Budapest is a historic city with a very modern side. From the Hungarian Parliament building that graces every postcard to its trendy Ruin Bars, it’s easy to get swept up in its urbane atmosphere.
Take a stroll before sunset to see the winding streets of Castle Hill without all the crowds. Then enjoy a gelato at a shop only known to locals that sells high-end chocolate and gourmet food products.
1. Visit the Hungarian Parliament Building
Visiting this mammoth neo-Gothic parliament building is an unforgettable experience. Take a guided tour to see its splendor and learn about its inner workings. With its 691 interior rooms, 10 courtyards, and 88 statues of Hungarian rulers on its facade, this palace-like structure is truly remarkable.
You can also admire the intricate wrought iron balconies and decorative windows, or the great ornamental stairs designed by Miksa Roth. The rotunda of the main building houses the crown jewels of Hungary, which can be seen by descending a grand staircase. The architect Steindl used symbolism when designing the building, including the fact that its dome is 96 meters high—a reference to the year 896 when Hungary was settled.
Another must-see is Andrassy Avenue, Budapest’s version of the Champs-Elysees or Ringstrasse. It’s lined with fancy retail stores and handsome villas, which are now embassies. This broad boulevard leads to Heroes’ Square and the City Park.
2. Stroll the Danube Promenade
One of the most popular things to do in Budapest is take a stroll along the Danube Promenade. This scenic path offers beautiful views of the river and is home to a handful of restaurants, bars, and cafes. In addition, it also houses the Shoes on the Danube memorial, a poignant tribute to the Jewish victims of the Arrow Cross Party—a fascist group that operated during World War II.
On a clear day, you can even spot the city’s famous Chain Bridge and the glistening Parliament Building from here. If you’re visiting during the summertime, make sure to catch a concert at the Sziget Festival, which takes over the 108-hectare island for a week each year and draws massive headline acts to Budapest.
You can also explore the city’s unique Ruin Bars—an offbeat trend that grew in popularity in the 2000s, when locals turned abandoned buildings into funky hangout spots. Many of these trendy bars are located in the historic Jewish Quarter, which is now teeming with life thanks to a revitalized culture of restaurants, cafes, and art galleries.
3. Visit the Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall is a unique sight to visit in Budapest. This indoor marketplace is one of the few that caters to both locals and tourists alike without losing its authentic appeal. Under one roof you’ll find everything from meats and sausages to Royal Tokaji wine, paprika (the most famous ingredient in Hungarian cuisine), and other essentials. The upper floors feature small eateries where you can sample a selection of hot Hungarian favorites for surprisingly cheap prices.
From here, you can continue your walk north and visit the poignant Shoes Memorial on the Danube bank and Liberty Square. From here you’ll soon be walking beneath the spires of the Parliament Building and heading toward Margaret Bridge and the southern end of Margaret Island.
Lastly, make sure to stop at the Bartok Bela Boulevard. This lively area is teeming with bars, restaurants, and art galleries. The crowd here is a mix of fashionable millennials, engineering students from the nearby Corvinus University, and old-timers. You can also take a stroll through the city’s top contemporary art galleries.
4. Relax on Margaret Island
Located in the middle of the Danube, Margaret Island feels like an oasis away from Budapest. It’s easily reachable by tram, bus or even a simple walk over from either Buda or Pest. Several square miles of urban parklands await visitors here, making for the perfect place to relax and unwind during your stay in Hungary.
One of the most popular features of this green haven is Margitsziget’s musical fountain. Spouting water jets up to ten meters high, this family-friendly feature plays tunes from morning until past nightfall. From a timeless ditty celebrating cartoon fox Vuk to an evergreen rock tune by Steppenwolf, there’s something for every generation to enjoy here.
Other attractions include the ruins of 13th-century Dominican cloisters and an oriental rose garden. A small wildlife park and two luxury thermal hotels are also located on the island. And if you’re looking for some serious relaxation, the island offers a large outdoor summer thermal spa, with baths filled with low-sulphur, hydrogen carbonate medicinal water. It’s the perfect way to forget you are in a bustling European capital!
5. Take a Cruise on the Danube
Taking the Danube Cruise is one of the best things to do in Budapest. Not only is the boat ride itself a relaxing experience, but the river views are spectacular. Plus, if you take the evening tour you’ll see Budapest lit up like never before.
Explore the Ruin Bars: These unique bars first popped up in District VII, once the Jewish Quarter of Budapest. They feature abandoned buildings with cheap drinks and a hodgepodge of flea market furniture. The first to become a hit was Szimpla Kert, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other popular ruin bars include Szabo’s Pub and Red Ruin.
Shop the Lehel Market: This quirky postmodern marketplace has some of Budapest’s liveliest street food vendors and is a great place to sample Hungarian cold cuts. It’s also home to low-priced drinking joints where you can accompany local regulars for a beer and shot of Unicum, the local herbal liqueur. Afterwards, stroll the nearby Andrassy Street and admire the city’s elegant 19th-century buildings. Then finish your day at the City Park’s Szechenyi Bath, where you’ll find three enormous outdoor pools and 15 indoor pools surrounded by a brightly colored Baroque palace.