Budapest: 6 Unmissable Sights
Updated: Dec 3, 2019
In April of 2019, my boyfriend and I took our first couple’s trip together, and spent a long weekend in beautiful Budapest. It would have been even more perfect if the sun had decided to show its face, but I know a city has something special if I can still fall in love with it in the cold and the rain!
We tried to hit up as many of the city's main attractions while we were there - these are the six you must not miss on your next trip to Budapest!
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The Hungarian Parliament Building
If you have ever searched google for a photo of Budapest, chances are that the first hit included the Hungarian Parliament building. This iconic World Heritage Site overlooks the Danube River from the Pest side of the city (the Buda side lies to the west of the river, the Pest to the east), and is a must-see for anyone visiting Budapest.
The Parliament Building was actually one of the first places we visited after landing in Hungary, finding our bearings and having a wander around the city. I mentioned that we didn’t see much in the way of sunshine during our weekend in Budapest, but I think the Parliament Building’s neo-gothic style was, in fact, complemented by grey skies and a bit of drizzle.
I’m sure you will have seen photos of this gorgeous structure lit up at night, and viewed either from a Danube river cruise or the Buda side of the city. Unfortunately we didn’t have the chance to see this for ourselves, but it’s definitely something I would prioritise if I found myself in Budapest for a second time. Taking a tour of the building’s interior would also be something to look into, as I’ve seen some truly stunning photos of the various rooms inside.
Museum of Fine Arts
On our second morning in Budapest, we took the metro up to Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere) to visit the attractions in and around the city park (Városliget). Directly opposite the art gallery (műcsarnok), across Heroes’ Square, is the Szépművészeti Museum, or the Museum of Fine Arts. In addition to a number of ticketed exhibitions, there is number of permanent and FREE exhibitions, including European Art from 1250-1600, and one focusing on Ancient Egypt.
While I’m not especially interested in art, and the Ancient Egypt exhibition displayed nothing I hadn’t seen before elsewhere, the museum’s building itself was so beautiful, and became our favourite part of our visit. From its gorgeous columns and arches you won’t be surprised to learn that the building’s architects were both inspired by ancient Greek temples!
For fans of classical art, ancient Egypt, and ‘grammable interiors, this one’s for you!
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Another iconic structure in Budapest is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which crosses the Danube almost in front of Buda Castle. The morning we decided to explore Buda coincided with the city’s half marathon, so many of the streets were either shut or in the process of being reopened; when we arrived at the bridge, the runners had all passed through and we could walk along the centre of the road! A cool little coincidence that gave us some good photo ops!
I couldn’t not take advantage of having my photo taken on the bridge - and by “bridge” I mean “railings” - while I was there. I genuinely didn’t see the “DO NOT CLIMB ON THE BRIDGE” sign until I was up there, I promise!
Law-breaking aside, this was a cool little photo-stop on our last full day in the city! It would be a shame to miss out on a visit to the bridge if you’re in Budapest!
I love foreign languages, and learning how to pronounce complicated words, but I still haven’t worked this one out, and had been referring to it as “Castle V” until I came to write this post!
Vajdahunyad Castle lies in the centre of the city park (Városliget), near Heroes’ Square, and a number of stunning - and probably over-edited - photos on instagram had ensured it was a priority of mine for this trip. We ended up not spending too long here, just wandering through and admiring the buildings the castle comprises.
Interestingly, and something I didn’t know until we were there, was that the castle includes buildings of different architectural styles. Its architect, Ignác Alpár, designed the castle to feature copies of some of the then-Kingdom of Hungary’s landmark buildings, with particular regard for Hunyad Castle in Transylvania (now part of Romania). Consequently, you will find examples of romanesque, gothic, renaissance, and baroque architecture within the castle, although my eye was definitely drawn mostly to the gothic and renaissance elements (i.e., the Transylvania-esque parts!). I did wonder why I was getting lots of “creepy old mansion” vibes!
It would have been nice to spend a bit more time in the castle, especially now I’m more aware of its history! Maybe we would have been more easily persuaded had the sun come out!
I would definitely recommend spending a morning or an afternoon up in Városliget, walking around and admiring the different buildings and attractions - I'm sure it's one of the most beautiful parts of the city in the height of summer, although probably exceedingly busy too! This is also where you’ll find the famous Széchenyi Baths (which we didn’t visit), so if this is on your agenda, there’s even more reason to visit!
If you’re staying in the centre of Budapest, it’s very easy to take the M1 metro line (the yellow one!) from the centre of the city up to Hősök tere station. It’s only a couple of miles from the city centre along Andrássy út, but the metro option is still there!
The Halászbástya - better known as “that place in Budapest everyone goes to take pictures for instagram” is another Buda staple you can’t miss during your visit. Sitting atop Castle Hill and overlooking Pest and the Danube, the 19th-century fortress is arguably the best place to view the city.
Once again, the neo-gothic and neo-romanesque features impressed me irrespective of the view, but you can’t deny that those panoramic shots and arch-framed selfies are pretty cool, if a bit overdone on social media.
Another feature of Fisherman’s Bastion is the Matthias Church, around which the fortress sits. We didn’t go inside the church, although I have seen some beautiful shots of its interior, but viewing it from the outside is sufficiently impressive.
Being the over-hyped, ‘gram-worthy attraction it is, if you don’t want to share the bastion with as many people as we did, get there EARLY. It would be lovely to visit the bastion at sunrise - void of strangers with the dawn light illuminating the front of the fortress… The bastion’s stated opening time is 9am, but as there was no official entrance gate to the fortress, I wonder whether some areas are still accessible - someone more knowledgeable will have to enlighten me!
We didn’t reach the bastion until about midday, by which time the hordes had arrived. Despite this, I’m incredibly impressed by my insta-boyfriend’s abilities to take some tourist-free shots I can plaster all over social media! If our weekend in Budapest was a test of his photographic abilities (which it totally was), he passed with flying colours!
I didn’t discover the ruin bars until shortly before our trip, but they became some of my favourite little quirks in the city. The ruin bars are located around the city’s Jewish Quarter, and are essentially bars and pubs housed in once-derelict and disused buildings such as warehouses and factories. They are now the coolest and trendiest places to drink in Budapest, and with their unique vibe, we had to check them out while in the city.
I wish I had done more research into the ruin bars before we went, as we definitely missed out on some awesome looking places. If you’re keen to visit some of them for yourself, I’ve found this website which lists the best ruin bars, with descriptions etc.
While you could drink yourself silly with just a sip at each bar, if you are pressed for time then you need to prioritise Szimpla Kert. Described as both a “pioneer” among the ruin bars, and both a literal and symbolic “milestone in the alternative life of Budapest”, this old factory has been converted into the quirkiest bar I have ever visited.
The bar was so much bigger than I anticipated, and it’s almost labyrinthine in places, with ominous-looking staircases and graffiti-covered walls. Every room has a different vibe; there’s even a shisha bar in one of the rooms if that’s your thing, and some of the bars serve food as well. Once a week Szimpla Kert holds a Farmer’s and Flea market, and they host a minimum of three concerts a week, which are free of charge. Have I sold it to you yet?
You’ve probably already guessed, but Szimpla Kert gets busy. And I mean really busy. We planned to do some bar hopping on our second night in Budapest, stopping at Szimpla Kert along the way, but, being 10pm on a Saturday night, there was already a lengthy queue snaking down Kazinczy út. Not for me. We did end up finding a couple of other bars we enjoyed, including a tiki bar on Király út - the same street on which we were staying - where we treated ourselves to some semi-lethal cocktails before hitting the hay.
Anyway, back to Szimpla Kert. I was adamant we would visit this intriguing-looking place before we left, so we ended our Sunday walk in Buda with a drink at Szimpla Kert, this time at around 4pm. It was by no means empty when we arrived, but there was space to move, and we were able to have a proper nose around of all the rooms inside, which was great! We stayed and drank as the bar filled up - I can sometimes find bars, and certainly clubs, a bit overwhelming, but that wasn’t the case here. The whole venue had a really cool, relaxed vibe, the drinks were cheap and the customers generally well behaved (not something we’re always used to back home in the UK!). I’m very glad we made the effort to persevere and visit at an earlier time to experience Szimpla Kert.
I hope my quick rundown of some of my favourite Budapest attractions has either helped you put together your own Budapest itinerary, or inspired you to add this beautiful city to your bucket list. The weekend I spent in Budapest was wonderful, full of unique discoveries and new experiences - I would highly recommend it for either a weekend away, or for a few days as part of a longer trip! I would love to hear about your Budapest trips and your favourite highlights in the comments!