I’m usually reading bucket lists before traveling into a new city since the available time is limited, and I always want to be prepared which are the must-see places. And I do prefer the recommendations from locals. For me, it’s always more trustworthy, more reliable, as locals always know better their places, than a one-time visitor. From time to time, I can also find bucket lists about Budapest, from other travelers that sometimes it’s funny to read, but rarely from locals.
So I have decided to finally put this list together, even though presently I’m not living there, but I think I spent more than enough years in the Hungarian capital, and since being Hungarian, I think it’s a must-to-do from my side. 😊
Where to stay in Budapest?
If you are first-timer or coming only for a long weekend, the most obvious option is to book your accommodation in the city center:
- V. VI. VII. Districts on Pest side,
- or potentially you can try on Buda side, where the rooms might be a bit more expensive, in I. and XI Districts,
- or for cheaper options again in Pest side, the XIII. and VIII. Districts could work.
Finding the perfect location to stay in a completely strange city is always challenging. But within these areas, you should be fine. Accordingly, I broke down the viewing points district by district to make this guide as useful as just possible. So let’s see!
The top 44 things to do in Budapest – district by district:
District V. – Belváros-Lipótváros (meaning: Downtown-Leopold town) – Pest side
1. It’s visible from most parts of the city, but a visit in Budapest is not complete without checking both from outside and inside the iconic House of Parliament.
2. Very close to it, we can find the famous installation of the Shoes on the riverbank, which is remembering the thousands that were pushed into the Danube and lost through Nazi occupation.
3. Just 10 minutes walking to St. Stephen’s Basilica, where it’s a must climb up to the cupola for its spectacular views.
5. If we had enough walking for the day, we can continue our trip with the iconic Millenium underground line, which was the first metro line of continental Europe, the second one in the world, and was finished for Hungary’s Millennial jubilee in 1896.
District VI. Terézváros (meaning: Theresa town) – Pest side
6. From the underground, we can get off at the station of the Opera House and at least it’s worth to admire its beauty from the outside, but if we have more time, it’s highly recommended from the inside too.
7. From there we can keep walking towards the Terror House, where we can learn more about Hungarian modern and mainly sad history.
8. After it’s worth heading all the way along Andrássy Avenue and admiring all the beautiful building of foreign embassies.
9. The avenue ends at the huge and famous Heroes’ Square, noted for its iconic statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders, as well as the Memorial Stone of Heroes.
11. And depending on the weather conditions we could either ice-skating or rowing on the Boating Lake of the City Park.
12. If we already came that far, and if in the mood for some spa moments, worth to check the famous Széchenyi Thermal Bath, too.
District VII. Erzsébetváros (meaning: Elizabeth town) – Pest side
13. District VII. is an eclectic area with a rich Jewish history and a contemporary, edgy vibe. Once part of the Jewish ghetto, it’s still home to kosher shops and the gilded, Moorish Grand Synagogue, or how it’s called by the locals the Dohány Street Synagogue.
14. The streets offer casual eateries and food vendors, as well as quirky design shops and street art. Trendy youngsters hang out at the “ruin pubs” or how the locals call them “romkocsma” – so named for their dilapidated buildings, such as Szimpla & Szimpla-kert, or Instant-Fogas.
15. And of course not to forget the entire party district and the vivid life of Gozsdu courtyard with dozens of cool bars, restaurants & street food stands.
16. If we prefer some more relaxed program, it’s worth to visit and have a nice dish or just a cake at the historically famous & fancy New York Palace. It was built in eclectic Italian Renaissance-style and opened on October 23rd, 1894. Its café, along with the restaurant and the Nyugat-bar are now part of the hotel. The menu recalls the multicultural cuisine of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, classic dishes like Beef Goulash, Fishermen Soup, Chicken Leg Paprikash-style, Wiener Schnitzel, and Grilled Foie Gras are served along with famous desserts such as Dobos, Sacher and Eszterházy cake.
District XIII. – Angyalföld (meaning: Angel Land) – Pest side
17. Residential District XIII. is home to leafy Margaret Island, a huge public park in the Danube River with formal gardens, an outdoor thermal bath complex, musical fountains, and medieval ruins. It’s just a perfect place to spend a sunny day, bike around the island (cars are not allowed), have a picnic, play badminton, or just sunbathing in one of the many green parks.
18. And if already come that far, we can cross the Margaret bridge and reach District II. – Rózsadomb (meaning: Rosehill), where we can find Gül Baba’s tomb. It is the northernmost Islamic pilgrimage site in the world. The mausoleum is located on Mecset (mosque) Street, a short but steep walk from Margaret Bridge. Gül Baba was a member of the Bektás Dervish Order, who died in Ottoman Buda in 1541.
19. The Hungarian Railway Museum is also located here and offers rides on vintage trains.
20. And for fun, the Flippermúzeum has more than 100 playable pinball machines!
District I. – Budavár (meaning: Buda Castle or Castle District) – Buda side
21. The Castle District encompasses Castle Hill (Várhegy) – the nerve center of Budapest’s history and packed with many of the capital’s most important museums and other attractions.
22. Starting from the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular or Budavári Sikló, how the locals call it, is a funicular railway, which links the Adam Clark Square (where the 0 km stone of Hungary is located) and the Chain Bridge at river level to Buda Castle above. The line was opened on March 2, 1870.
23. The Buda Castle is visible from many points of the city and located in the heart of the Castle District. The historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings was first completed in 1265, but the massive Baroque palace today occupying most of the site was built between 1749 and 1769. The complex in the past was referred to as either the Royal Palace or the Royal Castle.
24. Once up, visiting the Matthias Church is also a must.
25. We can experience a bit of magic at The House of Houdini, a museum dedicated to Hungarian-born Harry Houdini, located just steps away from the Matthias Church.
26. From there just a couple of steps forward, we can admire one of the best views of the city from the Fisherman’s Bastion.
27. And continuing on the same path, we can reach the recently and beautifully renovated Castle Garden Bazaar.
28. Heading down to the riverbank, and through the spooky tunnels and maze underneath Buda Castle is an unforgettable experience.
29. Likewise as then crossing the Danube on the Chain Bridge and admiring the views on both sides.
30. Especially during the night, when the whole city and all the bridges are illuminated, spectacular! We can even add on this experience if we go for a cruise along the Danube at night.
31. And of course, another famous thermal spa is located in this district too, the Rudas Bath with spectacular views from its open-air jacuzzi on the hill.
District XI. – Újbuda (meaning: New Buda) – Buda side
32. If we desire to be out in nature a bit, this district offers a super cool solution, Kopaszi-gát in south Buda has been transformed into a smart recreational zone thanks to an innovative development project. The ten-acre green area on the Buda side of Rákóczi Bridge provides a nice riverside setting for terrace cafés and family-friendly attractions. We can even arrive by public boat as well as the tram.
33. One of the most romantic programs in the capital is to watch the sunset on the Liberty Bridge. Thanks to its wonderful details it became a landmark of Budapest and a popular riverside attraction on the Danube. It is also the smallest bridge in Budapest, only 333 meters long and 20 meters wide. Nowadays it is a popular tourist attraction and beloved spots for the locals, a unique venue for concerts and other happenings for spring/ summer weekends (Liberty Bridge Takeovers).
34. We can also take a bath in this district too, actually in one of the most famous thermal spas of Hungary: Gellért Bath.
35. Worth to climb up on Gellért Hill for the views and visit the Citadella. Citadella is the Hungarian word for citadel. It features several lookouts, a restaurant, souvenir stands and the fortress, which is an impressive fortification. The structure is 220 m long and 197 60 m wide. Its walls are 4 m tall. After the Hungarian revolution and war of independence from 1849 to 1867, the Hungarians wanted to demolish the fortress, but the Citadella was preserved and in 1960 was transformed into a tourist centre.
36. Another way to get out of the city and as well as going back to the past is to check out the Soviet statues at Memento Park. It is an open-air museum dedicated to monumental statues and sculpted plaques from Hungary’s Communist period. There are statues of Lenin, Marx, and Engels, as well as several Hungarian Communist leaders.
And there are several activities that we can enjoy all around Budapest, regardless of the district, such as:
37. Try some Hungarian wine! The city center is fully packed with wine bars and they are outstanding! Insider tip: give a try on how the locals are drinking the so-called Fröccs, aka the Spritzer, which is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in Hungary. It is actually wine (mostly white wine) mixed with soda water.
38. Eat Lángos! You can find it as street-food mainly on every bigger square. It is a Hungarian food specialty, a deep-fried dough, that is usually served with garlic, sour cream, and cheese.
39. Another popular street food is the Kürtöskalács aka chimney cake. Once baked, they are sprinkled with cinnamon sugar most of the time but can be found with cocoa powder, grated coconut, chopped nuts, or even drizzled with chocolate. Best to eat when it’s still warm while wandering around in the city.
40. If talking about authentic food, it’s worth to visit one of the traditional markets and shop Sonka, Hurka, Kolbász & Szalonna (traditional Hungarian meat products) at the Great Market Hall or at Lehel Piac.
41. We should also ride along Tram No. 2., this is perhaps the most scenic way to get around Budapest for those who are visiting the top attractions and don’t wish to walk all the way.
42. Also worth to step inside the Szabo Ervin Library. It is the largest library network in Budapest. The Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library’s main branch is housed in the 19th-century neo-baroque Wenckheim Palace in the VIII. District.
43. If we are with children or would like to escape a bit from the city jungle, simply choose and step aboard on bus 21, carrying passengers to Budapest’s beloved Normafa parkland that sprawls across the long bridge between Széchenyi Hill and János Hill, the city’s highest peak. Normafa is a wooded wonderland for all ages, featuring playgrounds, picnic tables, workout equipment, a rubberized running track, snack stands, and rolling meadows, all set before sweeping vistas across the Magyar metropolis and beyond.
44. And not to mention – if we have more time to enjoy and spend around, and we had already enough of Budapest, just in a 1-hour drive distance the amazing Lake Balaton is waiting for us – but about that, another article will tell more. 😉