10 Hidden Gems in Budapest – A Local’s Recommendations

By Janos Liptak, a Budapest local who loves showing visitors around the charming city where he’s been living all his life.


Edited by Elodi Troskie


Budapest, the charming capital of Hungary, is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Budapest is known for its rich history, impressive architecture and world-famous medicinal thermal baths. While you might have heard of the Royal Castle, River Danube and the waterside Parliament building, there are many parks, museums, pubs and other secret hideaways in Budapest. If you’re looking for non-touristy things to do in Budapest, you’ve come to the right place! Here are a couple of my favourite cool and unusual things to do in Budapest.

 

The secrets of Buda Castle


Buda Castle, also known as the Royal Palace, is no hidden gem in Budapest. Located on the top of Buda Castle Hill, the former home of the Hungarian royal family is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage and is one of Budapest’s biggest tourist attractions. But in and around the castle are many secret treasures you may not know about, like the National Széchényi Library and the series of caves under Castle Hill where Vlad Tepes, better known as “Count Dracula”, was held prisoner for more than a decade. The library is located in Building F of the castle and serves as Hungary’s national archive, storing at least one copy of every book ever published in the country. You can spend an entire day exploring the castle grounds, admiring the medieval architecture and relaxing in the Royal Gardens or visiting the Hungarian National Gallery and Matthias Church.

 

Roman ruins


The remains of the ancient Roman city, Aquincum, is a must-see in Budapest. There are six different ancient sites of Roman ruins in Budapest, mostly located in the Óbuda district, but also close to the River Danube in the city centre. The two sites that are best preserved are the Aquincum Military Amphitheatre, a complex that was used for chariot races and combats, and the Thermae Maiores, or the Great Bath, a former thermal spa that housed a sauna and gym. The amphitheatre can be accessed any time and the Great Bath’s opening hours are from 10:00 until 16:00 every day except Mondays. If you’re looking for free things to do in Budapest, this is perfect since there aren’t any admission fees. A bonus is that not many people know about these ruins, so you won’t be crowded with tourists. You can also visit the Aquincum Museum if you want to learn more about the history of the Roman ruins.

Vajdahunyad Castle


Vajdahunyad Castle was constructed in 1896 as part of the massive millennium celebrations that took place all over Hungary. Originally, the castle was built out of wood and cardboard only to be exhibited temporarily. It was so popular among locals that the structure was rebuilt in the early 1900’s. The castle is divided into four parts, each designed in different architectural styles. Several smaller replicas of famous Hungarian buildings and landmarks can be found inside the castle. Vajdahunyad is located on the grounds of the City Park, Városliget, surrounded by a cluster of Budapest’s must-visit locations, like the Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Municipal Grand Circus, the Szechenyi Baths, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Kunsthalle. The castle also houses the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture, featuring exhibitions on the history of Hungarian architecture.

 

Holocaust Memorial Centre


The Holocaust Memorial Centre was opened in 2004, 60 years after the start of the Holocaust in Hungary. The centre commemorates the victims of the Hungarian Holocaust and features a museum, synagogue and glass memorial wall. The museum’s permanent exhibition has a variety of maps, photos and personal items on display, as well as a video screening. A visit to the Holocaust Memorial Centre won’t be the most upbeat part of your trip but learning about the Jewish history of Hungary plays an important role in understanding the history of Budapest. Because the centre is located outside of the main skirts of Budapest, not a lot of people actually know about it. This means you can’t reach the museum by foot, but it also means you won’t encounter a big group of tourists there. The centre is open from 10:00 until 18:00 every day except Mondays. You can take Metro Line 3 to Corvin-negyed.

Shoes on the Danube Bank


The River Danube, the second longest river in Europe, is one of Budapest’s best known landmarks. The river separates the two sides of the city: Buda and Pest. Situated along the edge of the Pest side, close to the Hungarian Parliament Building, is another memorial for the more than 500 000 Hungarian Jewish victims of World War II. Created by the film director, Can Togay, and the sculptor, Guyla Pauer, this monument consists of 60 pairs of iron sculpted shoes to pay tribute to the Jews who were forced to take off their shoes before being killed. It’s a simple installation, but one that powerfully speaks of this tragic period in history.

 

 

Margaret Island


Lying in the middle of the River Danube between Buda and Pest, Margaret Island is the perfect escape from the city life. There are a few hotels, but other than that there are hardly any buildings on this little island. Instead you’ll find parks, running tracks and beautiful picnic spots, like a musical fountain and a Japanese Garden – perfect if you’re traveling with kids and they’re tired of visiting the one cultural landmark after the other! The island is also home to Hajós Alfréd National Sports Swimming Pool, Hungary’s first indoor swimming pool, as well as Palatinus, the oldest outdoor swimming pool in Budapest. Although the Hajós Alfréd pool is primarily reserved for water sports athletes, Palatinus is open to visitors. The island can easily be reached by taking the 4/6 tram and getting off at the Margaret Bridge stop.

Budapest’s secret ruin pubs


If you’re interested in exploring Budapest’s bars and restaurants, you’ve probably heard of the ruin pubs so unique to Hungary – old buildings that have been renovated as bars and restaurants while holding on to the historic design and architecture. These pubs can be found all over the city and only one or two days in Budapest are hardly enough to explore all of them! My advice is not to simply get stuck at the most famous ones, especially if you want to escape the tourist crowds. A few suggestions are Kisüzem, Lámpás and Fekete Kutya, all located close to each other in Dob Street. Kisüzem is a popular hangout spot for local artists and Lámpás is a bohemian style underground bar with regular live music shows. Fekete Kutya, or Black Dog, is an animal-friendly pub – quite a cool and unusual thing to do in Budapest!

 

 

 

The Garden of Philosophy


The Garden of Philosophy features a sculpture symbolising the continuous development of human culture. The sculptor, Nándor Wagner, created “The Garden of Philosophy” in 1997, intending to create a silent meetup for Abraham, Jesus, Laozi, Buddha and Akhenaten – the founders of what the artist considered the five major religions of the world. The statue is situated on the top of Gellért Hill, but because it’s removed from the famous Citadel and Liberty Statue, many visitors don’t even know about it. If you’re looking for non-touristy places to visit in Budapest, you’ll love this spot. From up there, you’ll have a beautiful view of the city – perfect for sunset.

Szabo Ervin Library


The Szabo Ervin Library is one of Budapest’s best kept secrets. Hidden away inside the Wenckheim Palace, the library can easily be overlooked since it’s surrounded by a modern library today. The Wenckheim Palace remains one of Budapest’s architectural landmarks and for those who have discovered the hidden gem that is Szabo Ervin, the library serves as an ambient, quiet place to read or work. You’ll feel like you’re transported back to the 19th century when you sink into the ancient armchairs and read by chandelier light! There’s even a cafe inside where you can enjoy a cup of coffee. You can reach the library by taking Metro Line 3 or the 47/49 tram. Opening hours are from 10:00 until 20:00 (until 16:00 on Saturdays) every day except Sundays.

 

 

 

 

Istvántelek Train Yard


Also known as the Red Star Train Graveyard, the Istvántelek Train Yard is a space outside the main skirts of Budapest where more than 100 old trains have been laid to rest, so to speak. Istvántelek was originally built as the national railway’s repair workshop but after suffering irreparable damage during World War II, the space was used to temporarily store locomotives that were planned to be exhibited at the Budapest Railway Museum. The rusty remains of steam engines and carriages that you’ll see in the yard today are ones that never made it to the museum. It can be quite tricky to make it to this site, but it’s definitely worth paying a visit! You can take Metro Line 3 and get off at the Istvántelek stop.

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