Top Famous Places in Budapest, Hungary

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Budapest, the capital of Hungary and considered by many to be the “Paris of the East”, is one of the most culturally important metropolises in Eastern Europe and is home to many UNESCO World Heritage sites . Although humans have lived here since the Stone Age, this beautiful city only officially emerged in 1872 with the merger of three previously independent cities – Old Buda (Óbuda), Buda and Pest – to become the administrative, commercial and industrial center of Hungary.

netherlandsStraddling the Danube, Budapest is famous for its thermal springs, some of which have been used for therapeutic purposes since prehistoric times. In fact, Budapest has so much to do that you will want to spend at least a few days exploring this vibrant city. Popular attractions range from impressive architecture and poignant reminders of 20th century history to its vibrant cultural and entertainment scene, with everything from street performers to classical concerts in beautiful churches.

Budapest is also a paradise for buyers, traditional products and foodstuffs available at the Central Market Hall in Vaci Street, renowned for its mix of luxury boutiques and big brands. Whatever your tourist preferences, make the most of your travel itinerary in Hungary with our guide to the main tourist attractions in Budapest.

1. Buda Castle & Castle Hill

Buda Castle & Castle Hill

Towering over the Danube, Budapest’s Castle Hill (Várhegy) contains many of the city’s most important medieval monuments and museums. Topping the list of these impressive structures is the 18th-century Buda Castle (Budavári Palota), a massive 200-room palace that replaced a 13th-century castle built to protect the stronghold from Mongol and Tartar attacks.

Although badly damaged in World War II, much of the exterior has been restored, along with sections of the interior, which now houses a number of important museums. These include the Hungarian National Gallery in the main wing, while in the south wing, the Budapest History Museum occupies four floors. In front of the castle, overlooking the Danube, stands a bronze equestrian statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a hero of Turkish attacks on the city. Castle Hill is worth exploring for its medieval lanes and it Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque architecture. This entire historic complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like much of the city, Buda Castle is spectacularly illuminated at night, and the castle courtyards remain open 24 hours a day. You can reach the castle on the restored historic Castle Funicular Railway, which departs from the Buda end of the Chain Bridge.

2. Hungarian Parliament Building & Crown Jewels

Hungarian State Opera House

The highlight of a stroll through the charming cobblestone streets of Budapest, suitable for pedestrians, is the area around the country’s Parliament building (Országház), with its neighbors, the Ethnography Museum and the Ministry of Agriculture. The third largest Parliament building in the world, this neo-Gothic building was inaugurated in 1886 to mark the country’s 1000th anniversary. (Hungary was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.)

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This impressive structure has 691 rooms, as well as 19 kilometers of corridors and stairs. Guided tours last approximately 45 minutes and are available when the government is not seated, and include many of the building’s highlights, such as the main entrance hall, various halls, and the Hungarian crown jewels

3. St. Stephen’s Basilica

St. Stephen's Basilica

The St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest (Szent István-bazilika) is a popular attraction for its impressive architecture, the beauty of its interior and the panoramic views from its dome. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Stephen, the holy king of Hungary and the founder of the Hungarian state, and construction began in 1851, but after several setbacks in construction – including the collapse of its unfinished dome – it n was dedicated only in 1905.

The roof, towers and exterior walls were severely damaged during the Second World War, and the church’s precious mosaics fell from the walls. However, these have been successfully restored to their original location and are the highlight of the richly decorated interior. The most impressive of them, the Venetian mosaic in five parts is found in the sanctuary and represents the allegories of the mass.

The most precious holy relic of the cathedral, the mummified right hand of the patron saint of the church, the first king of Hungary, is displayed under glass in the chapel to the left of the high altar.

One of the best things to do here, weather permitting, is to take one of the two elevators that transport visitors to the dome for a 360-degree panoramic view of the city and the Danube (you can also climb the 364 steps). Guided tours of the basilica are available on weekdays. Also be sure to check the cathedral’s website for details on one of its frequent organ and classical music concerts.

4. Fisherman’s Bastion

Fisherman's Bastion

Overlooking the Danube, where the city’s fishermen’s guild built its defensive walls in the Middle Ages, stands the impressive Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya). This exquisite collection of towers, courtyards, colonnades and neo-Romanesque walls was built between 1895 and 1902, and is one of the most popular spots in the city for tourists, largely for its spectacular views of the city and the Danube. During your stay, be sure to look for the bronze equestrian statue of Saint Stephen, the first king of Hungary, in the southern courtyard. The reliefs on the sides of the base represent scenes from the life of Stephen and constitute an incredible selfie background. A variety of tour options in English are available.

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Overlooking the Danube, where the city’s fishermen’s guild built its defensive walls in the Middle Ages, stands the impressive Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya). This exquisite collection of towers, courtyards, colonnades and neo-Romanesque walls was built between 1895 and 1902, and is one of the most popular spots in the city for tourists, largely for its spectacular views of the city and the Danube. During your stay, be sure to look for the bronze equestrian statue of Saint Stephen, the first king of Hungary, in the southern courtyard. The reliefs on the sides of the base represent scenes from the life of Stephen and constitute an incredible selfie background. A variety of tour options in English are available.

5. The Danube Promenade

The Danube Promenade

The Danube (or “Duna” in Hungarian) crosses Budapest from north to south and, in some places within the city limits, it can reach 640 meters wide. One of the best free things to do in Budapest is to stroll along the Danube promenade (Dunakorzó), a pleasant century-old riverside promenade that stretches between the Elisabeth and Széchenyi chain bridges.

Although there are many places to admire the view of the majestic river as you stroll along its banks (Buda side or Pest side, they are both good), the Danube promenade is certainly one of the best points of view to admire and the amazing architecture of the city. It is also on the banks of the Danube (the northeast side, near the Hungarian Parliament buildings) that you will find the Memorial of the Scary Shoes on the Danube, a series of 60 pairs of carved steel shoes commemorating the slaughtered Jews here by the Nazis. It is a poignant and moving reminder of the Nazi atrocities suffered by Hungary during the Second World War.

Another great way to see the city is via a boat cruise along the Danube. Many tourist excursions depart regularly from the wharves at Vigadó tér on the Pest bank and Bem József tér on the Buda bank, and are highly recommended. It’s also fun to watch these sturdy ships from the historic Liberty Bridge as they rush down the river to fight the current.

6. Exploring Gellért Hill

Exploring Gellért Hill

Another of Budapest’s most striking features is the panoramic hill of Gellért (Gellért-hegy), a 235-meter block of dolomite that drops steeply to the Danube. It is here, along the geological fault line of the hill, that several of the city’s most famous medicinal springs emerge to supply the Gellért Spa and the Rudas Baths, which have attracted visitors from afar since the 13th century. The Rudas baths are one of the few buildings left from the Turkish occupation, and are among the few original Turkish baths in the world still in use since the 1600s.

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On the northeast side of the hill is the Gellért monument, a tribute to the famous beloved saint of Hungary, a Benedictine monk who died in 1046 and whose name is the hill. Perched above an artificial waterfall, it offers a magnificent view of the city. The Citadel at the top was built by the Austrians in 1851, and the Liberation Monument was erected in 1947 in memory of the Soviet soldiers who died in action during the Second World War. Finally, if you have energy left, take a stroll in Jubilee Park. Designed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution, it is home to many charming alleys, beautiful flowerbeds and sculptures. Right in front of the Liberty Bridge from the Gellért spa is the large indoor market, a beautiful view with its colorful tiled roof Zsolnay de Pécs, Hungary

7. Heroes’ Square and the Millennium Monument

Heroes' Square and the Millennium Monument

The impressive Heroes’ Square (Hosök tere) was largely the work of the architect Albert Schickedanz, also responsible for the immense Museum of Fine Arts which borders this large open space.

Highlights include the millennium monument, a 36-meter column crowned by a figure of the Archangel Gabriel and unveiled at the end of the 19th century. Around the base, we can see a group of bronze horsemen representing the conquering Magyar prince Árpád and six of his war companions. On each side of the column, the colonnades extend in a semicircle, and between the individual pillars stand statues of Hungarian rulers. Above the corner pillars are beautiful bronze works by Zala.In front of the millennium monument stands a memorial to the Unknown Soldier. It is a particularly pleasant place to visit at night when it is lit.

8. Hungarian State Opera House

Hungarian State Opera House

As impressive inside as it is outside, the Hungarian State Opera (Magyar Állami Operaház) is a must in Budapest. The dimensions of the building alone are impressive and since its opening in 1884, it occupies the first place in the calendar of cultural events in the city. As lavish as its many performances (more on that in a minute) is the lavish interior of the building. Adorned with magnificent works of art and sculptures by the country’s most important artists, the Opera can accommodate 1,261 people in its horseshoe-shaped auditorium (acoustically pleasing).

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The Hungarian State Opera houses the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hungarian National Ballet, and you will certainly find attending a performance a highlight in your Budapest travel itinerary. The orchestra season generally runs from September to June and tickets can be purchased online. Daily guided tours in English are also available.

9. Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden

Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden

Considered one of the oldest zoos in the world still in operation, the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden (Fovárosi Állat- és Növénykert) is one of the best things to do for families when visiting the city. Created over 150 years ago, the park is home to over 1,070 different animal species and has the rare distinction of being located in the heart of its host city.

In addition to its well-preserved Art Nouveau animal shelters, this premier zoo includes a nature reserve, themed animal enclosures and a variety of child-friendly programs, including feeding possibilities. If you’re in no rush to leave, stay for one of the evening concerts.

Topping the list of other fun things to do for families in Budapest, visit the incredibly fun Miniversum Budapest. Although basically a massive miniature railway configuration, this relatively new family attraction features detailed models of the main Hungarian monuments, as well as a pinch of other European countries, including Germany and Austria. They are all linked by numerous miniature trains (up to 100 run at any time), 1,300 meters of track and authentic decor, all made to scale. Fun behind the scenes tours are also available.

10. Margaret Island

Margaret Island

Margaret Island (Margitsziget), just 2.4 kilometers long and 503 meters wide, is Budapest’s main leisure and recreation center for locals. Medicinal baths fed by thermal springs, gardens and carefully maintained paths, as well as the ruins of many historic buildings, also attract many tourists.

A highlight of any visit is the Palatinus Baths, a huge spa complex that covers over 17 acres and includes an artificial wave bath, as well as various medicinal, swimming, and children’s pools capable of accommodating up to 20,000 bathers. The other highlights of the island are the pretty rose garden (Rózsakert); the Union Monument, a metal sculpture by István Kiss (1972) in the shape of a flower; ruins of the Dominican convent, which once housed Princess Margaret, daughter of King Béla IV; the 51-meter water tower, built in 1911, with its excellent observation platform; and a large open-air theater.

Other fun activities to do here include renting bikes or enjoying a meal at one of the restaurants here. If you are visiting at night, be sure to head to the Margaret Island Musical Fountain for its illuminations.

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