Budapest is a fascinating city with incredible history. Its roots date back to the Roman times and even earlier; modern Budapest dates back to 19th and 20th centuries when it was part of the Austria-Hungary empire and while under Soviet rule for 45 years, which ended in 1991. Today the city is a thriving metropolis, drawing in tourists from all over the world, many arriving or departing on a river cruise.
With all its history, Budapest offers an incredible number of exceptional experiences. Classic sites, including the UNESCO World Heritage Castle Hill district with spectacular views of the city (Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church), Heroes Square and a panoramic tour down Andrassy Avenue (both also UNESCO sites), past 19th and 20th century mansions, the National Opera House, the Parliament Building and across the Chain Bridge are often included tours on river cruises that start or end in Budapest.
One day seeing sites in Budapest, though, just isn’t enough. I highly recommend adding days before or after your river cruise to take advantage of your time in this most beautiful city.
Following are 17 top rated sites (beyond the classics) you can weave into your itinerary.
The Danube Promenade and the Shoe’s On the Danube Bank Monument
The Danube Promenade, on the left bank (Pest side of the river), stretches between the iconic Chain Bridge and the more modern Elizabeth Bridge. The Promenade is one of the best places to take a stroll (day or night) in Budapest, with its beautiful views of the Danube and the Buda Castle. Not to be missed is the Shoes on the Danube Bank monument in honor of the Jews who were massacred during WWII.
Central Market Hall
Built in 1897, Central Market is the largest and oldest indoor market in the city. Housed in a historical Neo-Gothic style building, you’ll find produce, fresh meats and cheeses, some of the best cheap eats in Budapest as well as souvenirs like traditional handcrafts and Hungarian paprika in over 100 stalls on 3 floors.
The Jewish Quarter and Dohany Street Synagogue Complex
Named after the street it sits on, the complex includes the Hungarian Jewish Museum and the largest synagogue in Europe, known as the Great Synagogue, which seats 3000 worshippers. The Jewish Quarter itself is now known as the city’s party district but remains culturally rich and shouldn’t be missed. This is among the top 10 sites to see in Budapest.
Hungarian State Opera House
This Opera House is considered to be one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. A guided tour takes you through the most beautiful rooms and areas closed to the public. If you enjoy the opera or ballet and have time, purchase a ticket. They are relatively inexpensive and provides a fabulous experience.
Hungarian National Museum
The Hungarian National Museum is a history museum filled with relics from medieval times to modern times. A coronation cloak used by the Kings of Hungary, 16-18th century Ottoman artworks and chronicles of the rise and fall of Communism are a few examples of what you’ll experience. TIP: Make this museum one of the first places you visit. The walk through history will provide great background for many of the places you’ll be visiting.
City Park and Vajdahunyad Castle
City Park, the biggest green park in Budapest, was built as the main venue for the 1896 Millennial celebration. Vajdahunyad Castle, part of the exhibition, is actually one of 21 replicas of magnificent and historic buildings in Hungary. The original Vajdahunyad Castle, also known as Hunyad Castle, is in Transylvania, formerly part of the Hungarian empire.
Szechenyi Thermal Bath and Gellert Baths
Budapest is well known for its thermal baths. The Szechenyi Thermal Bath is one of the largest bath complexes in Europe with 18 hot spring pools, fed by water supplied by two thermal springs. Gellert Baths is a complex of 10 pools and part of the famous Spa Hotel Gellert in Buda.
House of Terror
The House of Terror is a museum with exhibits related to the Soviet-backed communist regime. It is a memorial to the victims of this regime who were tortured, detained, interrogated or killed in this very building.
Ervin Szabo Library
If you are looking for a truly hidden gem not discovered by tourists, this is it. The Wenckheim Palace, formerly a 19th century aristocrat’s mansion, was turned into a library in 1931. It can be easily missed as the modern Ervin Szabo library surrounds it. The Hungarian neo-baroque architecture makes a perfect ambiance to curl up with a great book.
Gellert Hill and the Citadella
The Citadella is an old fortress located on the summit of Gellert Hill. It was built by the Hapsburgs in 1854 to watch over the city to prevent any uprisings. Today it is a UNESCO site with stunning views of the Danube and the city.
Hospital in the Rock
This museum is located in the actual cave system under Buda Castle that was converted into an emergency hospital during WWII. Both civilian and soldiers were treated in the hospital. It was later used as a shelter for A bombs.
Labyrinth under the Castle Hill
Beneath the Buda Castle is a network of interconnected caves and tunnels formed by the thermal springs. In prehistoric times the caves were used as shelter. In the Middle Ages they served as wine cellars and jails, and during the wars they became military facilities. Today you can take guided tours through the labyrinth, a unique and worthwhile experience.
Margaret Island is a recreational and landscaped park in the middle of the Danube in central Budapest. Home to a small Japanese Garden and petting zoo, it is known for its UNESCO protected Water Tower built in Art Nouveau style in 1911 and Music Fountain that plays music while colorful lights and water “dance” with the various music themes.
A quirky, very interactive museum, you’ll find this one hidden in a basement. Filled with 130 different machines, visitors can play many of them to their heart’s content. It is still a museum though, as you’ll find older vintage pieces and pinball predecessors on display.
Semmelweis Museum of Medical History
This museum presents the history of Western medicine. It is located in the childhood house of medical pioneer Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis - not a household name, but what he discovered is. An early pioneer of antiseptic procedures, he discovered the disease fighting power of handwashing back in 1847. An unusual and underrated experience, it is especially interesting for anyone in the medical field.
Obuda Main Square
Obuda, or Old Buda, is a forgotten little district in Budapest with a Roman past. History lovers will enjoy this neighborhood, taking in well preserved ruins from the Roman era. The main square is home to lovely museums, charming street and nice restaurants. This part of town is also known for its craft beer scene.
Faust Wine Cellar located under Buda Castle
You’ll find this historic little wine cellar hidden underneath the Hilton Budapest Hotel. The way to the cellar is through stairs from the 13th century Dominican Cloister ruins that were incorporated into the hotel. The cellar offers delicious Hungarian wines from all 22 wine regions. Make sure you make reservations.
This is my list of top experiences, but I could easily add more. So be sure to give yourself a few extra days in the city to enjoy many memorable and amazing moments.
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