Things to Do in Budapest: The Best Central European Travel Destination
You need to add Budapest, Hungary to your travel bucket list.
The few days I spent in Budapest were some of my favorite throughout my time in Europe. I did not expect to love this city as much as I do, and I can’t wait to go back. I know this city isn’t obscure or a “secret” gem among European travelers, but I was genuinely shocked by how interesting and beautiful this city is. There are so many interesting things to do in Budapest that you can’t find anywhere else. The city is split by the Danube river, with Buda on one side and Pest on the other. There is so much that I loved about this city, so I’m going to give you my guide to this Central European capital, including some of my absolute favorite things to do in Budapest that you can’t miss.
Getting to Budapest- Overnight Train from Prague to Budapest
I visited Budapest on a trip around Western and Central Europe. I traveled via an overnight train from Prague to Budapest to combine the transportation and lodging costs for the night! I was a little wary of taking an overnight train for the first time, but my friends and I booked a three person sleeping cabin, and we were pleasantly surprised by how comfortable and clean it was! I personally prefer to travel by train in Europe because you can normally go from city center to city center without transferring, which makes the trip a lot easier! Although I didn’t get the best night’s sleep from the constant movement and noise, I would highly recommend considering this option if you’re traveling to Budapest from Germany, Austria, or the Czech Republic.
When to Visit Budapest
I visited Budapest in April, which seemed to be the perfect time of year to plan a trip to the Hungarian capital. Like many other European cities, springtime is synonymous with celebrations and festivals in Budapest! The Budapest Spring Festival happens throughout April, complete with adorable stalls of interesting crafts and delicious street food. The weather in mid-to-late April is also perfect for enjoying outdoor baths at the thermal spas. If you can, I recommend visiting Budapest in April so you can enjoy nice weather without heavy tourist crowds!
Things to Do in Budapest
Each side of the Danube river has a different personality. Buda is hilly and relatively quiet, perfect for afternoon strolls along the beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion, which has great views of the famous Parliament building and the rest of Pest. The Royal Palace and Gellert Hill are two other popular attractions on the Buda side. My friends and I spent an afternoon in Buda, where we toured the area around the Fisherman’s Bastion and enjoyed ice cream in a grassy square before taking the funicular down Castle Hill and walking across the famous Chain Bridge back to Pest where we were staying.
Check out this post for hiking near Budapest if you want to explore the Hungarian outdoors!
While Buda is peaceful and historic, Pest is lively and bohemian. The city has so many coffee shops and new trendy restaurants that add to a young, hip vibe. I absolutely loved walking along Vaci street, a popular shopping area. The most iconic building in Budapest, the Parliament building (located in Pest), is well-known for its impressive architecture. Although I only admired the building from the outside, you can book tickets to visit the interior of the building here. I also recommend taking a moment to stop in St. Stephen’s Basilica while exploring Pest to enjoy the beautiful and extravagant church.
If you’re hungry (or should I say Hungary), the Great Market Hall is a great place to stop for lunch or check out traditional Hungarian foods and goods.
If you want to check out both sides of Budapest from the river, check out this guide to a Danube river cruise!
Thermal Baths in Budapest
A trip to Budapest is not complete without a trip to one of the famous thermal baths. This is one of my favorite things to do in Budapest. There are so many to choose from, each with its own atmosphere. I visited the Szenchenyi Baths, housed in an elaborate yellow building with many different sections and styles of baths. I wish I had the chance to “take the waters” (as the Hungarians say) at more thermal baths in Budapest, but I enjoyed my experience at this bath. I reserved my ticket, which included a personal changing cabin, ahead of time (which you can book on the Szenchenyi Baths website), and my friends and I had a relaxing day, enjoying drinks in the sun, people-watching a mix of tourists and locals.
Ruin Pubs in Budapest
Finally, my absolute must-do in Budapest is a visit to one (or a few!) of the ruin bars. These bars were my absolute favorite part of this city, and I’m seriously considering booking another flight to Budapest just to visit more ruin pubs! These popular bars are built into old, previously abandoned buildings and serve as the venue for Budapest’s best night life today. The most famous ruin bar in Budapest is Szimpla Kert. This isn’t my favorite ruin pub, but if you only have time to visit one, this might be a good bet because you get the full “ruin pub experience” – eclectic decor, sprawling, crowded rooms, grimy-but-captivating atmosphere. The best ruin bar in Budapest (in my humble opinion) is Instant, which doubled as a crazy dance club, complete with secret bars and a late night ska band. Fogas Haz es Kert was another favorite ruin bar for my friends and I.
Budapest is an incredible city. There are so many unique things to do in Budapest, like visiting the thermal baths or one of Budapest’s ruin pubs! This city is absolutely magical to me because of the combination of stunning architecture, amazing nightlife, and unique attractions. Even though it’s not as famous as Paris or Rome, Budapest definitely deserves a spot on your travel bucket list.
Have you ever been to Budapest? What was your favorite part?