Top 10 Things To Do In Budapest

Visiting these ten highlights of Budapest, including the Central Market Hall, Andrassy Ut, and the Castle District, will provide a good overview of the city.

The cultural treasures Budapest has to offer could take years to truly discover, but not everyone has that much time. If you have a week or less to spend exploring, here are ten sites you won't want to miss.

Central Market Hall

Located at the end of Vaci, the tourist street, this three-floor indoor market is where the clamor of tourism meets the daily life of the average resident. Whether you're looking for colorful Kalosca embroidery, Hungarian strudel, or just fresh, locally grown vegetables, this is the place to come. On the ground floor, vendors' booths overflow with fresh produce, baked goods, and meat products like the famous winter salami. Upstairs, browse through displays of hand-made embroidery, wood- and leatherwork, ceramics, and other folk art. Hidden in the underground level and largely overlooked by visitors are stands stocked with household goods, a seafood shop, and two shops offering international cuisine.

Széchenyi Bathhouse

Less commercialized than the Gellert Hotel and Bathhouse, yet in better repair than the Rudas or Kiraly Baths, the Széchenyi Bathhouse is a favorite with locals and in-the-know visitors alike. Swim in one of the two open-air pools, lounge in the Swedish or Turkish sauna, or even sunbathe in the nude on the gender-segregated rooftop areas at this, Europe's largest complex of medicinal baths. Guests can also indulge in special services like massages, mud packs, and carbonated baths.

Parliament

This is not just any parliament hall - it's the largest on the continent, with 700 rooms, ten courts, 29 staircases, and 12.5 miles of corridors, all richly adorned in gold leaf and statues of Hungarian kings. The exterior is no less impressive. The neo-Gothic building stretches for 300 yards along the Danube bank and the main dome, surrounded by intricately designed spires, rises 315 feet. When Parliament is not in session, tours are led through the Congress Hall, Assembly Hall, and Delegation Hall.

Museum of Ethnography (Neprajzi Muzeum)

This museum is the ideal place to get in touch with Magyar folk customs. On the first floor, visitors can explore "Folk Culture of the Hungarians", a thirteen-room permanent exhibit that brings the customs of the Hungarian peasantry to life with items collected between the 18th century and mid-20th century. The Romany Collection and the Agriculture Collection can also give visitors a taste of traditional life in Hungary. For something a little out of the ordinary, try the Collection of Customs and Toys or the Collection of Textiles and Costumes.

Margaret Island (Margitsziget)

For sports enthusiasts, picnic-goers, and couples out for a stroll, this 1.4-mile-long island of well-tended gardens provides the kind of old-world ambience that makes a perfect escape from the troubles of modern life. Those looking for a cultural experience can tour the island to see the Dominican Convent, the 13th- to 14th-century Franciscan church, and the 12th-century chapel, then stop in to watch a production at the Open-Air Theater. Swimmers have their choice of the Palatinus Strand open-air baths, filled with thermal spring water, or the Alfréd Hajós Sport Pool.

City Park (Varosliget)

Although the 200 plus acres of landscaped grounds alone make this park worth a visit, there are enough other diversions here to keep anyone busy for days. Since 1889, Budapest's Grand Circus has been entertaining its guests with acrobats and animal acts, and nowadays stages specialty programs and hosts traveling acts, as well. At the Budapest Zoo, established in 1911, 500 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects and some 4000 varieties of plants await visitors. Families can spent the afternoon at the Fun Park burning off any extra energy on the bumper cars and go-carts, and in the mirror maze. Next-door in the Little Fun Park, smaller children will find rides sized especially for them. In the center of the City Park, the eclectic Vajdahunyad Castle dominates the lake and surrounding buildings. A replica of its namesake in Transylvania, this castle is a visual feast of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque elements all on one building.

Children's Railway

Young people aged ten to fourteen capably manage this fully functioning commuter railway, working in positions such as cashier, traffic manager, and pointsman. Walk or take the tram up the hill to the terminal and enjoy the view on the 45-minute ride through the forest from Széchenyi hegy to Hûvösvölgy. If you're visiting the city with kids, this one is a must see.

The Libegõ and the Sikló

Sometimes the journey really is more fun than the destination, especially with public transit experiences like these. The Libego, a small cable car, takes passengers on a fifteen-minute ride 859 feet over the woods from Zugliget to János hegy. The Siklo may lack the thrill factor, but it makes up for it in charm. The replica antique carriages of this funicular railway, which runs between Clark Adam Square and the Royal Castle of Buda, offer an excellent view of the Chain Bridge and the Gresham Palace across the river.



Andrassy Ut

Lined with richly ornamented buildings and famous landmarks, the section of Andrassy ut that runs from bustling Deak Square to Heroes' Square is worth walking end to end. On the southern end, the 315-foot-high dome of St. Stephen's Basilica rises over a stately public square. The interior of this 8,500-seat neo-Renaissance cathedral holds a spectacular display of murals, mosaics, gold leaf, and marble columns. Along with religious objects related to the church and shrines to national saints, curious visitors can also see the mummified right hand of St. Stephen enclosed in an ornate glass box.

A short walk northeast along the route leads you to the State Opera House. Even if you're not an opera fan, this building, a smaller version of Vienna's opera house, is worth a look for the architecture alone. The neo-Renaissance exterior is adorned with statues of great composers and the muses, while inside frescoes by Karoly Lotz can be found. Up the street from the State Opera House are the Municipal Operetta Theater, the Actor's Theater, and the Radnoti Theater.

Music lovers will want to stop at the Franz Liszt Memorial Museum, just off Andrassy ut on Vorosmarty street. This reconstruction of the composer's last residence in Budapest, housed in the former Academy of Music, holds some of his original instruments, scores, books, furniture, and some personal belongings.

Bringing the boulevard to a magnificent close is Heroes' Square. This sprawling square is embraced by arcing colonnades displaying statues of note-worthy Hungarian leaders such as Matthias Corvinus and János Hunyadi. Guarding over them from a 118-foot-high column in the center is the Archangel Gabriel, holding aloft the Hungarian Crown. The square is set off by the Museum of Fine Arts on the north side and the Palace of Art to the south.

Those who'd rather not walk the entire length can take the Foldalatti. This 125-year-old underground railway, the oldest on the continent, makes stops near the most important sites along the way.

Castle District

Stretching across a large part of the Buda hills, this atmospheric pedestrian-only district really deserves a full day or more of exploring.

For art lover's, the Royal Palace will be the highlight of the district. Although the palace's lavish interior was gutted during World War II, today it houses the National Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Budapest History Museum. Beneath the castle area, visitors can tour the Labyrinth of the Buda Castle, an underground system of caves used in the Middle Ages for storage and military purposes.

On the north end of the district, Matthias Church overlooks Trinity Square. This 700-year-old church has seen much of the worst of the city's history, having endured the Turkish occupation and two wars. The mix of Baroque, neo-Gothic, and modern elements such as the Zsolnay tiled roof bears witness to the renovations that repeated damage has necessitated. Nonetheless, its elaborate design makes it one of the most stunning sites in the Castle District. Inside is the Church Museum, which houses underground crypts, a chapel, and historic jewels.

Just down the hill from Trinity Square stands Fishermen's Bastion, an impressive structure composed of seven towers symbolizing the seven tribes from which the Hungarian nation originates. Here visitors can have drinks in the small restaurant and enjoy the view of the Parliament building across the river.

Budapest has much to offer even to those with limited time for exploring. If you don't have time to take in all the sites your guidebook recommends, make your way to these ten spots and you'll have a good sampling of the art, architecture, and history of the city.

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