What do you HAVE to DO in Budapest as a first-time visitor

Heroes’ Square

I’ve visited Budapest three times. Twice in wintertime and once for a couple of hours on a hot September day on my way to Bratislava. So basically my experience of Budapest is a Budapest decorated with Christmas lights and smelling of mulled wine and sweets. I loved exploring the Christmas markets in Budapest and eating cake in one of the city’s oldest cake shop Gerbeaud. On my first visit back in 2004 (for New Year’s ) I travelled with a boyfriend and we did most of the usual tourist attractions. We admired the grandiose Heroes’ square and the nearby castle and felt romantic at Fishermen’s Bastion and crossed many bridges. I compared Hungary’s parliament with the Houses of Parliament in London and we used the oldest underground in the continental Europe. We also took a night boat ride on the Danube river and ate in a traditional but very touristic restaurant. However, my most precious memory of that Budapest visit was winding down in the famous Gellért Baths. It was indeed a special experience!

In 2011 I visited Budapest again during Advent time and of course I bought a lot of Hungarian gingerbread biscuits (and some ginger ale). I pretty much re-visited all the major sights and admired the view of Budapest from the Gellért Hill. My last visit was in September 2012 but then I just spent a few hours in Budapest on my way to Slovakia’s capital Bratislava. I saw a different Budapest but I must say I prefer it in wintertime 🙂 During this last visit I had drinks at one of the infamous ruin bars.


My personal and very subjective recommendation is to visit Budapest during Christmas season and to enjoy the wonderful Christmas markets. Beware though, Budapest can be very, very cold in winter so pack warm clothes. How long should you stay in Budapest? Three days is the ideal length of visit but if you want to stay longer than you might want to take a day trip to beautiful Lake Balaton for example or to Vienna.

So, what do you HAVE to DO in Budapest?

Visit Castle Hill where you’ll find the Buda Castle, Matthias Church and the romantic Fishermen’s Bastion

Buda castle

Matthias church
Matthias church
Fishermen's Bastion, Budapest
Fishermen’s Bastion

Take photos of St. Stephen’s Basilica, the largest church in Budapest

Visit Hungary’s Parliament Building where you can see the Hungarian crown jewels


Walk across the Chain Bridge

Admire Budapest from the top of  Gellért Hill

Visit Heroes’ Square and its Millennium Monument

Walk down Budapest’s grand boulevard Andrássy út

Go ice-skating in front of the Vajdahunyad Castle in the City Woodland Park (Városliget)


Try some traditional Hungarian food at Central Market Hall such as lángos

Try to drink some Unicum– the famous digestive or palinka

Take a Danube cruise for beautiful panoramic views of Budapest  

Relax in one of of Budapest’s famous baths such as Rudas Baths, Gellért Baths and Széchenyi Baths 

Walk down the main street Váci utca and do some window-shopping

Have Dobos cake at Gerbeaud

Enjoy the Christmas market at Vörösmarty square and eat some chimney cake (Kurtos Kalacs)

See the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial

Buy some sweet paprika for a souvenir

If you’re staying longer than 3 days in Budapest then you might want to take a day trip.

Ideas for a day trip from Budapest:

Bratislava, Slovakia

Vienna , Austria

For nature lovers:visit the Danube bend and the Lake Balaton (especially in summer)

Have you visited Budapest? What did you like the best?

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51 thoughts

  1. I have been before in summer about 11 years ago but can’t remember much – we were backpacking and went to so may places its a blur. We are considering a train trip across europe again in February (we did Berlin and Prague this year) and Budapest is top of the list! #farawayfiles

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a useful post, Tanja. By your third visit you’re far more likely to know which are THE things to see and which you may as well miss out on – it’s not so easy to make those distinctions the first time. Interesting tip about going in winter too. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes this is on our list and especially so after a conversation with a 90 year old this week who said if you get to go anywhere, go to Budapest – a strong accolade eh! #citytripping

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s such a long time since I was last in Budapest- it’s been high on my list for a return visit for a while so great set of must-visit tips. Bet it’s great at Christmas. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I bet Budapest is wonderful anytime of year! We went for NYE 2013> 2014 and it was wonderful but damn cold and foggy! We really want to go back in the summer or fall when the weather is a bit warmer! Would love to check out one of those ruin bars next time too! #CityTripping

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We spent 2 months in Budapest last summer and another month in February. I think almost anytime is great in Budapest but think winter is fun. It can a a little foggy and we had days when we couldn’t even see the shoreline of the other side of the river. But just added to the charm. And I’m sorry, have to laugh when Europeans call a place cold. The one thing I had hoped for was a bit of snow but unfortunately never got it in Budapest.

    Nice post, agree with all the must-see’s.

    Frank (bbqboy)

    Liked by 1 person

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