Budapest, Hungary is the enchanting capital of Hungary. It offers an exceptional blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, along with a vibrant culinary scene, making it an appealing destination for travelers.
In 2022, I had the amazing opportunity to visit the countries of Central Europe (Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary) as a guest of the tourism departments of these countries. They wanted to show a select group of travel advisors the tourism potential of these countries.
But this wasn’t my first time to Budapest. My husband and I went with his parents on a tour of Central Europe way back in 1995. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see what was new, along with revisiting the historical sites that have remained the same.
Here are 12 experiences that I recommend in Budapest.
1. Hungarian State Opera House
Designed by the brilliant Hungarian architect, Miklós Ybl, this iconic masterpiece opened its doors in 1884. It stands proudly on Andrássy Street, showcasing the splendid Hungarian Neo-Renaissance style. The building’s remarkable decoration is a delightful blend of Hungarian Baroque and Renaissance elements.
I had the opportunity to visit (but not see a performance) in June 2022, just a few months after it reopened following a major refurbishment. The building was absolutely stunning. With a seating capacity of 1,300, it does not claim the title of the largest opera house in the world, but its acoustics certainly rival the best.
And here’s a fun fact: the Opera House’s most cherished performance is The Nutcracker. Its timeless charm has become an integral part of Christmas celebrations, drawing visitors from near and far.
2. Szechenyi Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool
No trip to Budapest is complete without indulging in the city’s hot water springs. With 15 different spas to choose from, you can fully experience the therapeutic benefits of these natural springs.
One spa that is undoubtedly a top contender is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. This renowned and beloved spa dates back to 1913. Located in the City Park on the Pest side, this stunning complex will transport you back to the grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The palace-like building, surrounded by lush trees, signals that you’re about to embark on a truly luxurious experience.
There are 21 pools to choose from, including three outdoor pools. As someone who has personally experienced it, I can attest to the luxury and relaxation that awaits you.
3. Gundel Café Patisserie Restaurant
Gundel Café Patisserie Restaurant in Budapest has a rich history dating back to 1894 when Károly Gundel transformed a humble inn in Budapest’s City Park into a prestigious dining establishment. Gundel Restaurant quickly became synonymous with Hungarian culinary traditions, using local ingredients and traditional cooking techniques.
The iconic Gundel pancake is a heavenly creation of crepes filled with ground walnuts, raisins, and a touch of rum, served with a chocolate sauce.
Gundel has undergone a few changes throughout its history, including a brief closure during the Communist era and subsequent renovations. Today, Gundel stands as a proud symbol of Hungarian culinary tradition, combining history, elegance, and exceptional cuisine to create an unforgettable dining experience. We enjoyed an excellent lunch in the Gundel Garden that included live music by a string trio that made it a memorable experience.
4. House of Music Hungary
The House of Music Hungary is a new museum that opened in 2022. While (obviously) dedicated to music, the museum is also visually stunning.
It’s a contemporary architectural masterpiece designed by Japanese star architect Sou Fujimoto.
The House of Music Hungary includes permanent and temporary exhibitions as well as live music events, concerts, and workshops. In other words, you can completely immerse yourself in music.
While some of the exhibits focused on the history of music, others were high-tech and interactive. I’ve never experienced anything else quite like it.
I’d bet you didn’t expect to find lemonade on my list. However, a fun fact is that lemonade – known as “limonádé” in Hungarian – is incredibly popular in Budapest, especially during the hot summer months. You’ll find it served in nearly every café, bistro, and restaurant.
The Hungarian version is typically made fresh with squeezed lemons, water, sugar, and often infused with a mix of fresh fruits like strawberries, raspberries, or peaches. The result is a thirst-quenching and delightfully refreshing drink that locals and tourists alike can’t get enough of. I was told that Hungarians drink more lemonade than pop/soda. It was very hot while I was in Budapest, so lemonade was a very welcome refreshment on a hot summer afternoon.
6. Great Market Hall
I love visiting markets when I travel. The Great Market Hall in Budapest didn’t disappoint. This bustling market, known as Nagyvásárcsarnok in Hungarian, is a vibrant hub of activity, where locals and visitors come together to shop, socialize, and immerse themselves in the city’s rich culinary traditions. It’s the oldest and largest of Budapest’s indoor markets.
The market is a treasure trove of fresh produce, with colorful fruits and vegetables beautifully displayed, alongside stalls offering an array of regional delicacies. From authentic paprika to traditional Hungarian sausages, the market is a haven for food enthusiasts eager to savor the flavors of Hungary.
But it’s not just about food – the Great Market Hall is also a place to find unique souvenirs, handmade crafts, and local wines, making it the perfect spot to discover a piece of Budapest’s character and take home a memento of your time in the city. I left the market with several packages of paprika to bring home as souvenirs for myself and several family members.
7. Strudel Stretching Show
The First Strudel House of Pes (Első Pesti Rétesház in Hungarian) is a family-owned gem where you can enjoy traditional Hungarian strudel. The mouthwatering strudel is made following recipes that have been passed down through generations. With sweet fillings like apple, cherry, and poppy seed, to savory options like cheese and cabbage, each strudel is a delicate and delicious pastry.
Alongside its signature strudels, the restaurant also offers a variety of other Hungarian specialties, such as goulash, schnitzel, and fragrant soups. As you dine, you’ll have the opportunity to witness a live demonstration of the strudel stretching process. Talented and experienced pastry chefs will skillfully work with the stretchy dough, showcasing their dexterity and precision as they stretch it thin enough to read a newspaper through it. The show not only adds an element of entertainment to your dining experience but also allows you to appreciate the craftsmanship and tradition behind this beloved Hungarian dessert.
After the show, we got to try it ourselves, which gave us even more appreciation for the talent of the pastry chefs.
8. Buda Castle
The Buda Castle in Budapest is a remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site that has a rich history dating back to the 13th century. Perched atop Castle Hill, it offers stunning views of the Danube River and the city skyline. This iconic landmark combines medieval and Baroque elements.
Originally a fortress, it became the royal residence for Hungarian kings and queens. Over the years, it underwent renovations and expansions, but also experienced destruction during World War II. Today, the castle stands as a symbol of Budapest’s architectural heritage and houses renowned museums.
Matthias Church, located in the Buda Castle complex, is a magnificent Gothic-style architectural gem. It underwent renovations in the 15th century and became a favorite venue for royal weddings and coronations. The church’s interior dazzles with stained glass windows, intricate carvings, and elegant frescoes. Climbing the bell tower offers breathtaking views of Budapest’s iconic landmarks. Matthias Church is not only a place of worship but also a cultural treasure, hosting musical performances and events.
9. Fisherman’s Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion is an architectural gem that stands tall on Castle Hill, offering panoramic views of the gorgeous Hungarian capital. With its fairytale-like turrets and intricate detailing, the Bastion truly captures the essence of neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque design.
It was built between 1895 and 1902 as part of the celebrations for the millennium of Hungary, and was intended as a decorative lookout point and fortification. The name “Fisherman’s Bastion” refers to the medieval guild of fishermen who were responsible for defending this section of the castle walls during ancient times.
The seven towers of the Bastion represent the seven Magyar tribes that founded Hungary back in the 9th century. Each tower has its own distinct appearance and offers a unique perspective of Budapest. As you wander through the seven magnificent towers, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking vistas of the Danube River, the majestic Parliament building, and the iconic Chain Bridge.
10. Hungarian Parliament
The Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest is an architectural marvel that stands proudly on the banks of the Danube River. Completed in 1904, it is not only one of the largest parliamentary buildings in the world but also an iconic symbol of Hungary’s rich history and democracy. The design, inspired by Gothic Revival and Renaissance styles, was the result of a competition won by architect Imre Steindl. The building’s impressive facade features intricate details, including statues of important historical figures and Hungarian rulers.
Its interior is equally mesmerizing, with grand halls, ornate staircases, and a magnificent dome. A great way to view the outside of the Parliament building is on a Danube Cruise.
11. Danube Cruise
A cruise on the Danube River provides a leisurely and enjoyable way to experience the beauty of Budapest’s historic architecture and the tranquil waters of the Danube. The views from the river are impressive and designated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with Buda Castle and Andrássy Street). As you glide along the majestic river, you’ll be treated to outstanding views of Budapest’s iconic landmarks, including the stunning Hungarian Parliament building, the historic Buda Castle, and the elegant Chain Bridge.
While I went on an afternoon sightseeing cruise, I must mention that Budapest is a popular port on multi-day river cruises. It’s often the starting or ending point of river cruises, which allows travelers to add on a few extra days in Budapest. I highly recommend this!
12. Ferris Wheel
The Ferris Wheel of Budapest, also known as the Budapest Eye, opened to the public in 2017. Situated on the vibrant Erzsébet Square, this marvelous attraction offers an unforgettable ride, delighting locals and visitors alike. This modern addition to Budapest’s skyline has quickly become a popular attraction, allowing people to experience the city’s beauty from a unique vantage point. Although I didn’t have enough time to ride the Ferris Wheel (our hosts kept us really busy!), I had a fantastic view of it from my hotel room.
Do you want to visit Budapest?
I think Budapest is an ideal destination for culture lovers. Was it what you expected before you read this? Are you interested in visiting, either on land or on a river cruise? I would love to help you experience Budapest’s rich culture. Read about my planning services and then get in touch.