Welcome to Budapest, a hidden gem of Europe! While Paris, Rome, Venice, and Barcelona might be the go-to destinations, Budapest is definitely among the most stunning cities to explore. Eden and I were both amazed by its photo-worthy beauty when we arrived, and couldn’t wait to share it with others. From picturesque alleyways to striking architecture, Budapest is a visual feast. So get ready to discover the most Instagrammable and beautiful places this city has to offer!
Table of Contents
1. St. Stephen’s Basilica
Welcome to St. Stephen’s Basilica, one of the most beautiful places in Budapest, Hungary! The church, named after the first King of Hungary who converted the Magyars to Catholicism, is more than a stunning building to admire. With a lift or by taking 302 steps, you can reach the top of the dome to absorb the fantastic view of the city.
As you explore, you’ll discover the Chapel of the Holy Right, where St. Stephen’s mummified hand resides. Don’t miss the annual celebration on August 20th, when the Holy Right hand is paraded around the streets of Budapest. And be sure to take in the sound of the biggest bell in Hungary, weighing an impressive 9 tons, located in the right tower. Come experience the wonder of St. Stephen’s Basilica for yourself!
2. Chain Bridge
Let me take you back in time to 1849, when the construction of a magnificent bridge spanning the Danube River was completed. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge, an awe-inspiring suspension bridge, is the first-ever stone bridge connecting Buda and Pest.
When the Austrians attempted to blow up the bridge, the explosives failed to go off. Perhaps it was the lion guardians, who are believed to protect the bridge from evil forces, that kept it safe.
Unfortunately, the bridge was destroyed during WWII by the Germans, and it took a massive rebuilding effort to restore it to its former glory. And now, the picturesque historic stone bridge acts as a landmark, straddling the Danube between Széchenyi Square on the Pest side and Clark Ádám Square in Buda, located right beneath Castle Hill.
3. Hero’s Square
Hero’s Square, also known as Hősök tere – a stunning open plaza that was constructed in 1896 to mark Hungary’s 1000th birthday. Standing proudly on the central pillar is the archangel Gabriel, who is holding a crown. It’s said that Gabriel appeared to St. Stephen and offered him the crown of Hungary. However, the truth is that the crown was actually given to Stephen by Pope Sylvester II and is now housed in Parliament.
Below Gabriel’s statue, you’ll see the seven chieftains who led the Magyar tribes and paved the way for Hungary’s settlement. Along the semi-circular colonnades, you can find the Kings and heroes who left an indelible mark on Hungary’s history. Interestingly, five spots on the colonnades were initially reserved for members of the ruling Habsburg dynasty, but now honor Hungarian Freedom Fighters after the plaza was rebuilt following its destruction during WWII.
But that’s not all! You can also see four statues adorning the top of each colonnade. These statues represent war, work & welfare, peace, and knowledge & glory. Finally, in front of the column, you’ll find the Hungarian War Memorial, which pays tribute to Hungary’s courageous heroes and kings.
4. Thermal Baths
Immerse yourself in the famous Gellert Spa, adorned with impressive architecture and built sometime between 1912 and 1918 or take a luxurious dip in the iconic Széchenyi Spa, the largest of its kind in Europe, built way back in August of 1927. At one point the Soviet soldiers had their own side of the spa, separate from the public.
Budapest has a rich history of Turkish baths dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries – the oldest in the city being Rudas, Veli Bej (Császár), and Király. Did you know that Balneotherapy is the treatment of pain by bathing in thermal waters?
Before you take a dip, here are some helpful tips.
- Don’t forget to bring flip-flops unless you want to purchase ones from the spa that could be super uncomfortable. Flip flops are not available to rent.
- All the baths in Budapest require a bathing suit that is not a burkini in some. (Granted some man swam right past Eden and he did not adhere to these rules.)
- Except for Rudas, the baths are co-ed. Some offer additional services such as massage or manicure/pedicure.
- It’s always a good idea to bring your own towel, too.
- If you’d like to swim in the actual pools, a swim cap is necessary.
5. Dohány St. Synagogue
Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe, and second largest in the world, was built in 1859. The Central Synagogue in NYC is an almost exact replica.
This synagogue has a rich history, and during the early years of WWII, it was used as a German radio base. A chilling thought, right? For a time, Adolf Eichmann himself had an office in the women’s balcony, behind the rose window, which still stands today.
Between 1944-1945, the ghetto where the synagogue is located witnessed the death of between eight and ten thousand people, with two thousand people buried on site. It’s a sobering and heart-rending piece of history to visit.
But, there are some quirks to this place too. For instance, you might notice that Dohány is not lined up with the street – this is because synagogues must face east, towards Jerusalem. So, if you find yourself geographically disoriented during your visit, at least you’ll know which way is east!
And, there are some uplifting narratives to Dohány as well. Tony Curtis and Estée Lauder, both of Hungarian-Jewish descent, contributed to the restoration of the synagogue following the communist era. So standing here, you’re truly walking in the footsteps of some of the most iconic people of our time.
6. Gellert Hill
Want to know one of the best spots to catch magnificent views of Pest and the Danube River? Look no further – climb the 140m high Dolomite rock, better known as Gellért Hill! Plus, to top it off, the hill and surrounding areas are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Banks of the Danube.
Interestingly, Bishop Gellért came all the way from Italy to help Hungarians convert to Christianity and was allegedly rolled down the now Gellért Hill by Pagans in 1046. To make sure Hungarians remained in check, the Habsburgs even built a fortress – the Citadella – right on top of the hill.
Hungary has its own Statue of Liberty? Pretty cool, right? The statue was put up back in 1947 to celebrate the liberation of Budapest and Hungary from Nazi rule. Take a look at the picture above – such a powerful symbol of freedom and democracy.
7. Liberty Bridge
Did you know that the Liberty Bridge is not only one of the most iconic bridges in town, but it’s also the shortest? It was built back in October of 1896 as part of the Millennium celebrations of Hungary’s 1000th birthday. Fun fact: Turul statues – falcon-like birds that played a significant role in ancient Hungarian mythology – guard both portals of the bridge.
8. New York Cafe
The New York Cafe Budapest once served as the go-to spot for artists and writers alike, like Les Deux Magots in Paris, Harry’s Bar in Venice, or Bar Marsella in Barcelona! It’s part of the luxurious New York Palace Hotel.
Sadly, the building was destroyed during WWII, only to later become a sporting goods store. Although it was re-opened in 1954 under the name Hungaria, it was nowhere near its former glory.
It wasn’t until 2006, when Italian luxury hotel chain Boscolo purchased and restored it, that the magic and splendor returned to Budapest’s iconic coffeehouse. Pretty amazing, right?
9. Hungarian Parliament
The Hungarian Parliament building is the largest in all of Hungary! The cupola reaches an impressive height of 96 meters, the same as St. Stephen’s Basilica, which represents Hungary’s independence in 896.
The building has more than just great height – it also houses the country’s greatest collection of Hungarian Parliamentary documents in its own library. And speaking of remarkable history, this is the place where you can find St. Stephen’s Holy Crown, gifted by Pope Sylvester II, along with other royal insignia.
The building also bears visible bullet marks from WWII and the Revolution of 1956. Surprisingly, the restoration team decided to leave them intact, making them a unique feature and lending the site a sense of depth and history. Keep an eye out for these marks, especially around the windows on the square side.
10. Buda Castle
Take a journey through the rich history of Buda Castle. Originally constructed in 1356, this stunning fortress has undergone a myriad of transformations that embody the passage of time. After a Gothic-style palace replaced it around 1400, the castle witnessed the Turks ruling Budapest between 1541-1626 and left it in ruins.
In the 18th century, the Habsburgs constructed a smaller version, only for it to be expanded following the Austro-Hungarian compromise. But adversity struck again in 1944, during a violent battle between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht, leaving the Castle in ruins once again.
While reconstruction began in 1950, the Castle’s interior has since lost its charm and personality. However, don’t let that deter you from visiting this gem of a World Heritage Site. The castle’s exterior is stunning and provides you with countless Instagram-worthy photo opportunities.
11. Ruin Bars
What’s not to love about Budapest’s hidden Ruin Bars? Grabbing their beginnings in the early 2000s and gaining traction these bars are now one of the top attractions drawing visitors from across the globe.
Story has it that District VII, the old Jewish Quarter, was replete with dilapidated homes and abandoned stores – remnants of the deportation of around 10,000 Jews during World War II. But the Ruin bar owners saw a glimmer of opportunity amidst the ruins.
The visionary owners of Szimpla Kert, which is the OG ruin bar and the most popular to this day, took a different approach. Rather than renovate and make everything neat and predictable, they worked with what was available and embellished the place with a mishmash of style, vintage furniture, string lights, and anything else that simply doesn’t fit in – yet everything merges terrifically to craft a welcoming haven like no other.
Quickly, the idea caught on like wildfire, and the bars became the savior of the old Jewish District. However, the Ruin bars are not just drinking dens; they serve as common spaces, concert venues, flea & farmer’s markets to name a few.
The next time you’re in Budapest, stroll down Kazinczy utca, and bask in the vibrant life of the District VII neighborhood. You definitely won’t be disappointed by these wonderfully eccentric spaces – I sure wasn’t. We had dinner at Mazel Tov Ruin Bar and it was fantastic! It’s the one pictured with the ivy.
The Budapest funicular, lovingly known as Budavári Sikló, has been transporting visitors in vintage style since 1870 from Clark Ádám tér, at the end of the Chain Bridge, to Castle Hill, all without breaking a sweat.
It underwent repairs and restoration after WWII, eventually reopening in 1986, complete with UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1987. And with the funicular making the trip every ten minutes, don’t let a line deter you! Despite my perpetually warm body temperature, I ventured up Castle Hill by foot on my way to Fisherman’s Bastion – but let’s just say that next time, I’ll happily opt for the funicular.
13. Great Market Hall
If you’re in Budapest, don’t miss the chance to experience the buzzing Great Market Hall, affectionately known as Nagyvásárcsarnok. Built in 1987, this three-story market has everything from fresh produce, meats, and cheeses to spices, clothing, and much more.
While Great Market Hall is closed on Sundays, Saturdays are the perfect time to indulge in a tasty guided tour. You’ll leave feeling well-fed and more knowledgeable about Hungarian cuisine. Try longos, chimney cakes, and Hungarian strudel.
Looking to avoid the crowds of locals? Visit early in the morning or opt for a weekday late morning or early afternoon shopping spree.
14. Street art in Jewish District
Thanks to the Façade Rehab Project, citizens once tasked with watching their city’s buildings deteriorate were instead encouraged to channel their artistic energy into breathing new life onto the decaying walls around them.
Now, you can spot masterfully done artworks of varying sizes featuring anything from dark, torrid history to Rubik, the famous Budapestian who invented the cube. And of course, you can always find a mural that speaks to you and is sure to give you the perfect Instagram moment, regardless of whether you are taking photos, selfies, family photos, or anything else.
15. Fisherman’s Bastion
If you visit Budapest, don’t miss out on what I think is the most breathtaking sight in the city – Fisherman’s Bastion or, as the locals call it, Halászbástya.
Built between 1895 and 1902 as part of the Millennial developments for Hungary’s 1000th birthday, this enchanting castle-like structure on Castle Hill simply looks like something out of a fairy tale. Heck, it’s even styled like the medieval architecture of 1000 A.D. What’s more, the seven towers represent the seven chieftains who settled in the city in 896, and there’s a stunning statue of St. Stephen too.
Fisherman’s Bastion used to defend the old ramparts and was damaged during WWII, but it’s been immaculately restored by the sons of the original architect, Frigyes Schulek.
So, if you want the perfect photo-op (because come on, who doesn’t?), make sure to head there at sunrise before the crowds take over. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!
16. Matthias Church
With its mix of stunning architecture and charming streets, Budapest offers countless images to capture the old world Hungarian charm. Whether you’re an Instagram novice or pro, you won’t be able to resist the urge to pause – some might even say ‘inhale the moment’ – and take a snapshot at these spots! From Fisherman’s Bastion to Gellert Hill, there is something perfect for capturing your best photos on the ‘Gram. Who knows, with the right composition and filter, you just might be the envy of all your friends! Now tell us: where is your favorite place to take photos in Budapest? Drop us a line and let us know!