Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is an enchanting city located on the banks of the Danube River. With its captivating history, stunning architecture, and lively atmosphere, it is a destination brimming with must-visit spots. If this is your first time in Budapest, here's a family-friendly guide that covers both iconic and lesser-known treasures. We saw most of these sights on a 48-hour Hop-On Hop-Off tour with Big Bus Tours.
One of the most iconic landmarks of Budapest, the Hungarian Parliament Building is the third largest parliament building in the world (after Romania and India) as well as one of the most beautiful. Completed in 1902, it stands on the banks of the Danube River, and comprises almost 700 rooms. It is also home to the ancient Hungarian crown jewels. You can visit the building and its external museums for free but a guided tour is necessary to see the interior. We went on an interesting tour where we saw some of the opulent public areas.
Tip: Book your tickets online on the official site in advance as slots get booked out.
The river Danube separates the city into the Buda and Pest areas. The promenade is a picturesque walkway offering views of some of Budapest's most iconic landmarks, including the Buda Castle, Parliament, and several bridges. A walk here during the evening, with the city lights reflecting off the waters, is especially enjoyable.
Fun Fact: Budapest is also called the Pearl of the Danube.
A Danube River cruise is a must when visiting Budapest. As you glide along the majestic river, you get to witness the city from a fresh perspective, with lots of photo opportunities. A night river cruise will give you a great view of Budapest's landmarks beautifully lit up at night, especially the Parliament Building.
This poignant memorial consists of iron shoes along the river's bank and commemorates the Hungarian Jews who were executed here during World War II, after they were ordered to remove their shoes. It’s a moving reminder of the city's tragic past.
Perched atop Castle Hill, Buda Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site brimming with history. Riding the old-fashioned funicular is a great way to go up the hill to the castle which currently houses the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest History Museum and the National Library.
Fact: Vlad The Impaler, better known as Dracula, was imprisoned and tortured in the caves under the castle for over 10 years and it is possible to do a labyrinth tour where you can see these caves.
Fact: The great magician, Houdini, was from Hungary and there is a small museum containing authentic Houdini memorabilia near Buda Castle, where magic shows are also held.
A short walk from Buda Castle, the Fisherman's Bastion offers panoramic views of the city from its fairy-tale turrets and terraces. There’s a touristy market there too, where we enjoyed chimney cakes, a local delicacy.
Located in the middle of the Danube, Margaret Island is a peaceful escape from the bustling city with its lush gardens, medieval ruins, a huge Lego lion, musical fountains and kids' playground. The island is huge so plan to spend a few hours there. If you have less time, then you can hire a family bicycle or electric vehicle there, as we did.
The hop-on, hop-off tour is a convenient way to explore the city and visit its main attractions. We love doing them as an introduction to the city, while listening to the insightful commentary on our surroundings and we’ve used them in many cities around the world. We explored Budapest on a 48-hour tour with Big Bus Tours and it took us to most of the stops on this list. Most of the buses even had free wi-fi so we could research places we visited. Our ticket also included a river cruise and walking tours.
The Central Market Hall, also known as the Great Market Hall, was opened in 1897 and is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest, as well as one of the most beautiful markets in Europe. It's a foodie haven with all sorts of Hungarian delicacies and also a great spot to pick up some paprika, Hungary's favourite spice, as a souvenir.
The city's bridges, including the iconic Chain Bridge, Elizabeth Bridge, and Liberty Bridge, are not just functional structures but also architectural wonders that add to Budapest's charm. Chain Bridge was even named one of the most beautiful bridges in the world by Architectural Digest magazine. We walked across some of the bridges and enjoyed panoramic views of the river and the landmarks on both sides.
Heroes' Square is one of Budapest's most symbolic landmarks, and it is dominated by the Millennium Monument, which pays tribute to Hungarian national leaders. Flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hall of Art, it's also a gateway to the City Park. The wider area is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Budapest City Park is not your average park. This massive complex has a myriad of things to do from castles and museums to thermal baths and hot air balloon rides.
From Heroes Square, you can enter City Park where you can see Vajdahunyad Castle, an architectural marvel showcasing different Hungarian styles and a symbol of Hungarian history and heritage. The castle is home to the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture and is surrounded by a boating lake.
The new Museum of Ethnography is also located at City Park. So are the Budapest Zoo and the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. You can also go on a tethered hot air balloon ride here.
Fun Fact: Within the castle grounds, there's a statue of the Anonymous Monk, believed to be the author of the first Hungarian history chronicles. It's a popular local belief that touching his pen will bestow writing skills.
Budapest, often referred to as the "City of Spas," has a rich tradition of thermal bathing that dates back to Roman times. This was later enhanced by Ottoman Turkish influences. The city sits on over 100 thermal springs, which feed its bathhouses with naturally warm, mineral-rich waters, attracting both locals and tourists. The Széchenyi Thermal Baths in City Park is Europe's largest medicinal bath.
Housed in the swanky Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel, the New York Café is often listed as one of the 'most beautiful cafés in the world'. The building is over 120 years old and its opulent interiors will transport you to a bygone era. There are often long lines outside the café, but mornings are usually quieter.
Budapest has an excellent public transport system and its tram network is one of the largest in the world. The historic tram No.2 is often listed as one of the most beautiful tram rides in the world. It rides along the Danube River on the Pest side of the city, passing several iconic sights. We rode tram No 2 and enjoyed the views then discovered Tram No 41 on the Buda side of the city with equally, if not more, beautiful views.
Even if you're not an opera aficionado, the neo-Renaissance architecture and rich interiors of the Hungarian State Opera House will leave you in awe. Opened in 1884, it is one of Budapest’s most important historical monuments. You can catch a performance or simply take a guided tour to appreciate its grandeur
Gül Baba's tomb is a remnant of the 150-year-long Ottoman occupation of Hungary in the 16th and 17th centuries. Gül Baba was an Ottoman Bektashi dervish, poet, and a companion of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. He is referred to as Gül Baba (Father of Roses) due to his love for the flower and the rose he always wore in his turban. The mausoleum is situated on a hill with rose gardens and has panoramic views of the city.
Tip: The mausoleum is closed on Mondays.
Now, this would not normally be on my list of things to do anywhere, however, the McDonalds at Nyugati Railway Station in Budapest is considered one of the most beautiful McDaonalds in the world, so it's worth a visit even if you don't eat there.
2-3 full days are recommended to visit all the main attractions. However, should you stay longer, you will be able to visit them at a more relaxed pace. You can also visit over 50 museums in the city or go on day trips to other Hungarian cities and neighbouring countries. We visited Bratislva (Slovakia) and Vienna (Austria) but opted to stay there.
The Pest side of the city is better for tourists, and if you want to stay in a central location close to iconic landmarks, then District V (Belváros & Lipótváros) is a good choice. However, this area tends to be more pricey.
Blaha Lujza Square is also a great choice as it is one of Budapest's major intersections and transit hubs making it easy to travel within the city. We stayed at Hotel Nemzeti Budapest - McGallery in this area. A former art gallery, it is located a block away from New York Café, opposite the tram and metro stops, and close to many shops and restaurants. Book the hotel here or see more accommodation options in Budapest here.
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