Brilliant Budapest: Top Sights and Activites
As mentioned in the overview post, Budapest has two main areas. Obviously, it is more efficient to visit and enjoy the city without continuously crossing over the river. I’ve grouped my favorite locations and activities by halves of the city, with an exception for the island that’s in the middle of the river. I've ordered them by what I think is the most important to see and do.
First of all, always do a "free walking tour" (see my post on these here). For Budapest, I highly recommend this one. My tour guide was a Budapest local, who was very knowledgable about the history, architecture and customs of the city. This company was highest rated on TripAdvisor and I seriously understand why. **Remember you have to tip the amount you feel they deserve, and please remember this is their job and are doing 2-3 hours of work. **
- House of Terror (2-3hrs) - Museum of Arrow Cross (fascist) and AVH (communist) parties in Hungary while their respective regimes were in power. This is hands down one of best museums I’ve ever attended. It's very interesting, but obviously, depressing. This museum is on the site of headquarters of both parties and features torture chambers used by fascist and communist parties. I VERY highly recommend getting audio guide, it really adds to the experience, and therefore, you can listen to information while looking at the exhibit. Otherwise, there are sheets in each room you can read (in English)
- Shoes on the Danube (10-15 viewing spot) - Bronze shoes near Parliament building symbolizing those shot and killed by Arrow Cross into the Danube. It's a very powerful statue, and pays respect to those largely not memorialized.
- Dohàny Street Synagogue (Great Synagogue) (1 hr) - This is the largest synagogue in Europe, and the second largest in the world, after Temple Emanu-El in NYC. It has memorial for those lost during WWII Nazi occupation. It's interesting in general, but also because it’s largest synagogue. According to Rick Steve's podcast on it (lol) it is built like a traditional “church” rather than the more common smaller synagogue to establish and "legitimize" the large jewish population. Before WWII, Budapest 25% of the population was Jewish, however, now less because of Nazi occupation and Arrow Cross (Hungarian branch of fascist) rule.
- St. Stephen’s Basilica (1 hr)- Really cool church, worth seeing if you're into seeing a lot of churches like I am. This basilica has a bell tower where you can take an elevator (bless up) to top.
- Szechenyi Thermal Bath (3-4 hrs) - Most touristy of all the baths, and I think most expensive. It’s the yellow huge one you’ve seen on Pinterest or any general post about Budapest. It’s very cool, full of people, with two main outdoor baths and some indoor baths. Nice for soaking the body and feet after a long day walking, additionally on Saturday nights (usually) they’ve got bath parties. I didn’t go, but look into it if that's something you’re into.
- Heroes' Square - (20 min) Basically, it's a giant paved square with tons of statues. Fun if on way to park behind it but not super necessary to see, it's located on the end of yellow line and near Vajdahuyad Castle and Szechenyi Baths.
- Vajdahunyad Castle (20 min) - inside same park (City Park) as Heroes' Square and Szechenyi baths. I only saw the outside but it was pretty cool and worth the 10 min walk away from Square/ Baths. However, it has an interior, which showcases different kinds of Hungarian architecture throughout Budapest's 1120 year history.
Accessing the Castle District: You can go up steps or take funicular (train that goes up mountain). I don’t think the stairs are that bad and funicular isn’t worth the money it in this case.
- Matthias Church (1 hr for bell tower, 1 hr inside)- Beautiful inside and out, with really cool Hungarian mosaics inside and of the mosaics on the roof if you do the bell tower. I highly recommend walking up the bell tower, the stairs aren't that bad, and you are rewarded with good views of the entire Buda side and Margaret Island.
- Fisherman’s Bastion (30 min) - Fairytale-esque outside, with good views of Buda. In my opinion, it's not worth paying money to go upstairs, and to use that money to go to the higher up Matthias Church bell tower. Get cute pics in the free to public lower levels and get better views at top of Matthias church.
- Gellert Baths and Spa (3-4hrs) - This bath is Art Nouveau style, and is strikingly pretty and has less people. More relaxing than the other one I went to (Szechenyi Bath) because there are less people with smaller pools and relaxing locations. It feels less touristy and more relaxing, while the other is definielty more of a "day party" vibe. Gellert Baths features a wave pool, sauna, hot baths and cold baths.
Walk across Chain Bridge, you get pretty nice views of Danube River (15-20 min depending on crowds), and you have the added benefit of being on the other side of the city.
Margaret Island (2-3 hrs) - Island on Daunbe accessible by the Margit Bridge walkway from Pest. The whole island is basically a huge park you can walk around and enjoy. There’s a huge fountain almost as soon as you get on the island, which has water-fountain shows choreographed to different songs (lol but also kinda cool). I liked going there to relax after walking around a lot. We went to a grocery store before we walked to the island and purchases wine and lunch fixings, and had a very relaxing and pleasant picnic.