Budapest is a vibrant cultural capital with astounding natural beauty, which means even if you’ve spent most of your life in local Budapest, you get the best of both worlds with beautiful landscapes as well as a buzzing metropolitan life. I love calling this wonderful place my home and have made a point to track down all the fun things to do in Budapest. What stands out are the traces left behind by the many different people and epochs that have lived here. From the ancient Romans to Ottomans and Austrian Habsburgs, as well as several decades of a communist regime, each brings another layer to the city’s rich culture. There are many things to do in this vibrant city but here are my top 10 things to do in Budapest.
Ride a bike on the Pest side
If you are limited with time and perhaps wondering what to do in Budapest in 2 days, then try and take a bike and explore Pest. When I need to unwind, I like to take a ride along the Danube. You can truly appreciate local Budapest from a bike and this route allows you to see the main attractions: the Parliament, the Basilica and the bridges. One of the most picturesque routes is along Andrassy avenue that is also a UNESCO heritage, and you’ll see the Opera house along the way and pearls of Habsburg architecture. The further side of the avenue is crowned by the Heroes’ Square and the green City Park full of hidden architectural gems. If you come in spring, you can catch I Bike Budapest: a bicycling march and festival.
Panoramic views from the Buda Hills
The Buda Hills makes my list of top 10 things to do in Budapest because it is where I can gather my thoughts and enjoy the view over the city from a high point. The easiest and the most well-known spot is Castle Hill. You can go up there from Clark Ádám square (if you are really tired you can take a funicular as well), and as a bonus, you can walk in the medieval neighbourhood right next to the Buda castle and check both Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. If you feel more energetic, you can climb the Gellert hill all the way to the Citadel and enjoy its green surrounding and a hidden church in a cave on the way to the top. The more adventurous who are looking for fun things to do in Budapest but want to escape tourist crowds can head to the highest point of Budapest - János Hill. Here you can go up the Erzsebet tower to enjoy the panoramic view of the city.
Gólya (“stork” in Hungarian) is an unusual alternative co-operative bar, concert and community space close to downtown, right next to emerging Corvin quarter area. It was named after the old name of the street it is located in now, and it has a small figure of a stork on the top of its entrance door. This is not a hipster place or a ruin pub but rather a local youth-run place that offers an easy-going vintage atmosphere and a space for local initiatives and foreign guests to have their projects, events, festivals and a place to hang out. Gólya is open every evening and offers a nice selection of drinks and home-made food for a very friendly price. So, if you would like to mingle with local youth, experience one of the many things to do in Budapest at night and get to know what is going on in the alternative scene, you should definitely drop by Gólya.
Discover the caves
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:P%C3%A1l-v%C3%B6lgy_Cave.JPG
Buda hills hide an impressive natural secret: they are full of caves made by underground water and are definitely among my top fun things to do in Budapest. The Pál-völgyi Caves is the longest in Hungary and it was discovered by accident in 1904. If you feel adventurous and have a brave heart (in some places you will need to crawl in very narrow sections of the cave), you can visit the cave dressed as an underworld explorer in warm clothes (the temperature underground is around +11C) and a protective helmet. You can have an approximately 3 hours long guided tour in a half a kilometer section of the cave. If you feel less comfortable with climbing inside of a cave, you can still visit 2 bigger caves where you can walk comfortably under artificial lighting.
If you are looking for a party, there are many things to do in Budapest at night. For a unique local experience, you have to go for a drink at a ruined pub. Szimpla Kert is a famous tourist attraction that is still popular among locals. I often come here with friends as there is always a good vibe but if you're feeling up to something bigger, visit the biggest ruin pub in Budapest, Fogosház, which recently merged with another one - Instant. When scouting for things to do in Budapest winter, we often take shelter in the cellar of Lámpás. In summer we prefer the open courtyard of Anker't but there are a variety of other things to do in Budapest at night and I would recommend checking out a “táncház,” or dance house where there is usually a folk band that plays music on traditional instruments and experienced people show the basic movements of the dance.
The culture of craft beers has spread quickly in Hungary and worth experiencing while seeking out fun things to do in Budapest. If you are a beer fan, you should see what is going on in Élesztő (“yeast” in Hungarian). This is the first and the only pub in Budapest that offers 21 taps of local Hungarian craft beer. The place was founded by the organizers of Főzdefeszt, the first Hungarian festival of craft beer, therefore the quality and selection of the craft beers in Élesztő are on a high level. Élesztő also offers food and in my opinion is one of the best places to eat in Budapest, even if it is completely underrated. You will find an extensive list of other drinks as well as special beer cocktails. It also has its own brewery, and there is one space full of plush chairs called Sufficiently Ruined Cafe as well as a hostel on the territory of the pub. As a bonus, the place supports Food Not Bombs, a group of people who collect food at the markets that would be wasted otherwise, cook it on the grounds of Élesztő and distribute warm meals to the people in need.
Margaret Island, or Margitsziget, is a unique combination of various attractions combining sports and leisure possibilities for people of every age. Of the 10 things to do in Budapest, the most intriguing is the colorful musical fountain here that operates in summer and “dances” in line with the music played. There is also a water tower with an amphitheatre that hosts concerts and theatre performances in summer, as well as ruins of churches to explore and several hotels and clubs. You will find many sports and leisure activities on the island, making it one of the most fun things to do in Budapest. Enjoy a 5 km long rubber running trail or explore the Alfréd Hajós National Swimming Complex, open-air thermal Palatinus bath and water park and a small open-air gym. Nature lovers will appreciate the green side of the island full of carefully looked after trees (also fruit trees!) and bushes. There is even a Japanese garden on the island.
Photo credit: hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapesti_libeg%C5%91#/media/F%C3%A1jl:Libeg%C5%91.jpg
For those who like excitement and want to get a unique birds-eye view of the Budapest hills while still experiencing the local Budapest, definitely try reaching the János Hill and its Elisabeh lookout tower by the chairlift (“Libegő” in Hungarian). This alternative, which starts in Zugliget is nearly 1km long and is operated by the Budapest transportation company. It's a good way to have a romantic and unique experience of floating above the hills and enjoying the beautiful panorama along the way.
Relax or party in a thermal bath
Budapest is famed for its underground thermal waters that were appreciated by ancient Romans and Ottomans, and even today they’re a true treasure of Budapest which both locals and tourists enjoy. You can visit one of the biggest spas in Europe - Szechenyi in the City Park that has the biggest number of various inside and outside pools and saunas. If you prefer something smaller, less crowded and more historical, visit one of the Turkish baths: Kiraly Bath, the old section of Rudas Bath or a recently renovated bath in Veli Bej. For a nice view, you can visit a recently added spa section of Rudas Bath and immerse into its rooftop thermal pool.
Animal lovers can enjoy the company of the furry cats in the Cat Café near St. Stephen's Basilica, in the very city centre of Budapest. The Cat Café opened its doors to visitors in Budapest in 2013, shortly after the trend of cafes with animals came to Europe, and is now considered to be one of the most fun things to do in Budapest. The place is very cozy with nice tables, chairs and soft sofas, and it also has a dedicated playroom for cats. While there are many best places to eat in Budapest, this cafe is very special to me but If you’re looking for a bigger diversity of animals, then you should check out the Zoo Café where you can socialise and heal from everyday stress with various furry house animals, parrots and small exotic animals that were raised by the owners of the cafe. The cafe offers a selection of sandwiches, ice cream and cakes.
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