by bus, 5 by car). It helps to know a bit of Hungarian as well. Gives the local people a thrill since the language isn't one of the easiest to learn.

    [Reply]

  9. Ben

    Very good list thank you so much!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Glad to hear you enjoyed it, Ben! Hope you get to visit Budapest and do some of the things on this list.

    [Reply]

  10. Angelina

    Hi there!

    It’ s very ironic that you love both St. Maarten and Budapest!!
    I own a villa on SXM! And, currently visiting Budapest ! And, yes I will definitely return here! I absolutely love it!!!

    [Reply]

  11. Frank

    Informative post Jen – we’ll be based in Prague next summer and intend to make some trips to some of the Eastern European cities. One of those is Budapest. Will make sure to keep a copy of your list.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Eastern Europe is great! Prague is on our list to get around to blogging about eventually. You’ll enjoy both cities for sure.

    [Reply]

  12. Nic Hilditch-Short

    Visiting Budapest in April, somewhere we have wanted to go for a long time. Looks amazing, I have a feeling it is going to knock some other cities down the list of my favorites!

    [Reply]

  13. Mary

    I am in Budapest on my own for a week, is it easy to get around and do these exciting activities, I’m no youngster but am physically fit. I have been before but only for a couple of days and just did some walking.

    [Reply]

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