Explore Budapest

Budapest Travel Guide

Budapest, known as the 'Queen of the Danube', is a magnificent city exuding a cultural sophistication that entices and enchants. Gracing both sides of the legendary river with grand historic buildings, regal bridges and graceful tree-lined boulevards, it is the city's elegant beauty and romantic atmosphere that has given Budapest Parisian status among the Eastern European countries.<br /><br /> Budapest offers the visitor the familiarity of European grandeur with a distinct Hungarian flavour. This is evident in the neo-Gothic Parliament buildings, sidewalk cafes and Magyar cuisine; classical concerts and Hungarian folk music; the cobbled streets of medieval neighbourhoods and shady parks; and everywhere the sounds of an unfamiliar language. Highlights for visitors include a river cruise on the Danube and a thermal bath in one of the Turkish-era bathhouses.<br /><br /> Budapest was originally two cities built on either side of the Danube, namely Buda and Pest. The two districts are still distinct in their contrasting makeup, with the older and more charming Buda comprised of atmospheric cobbled streets, little picturesque coloured houses and a medieval, neo-Classical mixture of architecture set among the gentle hills of the west bank. It is famous for its historic Castle Hill featuring the Royal Palace, museums and galleries, St Matthias Church and the ramparts of Fisherman's Bastion. Pest lies on a flat plain and is the commercial core of the city. It bustles with fashionable shopping areas and has characteristically wide, leafy boulevards. Andrássy Boulevard is the Champs-Elysées of Budapest, lined with a typical mosaic of architectural styles and buildings with the enormous Heroes' Square at the end.<br /><br /> A history of numerous wars and invasions, with repeated destruction and rebuilding, has created the Budapest of today, with an amalgamation of styles, created over time during periods of loving restoration by a proud and resilient nation of people; it is a city of charm and character and never drops out of favour with travellers.<br /><br />

Royal Palace

Address: 1 Szent, György tér Budapest

Located at the top of Castle Hill in the picturesque Castle District of Buda, the Royal Palace was first inhabited by King Béla in the 13th century who, after the Mongol invasion, turned it into a fortified stronghold against further attack. Over the next 700 years it was the residence of many royal figures. The strategic location of Budapest, situated in the heart of Europe and straddling the Danube, offered whoever controlled the city a defensive position and potential control of the main waterway. This led to repeated invasions, followed by rebuilding in the style of the period.<br /><br /> The castle has a mixture of architectural styles, ranging from Gothic to Baroque. Today it is the country's most important cultural centre, housing numerous museums and the majority of the buildings are historical monuments. The Budapest History Museum contains an exhibition explaining the history of the city as well as archaeological remains of the palace. Also within the palace complex are the Hungarian National Gallery, the National Library and the Ludwig Museum.<br /><br />

Fisherman’s Bastion

Address: District I, Szentháromság tér Budapest

Built in 1905 on the medieval castle walls, the neo-Romanesque ramparts were so named after the city's fishermen whose duty it was to defend this side of the hill during the Middle Ages. But the existing bastion never actually served a defensive purpose - it is solely ornamental, with gleaming white cloisters and stairways connecting seven turrets symbolic of the Magyar tribes that conquered the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century. The turrets are reminiscent of a Disney fortress and give the area a fairy-tale atmosphere. Set back from the ramparts is an equestrian statue of King Stephen, a memorial to the founder of the Hungarian nation.<br /><br /> The view from Fisherman's Bastion, over the Danube, the Chain Bridge and the Parliament Buildings with Pest stretching out into the distance, is outstanding. Floodlit at night, the bastion itself is also a mesmerising sight from across the river. In fact, seeing as entry is free it is definitely worth visiting the Fisherman's Bastion twice, once at night and once during the day. There are two restaurants on the battlements where you can relax with stunning views over the river and eat some good food, and the many paths are lovely for strolling along and admiring the city.<br /><br />

Matthias Church

Address: H-1250 Budapest, Pf. 22. Budapest

Situated in the centre of the Castle Quarter, the 700-year-old Church of Our Lady is popularly known as Matthias Church for the nation's famous ruler, King Matthias (1458-90), a patron of learning and the arts who reconstructed the Hungarian state after decades of feudal anarchy. With its distinctive multi-coloured tiled roof and Gothic spire, the church is one of Budapest's best-known structures, and it was here that the nation's kings were crowned and King Matthias was married.<br /><br /> Today the church continues to hold High Mass, as well as concerts, organ and choir recitals owing to its magnificent acoustics. Matthias Church's architecture is a mixture of styles from the various kings, occupations and periods. When the Turks occupied the Castle in 1541 it was converted into a mosque, and the interior walls were whitewashed and painted over with scenes from the Koran. It suffered heavily in the later siege and was restored again in the 19th century, reconstructed in its characteristic neo-Gothic style. Remains of the original medieval frescoes have been discovered underneath the whitewash.<br /><br /> The interior is richly decorated with gilded altars, statues, rose windows and frescoes. Inside is the Church Museum, which gives access to the crypt, and a small collection of religious treasures and jewels. A fantastic contrast is formed by the reflection of the Gothic church in the sleek dark glass sides of the contemporary Budapest Hilton alongside.<br /><br />

Gellert Hill

Address: District XI, Szent Gellért tér 2-6 Budapest

Gellért Hill offers unrivalled panoramic views of the city, taking in both Buda and Pest and the meandering Danube. The hill was named after a bishop who was asked to convert pagan Magyars to Christianity but, according to legend, was killed by being rolled off the hillside in a barrel by militant heathens. A statue of the martyred Bishop stands at the base of the hill. On its summit stands the Liberation Monument, a female figure holding aloft the palm of victory, dedicated to the memory of Soviet troops who died freeing Hungary in 1945. With the fall of communism the inscription was changed to honour those who died for 'Hungary's prosperity'.<br /><br /> Behind the monument is the Citadella, or fortress, built after the 1848 revolution to provide military control against further uprisings. Today it houses a hostel and a museum. The hill is also home to several historic spas, valued for their medicinal qualities. The city's most famous spa, the Gellért Baths, is attached to the grand establishment of the Art Nouveau Gellért Hotel. Here visitors can relax in the thermal waters of the Roman-styled pool with its lion-headed spouts, surrounded by columns and mosaic patterns, or indulge themselves with private therapeutic treatments or a massage.<br /><br />

Chain Bridge

Address: Roosevelt Square or Adam Clark Square Budapest

The Chain Bridge was the first stone bridge to be built over the Danube and is the most famous in the city, still featuring its iconic lion statues. Today nine bridges span the river linking Buda to Pest, but Chain Bridge takes pride of place as the city's primary landmark, a magnificent sight when floodlit at night.<br /><br /> It owes its construction to Count István Széchenyi who decided to build a permanent crossing after having to wait a week to cross the river to bury his father. The Chain Bridge was built by William and Adam Clark, who also constructed London Bridge. It was considered an amazing feat of engineering when it was opened in 1849. The famous stone lions which guard the bridge were carved by sculptor János Marschalkó. They were added to the bridge in 1852 and miraculously were not destroyed in World War II even though the bridge itself was blown up in January 1945 and was only resurrected in November 1949.<br /><br /> There is an urban legend in Budapest that the lions of the Chain Bridge do not have tongues - they actually do, but you can't see them except from above! At the foot of the bridge is Kilometre Zero, the point in Budapest from which all distances are measured.<br /><br />

The Great Synagogue and Jewish Museum

Address: Dohany utca 2-8 in VII district. Budapest

Situated within Erzsébet Town, the charming old Jewish quarter and former ghetto, the Great or Central Synagogue is one of the largest in the world, able to seat 3,000 people. Completed in 1859 the style is typically Byzantine-Moorish, with exquisitely patterned brickwork in the red, blue and yellow colours of the city's coat of arms. Gilded domed towers, archways and beautiful window designs are just some of the features that make this one of Budapest's great landmarks.<br /><br /> The splendid interior glitters with lights, gilded arches and balconies line the walls, the ceiling is covered in Stars of David, and the floor is tiled in decorative stars. On Jewish festivals it is packed with Jews from all over Hungary who come to celebrate within its splendour.<br /><br /> Next door is the Jewish Museum containing relics from the Hungarian Jewish Community, including religious objects from festivals, and the Holocaust Memorial Room. In the courtyard is the Holocaust Memorial in the shape of a weeping willow tree, each metal leaf engraved with the names of Nazi victims.<br /><br />

Parliament Buildings

Address: District V, Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3 Budapest

On the bank of the Danube stands one of the world's most beautiful parliament buildings, an imposing sight and a prominent feature of the city's panorama. With its red dome, white stone lace ornamentation and spires, it is the city's most decorative structure. Stone lions flank the entrance guarding a rich interior of marble and gold, statues and columns, and magnificent artefacts, including the 1,000-year-old crown of the first Hungarian King, all of which can be viewed on a guided tour. The grand edifice, stretching for 250 metres (820ft) along the embankment, is one of the biggest national assemblies in the world. The interiors and architecture are truly magnificent and a visit to Budapest is simply not complete without exploring this very rich and historic place. For art or architecture lovers it is a must. It seems like an enormous palace or cathedral and some of the art work collected here is remarkable and priceless.<br /><br /> As you are entering a parliament building you will be expected to submit to security checks. The tours take between 45 minutes and an hour.<br /><br />

Memento Park

Address: District XXII, corner of Balatoni ut and Szabadkai utca Budapest

One of the city's most popular but more bizarre attractions is Memento Park, containing the giant figures of the Communist era that once filled the streets of Budapest. After the change in the political system the monuments glorifying Communism were banished into the exile of this outdoor museum and among the statues, busts and monuments are the forms of Lenin, Marx and Engels, as well as memorials to the Soviet Soldiers and the Communist Martyrs.<br /><br /> There are also exhibitions and films detailing the history of Soviet occupation and Communism in Budapest and Memento Park is historically intriguing if a little odd. Although it seems as though these once powerful symbols and sculptures have been incarcerated, the fact that they were not destroyed was progressive on Hungary's part and the result is a unique museum. This is the only collection in the world of its kind. There is a great little gift shop at the park and some of the interesting souvenirs sold there include cans of air from the 'last breath of socialism' and Stalin and Lenin shaped candles. Photos and films taken for private use are permitted.<br /><br />

Great Circus

Address: 1062 Budapest, Andrássy út 61 Budapest

There's nothing kids love more than a circus performance and Budapest offers a fantastic display of this Hungarian tradition. The Great Circus (Nagy Cirkusz) features an array of clowns, jugglers and acrobats of all kinds to keep children happily entertained. Of course, adults should also be enthralled and impressed by the various acts. Many of the performers are world-famous in their field and they do travel overseas to perform as well. MACIVA, or The Hungarian Circus and Variety Ltd., plays an important part in Hungarian cultural life and is one of the oldest cultural establishments of Hungary. It was built in 1954 and has come to be well known around the world. The circus has a school for performing artists and holds circus camps for children who want to learn some of the skills on display. Special events like parades and festivals occur at certain times of the year. Show times and prices vary according to the season so please check the website for details; it is possible to book online.<br /><br />

Budapest Puppet Theatre

Address: 69 Andrássy út Budapest

The Budapest Puppet Theatre (Bábszínház) is a fantastic attraction for children in the city and a great outing for the whole family if you're travelling in Budapest with kids. While the shows are all presented in Hungarian, kids are still enthralled by the enactment of familiar stories such as Cinderella and Snow White, and can often be heard calling out warnings when villains are approaching or encouraging the heroes in their endeavours. It is amazing how little the language barrier matters when it comes to this kind of storytelling.<br /><br /> You can book tickets in advance online but it is also nice to ask for advice, when you get there, about what is showing and what would be best suited to a non-Hungarian audience. The puppets are works of art and come in all shapes, sizes and colours, with some easily recognisable characters and some creative originals. Most adults will enjoy the performances but you can also easily head for the cafe during the show.<br /><br />

Kecskemet

Address: Budapest

An easy 53-mile (86km) drive from Budapest, Kecskemét (pronounced ketch-keh-mate) isn't well-known to outsiders but makes a wonderful day or weekend trip from the city. However, travellers may be seduced into staying longer once they have arrived. While Kecskemét is quite large, with more than 100,000 residents, the place has a uniquely small-town charm with a picturesque town centre. With an abundance of wide streets and open squares, walking around the sunny and scenic city centre, peppered with colourful Art Nouveau buildings, is a pleasant pastime, and there is lots to be discovered.<br /><br /> There are a number of attractions in Kecskemét that visitors will enjoy, including the Schnapps distillery tours at the Pálinka Museum, the Hungarian Photography Museum, the Museum of Hungarian Folk Art and Handicrafts, and the beautiful architecture and art collections at the City Hall. Kecskemét also has some very good restaurants, and visitors can sample the local varieties of apricot brandy made there. Possibly the best way to explore the city is just to let yourself get lost in the lovely centre and see what you can find. The city has existed in some form since at least the 1300s so it is no surprise that it holds many hidden gems for visitors.<br /><br />

Budapest Spring Festival

Where: Various,Budapest

When: 31 March - 23 April 2018

What began as a city cultural event in 1981 has now spread its wings and grown to become a nation-wide celebration of Hungarian culture and talent, drawing thousands of appreciative classical, opera and jazz fans from all over Europe. The Academy of Music and Budapest Convention Centre play host to most of the classical concerts on the programme, opening with the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir rendering Wagner and Berlioz. The city resounds with chamber music recitals and church concerts, while opera buffs feast at the State Opera House.<br /><br /> Other Hungarian towns and cities where the festival concerts and events are held include Sopron, Szombathely, Pecs and Szentendre. The Spring Festival is Hungary's most prestigious arts festival and it attracts about 40,000 visitors to Budapest a year. Tickets are available about four months before the event. Check the official website for details on the programme, venues and ticket availability.<br /><br />

Hungarian F1 Grand Prix

Where: Hungaroring Circuit, Mogyorod,Budapest

When: 30 July 2017

One of the most popular meetings on the Formula 1 motor-racing circuit is the Hungarian Grand Prix. World class race drivers pit their wits and skills against each other on the Hungaroring track about 12 miles (20km) from central Budapest. Hungary had their first grand prix on a small track in Budapest in 1936 but due to the war and ensuing politics it was 50 years before another was held. The 1986 event was the first Grand Prix to take place behind the Iron Curtain. The Hungarian Grand Prix is enthusiastically supported and the narrow and twisty track means that it is associated with tense, processional races where cars are forced to follow the leader due to the difficulty and danger of passing. There have been some famous races on this track as a result of the difficulty of overtaking but in 2003 the track was adapted a little to try and allow more passing. It is a wonderful, extremely exciting, and hugely popular sporting event and shouldn't be missed by petrolheads and fans when travelling to Hungary.<br /><br />

Sziget Festival

Where: Obuda Island,Budapest

When: 9 - 16 August 2017

The green island of Obuda, in the Danube River just north of Budapest, is the venue each summer for what has become one of the largest open-air rock and pop gatherings in Europe. Thousands gather on the island for a week-long music extravaganza with more than 1,000 performances across 60 venues. Famous names that have performed at Sziget recently include The Killers, Placebo, Paolo Nutini, Snoop Dogg, The Subways, Korn, Sum 41, Maximo Park and Anti-Flag. The festival makes every attempt to cover all styles and genres of music and the programme always includes pop, rock, electronic, metal, folk, jazz, blues, alternative, world music and even classical. The island is equipped with basic camping facilities and numerous pubs and restaurants, which make it a bustling 'festival city' of about 400,000 people for the duration of the event. Literary events, theatre, circus acts, dance of all genres and art exhibitions also add spice to the happening festival scene and there are even some interesting lectures and talks to attend if you need a break from all the live music. Check the official website for programmes and ticket information.<br /><br />

Indigo

Address: Jokai 13 Budapest

Food Type: Indian

One of Budapest's finest Indian eateries by far, the trendy Indigo is popular with locals and visitors alike and never fails to please with its mouth-watering curries and fragrant dishes. Stylish, yet modern décor and clean lines create a fresh atmosphere and the great food and service make for a memorable dining experience. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Credit cards accepted.<br /><br />

Café Vian

Address: Liszt Ferenc tér 9 Budapest

Food Type: Local

Those looking for a trendy eatery with both indoor and outdoor dining options need look no further than Café Vian. The food is good, the prices are reasonable and many young and hip locals frequent this popular Budapest restaurant. Try the grilled chicken breast 'Vian' style with ratatouille and candied lemon and potato pancake, or the red wine flavoured beef stew with dumplings. Open daily. Reservations accepted.<br /><br />

Nancsi Neni Vendegloje

Address: Ordogarok ut 80 Budapest

Food Type: Local

Also known as Aunt Nancsi's Restaurant, this family-run place is situated in the peaceful Buda Hills. It serves hearty Hungarian food at its best and is worth the short taxi ride out of the city centre. Try the Hungarian black truffle cream soup or the 'joy stew'.<br /><br />

Baraka

Address: Dorottya utca 6, Palazzo Dorottya Budapest

Food Type: European

Luxurious but comfortable, Baraka is a great fine dining option in Budapest, serving up contemporary European food with a global twist. The wine list is impressive and the cocktail options are as international as the menu. The restaurant is also conveniently situated in a lovely old part of the city popular with tourists. Reservations are recommended.<br /><br />

Comme Chez Soi

Address: Aranykéz u. 2 Budapest

Food Type: Italian

Comme Chez Soi is known as the best place to go for Italian food in Budapest. The menu is full of simple and delicious pizzas, pastas, seafood and meat dishes, and there is a varied selection of antipasti options as well. Its generous helpings and reasonable prices have made it increasingly hard to get a table, so reservations are required. Open Monday to Saturday, 11am to midnight.<br /><br />

Nightlife options in Budapest abound, from music lounges and jazz venues to trendy bars and nightclubs. New clubs open up throughout the city all the time, particularly in the areas around IX Raday utca and VII Liszt Ferenc tér. There are a number of party venues throughout the city with the busiest areas generally being districts 5, 6 and 9. There isn't always an entry fee at the door in Budapest's bars and nightclubs but some places will charge a few euros if there is an international DJ or live performance scheduled.<br /><br /> For the high rollers in Budapest, there are a number of casinos to enjoy in the luxury hotels between the Elizabeth and Chain bridges on Dunakorzó.<br /><br /> Hungary takes pride in its performing arts and those with more cultural inclinations will find Budapest a glorious city for opera, ballet, theatre and classical concerts: great venues include the Palace of the Arts, the National Theatre, the Budapest Opera and the Academy of Music, among others.<br /><br /> The legal drinking age is 18 in Hungary, but the law is seldom enthusiastically enforced in Budapest's bars.<br /><br />
Shopping in Budapest is a fun and varied experience. Popular souvenirs include Hungarian folk-art such as embroidered goods and Herend porcelain, and edible goods like Tokaji wine and túró cheese. The main Budapest shopping areas are in the city centre and the lanes surrounding Pest's Váci utca. There are many trendy designer outlets to be found on Andrássy Avenue in Pest, while the Castle District and Gellért Hill are home to some great speciality, souvenir and craft shops.<br /><br /> Budapest boasts a good selection of shopping malls hosting brand-name and fashion retailers: try West End City Centre and Duna Plaza in Pest for big international brands. There are cheaper, high-street shops along Nagykörút (Great Boulevard) and bargains can also be found in the Budapest markets, especially the Central Market, Ecseri flea market and Hunyadi tér market. Bargain-hunters in the city will also enjoy the BAV stores, which are pawn shops run by the state. One of the largest BAV stores can be found on V Bécsi utca 1 and stocks some great gems and souvenirs among the junk.<br /><br /> Unless there is a national holiday, most shops are open all day during the week, and till lunch on Saturday. Large supermarkets tend to have longer opening hours and are also open on Sunday, while some outlets such as Tesco, and city centre convenience stores, are open 24 hours.<br /><br />
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