If a trip to Budapest is in your future, lucky you! It is a vibrant and beautiful city with so much to see and do.
If you aren’t planning a visit, maybe seeing all that the city has to offer will push it to the top of your bucket list.
Steve and I arrived in Budapest in March of 2020. As I am writing this fourteen months later, we are still here awaiting an end to the pandemic. There are worse places we could be.
What Should Everyone See In Budapest?
Of course, you will want to see the neo-Gothic confection that is the Hungarian Parliament Building, Vajdahunyad Castle, Buda Castle, and the magical Fisherman’s Bastion.
The items in this article are things you can see or do in a short amount of time, although if you combined several it will take a few hours.
The Two Sides of Budapest
On the Buda Side – District I – Castle District
1. The Budapest Castle Hill Funicular
Buda Castle sits on a hill overlooking the Danube. A fun way to get up the hill is on the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló). It is a 150-year-old funicular railway that will take you from Clark Adam Square (Clark Ádám tér) at the end of the Buda side of the Chain Bridge to Buda Castle and back down again. You can purchase a one-way or round-trip ticket at the entrance to the funicular.
Clark Adam Square is at the end of the Chain Bridge. As of this writing, the bridge is undergoing renovation and is closed to pedestrian traffic. It will be closed to all traffic by June 2021. The work is expected to be completed by August 2023.
2. A Statue of King Saint Stephen
To the north of Buda Castle, you will find Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) and the Matthias Church (Mátyás–templom) . You can also see this elegant statue of King Saint Stephen (Szent István király), the first king of Hungary. He is also known as Stephen I and is credited with bringing Christianity to Hungary.
You can see the statue near the Matthias Church at Szentháromság tér 2.
3. The Red Hedgehog House
The Red Hedgehog House (Vörös Sün Ház) is thought to be the oldest building in Budapest (circa 1260). This former inn was also used as a theater and a cabernet/brothel during its long life. The hedgehog, however, didn’t take up residence until the early 19th century.
When we visited, there were tables outside, but because of the pandemic, there wasn’t anything going on. Even so, if you are in the Castle District, it is fun to go on a hunt for the red hedgehog over the front door.
The red hedgehog resides at Hess András tér 3.
4. Listening Ears
If you walk along the Danube River on the Buda side below Buda Castle, you can see this contraption:
These Air Defense Early Warning Listening Ears were used to hear approaching bombers during World War I. You can read about the listening ears concept in this article about aircraft detection before radar.
5. Another Statue of King Saint Stephen
This statue is located on Gellert Hill overlooking the Danube River at the foot of the Liberty Bridge, which makes for a beautiful photo opportunity. It is about a 30-minute walk from the Castle to this statue.
King Saint Stephen looks much less impressive here than in the statue near Fisherman’s Bastion.
On the Buda Side – District II – Rose Hill and Watertown
District II is a large district north of Districts I and XII. It comprises several neighborhoods, including Watertown and Rose Hill.
6. The Tomb of Gül Baba
One day Steve and I decided to explore a prestigious and wealthy area of Budapest called Rose Hill (Rózsadomb). We must have been in the wrong section because we didn’t see much, but on the way back to the Danube River we stumbled upon the Tomb of Gül Baba.
Gül Baba was an Ottoman Dervish from the 16th century. He is honored for his piety and talent as a poet.
The tomb of Gül Baba is the northernmost Islamic pilgrimage site in the world. While the tomb itself may not be of much interest to non-Muslims, the patio and terraced garden are peaceful and beautifully kept.
You will find the tomb at Mecset u. 14. You can also approach the grounds via Gül Baba utca, the steepest street in Budapest.
On the Buda Side – District XII – Highlands
This district is a little bit away from the rest of the Budapest attractions, but in my opinion, well worth the trip. It includes Janos Hill, the highest point in Budapest.
7. The Zugliget Chairlift
You can reach Janos Hill (János-hegy) via a 15-minute long chairlift ride. The Zugliget Chairlift (Zugligeti Libegő) starts in the Zugliget neighborhood. You can take bus 291 to reach the chairlift entrance. Tickets are sold from machines at the entrance.
Once you get to the top, you will be well placed to visit Elizabeth Tower and the Children’s Railway (more on both below). There are also several hiking trails in the hills.
The chairlift entrance is at Zugligeti út 97.
8. The Children’s Railway
The Childrens’ Railway (Gyermekvasút) is a railway run almost entirely by children. Only the driver and the supervisors are adults. The age of the students runs from 10 to 14 years old. They must be excellent students to be chosen for this honor.
The Children’s Railway is a narrow-gauge railway that travels through the Buda Hills for over 7 miles. It is the longest child-run railway in the world.
I was surprised to learn that there are many still functioning children’s railways in Russia and other ex-Soviet states and some Eastern European countries. They are remnants of the U.S.S.R., where they were used to train children in the transportation industry and instill the political ideology.
You can buy your tickets on the train, but it is best to have exact change. We did not, so the train had to go to the next station where we were able to buy tickets.
It was difficult to find the railroad from the area at the top of the chairlift. Look for signs saying Gyermekvasút or ask a friendly local.
9. The Elizabeth Lookout Tower
The delightful multi-tiered Elizabeth Lookout Tower (Erzsébet-kilátó) sits atop Janos Hill. The tower was built in 1910 and rebuilt in the early 2000s. It was named in honor of the much-beloved Queen Elisabeth of Hungary (1837-1898) because she enjoyed visiting the area. You can read about her tragic life here.
Once you get off the chairlift on Janos Hill, you can see the tower to your right. It is a short uphill walk to reach it.
On the Pest Side – District V – Downtown
District V sits along the Danube River on the Pest side opposite District I. The Hungarian Parliament Building is in this district.
10. Bullet Hole Markers
If you head inland from the Hungarian Parliament Building, you can see the Ministry of Agriculture Building. On it, you can see an unusual memorial. It is one of many memorials throughout the city that commemorate the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
This memorial honors one of the events of that Revolution. On October 25th, peaceful protesters gathered in Kossuth Square (Kossuth Tér). Hungarian and Soviet troops opened fire on protesters, and many fled among the columns of the Ministry of Agriculture Building.
The event is now known as Bloody Thursday. Dozens of markers show where bullets fired at the protesters hit the walls. The exact number of dead is not known, with estimates from 20 to 1,000.
The Ministry of Agriculture is at Kossuth Lajos tér 11.
11. U.S. Presidents in Liberty Square
District V also includes Liberty Square (Szabadság tér), a public area with statues dedicated to freedom and liberty. You may be surprised to find statues of two U.S. presidents: Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.
The Reagan statue was erected in 2011 to recognize his efforts to help end the Cold War and Russia’s control over the country.
The Bush statue was unveiled in 2020 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe. Bush visited Budapest in 1989. Here is more information about that visit, including a video of Bush’s speech to the Hungarian people.
As a side note: The U.S. Embassy sits on the eastern side of Liberty Square. The Embassy is surrounded by a high fence and heavily guarded. Quite frankly, I think it looks like a minimum-security prison. This is quite a contrast to the welcoming look of the numerous embassies that line Andrassy Avenue.
12. Two Porcelain Statues in Jozsef Nador Square
Jozsef Nador Square (József Nádor tér) was reconstructed in 2018. As part of this project, two large porcelain statues were added. The first is the Tree of Life by the Herend Porcelain Manufacturer. The second is Hercules Fountain by the Zsolnay Porcelain Manufacturer. A statue of the square’s namesake stands between the two.
I am amazed that these statues remain undamaged. This is a testament to the respect Hungarians appear to have for their public places.
Jozsef Nador was a member of the House of Habsburg, which ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. He served as Palatine (a high-level official attached to an imperial or royal court in Europe) to Hungary and is sometimes referred to as the most “Hungarian of the Habsburgs” because of his support of economic reforms, public works, and construction projects that benefitted Hungary.
Jozsef Nador Square is several blocks south of Liberty Square.
13. Elizabeth Square
It seems like there is always something going on in Elizabeth Square (Erzsébet tér). The square is easy to spot because it’s the home of the Budapest Eye. There are also statues, green spaces, a small skateboard park, and a playground. There are several bars and restaurants and a large reflecting pool along one side.
This square is two blocks east of Jozsef Nador Square.
On the Pest Side – District VI – Terézváros
District VI begins east of Elizabeth Square and ends at City Park. Its main street is the famed Andrassy Avenue. All of these quick stops can be done on a stroll up (or down) Andrassy.
14. The Millennium Underground Railway
The Millennium Underground Railway (Kisföldalatti) is also known as Metro Line 1. It is the second-oldest subway on the European Continent and has operated continually since it opened in 1896.
It is a short straight run consisting of only 11 stops. It runs under Andrássy Avenue. If you take a ride on this line, be sure to go up and check out the elegant Andrássy Avenue.
If you are near Elizabeth Square you can find an entrance to Metro Line 1 at Deák Ferenc square. Or you can jump on at one of the other stops. Here is some information about Line 1 and a handy map.
15. Művész Kávéház
If you are exploring along Andrassy Avenue and need a break, you can do worse than the Művész Kávéház. The name translates to Artist Café. Be warned, though, the tables are tiny.
There are many elegant old-world coffee houses in Budapest, as you can see from this article. We have only visited this one since we are not big coffee house people. However, once things get back to normal, we plan on visiting several others, including the New York Palace and Parisi Passage, to bask in their splendor.
Visit this beautiful cafe at Andrássy út 29.
16. The Iron Curtain Monument
If you stroll down Andrassy Avenue or visit the Terror House Museum (also on Andrassy Avenue), you will see the Iron Curtain Monument. It serves as a poignant reminder of the restrictions suffered by many Europeans under Soviet rule.
The monument and the Berlin Wall segment are at Andrássy út 60.
17. A Segment of the Berlin Wall
You can also see a segment of the Berlin Wall in front of the Terror House Museum.
On the Pest Side – District VIII – Palace District
18. The Szabo Ervin Library
The Szabó Ervin Library (Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár) isn’t your average library. As a visitor, you can pay a small fee to enjoy the neo-baroque décor. As you move through the rooms, you will walk among students who are more focused on their work than the beauty around them.
The building, called The Wenckheim Palace, was a part-time home for Count Frigyes Wenckheim and his family. Upon his death in 1927, his family sold the palace to the government, which made it part of the public library system.
Visit the library at Szabó Ervin tér 1.
On the Pest Side – District XIV -Zugló
At the Northern end of Andrassy Avenue, you will come upon Heroes’ Square and City Park. The park is home to the Vajdahunyad Castle. The zoo is nearby. In addition to marveling at the facades of the castle, here are two fun things to do:
19. A Statue of Anonymous
Anonymous was the unknown chronicler at the court of King Bela III (1148-1196). Anonymous is believed to have written the history of the early Hungarians. Writers often stroke his pen for inspiration.
You can see this statue in City Park (Városliget) near Vajdahunyad Castle. There is a smaller one in the Hungarian National Gallery, the art museum in Buda Castle.
20. Playground in City Park
If you are traveling with children, you can become their hero by taking them to the 140,000 sq. ft. (13,000 sq.m.) playground in City Park (Városliget). The park opened in the fall of 2019 and features 50 pieces of equipment for children of all ages and abilities. It makes you want to be a kid again.
The Main Playground is situated in the southeastern part of the Városliget, in an area near the intersection of Dózsa György Road and Ajtósi Dürer Row
Quick Tips for Navigating Budapest
- Building numbers come after the street name.
- The postal code (think zip code) consists of 4 digits. The middle two identify the district. So postal code 1094 is in district 9.
- Street signs are easy to find and most have the district number on them. They are on the buildings near the street corners.
Even More to See and Do in Budapest
One of our favorite things to do in any city is walk for hours, taking in the beauty and uniqueness of the place. The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos will give you a taste of the elegance of this city.
Check out The Funky Side of Budapest to get an idea of some of the lighthearted things you can experience on your visit.
As always, Steve and I would love to hear about your Budapest experiences.
Stay safe and healthy,