16 Fun and Cool Things to Do in Budapest on a Holiday

Steve Cummings

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is a city that surprises many visitors with its beauty. It's a top choice for a city break or a stop on a Danube trip. Even if you know about the famous Parliament building, there's much more to see. 

This city mixes old beauty with new excitement. In this article, we'll show you some of the best things to do in Budapest. 

1. Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungarian Parliament Building
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The Hungarian Parliament Building is the most popular attraction and should be at the top of your list of things to do in Budapest. It's not just a government center but also a symbol of the city's pride.

The impressive interior features a sixteen-sided central hall that houses the Crown of Hungary, and there are numerous statues representing different professions, serving as a reminder to the Parliamentarians of their duty to the people. 

At night, the building is beautifully lit up, making it a spectacular sight from the Danube, especially for those on cruise boats.

Guided tours are available, which last about 30 minutes, but these can be pretty busy and touristy. The tour usually has about 30 people, starts with a climb up around 120 stairs, and includes earphones.  The tour also includes visiting the Parliament Hall and offering some lovely views from the windows.

2. Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman's Bastion
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The Fishermans Bastion is on the Buda side, and from here, you get great views over the river of the Pest side. It is also here where you will find the beautiful Matthias Church and a statue of St. Stephen in the square.

The site itself is spectacular, complete with impressive statues throughout. You might even see the changing of the guard or guards on horseback, adding to the experience. 

Apart from the views and historical significance, you will find lovely artisans selling their goods in a market on the grounds, making it a perfect spot to pick up unique souvenirs. 

3. The Shoes on the Danube Bank

The Shoes on the Danube Bank
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The Shoes on the Danube Bank in Budapest is a profoundly moving and important memorial with significant historical value. 

It should be on your list of things to see in Budapest, especially those interested in understanding its past. 

Be warned, though, that this place can get jam-packed, which is excellent for the city, but with it being such a moving tribute, it takes a lot of work to take it all in with all the crowds. So our tip would be to visit early morning or evening as with fewer crowds, the flickering candles and the lights over the river add to the emotional impact. It's a place for solemn reflection rather than casual photography, but you will get the usual Instagram photographers here.

4. St. Stephen's Basilica

St. Stephen's Basilica
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St. Stephen's Basilica is a must-visit for its stunning architecture and historical significance.

The basilica, named after St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary, is renowned for its beautiful 300-foot neo-Renaissance dome. Interestingly, this dome had to be rebuilt after collapsing during construction. Although completed in 1905, which is relatively new by European standards, the church took 54 years to build. One of the key features inside the church is the mummified right hand of St. Stephen, displayed in an ornate case, which we think is freaky but interesting.

The basilica looks mesmerizing both at night and during the day, and if you are lucky enough, you might be able to time your visit with a church service.

One of the best parts is the entrance to the main floor is free, which we like at The Frugal Expat, but we recommend buying a ticket which gives you access to the treasury and the lookout. At the top, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of Budapest.

5. Széchenyi Baths and Pool

Széchenyi Baths and Pool
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This Neo-Baroque spa complex has been around for over 100 years. 

It's got 15 indoor pools, saunas, places for massages and facials, and three big outdoor pools with whirlpools and water jets. The water in these pools comes from mineral-rich hot springs, which many believe can help with different health problems.

We recommend you try out the beer spa or go to the ‘Sparty,' a big party they hold in the summer, one of the more unique things to do in Budapest.

Remember to bring your towel and flip-flops. If you don't want to wait in line to get in, you should book a tour, some of which even include a massage!

6. Matthias Church

Matthias Church
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Matthias Church in Budapest is one of those buildings that you just have to see as its architecture is so incredible that walking around it feels like you're stepping into a scene from a Harry Potter movie. 

The first church on this site was built in 1015, but the main parts of the current Gothic structure were added in the 12th and 13th centuries. 

There are a few main features of the church worth checking out, such as the church's bell tower, which stands 78 meters tall, and the fantastic stained glass windows. We think the best feature is the organ, known as “Kings Organ,” which has 7771 pipes!

7. The Chain Bridge

The Chain Bridge
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The Chain Bridge should be on your list of best things to see in Budapest.

This fantastic bridge spans the mighty River Danube and connects the Buda and Pest sides of the city. It's a piece of history and engineering, designed by English engineer William Tierney Clark and built by the Scottish engineer Adam Clark. 

Opened in 1849, it was the first permanent bridge across the Danube. However, during writing (December 2023), the bridge is closed to pedestrian traffic and only to buses and taxis due to ongoing renovations. It's unclear when it will fully reopen.

Even with the restrictions, crossing the bridge by tour, bus, or taxi is worth it to see this iconic structure up close. 

8. Buda Castle

Buda Castle
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Who doesn’t love visiting a castle? This is one of the cool things to do in Budapest.

Buda Castle's main buildings were built in the mid-1700s, but numerous additions and reconstructions have occurred over the years, including repairs after World War II. 

The castle houses several important public institutions. These include the Budapest History Museum, which tells the story of Budapest from its earliest days to the modern era; the Hungarian National Gallery, which displays Hungary's most precious artifacts and works of art; and the Hungarian National Library, home to rare and antique books from Hungary and abroad. 

There's a lot of change in the castle area, with some buildings being turned into high-rent offices and flats, which has stirred up controversy.

To get to Buda Castle, you can take bus number 16 or catch the funicular. 

9. For Sale Pub 

The For Sale Pub in Budapest is located across the road from the Grand Central Market, and it's fantastic. We would say it's one of the more unique things to do in Budapest, as you won’t find a pub like this anywhere else.

It has no street terrace or anything outside to grab your attention. Instead, there’s just an arched door with “For Sale” written above it, resembling an entrance to a Wild West saloon.

Despite its name, “For Sale” isn't actually for sale. The name comes from the unique concept that you can sell anything here. Visitors are encouraged to add their advertisements to the walls. If you want to be a part of this iconic pub's story, just bring a piece of paper, something to stick it to the wall, and find a spot on the wall or ceiling to put it on.

10. Heroes' Square

Heroes' Square
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Heroes Square in Budapest is similar to many old squares across Europe as it is full of lovely old buildings and is usually a city's historical center. The square is dedicated to Hungary's heroes (hence the name).

To fully appreciate its beauty, it's best to visit early in the morning before it gets crowded with tour groups. Around 7:30 am is a good time, but by 8 am, it typically starts to get busy.

If you are after things to do in Winter in Budapest, this is the place, as the ice rink gives it a magical Christmas feel.

A visit to Heroes' Square is worth about half an hour to an hour, especially if you take a break to enjoy a coffee and soak in the surroundings.

11. Margaret Island

Margaret Island
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Margaret Island in Budapest is one of the best things for families in Budapest to spend a day as it offers a mix of nature, history, and fun activities.

We recommend renting an electric buggy, which seats four people, costs about $30 per hour, and will allow you to explore the whole island comfortably.

You could watch the musical fountain show, explore the ruins of an old convent, visit a small petting zoo that kids will love, and even visit an outdoor swimming pool. 

There are also decent cafes where you can grab a drink or something to eat.

12. Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum

The fascinating museum offers history with emotional displays and a sad backstory. You'll find many real items used, including machines, wax figurines of high quality, a medical helicopter, and a jeep.

The entry cost is around $20 per person, and it's a good idea to pop in for a tour if you're in the area, as you don't necessarily need to book tickets in advance. Just show up and join the next available tour. 

It's good value for money, and the tour, lasting about an hour, is packed with lots to see. 

13. Varhegy

Castle Hill
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Varhegy, or Castle Hill as it's called, is popular and includes the Buda Hills and the Castle, where you can get amazing views from the hills. 

A good time to visit is in the morning, like on a Sunday around 10:00 am when there are fewer crowds.  You can get there by bus 105 and the funicular railway, or if you're taking the sightseeing bus, it's stop number 9.

There are a few cool bars and restaurants in the area worth checking out as well.

It's a place to start your Budapest trip as you get a feel for the city's atmosphere while enjoying some of its best sights.

14. Gellert Hill

Gellert Hill
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This is another place in Budapest where you can get great city views.

To reach the top of Gellert Hill, you have two main options. One way is to walk uphill from the Liberty Bridge. This route involves climbing many steps and passing a children's play area. Alternatively, you can reach the other side of the hill by car or public transport, which takes you near the top. It's about a 10-15 minute walk to the summit. This route involves a mix of steep and flat paths and steps.

Even though the monument at the top is closed for renovations, you can still get close enough for some great photos. 

Going to the top is worth the effort, as you will get better views than other places. Put this on your list of free things to do in Budapest.

15. Budapest Pinball Museum

Budapest Pinball Museum
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We like things that are slightly different at The Frugal Expat, and the Pinball Museum is one of those. This is one of the best things to do with kids in Budapest.

It costs about $14, and there is no need to buy tickets in advance, which is good as sometimes you don’t always want to plan.

It's not the sort of place where you can spend the whole day, as after about 2 hours you would have had enough, but it's a great way to spend the morning.

The place is packed with pinball machines, both old and new styles. What's great is that you pay one fee to get in, and then you can play on any machine for free. 

Just remember, the museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays!

16. Central Market Hall

Central Market Hall
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The Central Market Hall is a large indoor market split over several floors. It is massive and resembles a train station with hundreds of shops and stalls.

On the ground floor, stalls sell fresh produce, fish, meat, spices, cured meats, and dairy products, which are popular with locals. 

Most tourists will head to the upper floors, one of the best places to eat in Budapest, and there, you'll have the chance to taste authentic Hungarian dishes like goulash with dumplings at various stalls and eateries.

As well as food, you can also find souvenirs, alcoholic drinks, and paprika. Be aware that the prices in the market might be a bit high, especially for tourists.

Final Thoughts

We'd love to hear about your experiences or any additional tips you might have for travels heading to Budapest. 

Your ideas could help make someone else's trip even more memorable. So, don't hesitate to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Related: 16 Unforgettable Things to Do in Vienna on Your Visit

2 thoughts on “16 Fun and Cool Things to Do in Budapest on a Holiday”

  1. There seems to be a rich history and a wide range of experiences in Budapest. I was struck by the view of the Fisherman’s Bastion and the unique architecture of the Matthias Church. It is a must see destination, in combination with ancient elegance and new enthusiasm. Thank you for the excellent recommendations!


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