1. The Hungarian Parliament
This impressive landmark is the crown jewel of Budapest and the location of the Hungarian national assembly. It is located on the bank of the Danube River and can be seen from virtually any place in downtown Budapest. The architecture of the building was inspired by the British Parliament, hence its characteristic neo-gothic peaks. This, however, doesn’t take away from its authenticity, as unlike its British inspiration, the Hungarian counterpart is perfectly symmetrical and has neo-Renaissance elements, which makes it truly iconic and one of a kind. The building was officially opened in 1896 on the 1000th anniversary of Hungary, and it has hosted the national assembly ever since. The parliament building is open to visitors every day.
2. Vaci Street
Vaci street is the tourist center of downtown Budapest. The atmosphere is very European: this is a busy shopping street lined with old buildings featuring intricate architectural details. Here you can choose to relax in a café or a restaurant or shop from both high end and mainstream brands. Also, Vaci street leads you right to Vorosmarty square, where the traditional Christmas market is held every winter.
3. Szechenyi Chain Bridge
The “Chain Bridge”, as Hungarians call it, is one of the most important landmarks in the history of Budapest, as it symbolizes the unification of the 2 cities on the banks of the Danube that would become the Hungarian capital – Buda and Pest. The bridge is named after Istvan Szechenyi, one of the most important figures in Hungarian 19th century trade and politics. During WWII the bridge was destroyed with only the towers surviving, but by 1949 it was rebuilt and reopened. The bridge is available to pedestrians year round, but I don’t recommend a walk in the winter because it can be very cold and windy. My favorite way to get to the Chain Bridge is by taking the vintage funicular from Castle Hill, another must-see location in Budapest.
4. Castle Hill
On the other side of the river, across from the Parliament lies another beautiful architectural gem, the Buda Castle, also called Castle Hill or the Royal Castle. This is the former residence of the Hungarian royal family, and now the location of the Budapest History Museum, the National Gallery and the National Library. This landmark is monumental and massive, towering over Budapest, but it wasn’t always like this, as it too was destroyed during the Second World War. While the Baroque castle was being rebuilt from 1949 until the 1980s, the ruins of another medieval castle were uncovered underneath it. This jumpstarted the biggest archeological excavation in Europe, with structures as old as 13th century being found. The castle today is a mixture of Medieval, Baroque, and modern elements. It looks, and truly is, authentic.
5. Danube River Cruise
One of the best ways to contemplate the essence of Budapest, in my opinion, is from a boat. With a variety of options and price points available, it is difficult not to “get on board” with that decision, so to speak. The advantage of a boat versus a tour bus is that you will get a priceless vista of the Parliament and the Castle Hill (and the perfect pictures, might I add), all while sipping on a cup of coffee or glass of wine and listening to live music.
6. The Fisherman’s Bastion
At a walking distance from the Buda Castle, you will find the Fisherman’s Bastion. It offers one of the best views of the city, and it looks eerily similar to the Walt Disney logo. The decorative turrets and balconies are connected by narrow passageways and spiral staircases, it looks just like a castle from a fairy tale. Although the name suggests that it was a protective structure, it was never really used as such. The bastion was built in the late 19th century for the sole purpose of a viewing point that features all the major sights of Budapest: the river, the Parliament and the Buda Castle.
7. Szechenyi Baths and Pool
Thermal baths are an essential and traditional specialty of Budapest. There are over 10 different thermal baths scattered throughout Budapest, but the most famous one in the Szechenyi Bath & Pool. It is the biggest medicinal bath in Europe and it’s nearly 150 years old! The water is retrieved from 2 different thermal springs and has healing properties, especially beneficial to those suffering from joint illnesses. Guests can try a variety of pools with different temperatures, saunas, and massaging water streams. There is also a massage service available.
8. Heroes’ Square
Heroes’ Square is the most important square in Budapest for at least 2 reasons. First, it is a testament to all the major heroes in Hungarian history, including the 7 legendary chieftain founders of Hungary. Second, it is the prime location from which you can explore other sights, like the City Park featuring a Medieval-looking castle, two art museums situated on both sides of the square, and finally, the zoo.
9. City Park (Varosliget)
Remember the Medieval castle that I mentioned in the previous section? Here it is in the picture above. In the winter, an enormous skating rink that works until late evening is created right in the middle of the City Park. In the summer, however, the park is green and beautiful. Whatever the season, it is a very romantic location with lots of things to explore, but the ice-skating rink is my personal pick.
10. Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden
This is one of the oldest zoos in the world. It is located in the City Park and over 1000 different animal species live there. The zoo is divided into different zones, each dedicated to a specific theme: India, Australia, Savannah, etc. Among the various animals that live there are the rare wombat and Komodo dragon, a bear and lion cub nursery, a hippo bred in captivity, numerous primate species, and an impressive rare collection of plants. The animals are cared for and usually, it’s not too crowded.
11. Dohany Street Synagogue
Meet the world’s second largest synagogue! Also called the Great Synagogue, this building is over 150 years old and it can house up to 3000 seats. There is also a Hungarian Jewish Museum and a beautiful garden within its premises. The signature East-inspired architecture and red brick design make it stand out and look truly impressive. The museum offers an inclusive perspective on Hungarian history.
12. The House of Terror Museum
The name of this museum is shocking, but at the same time appropriate. This is not your usual museum, it is an interactive journey through a painful chapter in Hungarian history. It is a museum devoted to the fascist and communist regimes in Hungary. The museum stands as a memorial to the victims of these regimes, many of whom were detained and tortured in that very building. Needless to say, this experience is not for the faint-hearted and does not quite fit the cozy Budapest theme, but it impressed me so much that I just had to add it to my list of recommendations.
13. Margaret Island
In my opinion, this is the ultimate place to meditate and enjoy nature. Don’t be mistaken, this is not another park, it is a whole island in the middle of the Danube river. The island is scattered with interesting sights, such as a Japanese garden, the ruins of an ancient church, fountains, uncommon trees, and numerous flower beds. Many of the locals come here to exercise, or simply to take a walk. It is a bit of a detour from the other tourist destinations, but if you’re craving an oasis of joy and calm in your vacation, this is definitely the place to be.
14. Central Market Hall
If you’re in the mood for some authentic Hungarian foods and you like the atmosphere of markets, make sure to stop by the Central Market Hall. The building itself looks amazing with an interesting façade and glass neo-gothic ceilings. But let’s face it, most of us go there for the food and the experience. At the Central Market Hall, you can purchase all the Hungarian food essentials: there is an impressive variety of ready-made meals and authentic ingredients. If you’re looking for something different from a general shopping mall or supermarket, definitely check it out.
I don’t know about you, but I sure feel like returning to cozy Budapest for a few days after writing this article. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed reading about Budapest and found a few places you or your family would love to visit.
Image Sources: Jorge Franganillo, Budapest Christmas, Dennis Jarvis, Jerome Strauss, Sprok, Dguendel, Paul Mannix, Globetrotter19, Wei-Te Wong, Paris-Sharing, Michał Huniewicz, dia_n, Dimitris Kamaras