What To Do In Budapest
Jan 23, 2018, Updated Aug 12, 2021
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What To Do In Budapest
What to do in Budapest – where to stay in Budapest, what to eat in Budapest, and how to have an amazing 48 hours in the gorgeous Hungarian city along the Danube!
This post was sponsored by Mediavine.
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One of the most beautiful cities in the world (Conde Nast’s Second Best City in the World, and the second most densely populated metropolis in the EU), Budapest was one of my favorite cities I have ever visited. It’s with good reason – the city is absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful, with tons of things to do everywhere you turn.
While Budapest is a pretty easy city to tour, it is also the hardest to really feel like I’d done it all after only two days in the city. Budapest is a place to spend at the very least a full week exploring!
Budapest can seem intimidating at first – but there is simply so much to do and see (and taste!) – you can’t go wrong!
If you’ve always wanted to visit Budapest, there is no time like now – with airfares competing for travelers internationally and economical lodging options like Airbnb, as well as widespread use of English throughout the city – Hungary’s shining city is easier to visit than ever before.
Sadly, I only had 48 hours in Budapest, so I didn’t get to do everything on my list… but I have no doubt in my mind I will be back again soon to explore more of the city!
Please click the video below, which was made with support from Mediavine, to see some of my favorite parts of visiting Budapest:
What to Do in Budapest
Walk the Danube
To get a good feel of a city, I like to walk around the area I’m staying and along pedestrian markets, main streets, and rivers to get a good feel of the city before I go out exploring more.
In Budapest, it’s easy to know where to go first if you want to get a good sense of the sprawling city – the banks of the Danube are the perfect place to walk along to get your bearings and plan out what you’d like to see and do in the city from there.
The Danube River, which winds from Germany to the Black Sea through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and other countries – is extremely important to world history.
The Danube is a major setting for centuries-old conflicts and treaties, and a vital shipping and tourism hub. It is one of the most important and well known rivers in the world! The Danube is also magnificent to stroll along, making it a destination in Budapest unto itself.
The calm, glittery banks are a huge draw for me – I could sit at one of the benches next to the river all day and just watch the skyline, people walking through the city, and the river boats pass by.
It’s a great place for pictures at sunrise and sunset – and one of the best places to really get a feel for the city’s layout.
Walk the Chain Bridge
Budapest is actually a city formed from neighboring cities Buda, Pest, and Obuda – which were all combined to make the large metropolis Budapest is today.
The Chain Bridge connects the banks of Buda and Pest across the Danube river, making it easy to walk from one to another, and take in more of the cities attractions.
The bridge itself is a major tourist destination, and great photo opportunity if you’re walking the banks of either the Pest or Buda side. If you’re not keen to walk the entirety of the bridge, you can snap some photos with the many statues along the sides of the pedestrian walkways, and then cut around them via tunnels at the base of the bridge which will keep you on the pedestrian walkway along the Danube.
Visit Fisherman’s Bastion
The Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the top attactions in Budapest. It was designed to provide one of the best panoramic views of the city from its lookout towers, rather than to be defensive bastions. . The view is indeed breath taking (to the opposide side – I will show you in another post) but the construction itself is so amazing, I took many more photos of the surroundings than of the view in fact! . In this picture you see the Mattias Church framed through the bastion tower, which was restored and redesigned by the same architect who designed the bastion. Ithas the most amazing roof I have ever seen; lovely colors and pattern. . . . . . . . . . . .#budapest #hungary #fishermansbastion #castlehill #ig_budapest #travel #wanderlust #travelgram #instatravel #visitbudapest #cityscape #travelshoteu #europe #budapestgram #momentsinbudapest #thisisbudapest #insta_budapest #sunset #sunset_pics #visitbudapest #familyoffduty #travelmums #famtravel #pottyadventures #growingfromadventure #familytraveling #travelingkids #kidswhotravel #takeyourkidseverywhere #childrenandnature #wearetravelmum
Fisherman’s Bastion, one of Budapest’s most iconic landmarks, is a former church that was built unlike other bastions to look over the city, rather than defend it.
It’s position high atop the hill over the Danube isn’t just one of the most jaw-dropping places to take in the spectacular glittering Danube, but the entire Budapest city line as well. The building feels like a fairytale castle straight from a Disney movie – and is one of the most gorgeous spots in the city. It is a must for photo opportunities!
For more from Fisherman’s Bastion, visit my friend Thassia’s post here.
Tour the Parliament Building
As a former employee of the United States Senate and someone who is very involved politically, I LOVE visiting government buildings in other countries – especially Parliaments.
There is something about the pageantry of international politics that always sucks me in – and with soaring beautiful buildings, it’s easy to be drawn towards European government halls. The Parliament building in Budapest is no different – it’s a large part of the city skyline, a major destination to itself, and one of the most gorgeous buildings in all of Europe.
The Hungarian Parliament building isn’t just the government hub – it’s a spectacular display of Gothic Revival architecture (one of my favorite styles to tour – the romantic spires, arches, and soaring heights make gothic revival buildings the perfect background to any trip around Western Europe – or here in Central Europe, as well.)
The Hungarian is the largest building in Hungary, and sits right above the Danube River – giving it a powerful hold over the river. It’s a perfect spot for photos, to take in a sunset, to tour and learn about Hungarian government and the history of the city, or to learn about causes popular in Budapest (we saw numerous protestors and were able to chat with a couple to see what they were promoting, which was kind of cool.)
We didn’t have enough time for a full Parliament tour – but it is very high on my list to do next time I am in Budapest.
If you’re walking around the Parliament, it is easy to walk to from the Shoes on the Danube Exhibit (just a few steps away). Plan about 20-30 minutes to walk around the building and take photos. If you’re interested in a tour, be sure to book in advance and show up early so you can take tons of photos before you tour – it is one of the most gorgeous spots in Budapest!
Visit the Shoes on the Danube Exhibit
The shoes on the Danube, just along the Pest side of the river near Parliament, is a powerful exhibit worth the short stroll from the Parliament to visit. It is a small and quick but powerful reminder of the atrocities Hungary faced through the Siege of Budapest at the tail end of World War II at the hands of the Arrow Cross Militia.
As the war was winding down, during the Siege for Budapest and the rise of the Arrow Cross Party, Jews, Romanians, and opposing Hungarians were lined up along the Danube and shot into the river, asked to leave their shoes along the banks (shoes were a valuable commodity.)
Many of those murdered along the banks of the Danube were just shy of rescue as the war winded down – one of the harshest realizations for visitors from the west. I’ve visited Auschwitz, demolished Jewish Cemeteries, and former ghettos in Poland and Germany – and nothing ever settles the agony of hearing the stories from WWII. While it isn’t a pleasant part of traveling through Europe, it is a very important part of understanding what Europe as a whole, and Budapest in Hungary, went through and learn from such a turbulent past.
The exhibit was installed in 2005 as a memorial to the Hungarian Jews and Romanian victims, and remains a popular place to tour, reflect, pray, and light candles or leave flowers and remember the turbulent history of Budapest and their place in WWII.
It is a simple exhibit, and can be experienced in under 15 minutes in entirety, so it is not one to miss.
Head to a Spa For a Thermal Bath
Budapest, like much of Eastern Europe, is known for thermal mineral baths that are known to have theraputic properties that help heal a number of ailments.
I have rheumtoid arthritis, and really wanted to soak for a while in the thermal baths, but it was so cold the day we visited, I was concerned about the change in temperature from the winter air to the hot tub (something that makes my joints seize up and is pretty painful), so I skipped it – but if it was just a little warmer, it is an easy and very affordable must-visit!
To learn more about one of Budapest’s main spas, head to my friends Rebecca’s post here.
Plan to spend about two hours at the spa, from changing to soaking, and then of course for pictures!
Ride the Budapest Eye
If you’re looking for a fun way to see Budapest from high above, there is no place better than the Budapest Eye!
Get 360 degree views over the city, the Danube, Parliament, and over into Buda from the Eye – a gondola-style giant ferris wheel.
Where To Stay in Budapest
While there are numerous options in Budapest (it is a fantastic city to find a luxurious but super affordable Airbnb or Hotel in), I was really thankful to stay in the Pest side, along the mostly pedestrian mall. As we were there in part to tour Christmas Markets, it was just a couple steps to the main market from our Airbnb – we were also right by TONS of shopping, including Fashion Street, and numerous small malls that cater to locals and tourists alike.
Budapest was full of options – but I’m linking the airbnb we stayed in, as well as a couple that come highly recommended by friends who have stayed in Budapest.
The view out our window was STUNNING. We had a prime spot overlooking much of Pest, with a small balcony that opened up over one of Budapest’s busiest roads (though you’d never, know, it was very quiet!)
Where to Shop in Budapest
Fashion Street – Budapest’s busy hub, just off the pedestrian mall, is full of European fashion mainstays like H&M (their multi-story store was fabulous), Topshop, Desidual, and tons of Hungarian boutiques for any budget.
Pedestrian Mall – the bustling pedestrian mall was my favorite spot to shop in Budapest, as there were tons of tourist shops, artisan shops, large chains, cute cafes, and local favorites to take in.
Around Saint Mary’s Basilica – at the other end of Fashion street, in the blocks around Saint Mary’s Basilica, there are lots of fun and funky shops and plenty of tourist shops as well. I did find them to be slightly more expensive than those off the pedestrian mall, but they catered to more of the well-heeled tourist business over some of the local shops.
If you’re looking for collectibles to bring home from Hungary, go through a couple stores first to get a sense of the best prices, as they can very wildly from store to store. Some of my must-buys in Budapest include knitted gloves, embroidered shirts with Authentic Hungarian floral detailing, traditional dresses and crowns, paprika, goulash sets (paprika, spoons, and a traditional goulash recipe), and Unicum liqueur.