I love Budapest, the city is just an absolute wonder so I’m never surprised when it makes a “best of” travel list. Known more for its beauty, there are a lot of fun things to do in Budapest; enjoy the architecture, chow down on the local cuisine, or simply explore the streets. You’ll quickly realize that Budapest is city rich in history that offers tourists plenty of things to see and do regardless of how much time they have.
If your time is limited in Budapest then heading up to Castle Hill is a must since that’s where the major tourist attractions are. The funicular may look appealing, but it’s a bit over priced so I advise just walking up which should take you no longer than 10 minutes. Once you reach the top you’ll be in front of Buda Castle (Royal Palace) where Hungarian royalty once ruled. There’s no charge to walk around the castle so be sure to check out the Matthias Fountain often called the “Trevi Fountain of Budapest.” Just around the corner you’ll find the Lions’ courtyard where four giant stone lions great visitors.
Within the courtyard is the entrance to the Budapest History Museum which is one of the attractions that now calls the Royal Palace home. Technically speaking the museum has three different locations, but the castle museum is the most popular due to it’s history and location. The museum is dedicated to the history of Budapest so you’ll find archaeological items and art on display that date back more than 40,000 years.
If you head north upon exiting the museum, it won’t take long before you come across Fisherman’s Bastion where you can get a sweeping view of the Danube and the Pest side . Don’t get thrown off by the admission price, this neo-gothic masterpiece is completely free; the paid section is just more “private.” I do recommend paying for the neigbhouring Matthias Church which was built and rebuilt over various time periods so it’s a mix of styles including neo-gothic, French, and Baroque.
East of the Danube
Castle Hill isn’t the only place to check out, there are plenty of fun things to do in Budapest on the Pest side.
Ruin Bars – Take an abandoned building, renovate it, add furniture, art, and a bar and you essentially have a ruin pub. Szimpla Kert is arguably the most popular ruin pub (at least with tourists) with every room decorated by different artists. Mazel Tov is clearly going for the modern ruin pub look, while Grandio is best described as an urban jungle.
House of Terror – The name is a bit deceiving since the house of terror has nothing to do with scares. Once the headquarters of communist Hungary’s secret police, it now serves as a museum to remind locals of what Hungary used to be. It really wasn’t that long ago that Hungary was a communist country, a fact that elderly Hungarians will never forget.
Escape games – Escape games have now become famous worldwide, but it’s believed they originated in Budapest. Volunteering to be locked into a room while solving a series of puzzles and tasks can be surprisingly addictive. Claustrophilia, Para Park, and Pirate Cave are some of the more well known escape games.
Budapest sits on more than 100 thermal springs so tourists and locals alike have been “taking the waters” for hundreds of years. The idea of getting into a public bath may intimidate some travellers, but understand that you’re immersing yourself in Hungarian culture when you decide to take the plunge. Which bath you choose is a personal preference, but the three most popular are as follows.
Szechenyi Baths – If you’ve ever searched for images of Budapest baths, then the odds are that Szechenyi Baths is the first image you came across. Often referred to as the wedding cake, this neo-baroque thermal bath is located in the City Park and has three outdoor pools. Older Hungarians are known to play chess here in the water during the day, while the younger kids look forward to the pool parties.
Gellert Baths -Although all thermal baths are usually packed with visitors, you’ll find a more peaceful experience at Gellert Baths. This Art Nouveau building is famous for its stunning interior pools, stained glass, and tile work. If you don’t have time for a swim, stopping by the Hotel Gellért lobby – where the baths is located – is still worth a quick visit to admire its beauty.
Lukacs Baths – Many visitors from around the world come to Budapest just for the Lukacs Baths since it’s believed the waters will cure any aliment. Similar to Szechenyi Baths, Lukacs Baths also plays host to bath parties.
Ask the locals where the best café in Budapest are and you may be met with silence. They’re not being rude, but with so many great cafés in the city, pointing you to just one is doing you a disservice. Here are my 3 favourite cafés in the city.
Book Café – Make no mistake, Book Café, also known as Alexandra Café is a tourist attraction in it’s own right. The luxurious interiors would not be out of place in Buda Castle. Enjoy the soothing piano music as you enjoy your cake or look up and admire the stunning frescoes and chandeliers.
Ruszwurm – Open since 1827, Ruszwurm is still family-owned and always busy since it’s located at Castle Hill. The 1800’s decor may throw some people off, but it’s perfect for Ruszwurm which survived sieges in 1849 and 1944. The cake and pastry recipes are still a tightly guarded secret.
Cake Shop – It may not have centuries of history, but Cake Shop more than makes up for it with their delicious selection of pastries. Located near Deák Ferenc square and Chain Bridge, it’s the perfect place to pick up a treat to start your day, or to save for the afternoon.
Fun things to do in Budapest can be found regardless of which side of the Daube. Once you arrive you’ll ask yourself what took you so long and you definitely won’t leave disappointed.