Budapest is fascinating city that is not only cheap but offers lots to do and see. Here I share with you my top 15 things you must see when visiting the Hungarian capital.
15. Grand Market Hall
First in at number 15 we have the Grand Market Hall, a large indoor market located just a short distance from Liberty Bridge. The ground floor of the market is all about fresh fruit and veg, meats, spices and sweet treats. Fresh fruit and vegetables are in abundance, varying in price and type from stall to stall, each in competition with one another. On the upper floor you will find an array of traditional Hungarian souvenirs both tacky and tasteful. Paprika can be found at every turn, a symbolic spice within Hungarian culture which was first introduced to the country by the Turkish in the 16th century. If you’d prefer the more alcohol themed souvenir then Palinka is the one to try. This Hungarian spirit is a strong fruit brandy flavoured with cherries, apricots, strawberries and even pears. Folk embroidery, Hungarian costumes, wooden toys and decorated Easter eggs can all be sourced within the market and make great gifts upon returning home. Whether you go to the Market to make a purchase or not, it is interesting to witness the muster of vibrant colours and buzzing atmosphere it has to offer.
14. Hungarian Parliament Building
Number 14 beholds the Hungarian Parliament Building. This Gothic Revival style establishment is the largest in Budapest situated on the bank of the Danube River within Lajos Kossuth Square. Guided tours occur every half an hour exploring the Dome Hall, parlours, chambers and an array of coronation paraphernalia at a pricey 2520 HUF (£6). We chose to admire the exterior of the building as we were prohibited from entering due to armed guards protecting Vladimir Putin on his visit from Russia. A walk around the vicinity of the Parliament building should suffice as the architecture is both exquisite and unique.
13. Take The Tram Or Metro
We can see at number 13 that taking a ride on the Tram or Metro is a must when in Budapest. The Metro itself happens to be the oldest electric underground railway system in the whole of Europe with paramount construction dating back to 1894. A single ticket costs a mere 350 HUF (£0.80) which enables a single trip to be made on a range of public transportation including the Metro, tram, bus and trolley-bus. The metro system does not operate using electronic ticket machines unlike the London Underground therefore you are responsible for punching your own ticket. Many say that reusing the same ticket for multiple journeys is possible however ill-advised due to routine checks and fines occurring daily!
12. Visit Heroes Square
At number 12 we have Heroes Square, known as Hősök tere to the Hungarian community. Heroes Square is positioned at the end of Andrássy Avenue, a boulevard home to Neo-renaissance architecture, designer shops, cafes, boutiques and the House of Terror. The square itself is home to a 36 metre column with the Archangel Gabriel at the pinnacle, symbolising the Roman Catholic religion. The two semi-circles beyond the column exhibit emblems of War & Peace with statues of Kings and Governors residing below. To the left of the square lies the Museum of Fine Art exhibiting artists works from the likes of Rembrandt to Cezanne. Expect long queues and overpriced admission fees which appeared to be non-existent across the square at the Palace of Art. To the rear of the Square lies Vajdahunyad Castle, an ice rink, a beautiful park and the Szechenyi Baths.
11. Kerepesi Cemetery
On a darker note, number 11 bears the Kerepesi Cemetery. Established in 1847, Kerepesi is home to more than 3000 graves including many of whom deceased in the 1956 uprising. Amongst the remaining tombstones lie the remains of well-known Hungarian writers, actors, composers and statesmen, many buried in elaborate mausoleums or tombs. The most memorable monument is that of the first post-communist leader, József Antall, which depicts horses trying to break free from under a sheet whilst concealing Antall’s grave. The Cemetery is located a short distance from the Keleti Railway Station in the eighth district of the Pest side of the river.
10. Drink At A Ruin Bar
At number 10 we find the most famous of the ruin bars, Szimpla Kert. The derelict factory come bar is the home to an open air cinema, flea market, restaurant, live music and Shisha parlour. The buzzing atmosphere guides you through numerous rooms cluttered with old toys, bric-a-brac, house plants and office furniture. The dark spaces are illuminated by multi-coloured fairy lights, guiding you through a maze of rooms in search of a table. Open 7 days a week, this Budapest hot spot is worth a visit either by day or by night.
9. Dracula’s Lair: Labrintus
At number 9 you’ll find the Labirintus, a labyrinth within the cave systems found beneath Buda Castle. Dating back to half a million years ago (crazy huh!?), this maze of dank and dark rooms saw Dracula taken prisoner in the 15th century by King Matthias Corvinus, a harem for the Turkish in the 16th century and a makeshift hospital and shelter for the Germans in WW2. The tour of the Labyrinth combines an opera show, complete with music and waxwork models in jail cells, with the challenging task of navigating through pitch black walkways with only a rope to guide you. Thankfully many sections are lit up showcasing stone and architecture dating back centuries ago. The walls are littered with stories of Dracula and his torturous ways – he wasn’t named ‘Vlad the Impaler’ for nothing – claiming that the caves were once home to thousands of impaling incidents and be-headings by Dracula himself. Be prepared to get lost as the caves and the arrows pointing ‘this way’ are very misleading! At just 2000 HUF (£4.70), the dank dark caves shouldn’t be missed!
8. Matthias Church
Number 8 may just behold the most unique church roof I have ever lay my eyes upon. Matthias Church is just as beautiful on the inside as it’s vibrant outer shell. Due to falling into decay many centuries ago, restoration has occurred many a time, the latest being the addition of the diamond patterned roof and gargoyles in the late 19th century. Inside you will find restoration occurring in front of your very eyes, from the repainting of religious statues to the sanding and reshaping of century old sculptures. The warm gold tones combined with the fragility of the stain glass windows brings the interior to life, a vivid reflection of what lies on the peripheral of the exterior. The 700 HUF entrance fee allows access to a museum within the church showcasing treasures, relics, restoration processes and ancient artifacts.
7. Views From The Fisherman’s Bastion
Located directly next to Matthias Church, The Fisherman’s Bastion is positioned at number 7.The Bastion received it’s name from a group of fishermen who guarded the site in the Middle Ages which later went on to become a fish market in Medieval Budapest. Hosting possibly the best view of Budapest, this Neo-gothic terrace was built in the late 18th century, with 7 fairytale-esque turrets in total each representing the Hungarian Tribes that founded the City. This is a free attraction for all with an opportunity to pay a small fee to climb a tower or two and witness a more prominent view over the city itself.
6. See The Shoes On The Danube Bank
At number 6 we found the Shoes on Danube Bank. In honour of the Jews killed by the torturous Arrow Cross group in World War II, these memorable bronze sculptures represent the victims shoes that were removed moments before being shot at the water’s edge. Gyula Pauer, the sculptor, included the shoes of adults and children alike, both male and female, recalling the extent of the heartless crimes that were committed by the socialist party. Amongst the shoes you will find small gifts, flowers and even Kinder Eggs placed within the those which belonged to the children. More profoundly, Symbols of new life can be found in the form of plants shooting out of individual shoes, a clear reminder that within the dark struggle, hope lay within. This powerful sight is truly moving and a beautiful homage to the Hungarian Jews who lost their lives to save ours.
5. Golden Eagle Pharmacy
Number 5 is home to the Golden Eagle Pharmacy that resides upon Castle Hill. Positioned not far from the Labirintus & Matthias Church, this medical museum showcases ancient myths, relics, taxidermy and even an Alchemist’s Laboratory. The most fascinating artefact has to be in fact a Mummy’s Head that was believed to hold the cure to epilepsy in the form of ‘mumia’ powder. The lovely owner of the fascinating Pharmacy charges 250Ft if you’re under age 26 and 500Ft if over, a cheap attraction for those on a budget!
4. Szechenyi Baths
At number 4 we find the most famous of Budapest’s themal spas, hereby known as the Szechenyi Baths. Budapest is known for being the ‘City of Spas’ due to it’s ownership of over 100 thermal and medicinal water springs. Budapest is home to 15 thermal public baths, Széchenyi being the largest and most popular by day and by night. Known for it’s confusing ticket options and maze-like architecture, this spa hosts indoor and outdoor pools ranging from 17°C to 78°C in temperature. The latter, not for the faint hearted, comes in the form of saunas and steam rooms, leaving your eyeballs burning and your head feeling rather light. The pools up to the 40 °C mark are the most enjoyable, shared with families, young couples and children, you’ll never find a quiet spot to yourself. The outdoor baths however offer the most relaxing atmosphere due to the cooling breeze entwined with the bath’s steaming hot temperature. By night however the Spa’s see a change in audience, offering ‘Sparties’ on weekends from 10PM to 3AM, promoting cocktails, loud music and dancing. Weekday ‘tickets plus locker’ cost 4,100 HUF in which locker access is included to keep your belongings safe. For an extra 500HUF you can by a ‘plus cabin’ ticket in which a small room to change into swimwear and keep your belongings inside can be rented. Towels and swimwear can also be rented from the Spa and a map is provided to guide your through the maze of lockers and changing rooms and into the baths themselves.
3. The House Of Terror
Number 3 beholds the incredibly moving House of Terror. This museum commemorates the lives of the victims who fell into the murderous hands of the Arrow Cross Party’s members and serves as a memento to not forget the dreadful acts that were committed by the extremists. The year of 1944 saw this building as the party headquarters of Hungarian Nazis which later became the residence of the AVO, the much feared Hungarian secret police force. It was up until the revolution in 1956 that this building dually served as a prison, torturing hundreds of citizens in the basements, most cases resulting in death due to the incomprehensible conditions in which they had been kept. The museum itself showcases shocking stories from victims, photographs, relics and momentos and walls of photographs of not only the victims but of the murderers themselves. The outer shell of the building honours those who lost their lives during the 1956 revolution as true heroes of Budapest in the mid 20th century. This truly is a heart-wrenching and gut-churning experience that embodies a shock factor like nothing you’ve seen before. However, it is a part of our history and without it the world would be a very different place today. Tickets cost 2000 HUF at full price and 1000 HUF for those under 26 years of age.
2. Holocaust Memorial Center
Drawing in at number 2 has to be a former synagogue, turned museum known as the Holocaust Memorial Center. Exhibited in a modern and minimalist building, the numerous dark rooms showcase artefacts, visual fact files, short films and sound effects to keep every visitor gripped. With much to read and a bountiful array of information to process, dedicating a couple of hours of your day to the center is a must. The museum starts by contextualising the history of Antisemitism and the role it played in World War II using interactive displays in combination with horrifying stories of both victims and survivors. Excerpts of Anne Frank’s diary can be found along with shocking images of the Holocaust victims, bodies and belongings piled high to burn in the sun. The center has a shock factor, much like the House of Terror, that leaves you feeling almost drained emotionally. Tickets cost no more than 2000 HUF and is located in District VIII.
1.Hospital In The Rock
Number 1 of my Top 15 has to be the Hospital in the Rock. Located in the Castle Hill District, this former secret hospital and bunker is part of a 6 mile stretch of caves hidden beneath Buda Castle itself. Extensively used in 1944-45 during World War II, the cave system found itself home to a military hospital which saw hundreds of soldiers and civilians pass through its doors. The museum showcases re-enactments of the functions of each individual rooms from operating theatres, patient wards, ventilation systems to supply rooms. Offering 60 minute guided tours on the hour in a variety of different languages, the tour guide talks your through the history and functions of the Hospital and the difficulties they faced daily. The ventilation system used in war time still functions today making the air breathable in the chilling 15 °C temperatures. A chance to wind up and use the air raid siren is a must as well as purchasing surreal souvenirs on the way out like the 1940’s glass syringe or gas mask. Our favourite attraction of the trip costs a mere 1800 HUF if under the age of 26 and can be accessed all year round! A must see!
These were my top things to see and do in Budapest. Have you visited any?