Budapest City Guide

Affectionately known as the Queen of the Danube, Budapest offers twice the culture and heritage of the average capital

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Straddling the River Danube in northern Hungary, Budapest is often cited as one of Europe's most beautiful cities, not to mention one of its largest by area. Where once two metropolises existed on opposing banks of the Danube, Buda and Pest merged in the 19th century to form a rambling urban district whose fascinating culture is bisected by the great river.

Nestled along the banks of the Danube in northern Hungary, Budapest is often cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Where once two contrasting cities existed on opposite sides of the river, Buda and Pest merged in the 1800s to form a rambling urban district whose fascinating culture remained divided by the postcard-worthy waterway.

From the Buda Hills of the west to the Great Plain of the east, Budapest’s cityscape is one of immense variety of intrigue. Traverse one of the city’s seven historic bridges, and it’s easy to discern the cultural variances between the two banks. Where Buda is a tapestry of it’s easy streets, ancient structures and green spaces, Pest is the urban heart of the city, home to the Opera, the Central Market, the National Theater, the Palace of the Arts and the Hungarian Parliament Building.

Like other global cities to have flourished on the banks of a river, Budapest comprises a handful of distinct neighborhoods, each offering its own blend of historic, cultural and architectural gems. For those visiting the city for the first, second or even third time, the diversity of these quarters ensures there is always something new and exciting to see.

Discover the highlights, hidden gems and cultural significance of this great European city in our in-depth Budapest city guide.

Must-see sights

Hungarian State Opera House

Hungarian State Opera House lit up during the evening

Overlooking a Parisian-style boulevard in the heart of the former Pest district of the city, the Hungarian State Opera House is one of Europe’s most architecturally lavish concert venues – so you should catch a show there if the opportunity arises. Despite its grandeur, tickets for Budapest’s Hungarian State Opera House are relatively inexpensive. For those not keen on seeing a show, hour-long tours operate throughout the day.

Memento Park

Memento Park, Budapest

Visitors interested in learning more about Budapest’s communist past should pay a visit to Memento Park – an open-air museum housing the monumental statues which dotted the city during Hungary’s Communist period. Located beyond the western hills of Buda, the part contains statues of several communist figureheads, including Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as well as other plaques, sculptures and monuments dedicated to the People’s Republic of Hungary at the time of Soviet occupation.

Hungarian House of Photography

Art gallery with exhibition

If you are interested in the art of photography, then the Hungarian House of Photography deserves to be your next port of call after visiting the Hungarian National Gallery and the Museum of Applied Arts. Featuring a fine selection of contemporary and historical photographs from numerous national and international photographers, this excellent art centre regularly changes its exhibits.

Thermal Baths

Budapest Thermal Baths

As a city whose foundations are awash with thermal hot springs, Budapest’s bathing heritage dates back to the Romans. Thousands of tourists and locals alike regularly frequent the city’s thermal bathing spots, with the most popular baths being Gellért and Széchenyi. If you’d prefer somewhere quieter, then we’d recommend Veli Bej, a unique Turkish bathhouse first built in the 1570s, which tends to attract more locals than visitors.

Great Market Hall

Great Market Hall, Budapest

Sampling some of Budapest’s best culinary delights could not be easier at the Great Market Hall, where you’ll find hundreds of independent food vendors housed under one roof. Located at the end of the pedestrian shopping street of Váci utca, this grand market offers an impressive array of local produce – from caviar and spices, to pastries and confectionery. The building itself is a delight to explore, having been restored to its former neo-Gothic glory.

Cultural Features

Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungarian Parliament Building

One of the great cultural icons of Europe; the Hungarian Parliament Building is the most recognizable landmark of the Budapest skyline, and perhaps the entire Danube River. Built following the unification of Pest, Buda and Óbuda in 1873, the Parliament Building is the biggest building in Hungary and the tallest building in Budapest. In total, over 100,000 people were involved in its construction, and half a million precious stones were incorporated into its design.

Jewish Museum

Synagogue in Budapest

One of the world’s oldest museums dedicated to faith, Budapest’s Jewish Museum is a historic exhibition celebrating the religious objects and scriptures of Judaism. Located beside the Dohány Street Synagogue in Pest, the museum was established in 1896 as a means of recording and showcasing historic objects of Jewish origin. The museum serves as both a reference library of Jewish artifacts and a place to remember those who lost their lives.

Hungarian Folk Music

Traditional dancing Hungarian children

Folk music has long been associated with Hungary, emerging from Budapest’s working classes in the 1700s. Known locally as Magyar népzene, Hungarian folk music combines musical traditions from several countries in central Europe, including Austria and Poland. There are several places to experience Hungarian folk music in Budapest, including Fono and the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble.

Shoes on the Danube Bank 

Shoes on the Danube

A moving memorial on the banks of the river; Shoes on the Danube Bank is a sculptural tribute to the thousands of Jews murdered in Budapest during WWII. Designed by sculptor Gyula Pauer, the Shoes on the Danube Bank depicts several pairs of shoes left on the banks of the river, in memoriam of the thousands who were shot by the Arrow Cross Party in 1944.

Food and Drink

Goulash

Goulash

Nourishing the people of Budapest for centuries, goulash is a traditional peasant dish that became Hungary’s national dish during the Soviet years. Traditionally made using beef, goulash contains a mix of spices, with paprika being the primary flavor. Eaten straight from the pan with a hunk of bread, there’s no heartier dish on the continent. 

Try it: You’ll find goulash on the menu of many traditional Hungarian restaurants in Budapest, but one of the best – and most unique – places to sample it is the Vagon Restaurant, which is housed inside a turn-of-the-century train car.

Lesco

Lesco
For vegetarians sad to be missing out on the chance to sample traditional Hungarian goulash, lecsó is the next best thing, and it’s usually served meat-free. Generously seasoned with paprika, salt and pepper, this delicious stew is as fragrant and humble as goulash, but contains only tomatoes, peppers and onions – so vegetarians and vegans can enjoy the flavors of Hungary.

Try it: The M10 restaurant in Buda is a wonderful place to try traditional Hungarian dishes, all within a stone’s throw of the majestic Buda Castle.

Langos

Goulash

If you’re looking for lunch on the go, it has to be lángos. This street food favorite is beloved by locals, who enjoy it as much as the Italians do pizza. Lángos is essentially deep-friend dough, served with a mixture of sweet or savory toppings. Perfect anytime of the day, it’s a classic Hungarian treat you have to try.

Try it: While most people eat lángos on the go or on their way home after a few drinks, you can also find it in traditional cafés and restaurants. One such place is Lángos Papa, a homely café in the heart of Pest where you can indulge in the very best of this simple local delicacy.

Fun facts

  • The Hungarian State Parliament Building is the third largest parliament building in the world, covering an area of 194,000 square feet.
  • Budapest has the oldest subway line on mainland Europe, and is second only to the London Underground in terms of actual age. Budapest’s metro system opened in 1896.
  • Budapest is home to the second largest synagogue in the world, Dohány Street. Capable of accommodating 3,000 worshippers, the synagogue was built in the mid-19th century in a classic Neo-Moorish style.
  • The northern most holy place of Islam is located in Budapest. It’s the tomb of Gül Baba, a holy man who traveled to Hungary during the Turkish invasion in the 16th century.
  • Opening its doors in 1865, Budapest Zoo is one of the oldest zoological gardens in the world, and is famed for its ornate Art Nouveau buildings and exhibit spaces.

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