Best things to do in Budapest
Ottoman Rudas Baths
The Times says: Budapest’s best known attractions are its baths. For the city’s most authentic experience, follow the locals to the Ottoman Rudas Baths. The main octagonal pool sits underneath a magnificent dome and is surrounded by hot and cold plunge pools, a steam room and a hammam. Head back through the changing rooms for the swimming pool, the wellness centre and even a rooftop hot tub.
Rudas gyógyfürdő, Budapest, Döbrentei tér, Hungary
St Stephen’s Basilica
IN THE HEAVENS
The Times says: Make your way along district V’s cobbled streets to the neoclassical St Stephen’s Basilica, where the top of the dome offers 360-degree views over the city. Ascend via the small lift (£1.20; check it’s working before you buy your ticket) or take the 302 stairs. The view is, of course, fabulous, but there’s a kitsch treat waiting downstairs too: back in the chapel, pop 100 forints (25p) in the slot to illuminate the mummified right hand of St Stephen, the first king of Hungary.
St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, Hungary
Free Budapest Tours
THE INSIDE TRACK
The Times says: The best way to get to know Budapest is to go for a wander with the locals, especially those with a fair few tips and stories to share. Meet Martina and Zsuzsa under the clock on Deak Ferenc Square, just before 10.30am, for their free 2½-hour guided tour of Buda, taking in the Chain Bridge and a ride up the funicular to the top of Buda Castle to see the Royal Palace.
Budapest, Deák Ferenc tér, Hungary
The best trips to Budapest
The Times says: Ride the funicular up Buda’s Castle Hill for a circuit around the walls of the Royal Palace. King Bela IV’s 13th-century masterpiece houses the National Library (free); the Hungarian National Gallery (£5); and the Budapest History Museum (£5). Afterwards, head over to Fisherman’s Bastion, a beautiful seven-towered terrace, for show-off snaps of the Parliament Building on the banks of the Danube in Pest.
Budapest Castle Hill Funicular, Budapest, Clark Ádám tér, Hungary
Great Market Hall
The Times says: At the vast neogothic Great Market Hall, you can barter for meats, spices and veg at ground level (stock up on paprika and kolbaz spicy sausage), or head to the first floor for tourist trinkets and local grub. Grab a delicious crispy lángos (deep-fried flatbread) or a cockle-warming plate of pork with fermented cabbage at the Fakanal stall upstairs and settle down at the Panoráma Bár to observe the throng.
Central Market Hall, Budapest, Vámház körút, Hungary
The Times says: Budapest is the proud owner of the world’s second-oldest metro system (after London’s) and it’s still a looker. Take the city’s oldest line, M1, opened in 1896, from Vörösmarty Ter, near Erzsébet Park, underneath the shopping boulevard Andrassy Ut, to City Park. Here, you’ll find Heroes’ Square, an imposing memorial to Hungarian kings and warriors with the Archangel Gabriel looming in the centre. The stations are beautifully tiled, the trains run like clockwork but watch out, the doors close quickly.
Vörösmarty tér, Budapest, Hungary
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House of Terror Museum
The Times says: The story of Budapest includes some very dark chapters. The powerful and moving House of Terror Museum tackles them well, commemorating Hungarian victims of the Nazis and communists. You can explore the prison cells in this former Nazi headquarters, and catch the slow lift with its audio describing a prisoner’s journey to the gallows as it descends. It’s challenging stuff: you may emerge shellshocked, but you’ll be glad you went.
House of Terror, Budapest, Andrássy út, Hungary
State Opera House
CULTURE ON THE CHEAP
The Times says: Hungary’s neo-renaissance opera house in the centre of Budapest is a pure joy both inside and out. The company stages performances of all the classics and ballets at prices that will make you gasp: the most affordable tickets can be bought for as little as £1.45. You’ll need a head for heights — the cheap seats are in the rafters — but the best views of the lavish arena and wonderful ceiling fresco are from here.
Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest, Andrássy út, Hungary
Széchenyi & Lukács baths
The Times says: While lolling in the steamy waters of Buda’s baths is a great way to sweat off a hangover, earning one there is even more enjoyable. On Saturday nights, the Széchenyi or Lukács baths host raucous “sparties”, attracting local 20-somethings and slightly baffled tourists. Expect cocktails, laser lighting, DJs and dancing. Your party gear? Flip-flops and a towel. Sparty on!
Széchenyi Thermal Bath, Budapest, Állatkerti körút, Hungary
The Times says: When locals want to escape the city hubbub, they head to Margaret Island, a sliver of picturesque parkland bisecting the Danube. The vibe is decidedly active, with joggers racking up the miles on the island’s peripheral pathway, “ultimate Frisbee” matches on the open grassland, and infants zooming round on scooters. But there’s plenty of peace to be found too, with benches in quiet corners, fountains and pathways for romantic strolls.
Margaret Island, Budapest, Hungary
VOTE WITH YOUR FEET
The Times says: On the banks of the Danube in district V you’ll find Kossuth Lajos Square, where the red-topped domes and spires of the gargantuan, gothic-style Parliament Building spike the sky. It’s worth emailing the parliament’s tourist office (via the website) to book in for the 50-minute tour – it gives real insight into the history behind the building’s treasures, which include gold-plated staircases and the closely guarded Holy Crown of Hungary.
Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest, Kossuth Lajos tér, Hungary
New York Cafe & Gerbeaud
The Times says: Frittering away a few hours in one of the city’s palatial cafes is mandatory. Start the day as the locals do, with an espresso in a coffee house such as New York Café, near Blaha Lujza ter station, on the edge of the Jewish quarter. The opulent room is all Venetian chandeliers, painted ceilings and gilt. For a shot of something stronger, order a Hungarian coffee laced with Hungarian wine, honey and spicy milk foam. For a slice of old Budapest, visit Gerbeaud which has been serving transcendent cakes amid a sea of dark wood and chandeliers since 1858. Our favourite? A slab of walnuty Gerbeaud Pastry (£5.60, gerbeaud.hu).
New York Café, Budapest, Erzsébet körút, Hungary
Széchenyi-hegy, János-hegy & Erzsébet
HEAD FOR THE HILLS
The Times says: Three offbeat transport methods provide the best way to explore Buda’s rolling hills. Ride the BKV cog train on the number 60 line (bkv.hu; £2.50) from Városmajor Park 3.5km up to Széchenyi-hegy and wander through the park to the Children’s Railway. This is staffed by kids aged 10-14, and their attempts at military salutes are adorable (gyermekvasut.hu; £1.80). Alight at 527m János-hegy and ascend to Erzsébet look-out for incredible views over Budapest and its satellite towns, before taking the chairlift down the hill (Zugligeti Ut 97; £2.50).
Budapest, Városmajor Street, Hungary
Szimpla & Mazel Tov
The Times says: Ramshackle ‘ruin bars’ are Budapest’s best drinking holes. The daddy of them all, Szimpla is Budapest’s most popular bar. The former industrial space has been transformed into a junk wonderland of exposed pipework, fairy lights and clutter — chairs and televisions hang randomly from the ceiling, repurposed bicycles and fridges dot the courtyard. Inside is a phantasmagoria of derelict cars, bathtubs, belly dancers and live bands spread over a labyrinth of rooms. Ruin bars aren’t all reformed junkyards. Mazel Tov is for the well-heeled grown-up crowd. The outside facade is suitably crumbled but push past the front door and into a bright and beautiful atrium. Peer up at the vaulted glass ceiling as you sip on a classic cocktail and no fluorescent shots in sight (mazeltov.hu).
Szimpla Kert Ruin Pubs, Budapest, Kazinczy Street, Hungary
GO BACK IN TIME
The Times says:
Stroll along Andrássy Utca to Heroes’ Square, where the history of Budapest and Hungary meet. A Nelson’s-style column soars up with the Archangel Gabriel atop, while two colonnades featuring stone statues of first-millennium Magyar kings and princes flank the square, their horses’ hoofs punching the air. For a gentler expression of Hungarian pride, scan the houses that line the neighbouring Dózsa György street, where Gothic turrets, balconies, balustrades and columns are a reminder of past imperial pretensions.
MIX WITH THE LOCALS
The Times says:
The late 19th-century Great Market Hall (Vámház Körút 1-3) is on the Pest side of the Danube. It’s packed with food stalls to which bag-wielding shoppers and tourists flock in search of fruit, vegetables, meat, salami, hams and the very best paprika. The first-floor balcony is where the peckish head for bowls of goulash or plates of homemade sausages served with sturdy helpings of cabbage and bacon.
Where (and what) to eat in Budapest
Street Food Karavan
US trends meet Budapest in this courtyard’s food trucks, offering burgers, pizza and burritos, as well trad Hungarian deep-fried dough lángos. The beer choice is mainstream, but the craft-beer bar next door, STart, has a top selection of local tipples. Kazinczy Utca 18.
Flour Style Wok Bar (Mains about £5)
This light and airy restaurant straddles two floors. The soundtrack is the sizzle of stir-frying and the happy slurping of delicious ramen dishes. As students get a discount, lunchtime tables are hard to come by; so avoid the 1.30pm rush. Múzeum Körút 39.
Dobrumba (Mains about £8)
Located in the old Jewish quarter, this minimalist joint is a big hit with Budapest foodies. Middle Eastern cuisine meets Mediterranean in brightly coloured, tangy tagines, shawarmas and meze. Both lunch and evening sittings get rammed so you must book in advance. Dob Utca 5.
Konyha (Mains about £8)
Although relaxed in style, this cafe-restaurant offers the upscale likes of duck breast and parsnip puree, teriyaki porchetta and mushroom paprikash. Don’t go if you’re not keen on dogs — the owner’s (friendly) pooch roams freely. Madách Imre Utca 8.
Cafe Csiga (Mains about £8)
A mix of French cafe and Shoreditch hangout, this neighbourhood restaurant serves up hearty dishes. Try the goulash soup or pan-roasted duck breast with pickled red onion. Unlike many Budapest restaurants, Csiga opens at 8am on a Sunday — ideal for late-partying night owls. Vásár Utca 2.
The best bars in Budapest
Set in an old post-industrial courtyard with a cracked glass roof and a tree growing in the middle, this ‘ruin bar’ serves up artisanal beers, spirits and wine, and cuts of meat from its ‘butcher’s kitchen’. Try an ale from the local Mad Scientist brewery: Liquid Gold is 9%! Tűzoltó Utca 22.
With red-brick walls and ‘distressed’ decor, this bar has a large range of wines, including a 2016 Pinot Noir and plenty of Hungarian Tokajis. Don’t tip twice — the service charge is already included. Dob Utca 20.
This historic cafe in the castle area may be compact in size, but its cakes and pastries are generous. Weather permitting, sit outside to avoid the squeeze. Szentháromság Utca 7.