Visiting Budapest? Check out my list of 25 unique things to do whilst you are in this beautiful city!
The secret is out… There is no European city that has engulfed my heart the way Budapest has. As someone with an insatiable desire for discovering the unknown, it is seldom that I frequent the same city over and over again. The fact I’ve returned to Budapest five times (strictly for pleasure) should be enough to demonstrate my infatuation with this city. In fact, the more I discover about the capital of Hungary, the more I fall in love with it.
It is rather remarkable that a city can ooze such quintessential European charm, yet remain both unpretentious and somewhat unruined by tourists. From thermal baths to buzzing ruin bars, underground caves to Neolithic castles, sumptuous food to impressive coffee, the capital of Hungary has a little something for everyone.
Whilst I wish I could personally take you around and show you all of my favourite spots in this vibrant capital, instead I’ll give you the next best thing… A list of my top things to do in Budapest!
25 UNIQUE THINGS TO DO IN BUDAPEST
1. Watch the sunset from Gellert Hill
Take a stroll up to the top of Gellert Hill for ultimate panoramic views over Budapest. This is easily my favourite spot in the whole of the city! My recommendation? Bring up picnic supplies and a bottle of wine and settle in for the evening to watch the magic of the sun setting below the horizon before the twinkling lights of the city switch on.
2. Eat Langos from the Central Market Hall
You can’t leave Hungary without sampling one of the country’s most loved street foods! Quite simply, Langos is a deep-fried dough that is often topped with lashings of butter, cheese and sour cream. The top level of the Central Market Hall is a great place to sample this Hungarian speciality. My advice? Don’t hold back with the toppings!
3. Take a cruise along the Danube
Taking a boat ride along the Danube River at night time is another Budapest must-do. The city is home to what I believe to be the most beautiful parliament building in the world, see it illuminated from the banks of the river is a particularly magical experience. You can book an hour-long river cruise for as little as €9, or opt for a more lavish cruise experience, complete with dinner and live music.
4. Explore the grounds of Buda Castle
Built in 1749, this impressive Baroque palace really is a sight to behold. Perched high above the city, it’s hard to decide what is more impressive- the Castle, the grounds, or the views. You can catch a funicular or you can walk up to Buda Castle, where the grounds are free to walk around. However, if you want a more in-depth glimpse into the history surrounding the Castle, I’d recommend visiting with a tour guide. This 3-hour guided tour includes a visit to the Castle district as well as many of Budapest’s other key sights.
5. Go caving
Not many people know about the extensive cave system situated under the city of Budapest, and fewer know that you can actually go caving through the system! You can book a 3.5 hour caving experience where you’ll get to discover the source of Budapest’s hot springs, check out incredible limestone rock formations left behind by geological activity.
6. Eat rose-shaped gelato from Gelato Rosa
Combining two of life’s greatest joys- roses and gelato- can only end well. Gelato Rosa, located right next to the iconic St Stephens Basilica, serves up rose-shaped Gelato that actually tastes as good as it looks. The salted caramel and white chocolate lavender flavours are to die for.
7. Check out the views from to the top of St. Stephens Cathedral
Once you’ve delighted your tastebuds with gelato, delight your eyeballs with 360 degree views over the city from the top of St Stephen’s Cathedral. It costs just a couple of euros to head to the viewing platform (and a few more euros if you want to go inside the cathedral).
8. Try the macaroons at Chez Dodo
Whilst you are in the area, drop by Chez Dodo to sample some of Budapest’s best macaroons. They are always experimenting with new flavours. When I was last there, they had savoury cheese macaroon on offer (rest assured, they have plenty of classic flavours if you don’t dare to go off-the-cuff).
9. Visit the Cat Café
Whether you are a crazy cat lady or just a kitten enthusiast, Budapest’s Cat Cafe is the puuurfect place for you. Unlike many cat cafes around the world, there is no set fee to enter or time limit, so you can cuddle up to feline friends all day long. Who doesn’t want to enjoy their soy cappuccino surrounded by cute creatures that meow?
10. Do an escape room
Given Budapest is the place where the humble Escape Room originated from, you’d be right to guess that they have some pretty epic rooms on offer. If you’ve never done an escape room, it basically involves getting locked in a themed room and using clues to escape in under an hour! It’s both a great and terrible team bonding experience.
11. Eat at the best vegan restaurant in town
I can almost guarantee that even if you are a meat-lover, you won’t leave this place disappointed. Unlike your typical superfood tofu-and-kale vegan restaurant, Napfenyes Restaurant serves up generous portions of hearty meals that will really have you questioning how meat is not present in such dishes.
12. Indulge in a day at the Gellert Spa
If you want a day filled with both history and relaxation, Gellert Spa is the place to go. Founded 100 years ago in 1918, the famous art nouveau thermal baths consist of 10 pool of various sizes and temperatures. In my opinion, they are the most unique and stunning baths in Budapest, and are definitely worth spending the day at. Skip the line for the spas with this ticket and splurge on a VIP massage here.
13. Grab a coffee from My Little Melbourne
Caffeine-lovers, Budapest has your coffee needs sorted. My Little Melbourne is a quaint little coffee shop opened up by Australians which serves up some of the best espressos in town. You can even grab a smashed avo on toast whilst you are at it.
14. Head to the famous Széchenyi Thermal Bath
The most iconic of Budapest’s Thermal Baths, Szechenyi is Europe’s largest thermal spring bath, comprising of 3 outdoor and 15 indoor pools. If you are planning to go, you are best to pre-book tickets so you can skip the line and get the best price. You can also do a combined package to Szechenyi and a Danube cruise with this ticket.
15 Attend a “Sparty”
If you want a very unique nightlife experience, on Saturday evenings in Summer, the Szechenyi baths transform into the wildest party venue town. I haven’t personally been to a “Sparty” as they call them, but I hear they are quite the experience!
16. Have a traditional feed at Hungarikum Bistro
For a taste of true Hungarian cuisine, you can’t go past Hungarikum Bistro. Here, you can dine on top of red-and-white checkered tablecloths, eat goulash and drink Schnapps. This restaurant is always bursting with tourists, but for good reason. Make sure you make a reservation in advance to make sure you can get a table!
17. Walk through the park at Margaret Island
Located in the Danube River, Margaret Island is a great place to go to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and have a tranquil escape. As well as lots of parkland to stroll through, you’ll also find a musical fountain, a small zoo and even swimming pools and thermal spas situated on the island.
18. Check out the famous Szimpla Ruin Bar
Budapest’s unique and thriving nightlife is mostly attested to the phenomenon of “ruin pubs” that have popped up all over the city. Many of the city’s buildings, which were abandoned post-war, have now been transformed into distinct nightlife spots. The most renowned ruin pub in Budapest is Szimpla Kert, a once derelict space which is now filled with works of art made from junk. If you want to experience the place without the hoards of tourists, my recommendation is to explore the place during the day.
19. Go thrifting
Budapest’s creative scene is thriving, and this even reflects in the type of stores you find around the place. It’s more common to find vintage and thrift stores than big department stores, so you’ll have no issues unleashing your inner hipster and scoring some timeless bargains. Retrorock Vintage Store is my personal favourite, and PSTR Store is also worth checking out.
20. Explore the beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion
Built in 1905, this unique neo-Gothic structure was built as a viewing platform and does, in fact, provides some of the best views over Budapest. Some find Fisherman’s Bastion reminiscent of medieval times and others say it looks straight out of Harry Potter. Whichever way you view it, it is a stunning place to explore, particularly at sunset.
21. Try Trdelnik from a street vendor
It may not be unique to Hungary, but you’ll find plenty of vendors across Budapest selling this iconic Eastern European street food. For the uninitiated, Trdelnik (or Chimney Cake in English) is a delicious rolled dough that is wrapped around a stick, grilled then rolled in sugar and topped with other various things. I’d be very impressed if you catch a waft of the smell when passing by a stand and AREN’T tempted to indulge in the sweet treat!
22. Catch a movie at the rooftop cinema
Come summertime, everyone comes out of hibernation and Budapest becomes a hive of outdoor activities. The Budapest Rooftop Cinema has become a favourite of these activities, and is a dreamy place to watch films under the starry skies. All summer long, the venue hosts alfresco screenings of movies, both new and old, amidst panoramic views of the city skyline.
23. Attend Sziget Festival
Did you know that Budapest is host to the world’s 7th largest music festival, drawing in up to 400,000 attendees every year? Sziget is a week-long music festival that overtakes a 108-hectare island on the Danube every year, drawing in massive headline acts from all over the world. The 2019 lineup already includes acts such as Ed Sheeran, Florence and the Machine and the Foo Fights. I’ve been two years in a row and I couldn’t recommend this festival more. If you want to find out more, check out my Sziget Survival Guide, which outlines everything you need to know about this epic festival!
24. Visit the House of Terror
House of Terror is a museum located at Andrássy út 60 in Budapest, Hungary. It contains exhibits related to the fascist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary and is also a memorial to the victims of these regimes, including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building.
25. Get a cocktail from Boutiq’ Bar
Ranked among the top 50 bars in the world, Boutiq’ bar knows how to do a gourmet cocktail. Come here to have world-class bartenders shake, stir and serve you up delicious cocktails made only with the finest seasonal ingredients. The presentation of the cocktails is equally impressive- the cocktail I ordered came in test tubes resting on dry ice!
Where to Stay in Budapest
Budget: Avenue Hostel
For the budget-concious, Avenue hostel is well-equipped, comfortable and clean, has a very friendly atmosphere and is located centrally. I’ve stayed here numerous times when visiting Budapest and have always had a pleasant stay.
Mid-range: Danubius Hotel Gellert
One of Budapest’s most iconic landmarks, the Danubius Hotel Gellért was first opened in 1918 and still retains it’s beautiful art nouveau charm. Onsite are also some of the most famous thermal baths in the city. The prices to stay are pretty reasonable, considering the uniqueness of the hotel and the calibre of guests it’s had through its doors (including American presidents and European royalty)!
If you want to experience the height of luxury, you can’t go past Four Season Hotel Gresham Palace. Located on the Danube River across from Budapest’s magnificent Parliament Building, every detail of this property draws on the city’s heritage and architectural grandeur.
Budapest also has a great range of affordable apartments on Airbnb if you want something self-contained or if you’re travelling with a larger group. If you haven’t signed up with Airbnb already, you can use this link to get $38 off your first visit!
If it’s your first time to Budapest, you may want to get started with a general sightseeing tour. Most last around 2-3 hours and will take you through the biggest highlights of the city. You can also do one that includes a Parliament visit if you’re hoping to see more of Budapest’s most famous building. If you want to see more of the region, GAdventures also offers bigger tours, like this 13-day one from Budapest, through Romania, and ending in Istanbul.
MY GENERAL TRAVEL & PHOTO TIPS
I highly recommend getting travel insurance before ANY international trip. World Nomad’s offer the most flexible worldwide cover that I have come across, and you can purchase a policy online, even if your trip has already commenced. If their prices are too high for you, you can also check out SafetyWings, though SW doesn’t cover tech.
To book flights, I always use flight search engine, Skyscanner. I find it the easiest way to compare flight prices across airlines and get the best deals. Skyscanner also have a free App (available on iOS or Android) which is great for booking flights on the go.
Here is a list of the photography gear that I always travel with:
- Canon 6D Mark II
- Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 ii
- GoPro Hero Black 7
- DJI Mavic Pro
- ONA Camps Bay Backpack
- ONA Bowery Bag
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Have you already been to this stunning city? Let me know your favourite things to do in Budapest in the comments below!