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Best things to do in Budapest

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Where in the world: Europe  /  Hungary  /  Central Hungary  /  Budapest
Many travelers associate the Hungarian capital with thermal spas and bath culture, but things to do in Budapest also include a number of activities for those looking to add a bit of excitement to their itinerary. A walking food tour is a great way to satisfy your appetite for Hungarian culinary delights while discovering famous landmarks, such as Residence Parliament and St. Stephen's Basilica. Overlooking both riverbanks of the city, the fairytale-like towers of Fisherman's Bastion provide splendid photo opportunities. House of Terror offers a completely different view of the city, focusing on memorable events that took place under fascist and communist regimes.

Budapest is best known for its Historic Sites, Government Buildings, and Nightlife.

Top 15 things to do in Budapest

1. Hungarian Parliament Building

Based on the British House of Parliament, Hungarian Parliament Building serves as one of the city's most beautiful landmarks with its recognizable neo-Gothic architecture. This site is the center of government activity, but it is also a magnificent domed structure and one of Europe's oldest legislative houses. This building was inaugurated in 1896 on the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary. Stroll along the Danube to take in views of the structure's exterior before entering. Walk up the building's intricate staircase and through its central hall, pausing to notice details like historic sculptures, stained-glass works, ornamental mosaics, and the Holy Crown of Hungary, which has been displayed here since 2000.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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2. Fisherman's Bastion

The seven fairy tale-like towers of Fisherman's Bastion offer views of the Danube and Pest side of the city. Built in the late 19th century and restored after World War II, this Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque structure within World Heritage Site Buda Castle takes its name from the medieval fisherman who defended these city walls. On the Buda side of the city, walk up or take a funicular to the top of Castle Hill to get to the bastion, near the 14th-century Matthias Church. Step inside one of the seven towers for spectacular views across the Danube River.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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3. St. Stephen's Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika)

Visit the prominent Hungarian landmark St. Stephen's Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika), known for its 91 m (300 ft) Neo-Renaissance-style dome. This Roman Catholic basilica--built in the Neoclassic architectural style with a Greek Cross floor plan--was completed in 1905 and used for military purposes during World War II. While it is still used for religious worship today, this church is also one of the most visited tourist sites in the country. The right hand of St. Stephen I, the first King of Hungary, is housed in the church's reliquary. View the basilica's structure and bell towers from the square in front of its main entrance, explore the interior of the church, and climb the 364 stairs (or take the elevator) to the top of the dome, which overlooks the city.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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4. Matthias Church

At Matthias Church--within World Heritage Site Buda Castle--admire an eclectic fusion of architectural styles. Originally built in the 14th century (although an 11th century church occupied the site previously), the church has undergone major expansion and renovation, most notably by the hand of Frigyes Schulek from 1873-96. On the outside, a rococo spire laden with snarling gargoyles and intricate detailing rises out of the main body of the church--a 15th century construction in the French style. Colorful chevrons and diamonds adorn the roof. Step inside and you'll find an interior even more elaborate than the exterior, where 19th century geometric patterns and tilework complement the restored medieval frescoes, bright stained-glass windows, and fluted pillars. Head upstairs for views of the Danube, or downstairs to see the treasury, which includes a replica of the Crown of St. Stephen.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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5. Heroes' Square

Visit a number of historic landmarks in one stop at Heroes' Square, where you can see the Museum of Fine Arts, the Palace of Art, and City Park. This square, a popular spot for tourists, also features the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the statue of Archangel Gabriel, and the Millennium Monument, which opened in 1896. The adjacent City Park is a World Heritage Site. Besides its own historical relevance, this square is also the meeting place of a number of cultural centers. It is flanked on both sides by competing art museums and faces out to the famous Andrassy Avenue.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes
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6. Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Take time to visit the beautifully constructed Széchenyi Thermal Bath, the largest medicinal bath in Europe. The thermal water flowing at this spa comes from two springs and contains natural healing elements that are said to help lessen inflammation, joint illnesses, and other medical problems. Stunning Neo-Baroque buildings built in 1913 surround the outdoor pools, which are filled with steaming hot water. Watch locals playing chess, step into the indoor pools, take a seat in the saunas and steam rooms, or schedule a massage for the full spa experience.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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7. House of Terror Museum

Explore the dark side of Hungarian and European history at House of Terror Museum, a specialty museum focusing on fascist and communist regimes. The permanent exhibits feature artifacts from Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the fascist Arrow Cross Party, and the communist AVH (Hungarian State Protection Authority). Walk into the depths of violent, dictatorial moments that took place the 20th century by stepping into the museum's basement, where AVH prisoners were once held and tortured. These cells serve as a memorial to victims of the country's bloody regimes. Since it opened in 2002, this museum has become a member of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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8. Szechenyi Lanchid

While it offers excellent views of the city, Szechenyi Lanchid serves as a historic landmark itself: It's the first bridge to span the Danube River in Hungary. Built by English engineer William Tierney in 1849, this structure connects the east and west side of Hungary's capital city. The bridge features two road lanes, plus a pedestrian zone for those traveling on foot. Cross this well-known symbol of Budapest, marvel at its stone structure, and compare both sides of the city. Visit Széchenyi Square on the Pest side of the bridge, or head up to the Castle Hill on the Buda side.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes
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9. Shoes on the Danube Bank

The emotional exhibit, Shoes on the Danube Bank pays tribute to Jewish victims killed along the Danube during World War II. View the 60 pairs of iron 1940s-style shoes that represent the footwear left behind by the Jews who were forced to stand barefoot at the river's edge to be shot by Arrow Cross militiamen during the Holocaust. Sculptor Gyula Pauer and filmmaker Can Togay designed and created this moving memorial, which was erected in 2005. Experience this powerful installation in between your visits to other nearby sites, such as the Parliament building, which is just a short walk away.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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10. Liberty Statue

You'll encounter some of the best views of Budapest and the Danube at Liberty Statue, home to the Citadella, a World Heritage Site. This hillside played host to several vineyards in the 18th century and currently features several embassies and expensive homes. The reigning Habsburg Austrians built the citadel atop the hill after the Hungarian revolts of 1948 and 1949. Hike to the fortress at the summit of this 235 m (771 ft) rock hill for views of the city below.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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11. St. Gellert Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool

Combine the medicinal healing of St. Gellert Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool with the rich history of the famous Hotel Gellért. Explore the grand hotel and baths, which opened in 1918, and view the stunning main hall, marble balconies, and ornate mosaic terraces. Learn about the hot thermal springs, dating back to the 13th century, and the site itself, which was a hospital during the Middle Ages and a bath during Ottoman rule. The beautiful Art Nouveau women's bath was destroyed during World War II but has been rebuilt and renovated multiple times--as recently as 2008--to restore it to its original grandeur. Experience the natural healing powers of these springs, which supposedly can help relieve joint pain, inflammation, asthma, and other issues, or simply relax in the pools for a spa day.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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12. Dohány Street Synagogue

Steep yourself in Judaism and Moorish Revival architecture at Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe, which can seat 3,000 people. Viennese architect Ludwig Forster built the structure between 1854 and 1859 using Islamic influences typical of North Africa and medieval Spain. The synagogue experienced significant destruction during Nazi occupation, when it was bombed and used as a German radio base and stable. However, it was restored to its original design during reconstruction in 1991 and 1998. Visit the site's Heroes' Temple, Jewish Museum, Jewish Cemetery, and Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park. Step inside to see the synagogue's spectacular interior, famous for the colorful, geometric frescoes designed by Hungarian architect Frigyes Feszl.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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13. Hungarian National Gallery (Magyar Nemzeti Galeria)

Browse works by Miro and Dali, part of the largest public collection documenting the development of the fine arts in the country, at Hungarian National Gallery (Magyar Nemzeti Galeria). Located inside World Heritage Site Buda Castle, the gallery features artwork exclusively by Hungarian artists like Medieval and Renaissance stone carvings, wooden sculptures, panel paintings, winged altarpieces, late Renaissance and Baroque art, and paintings and sculptures from the 19th century. The Golden Altars exhibition incorporates the throne room and features a painted parallel ceiling, so remember to look up as you're exploring the exhibition. You can enjoy a cup of coffee at the gallery's outdoor cafe as well.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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14. Room Escape Games

Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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15. Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden

See a Komodo dragon, lion cub nursery, and diverse plant life at Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden, the oldest zoo park in Hungary. Founded in 1866, this zoo is actually one of the oldest in the world. Walk through the park to admire more than 1,000 species of animals. Notice the historical Art Nouveau buildings in this nature preserve, as well as several exhibits of native and exotic plants in the gardens, including the Magical Hill and America Tropicana collections. Spend some time watching the zoo's rhinos, hippopotamuses, bears, primates, and many other creatures that have inhabited the park since its reconstruction after World War II.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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