Budapest has been described as the “Paris of the East,” and after visiting last summer, I quickly found out why.
This idyllic and romantic city is overflowing with Roman, Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic architecture. Every corner you turn, you’ll be amazed by the city’s stunning antediluvian wonders.
Budapest’s unique history offers endless cultural experiences, several of which are detailed below. A trip to Budapest wouldn’t be complete without indulging in its exquisite cultural experiences, along with getting lost in its grand boulevards and dramatic river views.
For beautiful and affordable, I’d pick Budapest. When the buildings along the riverfront are lit up at night, it’s magical.
— Paul Marshman, The Travelling Boomer.
Hungary has approximately 1,000 natural spring water sources, with the biggest and most popular in Budapest being Széchenyi Thermal Baths.
With an abundance of thermal baths in Budapest, it’s no wonder how it got the nickname ‘the City of Spas.’ Széchenyi Thermal Baths celebrated their 100 year anniversary in 2013; they welcome around one million visitors annually.
Széchenyi Thermal Baths feature 18 pools, including indoor and outdoor geothermal pools that are open 365 days a year — even national holidays. Besides the pools, visitors can indulge in massage treatments and relax in the saunas.
2. Buda Castle
Completed in 1265, Buda Castle is the historical residence of Budapest’s Hungarian kings and remains one of the city’s most popular attractions.
Formerly referred to as the Royal Palace and the Royal Castle, Buda Castle sits at the top of Castle Hill, part of the aptly named Castle District. This renowned area is known for its beautiful medieval, baroque, and 19th-century houses, public buildings, and churches.
Click here for information on the many available tours of Buda Castle.
3. Budapest’s Ruin Bars
The construction of Szimpla started a domino effect of opening bars in crumbling, abandoned buildings, and Budapest is now overflowing with these so-called ‘ruin bars,’ undoubtedly Budapest’s best nightlife experience.
Fun Fact: When going out on the town in Budapest, make sure to never cheers by clinking your beer bottles. Legend has it that when Hungary’s 1948 revolution against the Habsburgs was defeated, the Austrians celebrated in Vienna by toasting and clinking their beer glasses. To this day, Hungarians still don’t cheers with their beer bottles.
Click here for a list of Budapest’s best ruin bars.
Just over 100 years old, Budapest’s Hungarian Parliament Building is another magnificent example of the city’s neo-Gothic architecture.
The square where the Hungarian Parliament stands is named after Lajos Kossuth, a Hungarian lawyer, journalist, politician and Governor-President of Hungary in 1849 who was widely honored as a freedom fighter and harbinger of democracy in Europe.
With nearly 700,000 visitors per year, the Hungarian Parliament Building offers daily tours from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
When visiting the Parliament, be sure to also check out nearby Shoes on the Danube Bank, a moving memorial to honor the Jews who were killed by fascist militiamen in Budapest during World War II.
Fun Fact: In the mid-’80s, famous rock band Queen came to Hungary for a special concert. During a riverboat cruise of the Danube River, Freddie Mercury actually wanted to purchase the Parliament building.
After seeing the building without knowing what it was, he famously said, “Who has such a nice house? If it has enough bathrooms, I would definitely buy it!“
5. Széchenyi Chain Bridge
At the time of its construction in 1849, Széchenyi Chain Bridge was considered one of the modern world’s engineering wonders.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge is a suspension bridge extending across the Danube River to the western and eastern sides of Budapest, referred to as Buda and Pest. It was the first permanent bridge in Budapest and, before its establishment, the only way to cross the river was by ferry.
Count István Széchenyi, a Hungarian politician, political theorist and writer, decided to build the bridge after missing his father’s funeral due to a ferry delay caused by bad weather.
The bridge later became a symbol of independence and was the site of many demonstrations during the Fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
6. Fisherman’s Bastion
Like walking into a real-life fairytale, Fisherman’s Bastion is a stunning all-white castle and terrace built in the neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style, closely resembling the castle logo of Walt Disney films.
The castle’s square features a myriad of lookout towers that were built in the 19th century, offering some of the best panoramic views of Budapest.
Fisherman’s Bastion remains one of the most visited attractions in the city. The area has seven turrets that represent the seven Hungarian tribes who founded the present day country in 895, referred to as the Seven chieftains of the Magyars; the castle got its name from the guild of fishermen who protected the area during the Middle Ages.
One of Budapest’s major and most impressive squares, Heroes’ Square was constructed in 1896 to mark the 1000th anniversary of Hungary. The square features the Seven chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders.
If you want to knock out most of the above-mentioned cultural attractions in one day, consider partaking in a free Budapest walking tour.
Starting daily at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. at Vorosmoty Square, Budapest’s free walking tours are insightful, fun-filled and informative. Local tour guides provide illuminating information on Budapest’s history, society and architecture, painting a picture of what Hungarians are truly like.
Each tour focuses on the best sites of both Buda and Pest, including its most famous streets, bridges, statues and buildings.
Major sites and landmarks visited on this tour are:
- Buda Castle
- Danube Promenade
- St. Stephen’s Basilica
- Széchenyi Chain Bridge
- Castle District
- Matthias Church
- Fisherman’s Bastion
- Gellért Hill
- Margaret Island
Another great way to see Budapest’s most popular cultural attractions is by taking a Danube River cruise.
With a variety of options to choose from, Danube River cruises take visitors on sightseeing adventures, telling the stories of both Buda and Pest with glimpses of charming sights along the way, including the Hungarian Parliament Building, Széchenyi Chain Bridge and Margaret Island.
The most elegant of Danube River cruises feature a four-course dinner, live piano music, and a singer for an unforgettable musical, culinary and cultural experience.
With over 30 languages to choose from and several departures year-round, Danube River cruises include one free drink and cost between $20-28 USD. Children 10 and under ride along for free!
Note: Don’t Skip Out On The Rest Of Hungary
Budapest is particularly beautiful, but there’s much else in Hungary that has yet to really catch on with tourists. For you, that means a chance to see some unspoilt countryside and get an authentic sense of what like is like for Hungarians.
“Although the capital city of Budapest is finally getting well-deserved kudos, the rest of the country remains virtually undiscovered,” says Barbara Weibel of the travel blog Hole In The Donut. “My most cherished finds include summer resorts on the shores of Lake Balaton; the wine-growing region in the northeast; the wonderful eastern city of Debrecen, with its gourmet and farm-to-table cuisine; the wooden stave churches in far east Szatmar county; and the vast eastern Hungarian plains with their preserved tradition of cattle herding and horse breeding.”