For such a tiny country, Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, is bursting in terms of what it has to offer visitors. Not only the centre of Hungary’s political, social and economic activities, Budapest has a colourful and interesting history. In fact, modern Budapest is a result of the 1873 unification of three small cities occupying different sides of the Danube River banks: Buda, Pest and Obuda.
For almost 150 years, the region was controlled by the Ottomans before developing and flourishing during the 18th and 19th Century. Today it is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with many sites inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and attracting more than 20 million visitors annually. It’s easy to see why, with so many things to see and do. We’ve put our top picks together of the best sightseeing and experiences you should plan to see when in Budapest…
Things to See and Do in Budapest
Budapest is often referred to as “the City of Spas” thanks to the many hot springs and thermal baths that can be found in the region. Some of the baths still in operation today were built as early as the 16th Century when the Ottomans discovered the healing properties of the thermal waters, which are good for skin and joint conditions such as arthritis, as well as internal problems such as intestinal or stomach ailments.
With temperatures of the many spring sources in Budapest varying between 14 and 95 degrees, many of the commercial centres add cool water to achieve a comfortable bathing temperature. There are many popular baths ranging from ancient Ottoman style baths and brand new commercial baths built as a fun water theme park for families.
The mineral content of each varies from complex to complex. For more information, visit the website: http://www.spasbudapest.com
SZECHENYI THERMAL BATH
At 12,000 squared meters in size, this is one of the largest spa complexes in Europe! Built in 1913 and expanded in 1927, it includes 15 different pools with varying temperatures, including a separate bathing pool for men and one for women plus a man made beach, and the most recent addition, a family fun pool with whirlpool corridor, massaging neck showers and back massage benches on one side. The complex also includes a facility for hospital physiotherapy patients undergoing rehabilitation programs.
In 1999 the circulation and filtration systems were upgraded to comply with regulated health standards enforced by the government. The complex also offers a range of therapeutic and and beauty treatments, and fitness classes and facilities.
Open from 6:00am- 22:00 year round, but some pools close earlier than others. Entry from 2400Ft.
GELLERT THERMAL BATH AND HOTEL
In the 17th Century, the site of this famous complex was a mud pool. In 1918 the hotel opened having transformed the baths into a truly luxurious experience for its guests. Further expanded in 1927 to include a wave pool and an effervescent bath, the complex now has a total of 13 pools in total. This pool is one of Budapest’s most beautiful and remains a popular choice for tourists.
Open from 6:00am- 19:00pm and closing at 17:00 on weekends. Entry from 2800 Ft.
KIRALY THERMAL BATH
A beautiful example of the Turkish style baths built during the Ottoman rule, the Kiraly thermal Bath was first constructed in 1565 by Arslan the Pasha of Buda. Interestingly, the bath never had a direct hot water source, and hot water was brought in especially for use at the time it was required. Today it pipes it’s water from near the Lukacs Bath complex. It was damaged during the Second World War but restored in 1950.
For women only Monday, Wednesday and Friday 7:00am- 18:00pm
For men only on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9:00am- 20:00pm
Entry costs 1300 Ft.
As well as the city of spas, Budapest boasts more than 200 natural underground caves, formed by the same thermal waters used in the spas, thousands of years ago. There are four caves open to the public, but you will need to bring a jacket, hiking boots and possibly a waterproof spray jacket to explore the caves.
The most beautiful natural cave, decorated with amazing natural mineral formations, is the Szemlohegyi Cave. It is also the most suitable cave for visiting with children.
Its open all year round from Monday- Wednesday from 10:00am- 16:00pm and located in District 2. To get there, take the Bus number 29 from Kolosy Ter and get off at the Szemlohegyi barlang stop.
The Palvolgyi Cave is also a beautiful cave, with a lot of delicate dripstone formations. Its height is an impressive 104 meters, and because its a more elaborate shape inside, there are lots of ladders that help you navigate your way.
Suitable for children over the age of 5 only, its open from 9:00am- 16:00 from Tuesday- Sunday. Take Bus number 65 and get off at Palvolgyi Cseppkobarlang.
CASTLE HILL (BUDA CASTLE)
This hill is the site of the spectacular Buda Castle and was where Budapest was officially formed, unifying Buda, Pest and Obuda in 1873. Known as Varhegy in Hungarian, the site is inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List and many residents still live in the area. There are also many hotels in the area, although expect to pay the highest price in Budapest for this type of accommodation!
The complex itself is enormous and comprises of a Royal Palace and several important monuments, decorative gates, sculptures and residences, plus underground cellars, caves and tunnels used for storage and defence. The top three must- see sites inside the complex are the Royal Palace, Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church.
Construction of the complex began during the 13th Century, and gradually the town called Buda began to grow outside the walls of the site. Expansion and restoration continued through the 14th and 15th centuries under the rule of King Matthias and later the Turkish invaders that captured the complex in 1541. It became known as one of Europe’s most beautiful palaces until it was heavily damaged, in fact almost destroyed, during the fall of the Ottoman rulers.
During the mid 1700’s, King Charles III of Habsburg began reconstructing the palace in the popular and elegant Baroque style until it was attacked and damaged again in 1944-1945.
You can explore the castle complex on foot, or a hop-on-hop-off bus service that operates around the various sites of the hill. Horse carriages are also available for a more romantic, albeit expensive method of transport.
To get to the site, you can take a cable car (Siklo) from Clark between 7:30am- 22:00pm every ten minutes. Its expensive at 700Ft one way/ 1300 return, but it’s a nice way to travel and offers spectacular views of the rest of Budapest below. Those on a budget can take a bus that departs every few minutes from Moszkva Ter (red metro line).
If you’re interested in wine tasting, you might also enjoy a visit to the Hungarian House of Wines which is in the area. It opens daily from 12:00pm- 20:00pm. The price is 3500 Ft for tasting any of their selection of more than fifty types of wines- red, white and desert from twenty-two historical The price includes a souvenir wine glass.
If you only see one architectural monument in Hungary, let this be it. The elaborate detailed carvings, gold guilt, luxurious textiles and leather finishing are truly spectacular.
Celebrated as one of Europe’s most unique and beautiful buildings, Budapest’s Parliament Building is the third largest in the world and seats the National Assembly of Hungary. It faces the Danube River and is a spectacular sight, particularly at night when it is lit up.
Designed by a professor of the Budapest Technical University, Imre Steindl, construction began in 1885 and took until 1904 to complete, with the contract of thousands of workers for the duration of the project. Inside there are more than 690 rooms, all richly adorned. There are also nearly 250 statues inside and outside this magnificent building.
Group visits to the parliament building can only be taken by guided tour and must be booked in advance, but individual visitors can purchase tickets on the day they wish to see it.
Open from Monday- Friday from 8:00am- 18:00pm. It is also open on weekends but closes at 16:00 on Saturday and 14:00 on Sunday. Entry is free for E.U citizens on presentation of a passport or nationality I.D card. Non E.U visitors must pay 2640 Ft for adults and 1320 Ft for children.
The official website provides further useful information as well as a stunning gallery of interior and exterior photos:
At the end of the grand Andrassy Avenue stands the biggest and one of the most important monumental squares in Hungary.
Built to commemorate various important points and stages in Hungary’s history, the square is not just a beautiful place to take in next to the city park, but a meaningful tribute to the foundations of Hungary as a nation, and a symbol of hope for the future. It is officially recognised as one of Hungary’s World Heritage sites.
The Millennium monument stands in the centre of the square, with the Archangel Gabriel, holding the Holy Hungarian crown and a cross of Christianity. This monument marks the one thousandth anniversary of the Magyar tribe’s arrival in Hungary, the people who were essentially the founders of the Hungarian culture.
Also in the square is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a tribute to the Hungarian leaders who led the nation into the Carpathian Basin in 896AD.
Several major museums are also located on the sides of the square and are well worth a visit, including the Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Palace.
Budapest City Park
VAROSLIGET: Budapest City Park
A beautiful city park but more than just a place to relax and get back to nature. The park offers both locals and tourists so much more in the way of things to do and places to see. Located just behind Hero’s Square, the park has a large lake which is popular for renting a boat and rowing around during the summer. In the winter it is a popular ice skating venue.
Its also the home of the Municipal zoo, the Szechenyi Thermal Bath, Municipal Grand Circus, An amusement park and Botanic Gardens. For art and history fans, there is a museum of Budapest’s transport History, a restaurant a castle, and access to The Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art.
The park site was originally a swamp but became a popular hunting ground since the 13th Century. Building of a municipal park began at this site in the early years of the 19th Century, when the swamp was drained. it has expanded and developed to one of the city’s most popular attractions. It was also the location for the 1896 Millennium celebrations of Hungary.
BUDAPEST MUNICIPAL ZOO: CITY PARK
The Budapest Municipal Zoo first opened in 1866 and celebrated its 140th birthday in 2006. In the early 1900’s the zoo became the property of the Municipality of the city and the zoo underwent an extensive plan of refurbishment and included the addition of a salt water and a fresh water aquarium. After extensive damage and death of many animals during the Second World War, the zoo again went under restoration and added an insect house, giraffe house and buffalo enclosure. In the mid 1990’s it was decided that the zoo should systematically rid every enclosure of bars, a project which is still underway today.
Interestingly, the Budapest zoo is the home of Layla, the rhinoceros who was born in 2007. Layla is the product of the world’s first successful birth of a rhino conceived by artificial insemination.
Opening Hours depend on the season but generally during the summer it is open from 9:00am- 18:30pm Monday to Friday, closing a half hour later on weekends. Adult entry is 1690 Ft and for children or concession tickets, the price is 1190 Ft. Family tickets are also available.
BUDAPEST GREAT CIRCUS: CITY PARK
Europes’ only permanent circus tent is easily visible in the City Park with its ten meter high blue and white striped tent. It offers a thrilling two-part regular performance and includes performing animals as well as humans.
Rare animals including white and pink tigers and Indian Elephants will perform as well as clowns, dancers, trapeze artists, jugglers and more. The circus also features a highly skilled equestrian show where horses perform with humans as well as on their own!
There are daily shows from Wednesday to Friday at 15:00pm and two shows on at 11am, 15:00 on weekends, with an extra evening performance at 19:00 on Saturday. The price of admission varies, depending on where you sit and is between 1500 Ft and 2400 Ft. Children and concession tickets start at 1200Ft.
VIDAM AMUSEMENT PARK: CITY PARK
Vadim Park translates to “Happy Park” and is a popular choice for families and the young and heart to let off some steam whilst visiting the city park. The park covers 6.5 hectares and offers 40 different rides for all ages. 5 of the rides, including the merry-go-round and the wooden roller coaster that stretches 1km long (the longest in Europe), are now protected monuments owing to their historic significance.
The most popular rides include the Looping Star Rollercoaster and the ferris wheel which offers a terrific view of the surrounding area. Entry to the park is free but tickets must be bought to go on the rides.
Summer hours are from 10:00am- 20:00pm every day. Tickets for the rides range from 300- 600Ft, but you can buy a “value pack” of twenty tickets at a discounted price of 6,000Ft which includes two free tickets as a bonus.
Shopping in Budapest
Shopaholics will love a trip to the Hungarian capital. Shopping is a popular past time for Hungarians, making shopping facilities and choice of location excellent. Goods are relatively well priced compared to other major European hubs, making it a popular past time for tourists as well!
There are some excellent, well planned shopping districts to make it easy to find what you’re looking for, and make the experience enjoyable, whether you are after something special typically Hungarian to remind you of your trip, inexpensive souvenirs for friends and family or the latest fashion trends (Hungarians are generally stylishly dressed).
Credit cards are widely accepted in most outlets. The currency in Hungary is the Forint and is abbreviated either as Ft- or HUF. 270 Hungarian Forits is worth about 1.2 euro (subject to change!!).
For purchases over 50,000 Ft (around 200 euros) you can reclaim the VAT when leaving Hungary, quite a saving of 20%! The amount must be on one item and shown clearly on a receipt. Make sure your receipt includes the price of the item including and excluding VAT. The shop assistants will be able to provide you with a VAT reclamation form and a mailing envelope.
Things to buy in Budapest
Herend is not a style of porcelain making, but rather a brand which began in a cottage workshop and grew in prestige and value over the years as one of the finest quality crafts available in the market. Today Herand is known as one of the finest quality porcelain products anywhere in the world, making them valuable collectors pieces.
A man called Moric Fischer, who acquired a small porcelain factory in 1839, was commissioned by the King of Sardinia to create some missing pieces of his favourite porcelain collection. The set was an old set of Chinese porcelain, very valuable and distinct in style.
Fischer spent one whole year studying the pieces and experimenting with his process to get the new pieces as close to the originals as possible. The king was very impressed with the result and Fischer earned the respect and admiration of other artists not only in Budapest but throughout the rest of Europe.
Today a wide range of dinnerware, tea sets, figurines and decorative pieces are available for purchase. You can buy from an official retailer at many reputable porcelain dealers in Budapest (check that your purchase comes with a certificate of Authentication) or direct from the official Herand Museum and shop located in Central Budapest.
Here you can watch the porcelain artists in action and learn more about the history of this national icon. Admission is by tickets which can be purchased at the visitor centre.
Winemaking in Hungary dates back to the 12th Century, and Hungary’s most famous wine today is the popular desert wine known as Tokaji, which can be bought and tasted at many stores all over the city.
The intensely sweet flavour is achieved because the wine growing climate in this region favours the ideal conditions for the Botrytis Fungus, which naturally dries out the grape after heavy rainfall, preserving the signature flavour of this type of wine. Secrets of the winemaking process including storing and ageing have yet to be discovered and this quality of flavour remains unmatched by other desert wines.
Hungarian Folk Art:
The state owned Folkart Haziipar has a great range of traditional Hungarian crafts including table cloths, dolls, ceramics and clothing. Each item is examined for quality before it enters the display section of the shop, and all goods are made by a group of regular contributing craftsmen.
Places to Shop in Budapest
Budapest Market Halls
A visit to the Central Market Hall, the biggest, oldest and grandest of several in Budapest, is not just a great opportunity to do some shopping but also to gain an insight into Hungary’s history and architectural past.
After the unification of Buda, Pest and Obuda, the need for a centre of trade for this growing commercial city became apparent. The Central market hall was built to cater to this need. The hall used to be connected to the Danube River by an indoor canal, allowing goods to be easily transported to the hall from the barges and transport ships.
These days the canal is long gone, but it still remains a busy market place which offers three level of fresh produce, cheeses, wines, fish and local Hungarian crafts. Go for the atmosphere alone, if not to buy. It’s also a good place to go to sample some of Hungary’s famous delicacies like black pudding, stuffed cabbage and deep fried pastry.
For a fun day out and a great shopping experience, visit one of Budapest’s popular flea markets. Both the Budapest Flea Market and the Ecseri Markets are good choices. In bad weather, try the Ecsri Flea Markets as it is almost completely covered. This popular flea market was first established during the 19th Century and it remains a popular spot for bargain hunters, both local and visiting.
Appliances, second hand clothing, antiques, arts and crafts, shoes and jewellery, its all here. If you’re serious about grabbing yourself a bargain you’ll need to arrive early on Saturday morning, with the rest of the local die hard collectors to grab the best items.
It is open every day of the week, Monday to Friday 8am- 16:00pm, Saturday from 6am- 15:00pm and Sunday from 8am- 13:00pm.
Pedestrian Shopping Strips
This famous strip has been a popular shopping area since the 1800’s. There are all kinds of shops in this area, from European fashion labels such as H&M and Zara, plus folk art, craft shops and wine shops. A great place to pick up some Tokaji wine.
The northern end is quite touristy and full of souvenir shops, but there are also some excellent restaurants at this end where you can order a “tasting menu” of traditional Hungarian foods. If you make it to the South end, you’ll find it much quainter and more historic. Here is where to come if you’re interested in Hungary’s jewellery and fashion designers.
A fairly newly developed shopping zone that begins at the end of Vaci utca, featuring many Internationally known brands including Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger, and Benetton. If you’re not in the market for this kind of purchase, you can still enjoy wandering the street and admiring the elaborate window displays.
Budapest shopping malls are pretty similar to those in other European cities. There are various fashion chain stores, ATM’s, department stores, hardware , bookshops and electronics. Some also have cinemas, cafes and resturants. Some of the biggest ones in Budapest include:
West End City Centre: Vaci ut 1-3. VI district. Get there on the M3 Metro or 4-6 trams. Open Monday- Saturday from 10:00am- 21:00, closing at 18:00 on Saturday. Closed on Sunday.
Arkad: Ors vezer ter 25, X. District. Get there on the M2 metro. Open Monday-Saturday from 10:00am- 21:00, closing on Saturday at 19:00
Duna Plaza: Vaci ut 178. XIII District. Get there on the M3 metro and get off at Gyongyosi station. Open Monday- Friday from 9:00am- 21:00pm, Saturday AND Sunday from 10:00am- 19:00pm.
Budapest Ferihegy International Airport (BUD) is Hungary’s largest airport, and the second largest airport in the E.U with connections to Asia, the Middle East and North America. It is also an important transfer point for flights within Europe. In 2007, 8.6 million passengers flew into or out of this airport.
Located 16 km south east of the city of Budapest, with two main terminals (Terminal 1, Terminal 2A and 2B), facilities at this airport for disabled passengers, help points, shopping and food outlets are excellent, as are the connections by public transport to Budapest City. There is a covered walkway connecting Terminals 1 and 2 and a bus link.
Visit the official Airport website for the most recent arrival and transport information:
Getting to Budapest By Car
The route to and from the airport is via E60 and is clearly signposted in both directions. There is also a dedicated freeway called the Ferihegy High Speed Road which takes you from the city centre to the airport in 20 minutes.
Only one company (Zona Taxi) is authorised to use the airport cab stands and prices are based on which zone of the city you wish to go to, at fixed rates. A fare to the centre of Budapest is 4500Ft.
You can take a Hungarian State Railways train from Terminal 1 to the city’s Western Rail Station which takes about 25 minutes one way and costs about 300Ft. Departures are 2-3 times per hour. Take the shuttle Bus Service from Terminal 2 to get to the station.
An airport mini bus service is available. You need to buy a ticket and reserve your place at the “Airport mini bus” information desk in the Arrivals hall. The bus will drop you off at any any address in Budapest.
You can also get public bus number 200 from the underground metro station Kobanya-Kispet which goes to both terminals. If you’re taking the bus from the airport a good stop to get off is Deak ter where the three underground subway lines cross over.