Budapest straddles across the blue Danube River as the districts of Buda (West bank) and Pest (East bank) joined in 1873. It is rich in history and architecture with influences from the Romans to the Ottomans, from Gothic to Art Nouveau.
It has to be one of my favourite European cities and I’ve now visited twice. My first visit was in Summer of 2014 as the final destination on an inter-railing trip with University friends (as you can imagine this has some interesting stories for another day…) whilst the second was (my first ever) solo trip in Winter 2019. Although these have been two very (very) different ways to experience this city, both times have been awesome and there is no doubt that Budapest is packed full of beautiful buildings, incredible views, amazing food with so much to do! I’m eager to return for a third time!
If it’s not on your list to visit Budapest then why not!? Maybe the 21 reasons below will convince you that you have to visit Budapest.
P.s. I’ve split these into four areas: Around Buda Castle, The Jewish Quarter, North East (of the Jewish Quarter) and South (of Elizabeth Bridge). Hopefully this will help your navigation!
Around Buda Castle:
1. Buda Castle
Buda Castle dominates the skyline on the Buda side of the river Danube, sitting atop Castle Hill. The building is beautiful and the green dome easy to spot for miles around! The castle houses a museum and gallery which you can visit (although I am yet to do either!) and the views from the front of the castle sweep across the river. Look out for the unusual fountain known as the Matthias Fountain to the rear of the castle.
Did you know that Buda Castle featured in Katy Perry’s iconic song of 2010 Firework?
2. Buda Hill Funicular
The cheapest way to get to Buda Castle is to walk up from the bottom of the Chain Bridge (it’s about a twenty minute steep walk). But it’s not quite as fun as taking the Buda Hill Funicular! The funicular has been in use since 1870 and it feels a little like stepping back in time as you get into the vintage style wooden compartments to trundle up to the castle. It’s a pretty short ride so you can opt for a single ride (around £3.50) if you would rather walk back down instead.
3. Fisherman’s Bastion
I think Fisherman’s Bastion is my favourite spot in Budapest (I’ve visited Budapest twice but Fisherman’s Bastion three times!). It was built to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian state hence why it looks so beautiful and decorative rather than defensive as you may have expected given its name! It’s a great place to view the Pest bank of the river and particularly so at sunrise.
The early start is 100 percent worth it (sunrise was at 7.30am for me), I got to have the place almost completely deserted with the warmth of the morning rays rising slowly over the horizon. Fast forward a few hours to later in the morning and I was waiting and jostling quite a lot more to get the perfect shot!
4. St Matthias Church
Sitting next to Fisherman’s Bastion, St Matthias Church is another breathtaking spot on the Buda side of the Danube. Although the church is built in the Gothic style, the roof tiling is something a little more unusual but for me, this is what makes it so gorgeous and unique!
Top Tip: For even more incredible city views, buy a ticket (around £5) to climb up the tower of the church. On my Winter visit, it was magical to see the snow dusted roof tops all around!
The Jewish Quarter:
5. Ruins Bars
Budapest has no ordinary night life. Its infamous ruin bars originated in the Jewish Quarter, taking over buildings and spaces that were crumbling and abandoned. Szimpla Kert is the original and most famous of the Ruin Bars. It’s a surreal place to enter and on my first visit to Budapest we made a couple of evening visits here. Look out for Mr Bean watching down over you (yes, really).
6. Brunch at Mazel Tov
Ok so maybe you like your ruin bars a little, uhm, classier! If that’s the case then head to the Middle Eastern inspired Mazel Tov, a bright and airy ruins bar restaurant. I was recommended to eat here by my flatmate and booked a table for brunch. Oh boy. The food did not disappoint! The stack of french toast with yogurt and berries was absolutely delicious and the space is so pretty and relaxed.
7. Street Art
As you wander through the Jewish Quarter, it may feel like visiting a free open air exhibition as splashes of colourful artwork cover the walls. It brings a whole lot of vibrancy (and hipster) feeling to this neighbourhood!
8. Dobrumba for dinner
Budapest not only has a great night life scene but also a great food scene with plenty of options to choose from. The Jewish Quarter is a warren of ruin bars and restaurants, so you’ll be spoilt for choice but my favourite is Dobrumba. The menu is a tasty fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.
9. The Chain Bridge
Also known as Széchenyi Bridge, the Chain Bridge is the most famous of the bridges that span the River Danube to join Buda and Pest together. Not only do you have to see it but you should also walk over it during your stay in Budapest as it offers gorgeous panoramas over the Danube.
Top Tip: The Chain Bridge is especially beautiful at night when it is lit up with hundreds of bulbs across its length. Take a brisk walk up Castle Hill and look down on the twinkling lights from beneath Buda Castle!
10. St Stephen’s Basilica
Approach St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest’s largest church, from Zrinyi Utca and as you draw closer, its huge size (and splendour) becomes increasingly apparent!
For ~ £1.50, you can climb up to the cupola for spectacular panoramic views across Budapest. What a bargain! The second time I climbed up the wind was seriously fierce so I wasn’t up for long since I felt like I could have blown away up there!
11. Ride yellow tram number 2
The brightly coloured yellow trams are a great (and fun!) way to get around Budapest. If you’re short on time, or you’ve got weary feet then hop on tram number 2 for a riverside tour along the Danube. You can ride all the way from the Parliament building down to the Liberty Bridge, taking in sights along the journey including the Chain Bridge and Buda Castle.
12. Shoes on the Danube Bank
As you walk along the river bank from the Chain Bridge to the Hungarian Parliament you will come across the Shoes on the Danube Bank. This haunting sculpture is a memorial to the Jews killed in Budapest during World War II. It is hard to put into words how moving this memorial is so instead I urge you to visit it for yourself.
13. Hungarian Parliament
The award for the most beautiful parliament in the world must surely go to the Hungarian Parliament, located on the banks of the Danube. Unsurprisingly, it’s based on the UK parliament building (I’m sure you can tell!) and it was completed in 1906. I’ve yet to take a tour of the parliament but I’m told it’s very interesting!
Top Tip: for a classic view of the Parliament building with the Danube in the foreground, head over the river to Batthyany Square
14. Margaret Island
Margaret Island is a calm oasis of green amongst the busy city and popular place with joggers! To get to Margaret Island you need to cross to the middle of Margaret Bridge where a perpendicular bridge will take you on to it.
It was great to relax and enjoy the sun here in Summer but in the Winter it was better for a brisk walk and I didn’t venture too far in because my feet were getting pretty tired. Make sure you don’t miss the Musical Fountain at the South of the island!
15. Thermal Baths
A visit to Budapest isn’t complete without a visit to one of its infamous thermal baths. (Although having said on my second visit an ear infection stopped me going. Sad times.) Budapest is known as the ‘City of Baths’ due to its location on a fault line resulting in the city being fed by over 100 hot springs. This has led to many thermal baths all over the city.
The most famous and most iconic is undoubtedly the brightly painted yellow Széchenyi Thermal Baths situated in Budapest’s City Park. It was a great day out the first time I was in Budapest, dipping from one pool to the next! I do remember food being limited and expensive so bring a packed lunch if you plan to make a day of it.
I would have also liked to visit Gellert Thermal Baths which is situated in the Gellert Hotel which has striking art nouveau architecture. Next time! Find it across Liberty Bridge (see section South) on the Buda side of the Danube.
Budapest’s far lesser known castle, Vajdahunyad Castle is situated in City Park, close by to the Szhcenyi Thermal Baths. It is an incredibly unusual building because it was build to showcase architectural styles through Hungary’s history. The castle is surrounded by a lake which you can boat on during the Summer and skate on in Winter!
17. Heroes’ Square
Directly to the West of Vajdahunyad Castle, lies Heroes’ Square. This massive space is home to a very large statue complex called the Millennium Memorial and was set out to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Hungary. I wish I’d visited earlier in the day for a photo free of all the other tourists!!
18. Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library
The Metropolitan Szabó Ervin Library is an usual gem to discover in Budapest. It is housed in the Wenckheim Palace and a number of the reading rooms remain in the palace’s original fittings. It’s not just lucky members that can study and look around here as there is a tourist day fee that you can pay to have a nosy around or spent some time reading in beautiful surroundings!
19. Central Market Hall
The Central Market Hall is both the oldest and the largest indoor market in Budapest. It’s full of stalls selling everything from souvenirs to fruit and vegetables to piping hot goulash. It’s great if you want to grab some food for a picnic or if you fancy eating street food right there and then!
20. Liberty Bridge
Two bridges down from the Chain Bridge is the Liberty Bridge. It may be the shortest bridge to span the Danube and join Buda and Pest but it may also be my favourite because of its jaunty green colour!
Top Tip: Try and capture a photo as a yellow tram passes over the bridge – you’ll need to time it right and it could take a while but it’s worth it for the gorgeous colour contrast!
21. Gellert Hill
Visiting Gellert Hill had not been on my radar during my first trip to Budapest but on the recommendation of a friend at work, I made a stop here on my second stay in the city. Gellert Hill is topped by the Liberty Statue which, in all, is 40m high!
On the Buda (West) side of the Liberty Bridge, you will find yourself at the bottom of Gellert Hill. The 25-30 minute walk up to the top is steep but you will be rewarded with beautiful views over Budapest as you perch high above it. Watch out if you’re walking up in Winter as the steep paths were pretty slippy and icy!
Just a few minutes from the bottom, look out for the unusual Cave Church which houses a small chapel. It reopened in 1991, forty years after being sealed up by a large concrete wall during 1951.
So, what are you waiting for?! It’s time to hop on a plane to Budapest!!
Make it happen: On my second visit to Budapest I stayed in D8 hotel. It was perfectly located just a stone’s throw away from the Chain Bridge which made exploring super easy! Breakfast was delicious and they also stored my luggage on my last day. Although they provide complimentary tea and coffee until noon, there was no in room facilities to make it yourself which was a shame.