What comes to mind when you think about Budapest sights? Of course the postcard-perfect Hungarian Parliament Building, Buda Castle, and thermal baths. These are famous Budapest’s must-sees but do not stop there. This vibrant city has a lot more to offer. Plan to spend at least four days to discover fascinating attractions like Dohany Street Synagogue, Matthias Church, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and unique to the city, ruin pubs. Get yourself ready for the visit with this Budapest travel guide and practical tips on how to visit.
BUDAPEST TRAVEL GUIDE WITH MUST-SEE SIGHTS
A lot has changed since my first visit to Budapest over thirty years ago. Even though at that time, Hungary was under the same Soviet grasp as my own country, Poland, it managed to present itself surprisingly vibrant and cheerful. It felt more like Western Europe than a country paralyzed by a communist regime.
When planning my recent trip, I was curious if I would feel the same about the city, now visiting from the land of plenty, the USA. Fortunately, the country’s transition from a Soviet satellite to a democratic system made Budapest even more appealing.
St. Stephen statue, founder of the Hungarian state and the first King of Hungary (1000-1038).
Budapest Travel Guide – What to See
Hungarian Parliament Building
Without a doubt, the number one must-see in Budapest is the Hungarian Parliament Building. Inaugurated in 1904, the structure is the creation of architect Imre Steindl who tragically went blind before the completion.
Located on the edge of the River Danube in the heart of Budapest, the parliament building is one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival and Renaissance Revival architecture in the world today. Attracting nearly 700,000 visitors each year, the building is one of the most recognizable tourist destinations in Europe.
Another Budapest’s must-see, Buda Castle overlooks the city from its elevated position atop Castle Hill, rising hight above the Danube River. The castle represents a turmoil of Hungarian history. It was rebuilt, extended, changed, burned down and rebuilt several times over. The last time, it got ruined during World War II in a fierce battle between German and the Soviet armies.
Reconstruction of the castle started in 1950. The main structure of the Buda Castle, known as the Royal Palace, never came back to its previous glory. But despite its lack of authenticity, the Buda Castle is still an imposing complex. Its more than three hundred meters (1000 ft) long facade facing the Danube is particularly impressive.
Located in the Buda Castle complex, Fisherman’s Bastion is considered one of the top Budapest sights. The white-stoned structure is a combination of neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque architecture and consists of turrets, projections, parapets, and climbing stairways. From its lookout terraces, you can see a stunning panorama of the city.
You will find Matthias Church in every Budapest travel guide as one of the top attractions of the city. The church was built in 1255 in the heart of the Castle District and was Buda’s first parish church.
However, the original church structure changed many times as it was continually being renovated and refashioned in the popular architectural style of each era. Today, the interior of the Matthias Church is magnificently decorated with colorful patterns and motifs that were found on original stone fragments.
St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szt Istvan Bazilika)
Budapest’s neoclassical cathedral is the most sacred Catholic church in all of Hungary. It contains its most revered relic: the mummified right hand of the church’s patron, King St Stephen.
The towers of the basilica reach high to the sky, which makes the cathedral one of the highest points on the Pest side of the city. Today classical concerts, as well as contemporary music performances, are played here.
Szechenyi Thermal Bath
Looking for what to do in Budapest just to relax? Then visiting one of the city’s famous thermal baths is a must. You will find an impressive selection of thermal baths, many of which date to the 16th century.
The Szechenyi Medicinal Bath in Budapest is the largest medicinal bath in Europe and one of the most popular Budapest sights. Its water comes from two thermal springs, with a temperature of 74 °C and 77 °C. I decided on this particular spa for its glorious outdoor pools.
Check out the best thermal baths in Budapest.
Gellert Hill in Budapest was named after Bishop Gellert, who was thrown to his death by pagans in the fight against Christianity in 1046. The hill overlooks the Danube River and the Pest side of Budapest below. The famous Hotel Gellert and the Gellert Baths occupy Gellert Square at the foot of the hill, next to Liberty Bridge. The Gellert Hill Cave is also located on the hill, facing the hotel and the Danube.
Hungarian State Opera
This new-Renaissance style structure, completed in 1884 and modeled after the Vienna Opera House, houses both the State Opera and the State Ballet. It belongs to Budapest’s top attractions. Unfortunately, when I visited, the building was under renovation and I could not take a look even from the outside.
Central Market Hall
If you love fresh goods, people watching, and souvenir shopping put Great Market Hall on your must-see list in Budapest. The floor level has fruits, vegetables, meat, bakery, and spices vendors. Upstairs you will find lace, collectibles, souvenir, and food. The food counters can get quite crowded, but prices are reasonable, and the variety of food will undoubtedly satisfy any taste.
Dohany Street Synagogue
This largest synagogue in Europe was built between 1854 and 1859 in the Moorish Revival style, with the decoration based on Islamic models from North Africa and medieval Spain. The complex consists of the Great Synagogue, the Heroes’ Temple, the graveyard, the Memorial, and the Jewish Museum.
The Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park occupies a court immediately behind the Dohany Synagogue. It is a moving tribute to the many who died during the Holocaust.
In the center, there is a metallic sculpture, reminiscent of a weeping willow. The leaves carry the names of the victims.
Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial
Erected on April 16, 2005, the Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial honors the people killed by fascist Hungarian Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. The composition gives remembrance to the 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews, who were shot into the Danube during the time of the Arrow Cross terror.
The sculptor created sixty pairs of period-appropriate shoes out of iron.
An iconic ruin bar, Szimpla Kert and Kazinczy Street
Often called the Street of Culture, Kazinczy Street offers the greatest variety of touristic highlights, the most famous ruin bar, fine dining, high-quality Kosher restaurants, and the most colorful street food in Budapest. Under 14 Kazinczy street, you can find the pioneer of all, the first ruin bar, Szimpla Kert.
Guests come to enjoy the unique atmosphere, fine food, and drinks, and cultural events.
Szimpla Kert welcomes its visitors all day with breakfast, lunch and dinner, a beautiful garden, and unusual objects. You will enjoy a fun atmosphere, especially in the evening, when it turns into an international meeting point.
The Liberty Bridge is one of the easiest accessible Budapest sights. It is the shortest bridge in the city center. Initially built as part of the Millennium World Exhibition at the end of the 19th century, the bridge features art nouveau design, mythological sculptures, and the country’s coat of arms adorned on its side.
Budapest Travel Guide – know before you go
Hungary belongs to the European Union
Hungary joined the European Union in 2004 and became a part of the Schengen Area (visa-free zone) in 2007.
Hungarians have their own currency called Forint
The Forint (sign: Ft; code: HUF) is the currency of Hungary. Even though Hungary belongs to the European Union, it still has its own money, and you will need it in Budapest.
Credit cards in Hungary
One of the most essential tips in your Budapest travel guide, you will definitely need cash in Hungary. Small shops, restaurants, and cafes will only accept Forint. Bigger stores and hotels accept credit cards but not American Express or Discover.
For the best exchange rate, always ask to charge in local currency. ATMs are widely available. Hungarian Bank ATMs don’t charge a local fee when you withdraw cash, but you will have to pay it when you use a non-bank ATM. (Learn about the best way to exchange foreign currency.)
How much does a vacation to Hungary cost?
Hungary is among the most affordable countries in Europe. Budget travelers can get by on less than $40 a day, while mid-range travelers could budget around $100. There are plenty of opportunities to indulge in Budapest without spending a fortune.
Is English widely spoken in Hungary?
People of Hungary speak Hungarian, a Finno-Ugric language, which belongs to the Uralic language family. The language has a reputation of one of the challenging languages in the world. Believe me, even if you speak other languages, guessing the meaning of the words is not an option.
On the bright side, in areas serving tourists, you will have no problem to communicate. Additionally, I found the locals to be very helpful even when we could not communicate. On two separate occasions, the locals paid for our parking meter with their own money when we could not figure out how to pay with a credit card.
When your language skills fail, this traditional Hungarian brandy may improve your communication skills.
Hotels in Budapest
Bupadest offers a wide verity of accommodation. See here the top luxury hotels in Budapest. Budget-conscious travelers will find many vacation rentals. I stay at ABT Apartment Molnar. I liked the apartment for its great location near Liberty Bridge and Central Market Hall. Parking was challenging by the building, but you will find large parking garages nearby.
My Budapest travel tip, try as many local dishes as you can. Traditional Hungarian dishes are primarily based on meats, seasonal vegetables, fruits, fresh bread, dairy products, and cheeses. Paprika, a quintessential spice, and pepper is often associated with Hungary and is used prominently in a handful of dishes. Here are classic Hungarian foods to try.
How to get around in Budapest
Here is my Budapest travel tip, walk to see the city’s major attractions. Most of them are grouped together and easy to see within a short stroll from each other. I navigated the city mostly on foot and loved it.
This way, you can get the feel of the city and beyond must-sees. Here is how to get around, including from the airport.
Safety in Budapest
I felt safe in the city, but I was visiting with my sister and her husband, and we had a car to cover longer distances. We did not use any public transportation where a lot of pickpocketing occurs. We were mostly walking, and even at night did not see anything that would trigger our concern.
Still, because nothing happened to me, it does not mean it would not happen at all. This is UK foreign advisory about traveling to Hungary. I am sure it is based on reliable statistics, and it does not confirm how I felt about the city.
When you are done with sightseeing for a change of scenery and break from the city, take a Day Trip from Budapest to Balaton Lake.