What are the best things to do in Budapest?
1. Buda Castle, also known as the Royal Palace, dominates the city skyline from its vantage point high at the top of Varhegy (Castle Hill). The castle’s origins date back to the 14th Century, though the majestic Baroque building you see today was built during the early 18th Century. Today it houses several important cultural institutions including the Hungarian National Gallery, the National Library and the Budapest History Museum. Reach it via a charming funicular railway and don’t miss the imposing neoclassical tunnel beneath the castle which connects it with the Chain Bridge and is considered the official gateway to the city.
2. The Fisherman’s Bastion sits high on Castle Hill offering fine panoramic views of the Danube and Pest. Built between 1895 and 1902 in neo-Gothic and neo-Romantic styles it features seven decorative towers which represent the seven tribes which conquered Hungary. Behind the bastion sits an equestrian statue of St Stephen, Hungary’s first king, which is one of the city’s most visited monuments. The steps leading up to the bastion are decorated with copies of ancient statues which make it especially photogenic.
3. A Danube River cruise is a must for any first-time visitor to Budapest. Whether you fancy a romantic four-course dinner cruise, a lunchtime cruise with a glass of wine or a trip on a party boat, the city is best seen from the water. You’ll glide past iconic landmarks such as the Hungarian Parliament building, which is illuminated at night, Buda Castle and the recently restored Varkert Bazar. Head to the boat’s open deck to take in views and snap pictures of the Vigado Concert Hall and the floodlit monuments between the Margaret and Rakoczi bridges.
4. The Hungarian Parliament building is one of the city’s most impressive sights. This magnificent building, constructed over 17 years in the late 19th Century, has a Baroque floorplan, a Gothic facade and a Renaissance ceiling, while architect Imre Steindl drew inspiration from Britain’s own Houses of Parliament for its design. The building is especially lavish with around 40 million bricks and 30,000 cubic metres of carved stones used for its construction, around three kilometres of red carpet and 40 kilograms of 22-23 carat gold. An underground visitor’s centre has a permanent exhibition and an excellent bookshop.
5. Named after Hungary’s first king, St Stephen’s Basilica is Hungary’s third largest church. The 96-metre-tall neoclassical church is one of Budapest’s tallest structures with its twin belltowers, one of which holds Hungary’s largest bell. The building was completed in 1905 and stands on the site of a former theatre which once hosted animal fights. Catch a concert here or take a guided tour to see the church’s collection of treasures, including a relic of St Stephen’s right hand, and get access to the dome with its panoramic city views.
6. The 13th Century Matthias Church on Castle Hill was used as a mosque during Turkish rule before being converted during the late 19th Century when it received its current neo-Gothic makeover. Look out for a pair of majestic gates and an intricate set of carvings at its southern entrance. Inside you’ll find three aisles decorated with lavish frescoes and the Matthias Church Collection of Ecclesiastical Art, which includes ornate monstrances, reliquaries and chalices, plus replicas of the Crown of St Stephen and the coronation throne.
7. The Hungarian State Opera House is a stunning neo-Renaissance building designed by Miklos Ybl in 1884. The facade is dotted with statues of Puccini, Mozart, Liszt and Verdi, while its interior dazzles with marble columns, gilded vaulted ceilings, chandeliers and fantastic acoustics. There’s also a statue of Ferenc Erkel who penned Hungary’s national anthem, while the royal box, foyer and numerous artworks make this a special place to watch a concert. Hour-long tours of the opera house are run daily.
8. If you’re looking for a way to navigate the steep Buda hills with a difference, try a trip on the Zugliget Chairlift. It covers more than one-kilometre journey up the city’s highest peak Janos-hegy in just 12 minutes, rising 262 metres in the process. At the top sits the Erzsebet lookout tower from which you can experience an unparalleled view of the city, including the Parliament building, and the surrounding hills.