Ive recently had a few people ask me if I had any suggestions about what to see and do in Budapest, and seeing as I just spent 10 days in Paris of the East (seriously does every eastern European city claim that of itself?) I thought this would be a good chance to post a small list of things to See (and avoid) in Budapest. If you are off on one of the many cheap city breaks to Budapest, I hope some of these suggestions might provide you with a bit of inspiration for your trip.
Now just a quick bit of clarification: When I say “avoid” or “miss” – I say this from the perspective of someone who has been to Budapest countless times and considers it to be a home (especially since my other half is from Budapest). Almost every “must see Budapest” article will include virtually the same list of items – so my aim here was to give a few alternative suggestion. If this is your first time visiting the City and you have the time, go see everything mentioned here – Budapest is a truly wonderful city and is begging to be explored.
The Classics: The Parliament vs The Citadella
Don’t: Országház – The Hungarian Parliament
Why give this one a miss?: The buildings true beauty is its exterior. The crowds of tourists that line up for the tours inside are immense, and getting tickets for the overpriced tours are a total pain (visiting other Parliaments like the Reichstag in Berlin are free). Unless you are really dying to see where right wing politicians battle it out against staunch communists – give this one a miss
Quick Historical Info: Budapest used to be 3 separate cities, Buda, Obuda and Pest, but in 1873 they were unified into one – and this is where the name Budapest stems from. Oddly enough there was no mention of the name Budapest before the unification, but instead locals used the name Pest-Buda. Doesn’t really roll off the tongue though does it.
Why you should see it: The Hungarian Parliament is the largest building in Hungary, and twined with the Basilica as the tallest building in Budapest. While the exterior is the main attraction, having the chance to see any parliament from the inside is always worth a chance. The building is quite stunning inside, and you get to see the Holy Crown of Hungary and the crown jewels which use to be exhibited in the Hungarian National Museum.
Budapest Parliament Tours normally last between 40 and 50 minutes (which includes the obligatory security check). Pricing for the Budapest Parliament Tours varies – EU citizens pay HUF 3,200 (roughly €10) while non EU citizens pay HUF 6,400 (roughly €20). Tickets for the parliament tours are best purchased in advance from the official site.
How to get there: The Hungarian Parliament is located at the Kossuth Lajos tér. The M2 Metro stop (with the same name) is right in front of the building, and both the Tram and several Buses stop there.
Do: The Citadella
Why visit the Citadella? The Citadella on Gellert Hill in Budapest hosts one of the best views over Budapest. If you hadn’t noticed already, there aren’t that many tall buildings in Budapest, and the city itself is rather flat. Trecking up this hill is totally worth it, especially in the evening when the entire city including the Budapest Parliament Building, the Buda Castle and all of the 8 Bridges spanning the Danube are lit up.
Quick Historical Info: While walking through Budapest you might notice a huge statue on top of the Gellért Hill. What you can see from miles away is the Freedom Statue at the top of the Citadella. The Citadella was built in 1851 under Habsburg rule after the Hungarian Uprising in 1848. After a long political conflict and the creation of Austro-Hungary, the Hungarians demanded that the citadella, a sign of Austrian oppression, be demolished. The Austrians had none of it and decided to hang around a while longer. In 1897 the troops of the citadel decided to call it a day and left. For the next 2 years the city ignored the fort, until the year 1899, when the Hungarians decided it was about as good a time as any and tore down the citadellas walls.
After the soviets “liberated” the city from the Germans during WWII, Marshal Klimient Woroszylow spotted an unfinished monument created by the Hungarian sculptur Zsigmond Kisfaludi Stróbl. Orignially created as a monument for István Horthy – the son of Miklós Horthy (the head of the Hungarian state) after he had gone missing on the eastern front in 1943. Marshal Woroszylow, being a true soviet realized that this statue would serve a much better purpose if it was reformed and dedicated to the Russians Liberating the city. So now there stands a 14 meter tall woman holding a symbolic palm leaf in her hands. On both her sides you find two figures which symbolize “progress” and the fight against evil aka the Nazis. The obligatory statue of a Red Army Soldier was removed after the soviet system collapsed. It now stands in the Statue Park – amongst all the other unwelcome artistic relics from big brother Russia.
How to get there: There are a few options of how to get to the Citadella on top of Gellert Hill. You can walk up Gellert Hill, which takes about 15 minutes from Szent Gellert Ter (Saint Gellert Square). If you walk up to the Citadella from Erzsébet híd (Elisabeth Bridge) it will take you a good 20 minutes There is no public transport up Gellert Hill, so you if you don’t feel like walking, you can either take a Taxi or one of those Hop on Hop Off Buses.
Churches and more churches
Don’t: St. Stephens Basilica
Why give this one a miss? Ok, im not going to lie – its not easy to come up with a good reason to miss this majestic church (especially since I got married in there, and both my children were baptised in there). BUT – as fantastic and grand as this Basilika is, its equally overcrowded. Despite its size, visiting the Szent István-bazilika – St. Stephens Basilica always has a claustrophobic side effect. So many tourists visit this church that it makes it hard to appreciate where you actually are. All you can hear are the thousands of people shouting over each other and rude tourists ignoring the signs for no flash photography. Most visits to the Basilika turn into a quick in and out visit, as you are pushed along with the tourist masses. If you want a more calm experience of Hungarys Christian history, there are other churches which can give you that.
Quick Historical Info: Named after St. Stephen – the first Christian Hungarian King (whose mummified right hand is on display in the back of the church) the construction of the basilica started in 1848. It probably wasn’t the best time to undergo such a monumental project, especially since the Hungarians were busy trying to wrestle their Independence from the Austrians so the work was stopped. Construction was picked up again in 1851 – but in 1868 the dome collapsed due to poor foundation works. The Cathedral was eventually completed and inaugurated on the 9th of November 1905 (5 years later than its counterpart in Berlin).
Why you should see it: The St. Stephens Basilica is a marvellous building, and seeing it is truly a great experience. If you venture into one of the back parts of the church, youll stumble across the jewel encrusted right hand of St. Stephen in a glass and silver case. If you drop in a few coins, it will even light up (the Church was undergoing some renovations so as of 2018-19 the hand has been moved into the main room). The dome of the church is accessible (Cost:400 HUF) and provides splendid view over city and can be reached either via 297 steps, or for the lazy with the help of a claustrophobic elevator. An interesting side note, The Basilica and the Parliament are both 96 meters high – symbolizing that both the spiritual and worldly thought/ideas are of the same importance. There’s even a law in place forbidding any building in Budapest to be higher than 96 meters.
How to get there: Getting to St. Stephens Basilica is quite easy. The Church is located in the hear of Pest and is in walking distance of many shopping streets, hotels and the Danube. You can reach St. Stephen’s Basilica by taking the M3 Metro and getting off at Arany Jànos station. The address of the Basilica is Szent István tér 1, 1051 Hungary.
Do: The Capuchin Church, The Inner Town Parish Church) and the Rock Chapel
Why visit the Capuchin Church, Inner Town Parish Church and the Gellert Hill Cave?: Ok, none of these three churches will really blow you away compared to St. Stephens Basilica, but each of these three are very unique to Budapest and definitely worth visiting – especially since all three are located very close to other popular tourist spots and are quite often overlooked. They don’t tend to be overrun by tourists, and they all highlight certain aspects of Budapests and Hungarys history. The Capucin Church has some interesting Ottoman remnants, the Inner Town Parish Church is the oldest surviving building in Pest, and the Gellert Hill Cave is a Church in a cave!
Quick Historical Info: The Kapucinus Templom – The Capuchin Church. This Church lies on the Buda side, within the Castle Quarter. The origins of the church date back into the 14th century when Queen Elizabeth (not the one you are thinking of) decided to erect a church there. When Budapest was under ottoman control all churches were transformed into mosques – and one of the few surviving testimonies of this can be observed when looking at the Turkish styled outer windows and the southern portal of this church (aside from the Turkish baths there are hardly any Turkish remnants left in the city). If I’m not mistaken the opening times (if there are any) are quite unreliable, so if your lucky it will be open.
*While you are in the area its worth talking a short walk up the Rószadomb – the Rose Hill, where you can find the tomb of Gül Baba – an Ottoman Bektashi dervish poet and companion of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
How to get there: The Capuchin Church is located at Fö ucta 32, which is just a short walk up north from the Castle Quarter.
Quick Historical Info: The Belvárosi Plébániatemplom – The Inner Town Parish Church. This Church had been inaccessible for quite some time as it had undergone extensive repairs and restorations, but it is now open to the public again and looks simply marvelous. Only few visitors and passersby realize that this church is actually the oldest building in Pest (almost everyone passes by this church as its located directly next to Erzebet Bridge. It was erected under King Istvan the first, at the site where the Martyr Gellért was buried (there’s a giant statue of him on the Gellért hill directly opposite of the church). As with all the other churches in Budapest, this too was transformed into a mosque. If you look closely you can even spot a Mihrab (the spot which directs you to Mekka) – probably the only surviving relic of its kind of the ottoman occupation in a church in Budapest.
How to get there: The Belvárosi Plébániatemplom is located at Március 15. tér, which is just a few meters down from the M3 Metrostop Ferenciek tere.
Quick Historical Info: The Gellért Sziklakápolna – The Gellért Hill Cave also known as the Rock Chapel made the list of things to see because like many of the others its a) easy to get to b)close to other popular attractions and c) actually quite cool. On the southern side of the Gellért hill quite close to the famous Gellért Hotel and Bath, you’ll find the entrance to the Gellért Hill Cave Church. It was built by Kálmán Lux in 1926 and was used by the monks of The Order of Saint Paul. Apparently this Order was quite unpopular in Hungary as Joseph II disbanded them in1784 and most of the monks sought refuge in Poland. A handful returned in 1934 and stayed until the late 1950s when the communists realized they didn’t like the monks either and banned the order again and sealed off the cave. The Church and the nearby monastery reopened again in 1989 and is open to visitors once again. Definitely worth a quick visit.
How to get there: The Gellért Sziklakápolna is located at the SzentGellért rakpart 1a, just a stones throw away from the famous Gellert Bath and Hotel. Easy to get to with the Tram , Bus and the M4 Metro stop Szent Gellért tér – Műegyetem
The Thermal Baths of Budapest
Dont : The Gellért Bath
Why give this one a miss?: There is a certain hype around the Gellért Bath, probably because most photos always show the beautiful indoor pool and because its attached to a luxury hotel. I always felt that its quite pricey for what it is – and it doesnt actally offer that much in comparison. Theres a reason why the Gellert Bath sells just entrance tickets for almost 10 euros. Lots of hype, but there are more interesting and bigger baths in Budapest which will give you more bang for the buck.
Quick Historical Info: Budapest is rich in natural thermal springs. The Gellert Bath opened in 1918 offering medicinal water treatments using the same deep underground springs that have been used since the early 12th Century. The occupying Ottomans took advantage of this and further expanded the bathing culture in Budapest.
Why you should see it: The Gellert Baths, despite their price, are a wonderful experience. Slightly more glitzy than the other baths in Budapest, it truly gives off a luxurious decadent vibe. It provides an excellent photo op for the instagram tourists, but is also a relaxing treat at the same time. You only live once, so its worth the splurge. Just make sure to take in the other Baths that Budapest has to offer as well.
How to get there: The Gellert Hotel and Baths are located at the aptly named Szent Gellért tér. This is very easily reachable by Tram, Bus and the M4 Metro stop Szent Gellért tér – Műegyetem.
Do: Rudas Thermal Bath
Why visit the Rudas Thermal Bath? The Rudas Thermal Bath is the overlooked little brother of the Thermal Baths in Budapest. Both the Gellert and Széchényi Bath hog the all the limelight and the tourists, but thats not necessarily a bad thing. The Rudas Baths are a more local and quite affair. Its got an equally beautiful (cold) swimming pool and some nice spa amenities, but the real gem is the octagonal Ottoman bath with its multicoloured dome dating back to the 16th Century. Its a truly stunning setting – and to be quite honest is the real reason why you should visit this Bath. There is no Thermal Bath experience in Budapest like this one. Its worth noting that the bath has separate opening days for men and women, and the Turkish bath used to be exclusively for men only. Thankfully this has changed – with Rudas having mixed days on the weekends and opening up the bath for Women as well. Photography is forbidden inside the Turkish Bath.
Quick Historical Info: The Rudas Bath (formerly known as the Zöldoszlopos fürdő or the Green Column Bath) which was first established in 1550 under the rule of the Ottomans. The core of the complex, the thermal bath was remodelled in 1566 under the rule of the Pasha Szokoli Musztafa, and has not changed much since then. For over 450 years this bath has remained in its original condition, earning it not only the title of the oldest, but also the most beautiful Turkish baths in all of Budapest. For all movie fans, The movie “Red Heat” staring Arnold Schwarzenegger filmed part of its opening action scene inside of the Turkish Bath.
How to get there: The Rudas Thermal Bath is located at Döbrentei tér 9. Despite being located at the foot of Gellert Hill, the easiest way to get to the Thermal Baths is with the Bus Nr.86 which stops directly by the Baths. The stop is called Rudas gyógyfürdő. Alternatively you can also take a taxi.
Don’t: Szoborpark Múzeum – Memento Park
Why give this one a miss?: After the collapse of the soviet union, the Hungarians were quite rightly pissed off. not only had they lived under communism for a good 40 years, but their whole city was littered with some truly horrendous statues. most people wanted to smash them to bits, but instead the newly elected government collected them all and put them on display in a park in the middle of no where.
So why not visit this fascinating display of ugliness? Well for one its in the middle of nowhere. Unless your hotel is in the 22nd district – it will take you a good hour to get there with public transportation (as its not even really in Budapest) and the entry prices are quite steep for looking at old statue of Lenin. You’re better off getting an easyjet flight to Berlin and looking at the same stuff for free.
Quick Historical Info: The Memento Park officially openend in 1993, though it was based on an idea of the Literary Historian Lászlo Szörényi – who had proposed in 1989 to create a “Lenin Garden” to showcase all the Lenin Statues and Busts from all around Hungary. The Memento Park only partially managed to fulfil this as many statues and busts wandered off into private hands as collectibles after the fall of the communist regime.
Why you should see it: If you are a “fan” of the Communist aesthetic, this is a must visit. As with many post communist countries, Hungary was quick to remove all traces glorifying its socialist past – though they did manage to create a distanced but respectful display of its past in the Memento Park. This one isn’t for everyone, but if you are into 20th Century history then you’ll get your fill here.
How to get there: Getting to Memento Park is a bit of a trek. From the M4 Metro stop Kelenfold vasutallomas, youll need to take the Bus Nr 101B (or 101E or 150) all the way to the stop Budateteny vasutallomas (Campona).
Do: The House of Terror
Why visit the House of Terror? Believe it or not, there arent any other real museums or exhibitions in Budapest dedicated the years of fascist rule and complicity. The Terror Haza – The House of Terror was set up in the year 2002 as a museum documenting the crimes of the fascist and communist regimes which have ruled over Hungary in the past 60 years. The main exhibition focuses on the crimes of both the fascists and the communists, but there is a slight “bias” towards highlighting the crimes of the communists and the Russians (using a popular explanation: while the fascist regime of Ferenc Szálasi lasted only few months, the Hungarian Communist regime lasted for forty years). Nevertheless, a very interesting museum which does a good job at documenting this tragic part of Hungarian history.
Quick Historical Info: From 1937 to 1944 the building which is now the Museum was used as a prison and political headquarters of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, and was referred to as the Hűség háza – The House of Loyalty. From 1945 onwards the Communists took it over and continued to use it as a prison to torture and murder political prisoners. The Secret police vastly extended the underground prison, eventually turning the underground of the entire city block into a gigantic prison. After the uprising in 1956, the communists tried to wipe out all traces of their dirty deeds and bricked up/destroyed the cellar, and turned the building into the headquarters of the Communist youth.
How to get there: The Terror Haz is located at Andrássy út 60 and is quite easy to reach. The Museum is right in the middle of two M1 Metro stops- Kodály körönd and Oktogon. From either station its just a very short walk.
Why give this one a miss: A38 is an ex Ukrainian stone hauler ship which was transformed into a club venue in 2003. It currently rests along the banks of the Danube and hosts a variety of cultural events and concerts. Apparently its even been voted the “Worlds Best Bar” by Lonely Planet – which in my opinion is total crock. Its an interesting venue but certainly not the best in the world. Its pricey, even for Budapest standards, the music is crap (depending on what night you show up) and I wasn’t totally comfortable with the feeling of having too much to drink and having the floor move under my feet. Its a cool place – but give this one a miss if you are only visiting for a few days. You’re better off checking out some of the Ruin Bars that “everybody” is talking about.
Quick Historical Info: A38, built int the former Soviet Ukraine was built in 1968 and used to be called ‘Tripolie. The name of the Club comes from Artemovsk, which is the name of a ship prototype, and this one was the 38th unit of the ‘Artemovsk’ class.
How to get there: The A38 Ship is anchored on the Buda Side next to Petőfi bridge. Getting there is easiest with the Nr 4 and & Trams or by Taxi.
Why visit Corvintető / the Corvin Bar?: Ruin Bars come and go in Budapest. Some of them come and go within the space of a month (if even) wheres others have become well known institutions. Its happened to us a few times that we were looking for a Bar that we had been to before, only to realize that its not there anymore. Long story short – don’t worry if the place you were looking for is closed, there’s probably 3 new ones that opened in its place.
Possibly my favorite venue in Budapest is Corvintető – also known as Corvin Bar(not really a ruin bar but still truly awesome). Its located directly in the city center – but here’s the kicker – its on the roof of an old state owned shopping center. Its located directly next to the M2 Metro Station, so its dead easy to get to. The entrance is a bit hard to find and the surroundings look a bit sketchy(especially at night), but once you head up the stairs and end up on the roof, you know you’ve made the right choice to come here.
The roof terrace is open from spring until Autumn (it boasts 600sqm) and offers a nice view over the city and a simply awesome feeling – and the club venue a floor down below is always open. There’s a decent selection of drinks and the prices are cheap. The music is good, and if your lucky there might even be a band performing there. If you’re in Budapest and looking for a good night out – this is the place you should check out.
Quick Historical Info: Built in 1926, The Corvin Áruház used to be one of the oldest and most well known shopping centers in Budapests 8th District. Originally built in a classicist style, the building sustained heavy damage during the second world war and was rebuilt in a slightly more socialist aesthetic.
How to get there: Corvintetö is hard to miss. Its right at the Blaha Lujza tér. Theres a M2 Metro stop of the same name right in front as well. The entrance to the Corvin Bar is located in a side street called Somogyi Béla.
Have you been to Budapest? Think I’ve missed something essential in this list? Feel free to share your favorite spots in the comment section.