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What to do in Budapest – Pearl of the Danube

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  • Explore the beautiful city of Budapest – known as the Pearl of the Danube
  • Learn more about the city’s rich history and culture on a Danube river cruise
  • Whether visiting for a day, two days or longer, here’s our essential guide to Budapest

There’s a good reason why Budapest is often referred to as the Pearl of the Danube. The magnificent Hungarian capital is a captivating city, a beautiful river cruise destination and historically significant too – much of it has UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Budapest is easy to visit on a city break or on a Danube river cruise. There are castles, museums and galleries to explore, architecture to admire and, of course, don’t forget to bathe in one of the city’s famous thermal baths.

When planning your itinerary, it doesn’t matter how many days in Budapest you’ve got, you’ll have an amazing holiday regardless. Here are the city’s highlights depending on how many days in Budapest you have.

What to do in Budapest… if you have one day

Wondering what to do in Budapest if you only have one day in the city? The answer is simple – head to Castle Hill on the capital’s west bank of Buda. Famous for its cobblestone streets, Gothic archways and medieval and Baroque buildings, the area gives you a fabulous taster of what Budapest is all about. When time is precious, here you can experience the city in microcosm.

what to do in budapest matthias church

Matthias Church

One of the many highlights, Buda Castle was built in the 13th century and is now the home of the Hungarian National Gallery and Castle Museum. It’s a good place for a culture fix and to learn more about the country’s history. Just a short walk away is the splendid Matthias Church which has hosted several coronation ceremonies, as well as royal weddings and baptisms. Matthias Church is also close to Fisherman’s Bastion, a rather impressive panoramic viewing terrace built in a neo-Gothic style. With its seven spired towers said to represent the seven Magyar tribes, it’s one of the best spots to look over the Danube river towards Pest on the east bank. The view is especially spectacular at sunset.

Spanning the Danube, the Chain Bridge is an imposing suspension bridge that links the two cities of Buda and Pest. Designed by an English engineer and built by a Scot, it was inaugurated in 1849 as the first permanent stone bridge crossing the Budapest river and is still recognised today as a symbol of national pride.

what to do in budapest st stephen basilica

St Stephen’s Basilica

From the east bank, it’s only a ten-minute walk to St Stephen’s Basilica. This is the largest church in Budapest – around 8,500 people can congregate inside – and one of Hungary’s most important religious buildings. The reason why? The mummified right hand of St Stephen, the patron saint and first King of Hungary, is kept in a glass case near the main altar.

What to do in Budapest… if you have 2 days

For those staying longer and want to know what to do in Budapest in 2 days, start the morning by visiting one of the city’s most famous landmarks, the Hungarian Parliament Building. The third largest assembly building in the world – it has 691 rooms – daily tours (some in English) last approximately 50 minutes, though they’re restricted during plenary sessions. Out of the 28 staircases inside, the grand stairway to the Dome Hall is particularly remarkable. It has eight huge granite columns and stained-glass windows from the workshop of Miksa Róth.

what to do in budapest hungarian parliament building

Hungarian Parliament Building

Afterwards, make your way to Heroes’ Square, a monument erected in 1896 to mark the thousandth anniversary of Hungary. A statue of Archangel Gabriel takes centre stage. If time allows and you’re a fan of contemporary art, you may also wish to visit the Kunsthalle museum opposite. Both are located just outside City Park, where you can also see Vajdahunyad Castle, a fairy-tale romantic palace located in an idyllic setting near the lake. Featuring several architectural styles, it showcases exhibitions of the Hungarian Agricultural Museum.

Thanks to a unique geological feature, Budapest ‘sits’ on natural thermal springs, so no trip to the city would be complete without visiting one of its world-famous baths. After all that sightseeing, it’s only right that you should soak up the atmosphere and benefit from a medicinal dip. One of the largest natural hot spring spa baths in Europe, Széchenyi Baths, are also in City Park. The healing waters are popular with tourists and locals alike, and you’ll find 18 pools to try including three large outdoor pools. One even has chess boards around the edge.

what to do in budapest budapest royal castle and chain bridge

Castle Hill

An alternative is the Gellért Spa which opened in 1918, offering medicinal water treatments using the same deep underground springs used in the 12th century by the Knights of St John. Today the Spa’s indoor baths are well-renowned for their exquisite Art Nouveau interior.

What to see and do in Budapest… if you have 3 days

Having the luxury of spending more than a couple of days in a city allows visitors to also discover some sights off the beaten tourist trail. Just an extra 24 hours really enables you to appreciate more of a destination’s culture. One option if spending a third day in Budapest is to visit the Central Market Hall. A restored neo-Gothic tunnel, it’s the largest and oldest outdoor market in the capital and although usually busy, gives a great insight into everyday life.

what to do in budapest cityscape of budapest

A walk around Margaret Island should also be on a three-day itinerary. A former royal hunting reserve and green oasis, the island sits in the middle of the river Danube and has an Art Nouveau water tower, a musical fountain, medieval ruins and a Japanese garden complete with artificial waterfall. As for history buffs, if you’d like a fascinating yet equally chilling account of Hungary’s fascist and communist rule, make tracks to 60 Andrassy Boulevard, otherwise known as the House of Terror museum. The building is a poignant monument to all those who suffered.

If not visiting the city on a Budapest cruise, Danube day trips are highly recommended. Taking you to the scenic location of the Danube Bend, it’s a picturesque way to enjoy a short trip on the iconic river. Alternatively, book a night cruise and marvel at a glorious sight as the city’s landmarks are illuminated.

what to do in budapest fishermans bastion

Fisherman’s Bastion

If your holiday is to celebrate a special occasion why not additionally buy coveted tickets for a performance at the Hungarian State Opera House. A rather grand Neo-Renaissance building, the 1,200 seat, horse-shoe auditorium is considered among the best in the world for operatic acoustics. Tickets won’t break the bank either as they can cost from as little as £20. It is currently undergoing renovation, so performances have been relocated to the Erkel Theatre, but the Hungarian State Opera House is due to reopen its doors in 2020.


Visit Budapest on a Danube river cruise

One of the best ways to visit the Pearl of the Danube is on a Danube river cruise, such as The Blue Danube River Cruise, including a tour of Budapest. Want more time? Add additional nights staying in Budapest with The Blue Danube River Cruise With Budapest Extension.


If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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