My Budapest Checklist - What to Do, See, Taste and Experience Whilst in Budapest - Part 2
Welcome back to my ultimate Checklist to make sure that you see the very best of Budapest.
Before you read ahead, please make sure that you have read Part 1 of this Checklist here so that you have the full background to Budapest and the first half of my tips and recommendations.
I love this city so in my opinion, you can't really go wrong with anything that you choose to see or do here. That said, it always helps to have some tips to know what is on the must see list to make sure you get the most out of your trip.
I hope you have the best time in Budapest and love it like I do!
Let's continue my Checklist... Scoot Your Way Around the City
It used to be all about Segways but now it’s all about scooters and trikes! I did a scooter tour through Budapest which was fantastic! We organised it through the hotel concierge on the day after an injury changed our original plans and we had to get creative. Instead we scooted through the streets of Budapest from the doors of the Kempinski, around and eventually down Andrássy út (one of the main streets in Budapest and SO beautiful! It’s often referred to as the Rodeo Drive of Budapest), to Hero’s Square and Vajdahunyad vára, to the Parliament, along the banks of the Danube and back to the Kempinski. It was INCREDIBLE! We had a private guide for just myself and my friend who told us stories of Budapest’s history, his own life, his grandparent’s lives, and more and then as I shared my own connection to Budapest, he added more to the tour to show me things relevant to my own family. It was one of the best things I have done in Budapest.
** Due to all the post-Covid changes to tour companies, I won’t be able to provide names of companies in Budapest providing e-scooter tours but many hotels will be able to provide this information when you check in, or of course, google always has the answer! I’d just rather you have the most up-to-date information rather than outdated info. Whoever you go with, e-scooters are really fun!
See the Statues of a Bygone Era at Memento Park
I only actually heard of Memento Park on my most recent trip to Budapest and as soon as I saw the pictures online, I desperately wanted to go. Located about 25 minutes out of the central city (easiest to take a taxi to be honest, though I am sure that there is public transport), Memento Park feels like stepping back to Hungary in a bygone era.
Memento Park is an open air museum that houses approximately 42 statues that were torn down or out of central public areas after the Iron Curtain was brought down and Budapest finally overcame rulings of Communism. Hands down, this is one of the most unique museums I have ever been to - it actually feels almost surreal because it is a step back in time.
The museum is self led. When you buy your tickets at the front gates, the option to purchase a guide book (available in multiple languages) is offered and I would strongly recommend buying one. We didn’t at first and it by the third statue we went back to the beginning to buy the book. There is no information available on the statues themselves so unless you take one of the guided tours (check times ahead of your visit for this option), you will need the book if you want to know the history of what you are seeing quickly and easily.
My grandparents both left Hungary in 1956 as a result of the turmoil of the Revolution. Seeing the statues, or what remains of them - for example, Stalin’s boots which is all that remains of what was once an eight metre tall statue - from 1956 and the way that that year is depicted in stone in many of these statues was fascinating to me. I have heard their stories all my life and have always been interested in the history but now to have the opportunity to witness what they saw, albeit in a totally strange environment, was just...to be honest I don’t have another word but to say once more, completely surreal.
Personal connection or not, this museum is 100% worth a morning of your time in Budapest and really won’t take you too long to get around so can definitely be partnered with other activities that day.
Head to the Top of St Stephen’s Basilica
St Stephen’s Basilica is a truly gorgeous building that should definitely be on your list of places to go and see. This is one of those few Basilicas that I have been to that is equally worthwhile to see both inside and outside (does anyone else agree with me that sometimes the amazing external ones are just plain inside and vice versa...rare to find one that is beautiful both inside and out!). But Budapest takes it one step further and lets you go (mainly by elevator but with some stairs from memory) to the top of the Basilica for a wonderful view of the city. A tip - check the wind factor because when I went up there honestly I doubt they should have been allowing people up it was so windy!
Whilst you’re in the area - a quick restaurant suggestion for your daily Schnitzel (and also a really good cucumber salad because though this is a traditionally Hungarian side dish, I struggled to find the kind I liked in too many places). Dom Sorozo es Etterem is just nearby the Basilica and has great Schnitzel. I usually wouldn’t stop and eat so close to a touristy attraction HOWEVER there was a big concert on the back of the basilica when we went past and sitting outside there meant also getting a beautiful night’s entertainment but a fantastic orchestra. So, that’s how I learnt about this place and I’m glad I did!
Visit an Original Hungarian Artist Colony
Szentendre is a riverside town just outside of Budapest between the city and the mountains. The town is best known for being an Artist Colony and still having a lot of museums, galleries and artists at work. If you like pottery, this is a great place to pick up some completely unique and beautiful souvenirs. It is also probably one of the best places to eat Langos. All in all, if you have time to leave the city and would like to see a bit of life outside of the country’s capital, this is a cute town to stop in!
Another option, if you have more time and want to really explore another part of Hungary is to go down to the Lake Balton region. I have personally yet to go there but have it on good authority from my Hungarian grandma/expert that it is well worth the trip, if you are wanting to relax.
Escape for the Day on Margit Sziget
An island in the middle of the Danube, Margit Sziget, or Margaret Island in English, is a great place to escape for the day and enjoy some nature without going too far away. This is like Budapest’s answer to Central Park in New York if you will, except it is decked out with swimming pools, health retreats, tennis courts, and my personal favourite, little golf carts that you can hire to drive around in. Margit Sziget also has multiple restaurants on the island or, of course, you could pack a picnic. It’s a beautiful area and a place I’ve always had a lot of fun in! If you’re travelling with kids, there are a lot of parks in here too!
Picnic on Top of the World by Liberty Statue at the Citadella
One of the most beautiful spots in the city, the parks surrounding the Citadella and the Liberty Statue offer the most amazing spots to have a picnic, or sit at one of the cafes up there and enjoy a drink and the view. This is one of my favourite spots in all of Budapest because it’s just another great place to enjoy the view, particularly of the Danube, Pest and the Parliament. It is usually a lot less crowded than areas like the Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion too.
Please check the legality of this but it is a great place to take a little wine with you and say cheers to a great trip in Budapest!
See the Whole City on a Hop on Hop off Tour
For an easy way to see Budapest, City Sightseeing really has the whole city covered with multiple loops on one ticket (and, as mentioned above, it should also include your Danube Cruise). The only thing that generally costs extra is transport from the stop by the Chain Bridge on the Buda side, up to the Fisherman’s Bastion and Castle District. The bus will drop you right near two options to get up to these areas (the third option is to walk but word of warning, it is steep) - the funicular or the little golf carts, Though the funicular is great for traditional charm and fun, I would recommend the golf carts as the more efficient method of getting around the area.
There are lots of companies that offer Hop On Hop Off bus tickets. My experience has been best with City Sightseeing but they are definitely not your only options if you have another preference. I would recommend doing this on your first day (or as early as possible) during your time in Budapest to acquaint yourself with the city.
Eat True Hungarian Goulash
This just had to be on the list so that you remembered to check it off because really, it’s a must when in Hungary!
Some Extra Notes
Food: As another restaurant suggestion, one of my favourite places I ate last time I was in Budapest was the Rustico Restaurant on Vaci Utca (not far from the market I spoke about above). The food was good and the decor was very cool - would definitely recommend this one! Also, if you have never been to Prague you should try a Chimney Cake in Budapest. I say it this way because Prague is famous for them so if you tried it there, you’ve had the OG. However, Budapest makes a great chimney cake - especially if you get one hot! My favourite is from a little stand on vaci utca (near where it crosses with Parizsi utca).
Bars: Budapest is famous for Ruin Bars - Bars that have been established in the literal ruins left by bombs from WWII. There is a great bar and pub culture in Budapest if you’re looking for a fun night out - just try plan transport home before you go out as it is not the easiest city to get a taxi in and you want to make sure that you are safe. Whether at a bar or at a nice restaurant, it doesn’t matter but somewhere during your trip to Budapest, you have to try Palinka. This traditionally Hungarian spirit ranges in alcohol content from 37%-86% and comes in a wide range of flavours. A shot of Apricot Palinka is very Hungarian but personally, raspberry is my favourite that I have tried so far. Bottoms up!
Theatre: I haven’t put theatres on my list because very unfortunately they have not had English shows when I have been in town OR, as has been the case my last 2 visits, the main Opera House has been under renovation. As such, I will have to report on that next time but I just wanted to add this little note down the bottom here to say that if you get there before I next get back and the Opera House is open, you should add that to your list for sure! Also, I believe that Budapest has quite a thriving independent theatre scene with a large number of smaller theatres around the central city area. If you’re into theatre, absolutely have a look at what is on around the city because from what I have been told, it would be unusual nowadays to find nothing available.
Holocaust Memorials: As well as the beautiful tree at the Synagogue, other monuments are placed around the city as a reminder of what happened here in the 1930s and 1940s during the Nazi invasion. The most powerful of these, in my opinion, is the memorial of the shoes along the Danube. This is one of the most impactful Holocaust memorials I have seen anywhere in the world for a few reasons but mostly because of how understated it is. It stands as a reminder that we should think every day about the sacrifice of these lives, but continue even so. It is also so powerful because of the fact that it is site specific and reminds us that these atrocities occurred in the middle of cities. The shoes are placed right near the Parliament and I would definitely recommend adding this to your list of must see’s/things to do in Budapest.
As well as this, if you are interested in learning more about the Holocaust in Hungary, but more than that, about Judaism in Hungary, there is a Jewish museum inside the Synagogue complex that is worth having a walk through. Everything is explained in this museum, including the festivals and traditions involved in many of them within the Jewish religion, so it may be something that people of all faiths find interesting.
Other Museums: I have not personally been here - the concept is just too awful in my opinion - but one of the most popular museums is the Museum of Terror which goes through the ways that people were tortured for information before, during and after WWII and through the Communist Era. I believe that the information would be fascinating and have heard that the museum is very well done but haven’t mustered the courage yet to go myself. One day.
As you can see, Budapest is a city I could talk about for hours because I just adore it! I hope this has given you everything that you need to make your sightseeing in Budapest a complete success...and I hope you absolutely love it!
If you go and take on any of these recommendations, tag me in a pic on instagram! Just writing about this city makes me miss it so much!!