Whether you have an extra day to spare, or you’re planning your next vacation, Budapest is a must-visit. This gorgeous capital is as historic as it is trendy, with grand 19th-century government buildings like the Hungarian Parliament and long, elegant streets such as Andrassy Avenue. You’ll also find top restaurants, hip bars and clubs, and unusual museums that include a gypsy caravan and Communist-themed rooms where you can try local beers.
Budapest is a walkable city and you’ll be well-rewarded for the effort, from the soaring dome of the Great Synagogue to its peaceful garden, where you can see a weeping willow memorial to the Jewish victims of World War II. If you want to get more detailed knowledge about the synagogue’s history and anecdotes, join a tour led by a guide.
The dazzling Royal Palace, which looms over the Danube riverbank and was once a working hospital, is another highlight. It’s worth a visit even for those not particularly interested in Hungary’s monarchy; the marble and gold walls, evocative lighting, and awe-inspiring decor make it one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. You can skip the lines and take a guided tour that includes fast-track entry, or explore on your own with a ticket purchased in advance or on your mobile phone.
A stroll through the Grand Bazaar is a must, and the best time to go is at sunset to admire the colorful skyline from the viewpoint on Castle Hill. The market offers a vast assortment of items, from carved ivory and glass beads to hand-painted folk art and silk dresses. There’s also a good selection of restaurants, including the acclaimed Mazel Tov, where you can eat Middle Eastern cuisine in a space that looks as if it was designed by a modernist architect.
Taking in Budapest by foot is the way to go, especially when you wander along the tree-lined Andrassy Avenue. Considered to be the country’s equivalent of Paris’ Champs-Elysees or Berlin’s Ringstrasse, this grand avenue leads from downtown to Heroes’ Square and City Park, which is home to a rowboat-filled lake that turns into an ice rink in winter, fairy-tale Vajdahunyad Castle, and the regal Szechenyi Baths.
The flat neighborhoods on the Pest side are equally enticing, particularly Ujlipotvaros, where specialty coffee shops and impressive modernist buildings line Pozsonyi Road. This chic neighborhood flies under the radar for most tourists, but it’s worth a look.
If you’d rather see some of the city’s smaller, thematic museums, start with the House of Terror, a former headquarters of the secret police, where you can learn about some of the cruelest crimes committed by dictatorial regimes in the country’s past. Alternatively, you can check out the Museum of Ethnography’s striking Neoclassical building or visit Trafo, where experimental contemporary arts and architecture exhibits are showcased in a former post office. There’s also a lovely garden with statues and a small planetarium. There’s also a free concert schedule at the National Music Hall, which has an incredible sound system. things to do in Budapest