Budapest is the historic capital of Hungary, divided in two by the Danube River: Buda on the west side and Pest on the east. Attracting roughly twelve million international visitors each year, Budapest is undoubtedly a popular European destination. This is a guide to some of Budapest’s top attractions, hidden gems and culinary must-haves for your trip.
1. Thermal Baths
Known as the thermal bath capital of the world, and with over a dozen thermal baths in the city, this has quickly become a popular attraction for visitors. Roman settlers discovered that the waters were rich in minerals used for relaxation and medicinal purposes. Szechenyi Bath is the biggest and most popular thermal bath location in Budapest with 18 pools, massage treatments, saunas, and refreshments; the perfect place to relax and unwind. Booking options can be found here.
2. St Stephen’s Basilica
Named in honour of the first King of Hungary, this Roman Catholic Basilica is an elegant and beautiful building at the heart of Budapest. As the third-largest church building in present-day Hungary, its beauty is certainly one to be admired. Entrance to the basilica is free with donation boxes. For a fee of 500 HUF (approx. £1.19), you can climb the 364 stairs (elevators are available too) to the panorama terrace for views of the city below. The views are definitely worth it!
3. Fisherman’s Bastion
Constructed in the 19th Century, Fisherman’s Bastion was built with a viewing terrace, offering panoramic views of Budapest and the Danube below. With its white stone, turrets and arches, Fisherman’s Bastion resembles something from a fairytale. Entrance tickets into Fisherman’s Bastion vary depending on which part you wish to visit. Many of its balconies and towers have free entry, while the upper turrets have a small entrance fee. The typical entrance fee for an adult is HUF 1000 (approx. £2.38).
4. Margaret Island
Situated in the Danube, between Buda and Pest, lies Margaret Island, offering a green space away from the city. The small island, only 2.5km long and 500 metres wide, hosts various attractions, including swimming pools, thermal spas, a zoo, bars, restaurants and green parkland. Accessible on foot via a bridge, this island is the perfect alternative to city life, with views of Budapest from all angles.
5. Hungarian Parliament Building
This stunning building is unmissable, partly because it is the largest building in Hungary and partly because of its elegant neo-Gothic architecture. Built in 1902, with a height of 96m, the parliament building became a notable landmark. An interesting fact is that the parliament building was built to reach 96m to reflect the nation’s millennium in 1896. Now, no building is allowed to be taller than the 96m limit. You can learn more interesting facts and marvel at its beauty on a guided tour. Find more information on prices and tour options here.
1. Sziklakórház Atombunker Muzeum (Hospital in the Rock)
This gem is hidden in the rock under the Buda Castle. The Hospital in the Rock museum offers guided tours of the hospital nuclear bunker built in caverns. The museum takes you back in time and highlights the safety measures taken to prepare for World War Two. Prices vary depending on which tour or program you choose; however, a typical adult ticket is 5080 HUF (approx. £12.13). More information can be found here.
2. House of Terror Museum
This museum is for those of you who are interested in the history of Budapest. The House of Terror displays artefacts relating to the fascist and communist regimes in 20th Century Hungary and act as a memorial for victims of interrogation, torture and murder. It is a harrowing but interesting experience. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday; full-price tickets cost 3000 HUF (approx. £7.17). More ticket information can be found here.
3. Shoes on Danube Bank
This monument is a memorial for Jews killed in World War Two. This memorial may be small and simple in appearance but its impact and meaning make up for its size. If you’re interested in history or want to commemorate those killed in the war, this memorial on the east bank of the Danube is worth a visit.
4. Cave Church
Built into the rocks and caves of Gellért Hill, this is another hidden gem. This temple and its monastery are simplistic in decoration, unlike many religious places, to reflect its purpose as a place of worship. The cave is open Monday to Saturday; tickets cost 600 HUF (approx. £1.43) for an adult.
Travelling Around Budapest
Public transport in Budapest is easy and efficient. Budapest has a complex system of tram routes, buses, metro and boats giving you various options for your trip.
The city has more than 30 tram routes travelling across Budapest. Similar to the buses, passengers are required to purchase a ticket before travelling and validate them at each station. More information about the trams can be found here.
Ticket machines are located in every metro station and offer several ticket types to best suit your journey. Four metro lines travel across the city, making it one of the most efficient ways to get around Budapest. Find timetables and ticket options here.
Alternatively, travelling by foot is a cheaper option and still doable if you have enough time.
Food & Drink
The Hungarian national dish is a must-have when visiting Budapest. The stew consists of meat, vegetables and paprika. This hearty stew is perfect on a cold day but still a must-have in the summer months too.
2. Chicken Paprikash
Another popular dish in Hungary is chicken paprikash or paprika chicken. Hungarians love their paprika! Served with a creamy sauce and dumpling-style noodles, chicken paprikash is a close second to the goulash.
3. Kürtőskalács (Chimney Cakes)
Chimney cakes are a popular sweet dish in Hungary. They are made from sweet yeast dough that is wrapped into a cone shape and roasted over charcoal. The chimney cakes are then covered in sugar or cinnamon and often served with ice cream. I would describe them as being similar to churros or doughnuts – delicious!
4. Ruins bars
Since the first ruin bar, Szimpla Kert, in 2002 ruin bars have been popular among Hungarians and international visitors. Every ruin bar is different and unique with its own personality, but they all have a similar trait of being built in an abandoned area often with a flea market. If you want to have a cheap drink in a bathtub or a converted car, a ruin bar is one for you.
This popular capital city is the perfect European get away filled with history, culture and beauty. I have visited Budapest in the summer and at Christmas, both offering a different atmosphere but equally stunning. I highly recommend this city to anyone.
All prices correct at the time of writing but may be subject to change.
Words and photographs by Megan O’Neill
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