Budapest is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country of Hungary. If you’re planning to make a visit to the city and this is your first time, you’re in for a memorable experience. There are traditional tourist destinations that truly are must-see attractions, but there are also a few other hidden treasures in the city that most people who are new to the city are not aware of. We’ve put together a list of the 20 best things to do in Budapest for first-timers, so you won’t miss out on the best that it has to offer.
20. Take a cruise and dinner excursion on the Danube
One of the most spectacular recreational activities available for tourists is the dinner cruise in Budapest on the Danube River. There are several different tour agencies that offer these wonderful cruises. Most packages provide guests with a tour of some of the most popular tourist attractions in Budapest, along with authentic Hungarian fare featuring buffet-style dinners with top-rated Hungarian wines. Some include live music as you cruise from one locale to another, making this one of the most memorable evenings of your trip. If you don’t speak Hungarian, many of the tours are staffed with English speaking hosts/hostesses.
19. Tour the Parliament Buildings
No trip to Budapest is complete without a tour of the Hungarian Parliament buildings. These magnificent structures were dedicated in 1886 and there are just under 700 rooms in the complex. This popular attraction is located along with banks of the Danube River and it provides an amazing backdrop for memorable photos.
18. Visit the Chain Bridge
We highly recommend that you take a walk along the famous Chain Bridge when visiting Budapest. This is one of the most iconic features of the city because it spans the Danube River and connects both sides of this spectacular city. The bridge was put into operation in 1849. The stone lions guarding the bridge make wonderful photos and you can opt for a tour, drive over the bridge or walk along the established pedestrian path to take in the bridge from every angle.
17. Take your picture at Matthias Church
Matthias Church is another popular attraction. This historical site is the locale of an ancient church that was built in the year 1014, making it a historic landmark. The original church was built by Hungary’s King Stephen, but it was ruined in 1241 by Mongol invaders. The current church was built on the site in the later 14th century with gothic architecture. It has been fully restored to its original glory.
16. Tour Buda Castle
Buda Castle is an ancient structure that was founded in the year 1259. The original part of the structure was erected to house the kings of Hungary as a royal residence. Additions were made in the 18th century and the castle has been dedicated as the Budapest History Museum as well as the Hungarian National Gallery. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site that should be on every first-time visitor’s itinerary. You may want to plan on spending the day at this massive castle because there is so much to see that it may well take an entire day.
15. Visit Margaret Island
Whether you opt for a dinner cruise to Margaret Island or opt for one of the other many available tour packages, this is a must-see for every first-time visitor. Margaret Island is located in the center of the Danube River and provides 1.6 miles of recreational activities. There are many thermal springs that provide the medicinal baths for which the island is so famous. Special events including dances, concerts, and more are held on this magical island, plus the scenery is breathtaking.
14. See the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden
The Budapest Zoo is the oldest of its kind in Hungary. The zoo has been in operation in Varosliget Park since the year 1866. It provides visitors with up-close views of over 1,000 different animals. There are several structures within the zoo that have been renovated. There is also a lovely botanical garden to visit while you’re there.
13. Tour Gellert Hill
Whether you decide to take a walking self-guided tour or go with a professional, everyone needs to tour Gellert Hill when visiting the city of Budapest. This is one of the most breathtaking areas in the city, with fabulous views of the Danube River and the city in all its glory. You’ll see a cave in the hill that is interesting as well as the citadel that is situated at the top of Gellert Hill. Gellert Hill is home to ambassador residences and palatial embassies and it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
12. Relax at the Gellert Bath and Spa Centre
The Gellert Bath and Spa Centre is the ideal place to take a soap in open-air pools that also function as wave pools. You will have your choice of a variety of plunge pools, Finnish saunas, and other types. The Centre also offers a variety of spa treatments and massages if you take the notion. This is a complex o assorted spas that were established in 1912 and added onto through 1918. Although damaged by World War II, renovations have fully restored the spas.
11. Go to Fisherman’s Bastion
Another important place to visit is Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest. This is a neo-Gothic/Romanesque terrace that was founded in 1902. You’ll get the best views of Budapest from this attraction that sits on top of Castle Hill. You’ll marvel at the seven towers built to represent each of the Magyar tribes. There are lots of walking paths and stairs to climb so wear your walking shoes when you make your visit.
10. Have a coffee at Cafe Gerbeaud
Cafe Gerbeaud is one of the first coffee houses that you should visit when you’re visiting the city of Budapest. It is one of the oldest in town as well as a favorite of locals and tourists. The coffeehouse offers some of the most amazing pastries, confections, and coffees in the world. It offers a relaxing old-world environment to kick back and ponder the joys of the city and relax after a day of sight-seeing.
9. Tour Hosok tere (Heroe’s Square)
Heroe’s Square is another great attraction in the city of Budapest. This is a monument that features images of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars. These were the leaders who brought the Hungarians of old from the central part of Asia to establish their new dwelling place. There is so much to see at this attraction including several historical figures from Hungarian culture. The buildings have been converted to art galleries and the sculpture of the Archangel Gabriel with the Hungarian crown is a breathtaking sight that you can capture in a photo to take back home and share with others.
8. Visit the House of Terror
The House of Terror is another popular attraction in Budapest that features a building that serves as an infamous reminder of some of the more horrific events that unfolded in Hungary’s past. This was formerly the Fascist Arrow Cross party’s headquarters. Many tortures and imprisonments took place in this structure by the State Security Services of Hungary. You can tour certain portions of the basement prison area along with an exhibition that provides testimonials that have been left by several of the victims of the House of Terror. There is a variety of different exhibitions and educational pieces at the House of Terror and it gives visitors a perspective on the history of Hungary.
7. Tour St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica is an iconic religious structure in Hungary. This is considered to be a holy landmark. Out of respect, it is expected that each visitor who enters the church will cover their shoulders and knees. It is dedicated to the first King of Hungary, King Stephen. Visitors are allowed to walk up to the base portion of the dome to take in the amazing views of the city of Budapest.
6. Hungarian State Opera House
The Hungarian State Opera House was established in 1884. This historic landmark features a Neo-Renaissance structure that was commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph. This is another tourist attraction that all first-time visitors simply have to see. There are statues of important historical figures including the Hungarian composer Ferenc Liszt and Ferenc Erkel, the composer who created the Hungarian National Anthem. The auditorium is large enough to seat 1200 guests and it is one of the most highly lauded venues for catching world-class operatic performances. You’ll need to purchase a ticket in advance if you want to catch a show, but it’s worth it to book in advance of your trip. There are also guided tours offered throughout the day, but these also must be reserved in advance of the date that you plan to attend.
5. Take in the Invisible Exhibition
The Invisible Exhibition is intended to provide all guests of the experience that people who are totally blind encounter. This exhibition features a guided tour that takes guests through a variety of different environments that are housed in rooms that are totally darkened. There are no lights available so electronics and wristwatches that have lights must be turned off or left outside of the tour to maximize its authenticity. After navigating through the tour, guests are served dinner by waiters who are unsighted and the meal is also served in the dark, but you will be guided throughout the meal by the waiters. It is a novel and unique experience.
4. Tour the Faust Wine Cellar
The Faust Wine Cellar is an interesting place for wine enthusiasts to visit. The cellar is situated in the lower parts of Buda Castle in a historic wine cellar that offers samples of Hungary’s 22 wine regions for guests. This is the ultimate wine tasting tour and although it does cost to participate, you can choose the price by the type of program that you select, and there are several different ones to choose from. This tour also requires advance reservations.
3. Visit Dohany Street Synagogue
The country of Hungary is home to a large population of Jewish residents. The Dohany Street Synagogue is one of the largest synagogues in the globe, coming in under those existing in Israel only. Here you will find a memorial metal sculpture of a weeping willow tree in the garden that pays homage to those who lost their lives in the horrific era of World War II. This is a historic and educational memorial site.
2. Walk the Szimpla Kert
If you’re a fan of labyrinths then the Szimpla Kert is an attraction that you won’t want to miss. It is a large building in a dilapidated state that features a labyrinth of rooms and an open courtyard. The rooms are filled with communist memorabilia, eclectic furniture, and some amazing artwork. Szimpla Kert is a ruin that has been restored to give tourists and locals an amazing bar and nightlife experience.
1. Shop at the Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall is a tourist dream come true. This is the ideal place to visit to find a variety of Hungarian souvenirs from local artisans. There are also tons of snacks and delicacies to choose from. The Great Market Hall is a neo-Gothic tunnel that has been fully restored and there are tons of handicrafts and a lot of local produce to choose from. They even offer seafood, local pickles, and meats for sale.