Photograph by Kimberly Walker, Robertharding / Getty Images

 

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Bathers soak in the Széchenyi thermal bath in Budapest, Hungary.

Photograph by Kimberly Walker, Robertharding / Getty Images

 

Discover the Best of Budapest

Make your trip to this European capital unforgettable with these top 10 tips.

A cosmopolitan European capital with a relaxed vibe, Budapest’s wide boulevards and stunning architecture, steamy thermal baths, wealth of UNESCO World Heritage sites, and evolving food scene are sure to resonate with all types of travelers.

Natural Wonder

Budapest has a massive underground cave system formed by the same geological springs that provide water to the city’s many thermal baths. Three of the caves are open to visitors, with varying levels of difficulty. The fascinating Hospital in the Rock is part of the Buda Castle Cave and was used as a secret hospital and shelter during World War II.

Archaeological Site

The remains of the Roman city of Aquincum are on display at Aquincum Museum and Archaeological Park in Budapest’s Óbuda district. The capital of the Roman Empire’s Pannonia Inferior province, Aquincum’s excavated ruins date back to the second century and include the remains of an amphitheater, mosaics, tombs, and statues.

UNESCO Site

No trip to Budapest is complete without a visit to the Castle Quarter, including Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, and the quaint cobbled streets and pastel buildings throughout. Before sunset is the best time to visit, when the sun lays a warm blanket of light across the area and the sky makes a dramatic and colorful transition from day to night.

Cultural Sites

Exploring the Budapest Jewish community’s recent history is a sobering experience, laying bare both the unbridled evil and unabashed humanity of our species. Don’t miss Shoes on the Danube, memorials to Carl Lutz and Raoul Wallenberg, and the Dohány Street and Kazinczy Street Synagogues.

Best Day Trip

Szentendre is a pleasant day trip about one hour by train from Budapest. Known as an artists’ community, you’ll meet plenty of makers hawking their work on the streets in warm weather, and you'll see a mix of souvenir and upscale design stores around town. Break up your exploring at a riverside restaurant, or grab a table on the main square.

Off the Beaten Path

Although Széchenyi is the most famous thermal bath in Hungary, you’re unlikely to find yourself soaking with locals here. Instead, head to Rudas Thermal Bath, which dates back to the 1500s when Budapest was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. The small soaker tub on the rooftop is a must, offering great views over the Danube.

Most Iconic Place

In a city filled with spectacular architecture and sites, the Hungarian Parliament Building stands out as a symbol of the city and impossible-to-ignore presence on the Danube. Wander the beautiful grounds, take a tour to see the Hungarian Holy Crown, and enjoy spectacular views of the exterior from Margaret Bridge and the opposite bank of the Danube.

Late Night

Budapest’s nightlife is concentrated in the Seventh District (Erzsébetváros), otherwise known as the Jewish Quarter. Among synagogues and kosher restaurants you’ll find something for everyone, from street food pods and dive bars to upscale speakeasies, wine bars highlighting local varietals, and secret clubs. Kazinczy Street, Király Street, and Gozsdu-udvar are good spots to start (and finish) your night.

Historic Site

Don’t leave Budapest without taking a ride on the adorable M1 metro, a UNESCO World Heritage site that runs under Andrássy Avenue from Vörösmarty Square to City Park. The oldest underground in continental Europe, the M1 was built in the late 19th century and has maintained its original character at each stop.

Local Quirk

Hungary’s unofficial ban on clinking beer glasses dates back to 1848, when Austria quashed Hungary’s anti-Hapsburg revolt and clinked beer glasses to celebrate. Enraged by the insult, Hungarians vowed not to clink beer glasses for 150 years. Although the ban expired in 1998 and you’re unlikely to find Budapest’s young, craft-beer-loving urbanites following along, older Hungarians stick to the custom.