What to do in Budapest for First-Timers

No European bucket list would be complete without Budapest, Hungary’s beautiful capital city. There are so many different things to do there; the city will please everyone. Arriving in any new city can feel overwhelming because you want to see and experience it all. This guide will help you determine what to do in Budapest and is perfect for first-time visitors.

Budapest sign

And, it’s easy to get to! There are plenty of cheap flights on budget airlines throughout Europe, and bus and train travel is a breeze.

For example, if you’re going from Zagreb to Budapest, you can take a five-hour, $17 bus ride, or you can hire a private transfer to split between friends and travel buddies. 

What to do in Budapest

The Queen of the Danube is full of unique sites and attractions. Figuring out what to do and how to prioritize your wish list will be your biggest challenge! 

Let’s dive in.

Budapest’s Top Attractions

Thermal baths in Budapest

1. In addition to being one of the most photogenic cities in Europe, Budapest is best known for its thermal baths. There are 118 medicinal springs in the city alone, making it the location with the most baths in the world! The thermal baths follow the traditional Turkish style. There are enormous, famous spas (such as Szécheny) and more subtle, hidden gems (like Veli Bej). 

2. Roaming the streets of Castle Hill is one of the top things to do in Budapest. History buffs will love this charming medieval town. Visit the Buda Castle, the Budapest History Museum and Fisherman’s Bastion.

Budapest cityscape

3. Join a free walking tour to learn about the city’s history and Communist past. There are several reputable companies that will explain the dark past and the Hungarian uprising. This is one of the best free things to do in the city!

4. Check out the Great Market Hall. This gigantic brick and steel indoor market has been around since 1897 and is a top Budapest attraction. You can shop for fresh produce, sausages, and trinkets with tourists and locals alike.

5. You can’t come to Budapest and not visit a ruin bar. Ruin bars are old, dilapidated buildings turned into bars, and they are such a cool experience.

Ruin bar in Budapest

Unusual Things to do in Budapest

First up on this list goes to finding Stalin’s boots. When Communist control ended in Hungary, local people decided to move all Soviet statues and memorials to Memento Park. As a result, the rest of Stalin is missing, but if you look hard enough, you may see a set of boots perched on a grey wall in the park. 

Really into Soviet history? Try driving a Trabant. Trabants are old, tiny, mass-produced vehicles and many are left over from Stalin’s days. You can rent these quirky cars and drive around Budapest to get a feel for what the Soviet era was like. 

Eating and Shopping in Budapest

Central Market in Budapest

If you’re looking for a cultural experience, go to Budapest’s Central Market, Vasarcsarnok. Here you’ll find vendors selling everything from Hungarian delicacies to handicrafts and trinkets. 

While shopping may not be at the top of your list, eating all the Hungarian food should be! Budapest is full of delicious restaurants and plenty of places to go for a good meal. 

Mozel Tov is an excellent place if you love the idea of a ruin bar but prefer to eat somewhere a little fancier. This Middle Eastern eatery is at the heart of the Jewish Quarter (District 7). It has delicious mezze plates and cocktails on offer.

One of the best restaurants in Budapest has to be Ghettó Guylás. Also located in District 7, this restaurant offers delicious (and cheap!) local meals.

Best Day Trips from Budapest

Lake Balaton, Hungary

Once you’ve had the chance to explore all the city has to offer, it’s time for a few incredible day trips.

Lake Balaton is a natural stunner. It’s the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe and home to countless activities. You can enjoy the pristine surroundings, go for a hike, or taste some of Hungary’s delicious wineries. 

Located about an hour and a half southwest of the capital, Lake Balaton is easily accessible by train. For less than a dollar, you can grab a seat and enjoy a day out in nature. The train runs every two hours from 7 am to 7 pm daily.

Another great day trip is 30 km north to Gödöllő Palace. This happens to be the largest, most grand baroque palace in all of Europe. In the past, this perfectly preserved palace was home to Franz Josef. There are plenty of tours to explore the palace, as well as the surrounding parks and gardens. 

If you are interested in architecture, this trip is an absolute must!

Where to go After Budapest

Zagreb church

When you’re ready to leave Budapest, why not head to another Central European gem? Because it is located right in the middle of the continent, there are plenty of great travel opportunities nearby.

Zagreb

Croatia is a popular destination to head to after spending time in The Queen of the Danube. Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, is located 340 km (211 miles) southwest of Budapest. 

You can easily fly between the two cities on budget airlines. It is also possible to take a five-hour bus from Budapest to Zagreb for about $17 per person. 

Split

If Croatia’s capital isn’t for you, head to Split along the Dalmatian Coast. It’s a 788 km (490 miles) trek, but once you arrive, you’ll realize the trip was absolutely worth it. If traveling with a group, you can book a private transfer minivan from Budapest to Split. It’ll take 7 hours and cost about $120 if eight people split the cost.

Belgrade

Belgrade, Serbia, is another popular destination. Serbia’s capital is 380 km (236 miles) south of Budapest, and there are a few options to get you there. Besides the usual budget flights, you can also take a six-hour bus directly from Budapest to Belgrade. The best part is that the buses are actually reasonably comfortable!

No matter how you choose to spend your time in this colorful capital city, you really can’t go wrong. Hopefully, you’ve started a great list of what to do in Budapest, so you know how many times you’ll need to come back to see it all!

FAQ

What currency is used in Hungary?

While Hungary is part of the European Union, Euros are not widely accepted. Instead, Hungary uses the Forint (HUF) as its official currency. While some shops do accept Euros, conversion rates are often very high. Therefore, it’s better to use Forints or credit/debit cards.

Should you stay in Buda or Pest during your trip?

Both sides have something great to offer! Buda is the quieter, more residential area of town and is great for strolling around and taking in the sites. Pest is a bit more touristy, but also where the large concentration of bars, restaurants, and fun can be found. If you want to chill out and take in the sites, stay in Buda. If you want nightlife while exploring, stick to Pest.

Is Budapest safe for solo female travelers?

Definitely, but it’s still a big city, so use your common sense and practice normal safety measures. Petty crime like pickpocketing does occur, but violent crimes are infrequent. 

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