One of the things I’m most grateful for about my trip to Budapest was the amount of time we got to spend in the city. Our original plans were for 3-4 days, but we ended up staying for six in total, with early morning and late evening flights allowing for even more time exploring. Top travel tip there – although be prepared to feel like hell when you’re back in the office the next day.
Sometimes it feels like I have so many places I want to visit that I try and cram as much in as possible – but this time around, we were able to take the city at our own pace and really explore in a bit more depth than we’d normally do. Simply wandering the streets was a wonderful pleasure, and along the way, we stumbled upon lots of fun things to do in Budapest…
Here are some of them!
1. Relax in a Bath house
Cost – varies by bath house, at the Szechenyi Bath we paid 5,400 HUF (around £15) each for a weekday full day ticket including a changing cabin.
If there’s one thing everyone recommends you to do in the city, it’s soaking yourself in one of the thermal baths. We spent a relaxed afternoon soaking ourselves in one of Budapest’s most well-known bath houses, the Szechenyi Bath. The building itself is stunning, with ornate facades and plenty of classical features. There are 3 outdoor and 15 indoor pools in total, as well as steam room and sauna facilities.
After donning our swimwear, we stepped out of the building to be greeted with 2-3 degree temperatures. Yep. Swimming costumes in winter. Which felt pretty odd. But on stepping one toe at a time into the hot waters of the baths, it was worth it. The steam coming off the water created a somewhat magical feeling – once in the hotter of the two pools, we couldn’t see further than a couple of metres.
Inside, we discovered yet more pools – some hot, some cold, some medicinal – all designed to treat the body and mind to some major relaxation. Not a rubber duck or bottle of Matey in sight.
2. Go inside Saint Stephen’s Basilica
Cost – Suggested donation 200 HUF (about 55p)
Completed in 1905, St Stephen’s Basilica is, firstly. pretty impressive from the outside. The cathedral is named after the first King of Hungary – and inside, you can actually see what’s said to be his preserved right hand, displayed as a relic. Which is pretty interesting, for a start, considering he died almost 1000 years ago).
As well as this well-known relic, it’s also well worth your time taking a look inside the Basilica. Because it’s absolutely stunning. Gaze up at the amazing domed ceiling, take in the beautiful paintings and tapestries, and for an extra fee you can even take the lift to the top for epic, far-reaching views. It’s a real, working cathedral so silence is required inside, which adds even more of an atmosphere to this incredible building.
3. Check out the murals
Cost – Free
The Pest side of the city is home to some pretty impressive street art, including this giant purple homage to Elizabeth, aka Sissy, the wife of Franz Joseph I and Hungary’s most-loved queen.
It’s also worth checking out the The Rubik’s Cube of Neopaint, which has a 3D effect when you point your camera at it. And the ‘6:3’ mural will be of interest to football fans – although England supporters may struggle, as it celebrates Hungary beating England 6-3 in 1953.
We didn’t have the time to take it, but after taking a tour with their Berlin counterparts, the Alternative Budapest tour would be a great way of seeing loads of street art and finding out more about the creators of the murals dotted throughout the city.
4. Experience the House of Terror
Cost – 2000HUF/1000HUF reduced price entry (£5.56/£2.78)
Much like Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, Budapest’s House of Terror isn’t necessarily the kind of place you enjoy per se – but it gives a fascinating and often moving insight into fascism and communism in 20th century Hungary. I’d definitely recommend it.
What’s really great about the museum is that each room has printed sheets for visitors, where you can guide yourself through the exhibits. My only regret is not paying a bit extra for the audio tour, as it was quite hard to balance reading the lengthy info sheets with looking at the exhibits. There are quite a few video sections though, and it was pretty emotional watching survivors of the regimes recounting their sometimes horrific experiences.
If you’re aged under 27 and part of the European Economic Area, you get reduced price entry. You’ll need ID though, as they wouldn’t accept the fact I basically look like a teenager as proof…
5. Eat a chimney cake
Cost – Around 300HUF (about 83p…!)
If you want to look as attractive as I do while eating something rather tasty, a chimney cake’s your best bet. Chimney cakes are popular on the streets of Budapest, and they consist of pastry whirled up into a tube. The name comes from the fact they look a bit like a chimney, obv. You can get different flavours, including vanilla and chocolate, and they’re pretty enjoyable. And huge.
6. Explore the Houses of Parliament
Cost – 2000 HUF (£5.56) for the guided tours
Even just checking out this awe-inspiring building is a sight to behold, and it’s definitely one of the most beautiful structures I’ve seen on my travels. Perched at the edge of the Danube, our first sighting was from the other side of the river at Fisherman’s Bastion – and it gets even better up close. To learn more about Hungary’s political side, or just to gawp at the also-impressive interior, take a guided tour.
7. Play an Escape Game
Cost – varies, we paid 9000 HUF (around £25) in total for 2 players at Gozsdu Mission, and it gets cheaper if you add in more players.
Honestly, this is probably one of the best things I did while I was away. I know you could do an escape game pretty much anywhere, but if you’re on a slightly longer trip and have an hour or so to spare, Budapest has some great options. And although they didn’t originate in the city, some of the earliest escape games in Europe began here.
We decided to give Gozsdu Mission a try, as we’d walked past the night before. We headed in early on Sunday morning, and they had an on-the-day slot free for later that we headed back for. Our escape game was the ‘Mafia Mission’, and we found ourselves locked in a mob boss’ study searching high and low for clues.
We managed to complete the 75 minute game just in the nick of time, with around a minute to spare. It was challenging enough to be exciting, yet solvable enough I didn’t end up punching through a wall. Plus, the man running it said afterwards he was impressed with how well we did. YEAH. Definitely do one of these if you can!
Dob u. 16, 1072 Hungary
8. Have a drink in a ruin pub
Cost – free to enter most bars, drink prices vary – expect to pay around 400-600 HUF (£1.11-£1.66) for a draught beer, or a little more for specialty drinks.
I’ve already raved about Szimpla Kert’s awesome vibe, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. Budapest’s ruin pubs came about when derelict, abandoned spaces were taken on by locals and turned them into watering holes, complete with retro decor, thrift store furniture and walls covered in paintings and writings from local artists and visitors over the years.
9. Walk to Fisherman’s Bastion
Cost – Free
This is one of the first things we did as part of our free walking tour, although it’s something you can easily do independently. Take a stroll across the much-Instagrammed Chain Bridge, and up the hill past Buda Castle. It’s an easy walk, but if you’re feeling particularly leisurely, you can take the Buda Castle Furnicular.
Make your way through the quaint streets, past the brightly tiled roof of Matthias Church and onto Fisherman’s Bastion itself. This panoramic viewing terrace has fairytale turrets and an incredible view out over the Danube and across to the Pest side of the city, where you’ll spy the aforementioned Budapest Houses of Parliament.
10. Shop and grab a coffee at Alexandra Bookstore
Cost – Free to enter
Alexandra Bookstore was on my recommended places to visit list from a few people. Believe me, this ain’t no Waterstones. The front of the bookstore is pretty unassuming, and inside you’ll find a whole range of tomes, mostly in Hungarian, as well as gifts and lots of fun souvenirs to take home.
However, it’s once you hop onto the escalators that you find this store’s secret – at the back of the shop lies the Lotz Hall Bookcafe. Staring up at the ornately decorated ceiling, this is one of Budapest’s best-looking secret finds. Grab yourself a coffee and a slice of cake, and while away an hour with a good book in this gorgeous setting.
11. Ice Skating
Cost – 1000-2000 HUF (£2.78-£5.56), depending on when you go
If you’re in Budapest between November and February, get some festive feels with a skate around the massive City Park Ice Rink. Set in the shadow of Vajdahunyad Castle’s grandeur, this is Europe’s largest open air ice rink. Visiting at any other time of year and still want to skate? Try the Jégterasz (Ice Terrace).
City Park Ice Rink (Nov-Feb)
Olof Palme sétány 5, City Park
12. Explore Vajdahunyad Castle
Cost – Free to enter grounds
On our way to the Szechenyi Bath, we discovered this incredible castle building with serious fairytale vibes amongst the city park grounds. With the main castle built in 1896, the grounds of Vajdahunyad Castle also contain buildings from various time periods, meaning you can see Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. As well as the architecture, you can check out the statues that inhabit the grounds – including Béla Lugosi, the actor who played Count Dracula in the 1931 film.
And is it just me, or does it have major Beauty and the Beast feels?
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