If Budapest isn’t on the top of your travel bucket list already, get ready to bump it to the top. Budapest is a European destination that surprised me– from soaking in the gorgeous bathhouses to having a Hungarian craft beer at a ruin bar, there was never a dull moment.
I wasn’t expecting much when I first arrived in this Eastern European hot spot, but I can confidently say it’s one of the most interesting and beautiful places I’ve been to. What makes the city so unique is that Budapest is actually two cities in one. Split between the Danube river and connected by the Chain Bridge, the cities of Buda and Pest make Budapest.
Generally, the Buda side is known as the quieter side. It’s home to Fisherman’s Bastion and the Castle District. I loved getting lost on the picturesque winding streets in the hills of Buda. Stumbling across viewpoints that overlook Pest made all the hills I walked worth every step.
On the Pest side is where the action happens. Since it makes up two-thirds of the city it naturally has a lot of the best things to do in Budapest. The energy in Pest completely engulfed me in the best way possible. It has a vibrant street life, from great shopping, hip cafes, and delicious restaurants, there’s no shortage of stimulation in Pest.
With it being a two-for-one destination, there’s no shortage of things to do and places to see. To ensure that you have the best possible time while you’re in the Hungarian Capital I’ve put together a list of the 6 best things to do in Budapest.
1. Stay in a Stylish Airbnb
First and foremost, if you’re going to do Budapest right, you’ve got to do it in style. This is actually pretty easy to accomplish since the city has some of the most stylish Airbnbs I’ve come across. The hard part is deciding which one to get because they are all designed so well — from contemporary flats and artist lofts to apartments with old European charm there’s something for everyone’s taste.
Unfortunately the Airbnb I stayed at is no longer listed– but there are tons of others to choose from:
- Quirky Baroque-Inspired Flat: This quirky baroque-inspired stylish flat that’s around $35 a night is located near a beautiful park. With such a good price and location, what more is there to ask for?
- Burgeous Chic Apartment: If you’re looking for something a little more refined, this gorgeous flat is located on Budapest’s version of Champs-Elysees, Andrássy Boulevard, and is also reasonably priced.
- Lof-Style Airbnb: If I am being honest though, my eye is on this loft. While I wouldn’t normally want a bathtub in the middle of my flat, for a couple nights in Budapest it could be fun!
2. Go For a Bike Ride In Budapest
One of the best ways to discover Budapest is on two wheels. Rather than going underground in the metro to get from A to B, using a bike lets you enjoy the stunning views as you go. Plus, this is how you’ll find hidden gems in the city that you would never discover otherwise— like a cute little wine bar or local artisan shop.
Biking along the Danube at night is pure magic. The dramatic lighting on the city’s landmark buildings makes it feel as if you’re in a fairytale, and the reflection of the lights of the Parliament building sparkling in the water is something that I will never forget.
If you’re not comfortable on a bike, don’t worry, the city is extremely bike-friendly with tons of marked lanes. The Pest side of town is pretty flat so you won’t have to worry about climbing any extreme hills, but the Buda side is hilly so if you don’t want to break a sweat, it’s better to stay in Pest.
3. Admire the Architecture
Thanks to its diverse architecture, Budapest is one of the most breathtaking cities in the world. Simply looking up to admire the beauty while you’re walking around the city is one of the best things to do in Budapest.
While most people pin it as a “gothic” city because of the iconic parliament building that is gothic revival style, you’ll find all types of architecture while you wander Budapest. From Neoclassical, and Romanesque, to Renaissance, and Baroque Revival, this city truly has it all.
That’s why admiring the architecture in Budapest never gets boring. Every corner you turn, landmarks you stumble upon, they’re all so intricate and different from one to the next.
If you’re really into it, you can book an architecture walking tour. I didn’t do this, but I heard from some other travelers that I met that it was well worth it. If you don’t want to do a formal tour, make sure you still hit all the main attractions: The Parliament, The Chain Bridge, Hungarian State Opera, The Great Synagogue, and The Castle District.
4. Spend an Afternoon at the Szechenyi Thermal Bath
If there’s one thing that absolutely must be on your Budapest to-do list, it’s to go to the thermal baths. There’s a lot of speculation on whether it’s worth spending a day at the baths but rest assured that it’s 100% WORTH IT. Especially after long days of touring the city, your feet will thank you for the much-needed soak.
There are nine thermal bath houses across the city, but the most famous is Széchenyi Thermal Bath. You’ve probably seen it on Instagram. It’s famous for its yellow palace but most people don’t realize that it’s the largest medicinal bath in Europe.
You won’t regret spending the day at Széchenyi “pool hopping.” There are tons of different temperature pools to try out, but indoor and outdoor. If you dare, you can even take a plunge in the cold pool that is ice cold. I mustered up all my courage and took the plunge – it was so worth it!
Since there are indoor as well as outdoor pools, this is a great place to spend a rainy day in Budapest as well. While you might not get your insta-worthy pic in rainy weather, it’s really relaxing to be lounging in the thermal spring water with the sound of rain falling outside.
5. Pose Next to the Hello Hungary Sign
No trip to Budapest is complete without posing next to the #HelloHungary Sign! That is if you can find it 😉
The sign is known to move locations randomly. However, most recently it’s been calling Erzsébet square home. The square is a lovely spot to not only snap a few pictures but also to sip Hungarian beer in the grass soaking up the sunshine.
Before Erzsébet the #hellohungary sign was spotted on Margaret Island as well as in the old town. I did hear that if you can’t find it, you can stop by any tourist office in the city and that they will reveal the location.
6. Grab a Drink at Szimpla Kert
One of the best things to do in Budapest is to grab a drink at Szimpla Kert, which was the first Ruin Bar. Now you’re probably asking yourself, “What is a Ruin Bar?” I know I sure did when I first heard the term.
Ruin bars first came onto the scene in 2004 when the government was going to demolish some abandoned buildings that were destroyed during WWII, but a group of entrepreneurs had another idea for them. They saved the buildings from destruction and turned them into avant-garde community spaces that celebrate their “ruined” aesthetic.
They’re the main highlight in the contemporary-cultural scene of Budapest and what puts the city on the map for its thriving nightlife. Rather than your traditional club, Ruin bars are like a permanent music festival with make-shift gardens, and multiple floors of different-sized rooms all playing different styles of music.
While their parties are legendary for going all night, the Ruin Bars also host flea markets and make a great place to stop for an afternoon beer in the garden. While there are seemingly endless Ruin bars to choose from, Szimpla Kert is definitely my top pick not only because it’s the original, but also because it’s the most eclectic of them all.
Buda and Pest: Two Cities That Make for one Memorable Trip
Budapest is a city that will stay etched in my memory forever. From walking across the Chain linked Bridge from Buda to Pest or spending the day at the Thermal Baths, this city has everything, and more, to make for the perfect European getaway. I’m counting down the days till I can return, and I’ve already got my eye on a few Airbnbs to stay at.