Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Budapest is a treat to visit and has long been a popular tourist destination. The capital and largest city of Hungary boasts a long and illustrious history that has seen it ruled by everyone from the Romans and Ottomans to the Austro-Hungarians. As such, the city is awash with impressive historical sights, fascinating museums, and astounding architectural styles.
Known as the ‘City of Spas’ due to all the hot springs it lies atop of, Budapest straddles the Danube River and once consisted of the two different cities of Buda, on the west bank, and Pest in the East, which only united in 1873. In addition to its many charms and attractions, the city is also renowned for its vibrant nightlife scene, which centers around the ruin bars found in the Jewish Quarter. Not to be missed out on, Budapest is certainly one of the highlights of any visit to Central Europe.
17. Liberty Bridge
Only opened in 1896, Liberty Bridge spans the width of the Danube River and connects Gellert square in Buda to Fovam square in Pest. While strolling across it is a great way to get from the Central Market Hall to Gellert Hill or Gellert Spa, the wrought iron bridge also showcases some delightful Art Nouveau architecture, as well as some lovely views out over the river.
Originally named after Emperor Franz Joseph I, who was at its opening, the bridge was built for the Millennium World Exhibition, and some wonderful mythological bronze sculptures can be found at either end of it.
16. Central Market Hall
The oldest and largest indoor market in the city, Central Market Hall is loads of fun to peruse. Its cavernous interior is home to a huge range of different shops, stalls, and eateries. Located in a gorgeous building that was constructed in 1897, the market is set over three floors and hums with life: vendors hawk their wares and tourists and locals bustle about.
Lying in Fovam square, just a short walk away from many other remarkable sights, the Central Market Hall is a great place to sample some local delicacies or pick up some souvenirs.
15. Hospital in the Rock
Set up in the 1930s, the Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum can be found in the amazing network of caves that lie beneath Buda Castle. Used as an emergency hospital and bomb shelter in WWII, it was later reinforced and became a secret nuclear bunker during the Cold War.
Nowadays, it is a popular tourist attraction. Exploring the subterranean world of the museum is a fantastic experience as you pass waxwork figures, hospital beds, and Soviet spying equipment. In addition to showing you what it once looked like, the informative exhibitions and displays tell you all about the history of the facility.
14. Vajdahunyad Castle
Appearing very much as if out of a fairytale, Vajdahunyad Castle’s imaginative design exhibits a breathtaking array of Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Romanesque features. Modeled on a similar fortress in Transylvania, it was originally erected out of cardboard and wood for the Millennium World Exhibition.
Its fantastical features proved so popular amongst locals, however, that the architect Ignac Alpar’s vision was then created in 1896 out of proper materials. Located in City Park, the unique and unusual castle certainly makes for some great photos. It lies just a short distance away from both Heroes’ Square and Szechenyi Bath.
13. Great Synagogue
Also known as the Dohany Street Synagogue, the Great Synagogue is one of the most important and impressive buildings in the city. Built in 1859, it showcases some exquisite Moorish Revival architecture, with its ornately decorated interior being no less astounding to gaze upon.
Remarkably it is the second-largest synagogue in the world after Belz Great Synagogue in Jerusalem; this indicates just how influential and sizeable Budapest’s Jewish population once was. As it is connected both to the large Jewish cemetery behind it as well as a Jewish museum and several memorials commemorating the Holocaust, the Great Synagogue is well worth heading to if you want to learn more about the city’s Jewish past.
12. Heroes’ Square
Lying at one end of Andrassy Avenue right next to City Park, Heroes’ Square is dominated by the huge monument that lies at its heart. Stretching towards the heavens, the large column that towers over the square is flanked by two elegant colonnades. Each proudly displays statues of famous and important Hungarian national leaders.
At the bottom of the column are yet more fabulous and epic looking statues; these depict the ‘Seven Chieftains of the Magyars’ – the first leaders of the Hungarian people. Bordered by both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art, Heroes’ Square is the largest and most important square in Budapest.
11. Matthias Church
Set in a stunning spot right next to the Fishermen’s Bastion, Matthias Church is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Its lofty spire and marvelous facade exhibit some incredible Gothic features, and in the sun, its light-colored bricks veritably sparkle before your eyes. Rebuilt in the second half of the 14th century after the previous one was destroyed by the Mongols, the church boasts a long and fascinating history.
Besides being used as a mosque during Ottoman times, it was here within its walls that Franz Joseph I was crowned Emperor; its lavishly decorated interior is certainly fitting of such an occasion. Well worth visiting when in Budapest, Matthias Church makes for some fantastic photos and looks just as magical lit up at night.
10. Shoes on the Danube Bank
Only erected in 2005, this small and simple memorial tells the harrowing story of 3,500 dissenters and Jews who were brutally murdered by the Arrow Cross Party – a fascist party that briefly ruled Hungary in WWII.
After being rounded up by the militiamen, the unfortunate victims were ordered to remove their shoes, after which they were shot and their bodies were swept away by the river. Scattered about the riverbank just a short distance away from the Hungarian Parliament Building, the bronze shoes that commemorate their tragic deaths make for a moving sight.
Perched atop of Gellert Hill, the Citadella offers commanding views out over Budapest and the Danube River below. Built in 1851 by the Hapsburgs, the solid-looking fort was later commandeered by the Nazis and then Communists. Over the course of its history, it has both protected and oppressed the local population.
Nowadays, visitors can find a striking Liberation Monument located on top of it. Although the fort’s interior has recently been closed to the public, you can still enjoy the dazzling views from its lookout point.
8. Szechenyi Chain Bridge
When it was opened in 1849, Szechenyi Chain Bridge was heralded as an engineering wonder and a symbol of Hungary’s reemergence and reawakening. Linking Buda to Pest, the cast iron construction was the first permanent bridge to span the Danube in the country and helped bring East closer to West.
Besides the fine architecture on show, the bridge also features some superb decorative elements, with four distinguished-looking lion statues guarding each end of it. Beautifully illuminated at night, Szechenyi Chain Bridge is one of the most photographed landmarks in the city.
7. Margaret Island
A very pleasant and picturesque place to spend some time, Margaret Island lies right in the middle of the Danube and is mostly covered in lovely leafy parks. Connected to both sides of Budapest by Arpad Bridge in the north and Margaret Bridge in the south, the island also boasts a water park, athletics center, and lots of scenic paths and trails.
As such, it is a very popular recreation spot with both locals and tourists, with some interesting medieval ruins and a playful Music Fountain also on show.
6. Fisherman’s Bastion
Located inside of Buda Castle, the magical Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Budapest, and justifiably so. Set upon the edge of the hilltop, its dazzlingly bright white walls are punctuated with seven elegant and elaborate towers – one for each of the Hungarian chieftains who founded the country back in 895.
Only built in 1902, the bastion is named after the fishermen’s guild who used to protect this stretch of the city’s defenses. Besides taking in its fabulous Neo-Romanesque architecture, visitors can bask in its breathtaking view of the Danube and Hungarian Parliament Building, with sunset being a particularly special time of day to visit.
5. Buda Castle
Fascinating to explore, the large Buda Castle and palace complex was once the home of Hungarian kings and queens of years gone by. Built in 1265 at one end of Castle Hill, the regal Baroque palace is now home to the Budapest History Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery, both of which are well worth visiting.
While the former sports lots of interesting artifacts that take you through Budapest’s tumultuous past, the latter exhibits a huge array of incredible paintings, sculptures, and prints. Perfect for people interested in art, history, and architecture, Buda Castle lies just a stone’s throw away from many of the most important sights in the city.
4. St. Stephen’s Basilica
Almost blocking out the sky with its magnificent and monumental facade, St. Stephen’s Basilica makes for a spectacular sight. Named after the first king of Hungary, the enormous Roman Catholic basilica also sports two mighty bell towers and is topped by a large cupola. Its spacious interior is lavishly decorated, and amongst its sturdy marble columns, you can find some awesome mosaics, statues, and paintings.
Completed in 1905, St. Stephen’s is the most important church in the country and still bustles with life to this day: choir performances and classical concerts take place alongside daily religious services.
3. Szechenyi Bath
While Budapest has lots of amazing thermal baths for you to check out, none of them are quite as famous or popular as Szechenyi – the largest spa complex in Europe. Set in a lovely bright yellow Neo-Baroque building that was built in 1913, the expansive facilities include saunas, steam rooms, and of course, thermal pools for you to enjoy.
With lots of fine decorations, such as mosaics, sculptures, and chandeliers, it is a delightful place to relax and unwind. Although it can get quite crowded, there is always a tranquil feel about the place – unless you visit during one of its Saturday night pool parties, that is! When in the ‘City of Spas,’ wallowing in Szechenyi Bath’s thermal pools is a must.
2. Castle Hill
Set on the Buda side of the city, Castle Hill looks out imperiously over the Danube River and the rest of Budapest. While the hill is not all that large, it is home to many of the capital’s most important and impressive sights, with Buda Castle and its fantastic museums found alongside Matthias Church, the Fisherman’s Bastion, and Buda Tower.
Wandering around the small and narrow cobbled streets of the Old Town and the elegant buildings of the Royal Palace complex really is a treat as beautiful Baroque, Gothic, and Neoclassical architecture lies all around you. A great way to get to the top of the hill is to take the wonderful old Castle Hill Funicular that trundles its way up the hillside.
1. Hungarian Parliament Building
The largest building in the whole of the country, the sheer size and scale of the Hungarian Parliament Building is staggering to behold – it dwarfs everything around it. Set on the banks of the Danube River, the colossal building is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. One of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture around, its two symmetrical facades are sumptuously decorated with sculptures of critical Hungarian figures; these lie to either side of a large, imposing dome.
Completed in 1904, its interior is equally bewitching, and tours take you to see the Golden Staircase, the Dome Hall, and Congress Hall. All told, there are 691 rooms in the parliament, each more exquisitely decorated than the last. Still in use to this day by the country’s government, the Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and is not to be missed out when exploring Budapest’s many wonders.