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Welcome, fellow wanderers and adventure seekers! If you’re here, you’ve likely found yourself in the delightful predicament of planning a trip to Budapest. Welcome to the Budapest Bucket List!
But let’s face it – crafting the perfect Budapest bucket list can be a daunting task. The abundance of options may leave you wondering, “Where do I even begin?”
Fear not, intrepid travelers, for I’m here to guide you through the maze of possibilities.
To give you some context, I moved to Budapest for medical school. Even though I moved for the sole purpose of studying, Budapest caught me off guard! In fact, I think it may be the most underrated European city I have been to in my travels.
If you are planning to move abroad, I made another guide for what to expect before, during, and after.
In this post, I’ll be your Budapest bucket list guide! And for those lazy travelers (like me!) I will also link to several tour options that you can take so you don’t have to do the research yourself.
Whether you’re a history buff, a gastronomic enthusiast, or simply someone seeking the thrill of the unexpected, consider this your insider’s guide. I know the city like the back of my hand, having not just visited but lived and studied there.
So, buckle up as we navigate the cobblestone streets and uncover the treasures that make Budapest an unparalleled destination to put on your bucket list!
*There are some activities that I recommend that involve alcohol on this list. Please make sure you are always being responsible and safe while traveling and are over 21*
Bucket List Review of Budapest
|Who Should Add This to Their Bucket List?
|Traveler’s who want to go to a
less traveled European destination
|Best Time to Go
|Spring and Fall
|Yes, in most places
|Favorite Place to Stay
|Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace
|Budapest Private Luxury Sightseeing Tour
|Get Quote with VisitorsCoverage
Take a Cruise on the Danube
Embarking on a cruise along the iconic Danube River is a stereotypical Budapest experience. Not only is it an enjoyable activity, but it is also a cheap and unique way to see the city.
Another reason why I recommend this is because there are various types of cruises, making it caterable to each traveler.
Cultural cruises are my favorite! They cater to history enthusiasts, providing insightful commentary about Budapest’s rich heritage as you glide past architectural marvels.
For those seeking a lively and social atmosphere, booze cruises offer a spirited adventure, where you can clink glasses with fellow travelers while enjoying breathtaking views of the illuminated cityscape.
Please be careful with this type of cruise. I once took an unlimited booze cruise, expecting one or two glasses of wine. Instead, they brought out one bottle each (and more!) for me and my friends! Hungary doesn’t mess around!
If you’re heart just skipped a beat with excitement, the exact tour is below. You just might not see a ton of Budapest after the cruise…if you know what I’m hinting at…
For the culinary explorers, dinner cruises seamlessly blend culinary delights with panoramic vistas, allowing you to savor Hungarian cuisine while drifting beneath the city’s iconic bridges.
Whether you’re toasting with a cocktail, immersing yourself in history, tapping your toes to the rhythm, or indulging in a gourmet feast, a Danube cruise is the perfect addition to your Budapest bucket list.
Go to a Thermal Spa in Budapest
Now, let’s talk about my personal favorite part of Budapest: the spas!
No visit to Budapest is complete without indulging in the city’s famed thermal spas. It is historical, cultural, and relaxing. You can’t ask for more on your Budapest bucket list!
Budapest sits atop a rich supply of thermal springs, earning it the title of “The City of Spas.” There are 9 different medicinal baths in Budapest, all complete with healing waters with various minerals and temperatures.
Among the must-visit establishments is Széchenyi Baths, Europe’s largest medicinal bath, boasting a stunning Neo-Baroque setting. If you want to upgrade your spa experience, they also do beer baths and massages. On Saturdays when the sun goes down, they throw club-style parties in the main outdoor section.
Gellért Baths, my other favorite spa, offers a relaxing journey with its mosaic-covered pools and ornate interiors.
Rudas Baths, with its centuries-old Ottoman influence, provides a unique historical perspective.
The contrast between the city’s historic charm and the modern luxury of its spa facilities creates an unparalleled experience, making Budapest the ultimate destination for those seeking both rejuvenation and a dip into the city’s rich thermal heritage.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget flip-flops/sandals, a towel, and a swimming cap. This way, you can enter every section in any spa.
For more information on the thermal baths of Budapest, make sure to check out the full guide!
Have a Photoshoot at Fisherman’s Bastion
Quick story: I was miserable in med school and decided to quit to become a mermaid travel blogger. How’s that for a quarter-life crisis?
Before I left, I realized that I had no pictures in Budapest because I was constantly studying. Therefore, I cheaply hired a photographer to do a travel photoshoot of me at Fisherman’s Bastion.
To my surprise, the results were like something straight out of a travel magazine.
Granted, it is a non-negotiable to visit either way for its unique architecture and sheer beauty, but you’ll be taking pictures…trust me!
It is definitely what you will show to friends and family when you come back from your trip. It is also the top location that I would associate with Budapest, along with parliament.
Once here, you can also explore the other gems of Castle Hill (stay tuned in the next part).
Bonus Tip: if you are visiting this area, go early! It is one of the most touristy areas in the city and gets crowded very fast.
If doing a professional travel photoshoot is something you want to add to your bucket list, I wrote an entire bucket list guide from this experience in Hungary.
Visit Castle Hill
Now that we’ve talked about Fisherman’s Bastion, let’s go broader and talk about Castle Hill in general.
Exploring Castle Hill is a captivating journey into the heart of Budapest’s rich history and architectural splendor.
Besides Fisherman’s Bastion, you can also wander through Buda Castle, a symbol of Hungarian royalty and power.
You can also see St. Matthias Church, with its stunning Gothic architecture. Its vibrantly colored roof is an iconic site to your Budapest adventure!
What makes Castle Hill truly unique to Budapest is not just its historic landmarks but the seamless fusion of medieval charm and vibrant contemporary life.
Cafés, art galleries, and charming boutiques line the streets, creating a dynamic atmosphere against the backdrop of centuries-old architecture.
It is one of the additions to the overall charm of the “Buda” side of Budapest that cannot be missed on your bucket list.
Walk Andrassy Avenue
A visit to Andrassy Avenue in Budapest is a stroll through the city’s grandeur and elegance, making it an essential addition to any travel bucket list.
Lined with Neo-Renaissance buildings and also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Andrassy Avenue is a testament to Budapest’s architectural and cultural richness.
It is a 2.5 km long street renowned for its architectural opulence. This avenue begins at Hero’s Square and stretches near St. Peters Basilica. It runs through Oktogon, which is where I used to live and has almost everything you could ever need.
The street is also a vibrant hub of luxury boutiques, chic cafés, and cultural institutions. It was one of my favorite places to go shopping when I was in school, especially during Christmastime.
As you traverse this grand promenade, don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the Hungarian State Opera House and the Liszt Ferenc Music Academy around the corner from Oktogon.
If you are leaving Budapest and exploring Hungary, I would highly recommend that you check out the Hungary Bucket List.
Visit the Most Beautiful Cafe in the World
Full disclaimer, every Hungarian I met thinks that the New York Cafe is expensive and touristy. Is it still one of my favorite places to go in Budapest? Absolutely!
Stepping into the New York Cafe is like entering a time capsule of grandeur, with its exquisite frescoes, stunning architecture, and glittering chandeliers. I am not going to lie, it is very hard not to feel like a queen when dining here.
Originally opened in 1894, the cafe quickly became a literary and artistic hub, frequented by poets, writers, and intellectuals. The New York Cafe became a gathering place for the city’s creative minds to be inspired.
Today, visitors can revel in the luxurious ambiance, savoring decadent pastries and coffee. To add to this experience, every time I have gone I have been serenaded with live classical music.
My favorite drink to make me feel extra royal in this grandiose establishment? A 24k gold hot chocolate, of course!
Find Something to Eat at Gozsdu Udvar
Gozsdu, nestled in the heart of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter, is a vibrant and bustling passage renowned for its diverse culinary offerings.
Whether you’re craving traditional Hungarian dishes, international flavors, or contemporary culinary creations, Gozsdu ensures a gastronomic adventure that caters to every palate.
The atmosphere is alive with the buzz of locals and tourists alike. With its diverse range of eateries, Gozsdu has rightfully earned its reputation as a go-to destination for those seeking an unparalleled culinary experience in Budapest.
Pet Animals at the Cat Cafe or Zoo Cafe
You could sip your coffee like you do back home. Or you could enjoy it while petting a cat!
I made a point to do this often because I needed a serotonin boost while I was learning about the trigeminal cranial nerve.
Two animal cafes stood out in my constant search for happiness while in school.
Nestled in the heart of Budapest, the Cat Cafe offers a purr-fectly unique experience for feline enthusiasts and coffee lovers alike.
This cozy haven, adorned with whimsical cat-themed decor, allows patrons to enjoy their favorite brew in the delightful company of resident cats, including a giant maine coon!
What I like about this one is that it is very central to many iconic Budapest landmarks, making it is perfect stop that isn’t out of the way to rest your feet, enjoy a coffee, and pet some cats.
Maybe hanging around cats isn’t enough? How about adding a ton of other animals to the mix?
The Zoo Cafe offers a one-of-a-kind experience that’s a must for any Budapest bucket list.
Here, patrons enjoy their coffee or tea surrounded by an array of friendly and furry companions, including meerkats, reptiles, and other fascinating creatures.
The cafe provides a delightful opportunity to interact with these animals in a cozy and whimsically decorated setting.
The Zoo Cafe adds an unexpected and enchanting element to the typical cafe experience, making it a unique and memorable addition to your Budapest adventure.
Climb to the Top of St. Stephen’s Basilica
When you are in Budapest, you may notice the impressive basilica in the heart of the city. But did you know that you can go to the top of it?
Ascending to the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest offers a breathtaking panorama that should be at the forefront of any traveler’s bucket list.
You can either take an elevator and then climb 42 steps or climb the entire way with 302 steps.
Upon reaching the observation deck, you will be treated to the many iconic sites of the Budapest skyline including the Danube River, Buda Castle, and the Parliament Building.
The juxtaposition of the bustling city below and the tranquility of the panoramic scene is something that can only be described if you do it yourself.
Plus, if you are already in the basilica, you can also check off seeing the incredible interior, attend an organ or classical concert, and even see St. Steven’s mummified hand!
Enjoy Heroes’ Square
Heroes’ Square, or Hősök tere, stands as a monumental tribute to Hungary‘s rich history and national identity.
This iconic landmark is a sprawling square adorned with statues and monuments, featuring the Millennium Memorial at its center, topped by the Archangel Gabriel holding Saint Stephen’s crown.
The square was constructed at the end of the 19th century to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the arrival of the Magyars in the Carpathian Basin.
The seven chieftains of the Magyars, as well as various other national leaders and allegorical figures, are immortalized in statues surrounding the central column.
Heroes’ Square is not only a testament to Hungary’s historical legacy but also a symbol of the nation’s resilience and determination. It is a beautiful homage to the roots of Hungary.
It serves as a hub of national pride, drawing both locals and visitors to reflect on the country’s past and appreciate the enduring spirit that has shaped Hungary into what it is today.
Most guided tours go to Heroes’ Square, or you can get a hop-on hop-off bus style ticket to do it at your own pace:
Visit the Animals at the Zoo
As with many European capitals, it would not be complete without a zoo! Complete with Art Noveau design, this zoo is a worthy contender for your Budapest bucket list.
This zoo boasts plenty of history, dating back to 1866. Visitors can expect to encounter everything from playful meerkats to majestic big cats.
This is a true testament to Hungary’s commitment to wildlife preservation.
Learn About Hungary’s History
Hungary offers a wide array of museums that weave together the nation’s history, art, and cultural heritage.
The Hungarian National Museum in Budapest stands as a beacon, chronicling the country’s past with a diverse collection of artifacts, historical documents, and exhibitions of the Carpathian Basin since 1802.
The museum serves as a captivating journey through Hungary’s evolution, offering insights into its struggles, triumphs, and cultural milestones.
Another gem, the Budapest History Museum, located within Buda Castle, complements this narrative by delving into the city’s unique history. This museum focuses on life in Budapest since the Roman times.
If you are the type of person who loves learning about your destination, these museums and more will certainly curb your appetite for Budapest and Hungarian history!
Explore Buda Hill
If you didn’t already know, Budapest consists of two sections that are separated by the Danube. This was to strengthen the capital.
Pest is more urban, modern, and flat. This is where most of the tourists say and there is something to do on every corner.
On the Buda side, you will find hills and more historical buildings. It is also where Castle Hill is located.
If you have time and are done seeing Castle Hill, it is worth it to simply explore this side of the city!
The panoramic views of the Danube River and Pest from atop these verdant hills are nothing short of breathtaking. There is much to explore, but here are some examples of where to focus your time:
- Gellért Hill is known for unrivaled vistas and the iconic Liberty Statue.
- Nature enthusiasts will find solace in Normafa, where winding trails lead through lush forests, and the Elizabeth Lookout Tower rewards with a sweeping panorama.
- The Children’s Railway offers a delightful escape for families, surrounded by enchanting woodlands.
See an Opera at the Hungarian State Opera House
There are a plethora of ornate opera houses scattered around Europe. But none quite compared to the neo-Renassiance splendor that is the Hungarian State Opera House.
To secure tickets, visitors can conveniently book online through the official website or purchase them directly at the box office, located at the Opera House on Andrássy Avenue.
However, even if the spotlight isn’t on a performance during your visit, don’t miss the chance to explore the grandeur of the Hungarian State Opera House through their guided tours.
Led by knowledgeable guides, these tours offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the opulent auditorium, the ornate royal staircase, and the breathtaking main hall.
When I took this tour, there was even a small operatic performance for us to sample.
Even if you are not a fan of opera, the building alone will still manage to drop your jaw to the floor.
Go Bar Hopping in the Party District
Your Budapest party doesn’t have to end once the sun goes down!
Embarking on a bar-hopping adventure in Budapest’s Party District is a surefire way to experience the city’s electrifying nightlife.
This lively neighborhood is in the 7th district (Erzsébetváros) and is the busiest nightlife district in the city. Because of this, it has a high concentration of cafes, pubs, nightclubs, and bars. I am extra biased because it is the district that I lived in!
You could simply walk the streets and spontaneously get called into a place, but here are some ideas:
If you are looking for cocktails, you could try the Warmup cocktail bar which offers a wide selection of wild and fun cocktail flavors.
One of my favorite restaurants in Budapest, twentysix, is a great place for a classier drink in a jungle-inspired atmosphere.
Instant-Fogas Complex is also a massive entertainment venue that is in the heart of the party district. It looks unassuming from the outside, but is gigantic when you go inside!
If you are feeling extra brave, you could try the traditional fruit spirit, Pálinka. It burns going down, but it is traditionally Hungarian and even a popular gift option in most souvenir shops.
Experience a Ruin Bar
If you want to get more specific and go on an adventure that is uniquely Budapest, I would go to a few ruin bars!
Even if you don’t drink, it is still worth it to go for the vibes and atmosphere.
If it were me, I would kick off the night at Szimpla Kert, the pioneer of ruin pubs, renowned for its quirky decor and vibrant ambiance. This is going to be your most iconic and popular ruin bar in Budapest.
As you navigate the cobblestone streets, you could find yourself drawn to more hidden gems like Mazel Tov, a trendy ruin pub with a charming garden setting.
Another one of my favorites is Csendes Vintage Bar & Café. The decor of this place is overstimulating, creative, and live–everything you would want from a ruin bar.
Eat Chimney Cake
Indulging in chimney cake, or Kürtőskalács, is a delectable must-do when exploring the culinary delights of Budapest.
This Hungarian pastry is a sweet spiral of dough, coated in sugar and roasted to golden perfection, resulting in a crispy exterior and a soft, doughy interior.
The name Kürtőskalács translates to “chimney cake,” a nod to its distinctive shape reminiscent of a chimney stack.
Found in street markets, festivals, and specialty bakeries throughout the city, Kürtőskalács comes in various flavors, with classic cinnamon and sugar being a popular choice. I know it sounds weird, but my favorite place to buy chimney cake was always at the entrance to the subway!
Whether you savor it plain or opt for creative toppings like chocolate, nuts, or coconut, this iconic Hungarian treat offers a delightful blend of flavors and textures, making it a delightful and perfect culinary experience in the heart of Budapest.
Take a Bike Ride Around Margaret Island
Embarking on a leisurely bike tour around Margaret Island in Budapest is a delightful way to embrace the city’s natural beauty and historical charm.
Margaret Island, or Margitsziget in Hungarian, seamlessly combines recreational spaces with historical sites.
As you pedal along the designated bike paths, you’ll be surrounded by lush greenery, elegant gardens, and iconic landmarks like the musical fountain and the Water Tower.
Whether you’re seeking a peaceful ride along the riverside promenades or a cultural detour through the island’s historical remnants, a bike tour around Margaret Island is an enchanting and rejuvenating adventure.
This is a great option if you wish to get off the beaten path and opt for a less touristy and more local option for your bucket list.
Dare to Venture Underground and Go Caving
For the adventurous traveler seeking an underground thrill, a cave tour in Budapest promises an unforgettable exploration beneath the city’s surface.
Delving into the intricate network of caves beneath the Buda Hills, these tours cater to those with a penchant for adventure and a fascination with subterranean wonders.
Equipped with a helmet and headlamp, participants navigate through mysterious chambers, narrow passages, and stunning formations, all while gaining insights into the geological history of the region.
Popular caves for exploration include the Pálvölgyi Cave and the Szemlőhegyi Cave, each offering a unique subterranean landscape waiting to be discovered. As you traverse the underground world, expert caving guides share tales of the caves’ formation and historical significance. Budapest is full of surprises–and the fact you can go caving in such a large European metropolis is beyond me!
If you want to escape the normal tourist spots in Budapest, check out the crazy Budapest bucket list, filled with hidden gems and more unconventional activities for your list.
See the City of Budapest on a Tuk-Tuk
If you thought that tuk-tuk rides were just in Asian countries, then you thought wrong. I was very surprised to see that this was one of the most popular ways to see the city for tourists!
These compact, motorized vehicles provide an intimate and personalized experience, allowing travelers to weave through the city’s iconic landmarks and charming neighborhoods with ease.
This means that it is not only a great way to see the city, but it can also take you to some lesser-known areas that bigger vehicles cannot access.
The open-air design of the tuk-tuk provides unobstructed views, making it an ideal mode of transportation for capturing the architectural splendors of Budapest.
Whether zipping through bustling avenues or winding through historic alleys, exploring Budapest on a tuk-tuk adds an element of playfulness and convenience to the adventure, ensuring a unique and memorable exploration of the Hungarian capital.
Experience Budapest on an e-Scooter
If you didn’t like the tuk-tuk idea, what about a scooter? One of the things that I instantly noticed upon my arrival in Budapest was all of the unique tours that took you around the city.
For example, you can see the city while riding on your own MonsteRoller e-Scooter!
This is a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. I would recommend this to anyone who doesn’t have a lot of time and is down for a little bit of adventure!
And don’t worry–you have a pre-test ride to make sure that you are comfortable and ready to experience Budapest to the fullest!
When I lived in Budapest, I owned an electric scooter that I used to get to school. All of my friends called it “Aqua” because it was bright blue!
Bonus Tip: if you aren’t into scootering, there are a lot of bike tours that you can easily do:
Or, there are even options for a segway tour of Budapest!
Visit a Christmas Market During the Holidays
You can skip right over this one if you aren’t in Budapest in mid-November to December or you are a Grinch. I am, however, obsessed with Christmas and European Christmas markets.
The Christmas market in Budapest may not be as grand as some in Germany, but it certainly puts you in a festive mood and is an unmissable addition to your bucket list.
Here, visitors can shop for unique handmade crafts and traditional Hungarian ornaments. You can also indulge in delectable local treats like kürtőskalács.
Don’t pass up the opportunity to sip on a warming cup of mulled wine or pálinka, perfect for strolling through the market’s charming stalls.
The enchanting atmosphere is further heightened by live performances, seasonal concerts, and the captivating light displays that transform Budapest into a holiday spectacle.
Embracing the magic of the Christmas markets in Budapest is an essential experience, offering a joyous celebration of Hungarian traditions and a delightful immersion into the festive spirit of the season.
Bask in Vajdahunyad Castle
If you love castles and are near Heroes’ Square, then you undoubtedly need to go to Vajdahunyad Castle.
Originally built as a temporary structure for the 1896 Millennium Exhibition, it was modeled as a replica of Corvin Castle in Romania. This fairytale-like castle was so beloved that a permanent version was later constructed.
Nestled by the picturesque City Park, Vajdahunyad Castle is a year-round destination with diverse attractions.
My favorite time to visit is in the winter. During this time the castle courtyard transforms into a magical ice-skating rink, offering a whimsical experience against the backdrop of this enchanting architectural gem.
Escape the City for an Etyek Wine Country Tour
Last but not least, you can also choose to break away from the hustle and bustle of the city and do a tiny day trip!
Nestled in the picturesque Etyek wine region, this tour promises an immersive experience surrounded by rolling vineyards and charming cellars. This region is known for its white and sparkling varieties.
The tour provides an opportunity to meet passionate local families and winemakers and to learn about the region’s winemaking traditions.
You will even eat a 2-course Hungarian meal outside or in the cellar.
The scenic landscape, coupled with the warm hospitality of the vineyards, creates an unforgettable journey for your bucket list.
This isn’t just for the wine lovers. It is a relaxing break from the city to immerse yourself in the Hungarian countryside and meet some locals!
In conclusion, I hope that I’ve provided some insight on your next Budapest trip or maybe even some inspiration to finally buy that ticket!
The city’s magnetic allure lies not just in its architectural grandeur but also in the warmth of its people, the richness of its traditions, and the fusion of old-world charm with contemporary energy.
Budapest will always hold a special place in my heart and I, without a doubt, miss the city more than medical school! 😉
If I missed something, please contact me! I would love to make this an amazing resource for anyone looking for a Budapest bucket list!