Hungary’s fascinating capital is historically comprised of three cities that were unified to form what is today Budapest. Buda and Obuda on the west bank of the Danube and Pest on the opposite. Today, Budapest has two districts, Buda and Pest, which have a distinct vibe from one another.
Slapped with a “UNESCO World Heritage Site” badge, Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. While much of Hungary is going through some crazy things, I consider the city the last bastion of hope and unity. Alright, that was a bit cheesy. But I’m not joking when I say that Budapest is legit. Like it’s a city for cool peeps. Just take my word for it or at least check out the photos about to be unveiled in front of your eyes.
Budapest wins by synergizing (word!) its cool & laid-back attitude with an intriguing history and artistic lifestyle, and I’m not talking about Hipsters. Whether you’re a first timer or not, hipster or cool there’s a lot to see and do in this city.
Now let’s check out the cool and fun things to do in Budapest.
1 – Check out the Parliament Building
The Parliament building is a real work of art. It’s also one of the oldest legislative buildings in Europe. Moreover, it bears a great historical importance for Hungarians. The Hungarian Parliament is one of the principal tourist attractions in the city. Virtually every tourist who comes to visit Budapest takes at least a few pictures and selfies with it from the exterior. However, only a few come to see it from the inside. It’s a pity because this is the biggest building in Hungary and has a lot of cool stuff to see inside. Take a dive and go in, it’s only a few bucks.
2 – Soak in the Széchenyi Thermal Baths
These natural hot springs are renowned in Europe. The thermal pools have temperature ranges from 74 F and 180 F. Presumably, the waters here have qualities for rheumatoid arthritis, joint parts, muscle tissue and various ailments of the nervous system. Here you can enjoy Budapest’s bathhouse tradition. Széchenyi is just one of many baths in Budapest. There’s also Aquincum, Gellert Baths, Kiraly Baths, Rac Baths, Rudas Baths just to name a few so check those out too!
3 – Marvel at Statues in Heroes’ Square
Heroes’ Square, aka., Hosök tere, can be found at the end of Andrássy Avenue. It’s home to a famous shrine that depicts the historical figures of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars – who supposedly led the original Hungarians from central Asian steppes into the Carpathian basin where Hungary is located today.
On top of the main column is the Archangel Gabriel carrying the Hungarian crown. Depicted at both sides of the monument is a bunch of other famous Hungarian figures. Just around the corner of Heroes’ Square are museums and parks also worth checking out.
4 – Rave All Day and All Night at the Sziget Music Festival
The Sziget Music Festival takes place on Óbudai Island in northern Budapest. Nearly all music genre is played here – and you’ll always find a stage that appeals to your own preference. Every year a few globally known music performers play on five stages.
You will see many vibrant and young peeps attending the festival – but age doesn’t matter. You can let yourself go with the flow and/or do whatever it is you’re into and feel like doing. Maybe it’s not as crazy as Burning Man, but no one is going to judge or ridicule you here. It’s a very international venue so it’s also a place to learn about each other and the whole world.
5 – Take Photos under the Chain Bridge
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge, it’s one of my favorite bridges on the planet. It was the first bridge to permanently link the Buda and Pest district when it was finished in 1849. The Chain Bridge was regarded as one of the wonders of the world at the time. The designer was supposedly so proud of his work that he boasted no one could ever find flaws of the bridge.
Alas, someone did discover that the lion statues who stood guard at either side were lacking their tongues, prompting the designer to kill himself. Whoops? Whether the silly legends are true or not, the Chain Bridge stands as number one photographed attraction in Budapest.
6 – Walk around the Danube Promenade
Budapest is wonderful by daytime, but thoroughly breathtaking by night. The buildings and bridges light up the banks of the Danube and the reflection on the water turn it to the famed blue it should be. Just follow the Pest side of the Danube bank that goes from the Elizabeth Bridge to the Chain Bridge. Across the river, you can observe the major attractions of Buda – Buda Castle, Gellert Hill, and the Fisherman’s Bastion.
7 – Shop at the Great Market Hall
Erected in the 19th century, the Central Market Hall is the biggest indoor market in Budapest. The focus is on common Hungarian products and maybe a few knick-knacks made in China. On the first floor is the food area with merchants offering everything including fresh vegetables, sausages, paprika, and all sorts of wines. The second floor has a bunch of vendors selling souvenirs and vintage Hungarian embroidery.
8 – Go inside St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica Basilica is one of the most important religious buildings in Hungary. Named after Stephen the first King of Hungary, the basilica stands as a great architectural work of art. Entry is a “donation” of HUF 200 but it’s absolutely obligatory because there’s a woman at the entrance who looks strong enough to tackle NFL linebackers – yelling at you to donate.
The interior will draw you in with fancy gold details, ornate accents and dazzling works of art, you can also check out the kaleidoscopic cupolas. It’s considered a holy site so you have to be decently dressed. You can’t hobo it out here for sure. You can climb up to the dome to see an awesome of the city.
9 – Go on a Look Out at the Fisherman’s Bastion
For sweeping panoramic views of Budapest, go up to the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda district. Right across the Chain Bridge, make your way past Buda castle. The hill isn’t particularly steep but can induce a sweat as it meanders towards the stairs of the Fisherman’s Bastion.
The effort will be well worth it, as the views are fantastic. The multi-colored tiles on Matthias Church offer a welcome sight. Here you can see the famed Parliament Building, Chain Bridge, and the radiant district of Pest from up high.
10 – Have a Beer or a Few at Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar
Ruin pubs are a uniquely Budapest phenomenon. They’re not a place to literally get “ruined”. Instead, they’re ruined ancient structures converted into pubs and bars all over the city. The trendy Jewish Quarter has the highest concentration of these bars and the most popular one being Zimpla Kert. It’s a derelict labyrinth of steampunk style spaces with an outdoor nook. Inside is a bunch of bars and restaurants serving traditional drinks and food?
11 – Taste wine at Faust Wine Cellars
Right underneath the Buda Castle is a historic wine cellar that offers a sample of wines from various Hungarian wine regions. You can also sample traditional Hungarian moonshine, Palinka, a very strong spirit made from various fruits. The only bummer part is that it’s often busy and you may have to book ahead.
12 – Check out the Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter is home to one of the largest synagogues outside of Israel. It also has the largest concentration of ruin pubs in the city. In spite of the fact, that Hungary’s Jewish populace was dramatically reduced during World War II, there is still a lot of Jewish flavor to this quarter. There’s even a commemoration to Swedish diplomat Roual Wallenberg who assisted scores of Hungarian Jews from the concentration camps and ghettos.
13 – Ride the Castle Hill Funicular
The Castle Hill Funicular opened in 1870 and is one of the oldest of its kind in the world. There is a system of weights and counterweights used to assist in raising the carriages up and down the hill. The funicular is the quickest way to reach the top of Castle Hill, which is very popular due to the panoramic views across the Danube. It’s open daily until 10 pm, so it’s also a great way to see views of the Pest District at night.
14 – Harvest Cherry plums around Gellert Hill
The hill is one of greenest areas of the city. During summer, the trees bear fruit and particularly Cherry Plums. The locals ignore these fruits for some reason, which means it’s all yours for the taking! There are several walking paths to follow and bike trails as well. There are also plenty of picnic spots dotted around so that you can enjoy your harvest. I spent many days raiding the local cherry population. You should too.
15 – Hike up Gellert Hill
Starting from the Elisabeth Bridge, you can hike up a set of stairs that lead to stunning panoramas over Buda and Pest district from the Citadella. Built by the Habsburgs in 1854, the Citadella was a crucial strategic location to observe over most of Budapest. Today it’s a marketplace where you’ll find Hungarian vendors selling their handicrafts including dolls, wooden gadgets, and handcrafted clothing and scarves. There are always some cool opportunities for Hiking near Budapest if this hill is too small for you.
16 – Dance with the Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill
Well, I am not sure how you’re going to dance with the 30-foot statue but that would be a remarkable sight! The Liberty Statue is of the prominent Communist-era statues that survived after the transition to democracy.
The statue, erected in 1947 to honor the Soviet soldiers who lost their lives liberating Hungary, stands an imposing figure in Gellert Hill. The engraving was later altered so it now commemorates “Everyone who sacrificed their lives for the freedom, liberty, and prosperity of Hungary”. The views here are also amazing.
17 – Walk across the Liberty Bridge
Dwarfed by its more famous neighbor the Chain Bridge, the Liberty Bridge doesn’t get enough attention that it deserves. Well, I’m telling you, if you’ve walked across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge – walk this one as well! A beautiful bridge in its own right and one that leads to awesome spots like Gellert Hotel and the Great Market Hall.
18 – Live Out a Fairy Tale at the Vajdahunyad Castle
Based on a gothic castle from Transylvania, the structure was designed by Ignác Alpár in 1896 to embody the first thousand years of Hungarian architecture. The Vajdahunyad Castle blends an assortment of styles from Roman, gothic, renaissance to baroque.
19 – Sob at the Shoes on the banks of the Danube
The Shoes on the Banks of the Danube has a sad story behind it. The memorial is built to commemorate the hundreds of Hungarians, most of them Jews, who were massacred during World War II. It can get very crowded with tourists but you shouldn’t miss it. Not everything cool is fun and drinking games in Budapest. Some have deep scars and history behind it. The symbolism that it represents should make you ponder the course of history so that we do not make the same mistakes in the future.
20 – Chill at Margaret Island
Sitting in the middle of the Danube, Margaret Island is 2.5km long and is full of parks and recreational facilities. Here you can rent golf carts, pedal carts, bikes, and all sorts of other fun toys. It’s a cool spot to chill if you ever get bored with the ancient concrete jungles of Budapest.
So there you go. If you’re a cool hipster you’re going to book that flight right now and check out all the list above from your cool bucket list.