This post covers 25 top things to do in Budapest and includes nighttime, free, as well as family-friendly events and activities.
1. Ride the Funicular
The most enjoyable way to reach Buda Castle is by riding the funicular tram, one of Budapest's top attractions.
You can't beat the views overlooking the Danube, the Chain Bridge, and the Pest side of the city as you glide up the mountain.
The funicular was opened in 1870, rebuilt after being bombed in World War II, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tickets cost HUF 1,200 ($4) one-way, and HUF 1,800 ($6) for a return, less for children.
Visit their website for information on opening times.
2. Stand atop Buda Castle
Buda Castle sits atop a plateau that overlooks the Danube. Various palaces and royal residences have existed on this site since 1247.
Today the Castle is home to the Budapest History Museum, the National Szechenyi Library, and the Hungarian National Gallery.
It is also part of a complex of buildings that includes Fisherman's Bastion, Mattias Church, The Hospital In the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum and the Houdini Museum.
Underneath the castle is what is known as the Labyrinth, made up of tunnels and caves used over the years by the inhabitants of the castle as everything from a shelter, a hiding place, storage, a prison, a harem, and more.
Changing of the guard takes place every hour. On the last Saturday of the month, the changing of the guard is accompanied by music.
The grounds and courtyards of Buda Castle are free to enter. Those with the Budapest Card get free entrance to two of the museums on site. Various free walking tours offer a tour through the Buda Castle grounds. Private tours can be had as well.
3. Climb Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman's Bastion, part of the Buda Castle complex, sits atop Castle hill, giving it one of the best views of the city.
It was built in the early 1900s to celebrate the birthday of the Hungarian state and had to be restored after being badly damaged in WWII.
The 7 turrets of this Disney-like building are said to represent the 7 Hungarian tribes who settled the area in 895.
Open every day, the price for entrance is HUF 1000 ($3.33) for adults and HUF 400 ($1.33) for students. A discount is given if you have the Budapest Card.
There's also a well-reviewed fine dining restaurant, Halaszbastya, on-site, that, as expected, has amazing views of the city.
4. Cross the Chain Bridge
Chain bridge is the oldest of the 8 bridges that connect the Buda and Pest sides of the city and the best known.
The full name, Széchenyi Chain Bridge, is after Count István Széchenyi. He vowed to push for the building of the bridge after being stuck on the Pest side of the Danube for a week during bad weather.
The Pontoon boat that usually ferried folks each way could not run and he missed his father's funeral.
Cross this gorgeous bridge, one protected by stone lions on each end, day or night, by foot or by bus. The same buses that cross the bridge, numbers 16 and 105, take you to Buda Castle.
If you're looking for the "love padlocks" found on so many bridges, they've been removed.
5. Soak in the Széchenyi Spa Baths
Budapest's thermal springs and the stunning architecture of the pools built above them make them a must-experience on any trip to Budapest.
It's said that the pools have the power to heal, helping everything from arthritis to respiratory disorders.
Szechenyi is one of the most impressive. This bath is located in City Park and includes 18 different pools, both indoors and outdoors. There are also massages, mud-baths, saunas, restaurants and more.
The baths are open from 6:00 am to 22:00 (10 pm).
Note that there is separate pricing for lockers and cabins (lockers are for storing your belongings and cabins are for both changing and storing your belongings).
6. Take in a concert at Papp László Budapest Sportaréna
Known locally as just Arena, this well organized and popular sports and music venue is easy to get to by bus, taxi or the metro. It has the capacity to hold up to 12,500 people.
The Arena pulls all of the big international music acts, such as Lady Gaga, Metallica, and Harry Styles, along with hockey, boxing, operas, the circus and more.
7. Indulge in delicious foods at Great Market Hall
This largest and oldest covered market in Europe is just five minutes' walk from the city center. It's popular with both locals and tourists.
This is the place to try all of the best that Hungary has to offer food-wise (lángos, paprika, Hungarian spaetzle, pickles, cheese, soups and more.)
Visit the ATM ahead of time as most vendors only accept cash.
8. Glide along the Danube during an Evening Sightseeing Cruise
Float past Budapest's floodlit landmarks on an evening cruise, with Parliament on one side, Buda Castle on the other, and much more.
Shorter tours offer a drink with your cruise, this cheap tour for example, while longer ones provide a meal by candlelight with live music, such as this one. There are also day tours and other options.
9. Climb to the top of St. Stephen's Basilica
St. Stephen's, is a stunning basilica located in the center of Budapest. It's the third-largest church in Hungary and one of its most important.
Guests often remark on the majesty of the neo-classical building's interior, with sculptures created using over 50 types of marble, along with relics, paintings, and stained glass.
A real treat is found when you climb the 364 spiral steps to the cupola. Here you'll find one of the best viewing spots in Budapest, with the city laid out in all directions.
Outside the Basilica, during the winter, is one of the most beautiful Christmas Markets in Europe.
Entry is free, although a donation is suggested. For a guided tour of the site, visit here.
10. Parliament House
This stunning and massive Gothic-revival building sits on the edge of the Danube, on the Pest side of the river.
It has 691 rooms, miles of ornate staircases, hundreds of sculptures, and wood carvings and paintings as far as the eye can see. There is also a Treasury, holding priceless liturgical items.
Known to be very busy with long queues, it's best to get your tickets in advance.
11. Take in the splendor of the Dohany Street Synagogue
The largest synagogue in Europe, and second-largest in the worst, resides in this Moorish Revival styled and ornate building erected in the 1850s.
It is also home to the Jewish Museum, as well as the Heroes Temple, the Jewish Cemetary, and the Raul Wallenberg Memorial Park, honoring those who fell or were murdered during two world wars.
Entry is HUF 5,000 ($16.67) for adults, with reduced rates for students and children. It is also discounted 10% if you have the Budapest Card.
Visit the bottom of the page here for opening times, events info, and for tickets. Dress code: men cannot enter without a hat or cap; one with be received with a ticket at the entrance. Shoulders and legs must be covered.
12. Stand in Silence at the Shoes on the Danube Bank
The memorial was created to honor those Hungarian Jews killed by members of the Arrow Cross Party police between 1944 and 1945.
As many as 20,000 people were taken from the Jewish ghetto and executed along the banks of the River Danube, just after they were forced to remove their shoes.
These 60 pairs of rusted iron shoes represent the men, women, and children who were massacred and sit in testament to this devastating loss.
The moving exhibit can be found along the edge of the Danube Promenade near Zoltan street. Click here to find the location on a map.
13. Ramble around Margaret Island
Formed when three islands were merged into one, Margaret Island sits in the center of the Danube. It was named after St. Margit of Hungary, daughter of King Béla IV.
The island exists now as a recreational area but was once home of various churches and nunneries, the ruins of which can still be seen.
There are various modes of transportation for rent on the island, including bicycles, electric scooters, golf carts, and odd-looking little cars.
Food can also be found at various restaurants on the island in addition to swimming pools and thermal baths, a Rose Garden, a Japanese Garden, a musical fountain, and an Art Nouveau style water tower (which can be climbed).
Learn more about the history of Margaret Island here.
14. Pub Crawl through Ruins
Ruin bars are those built in the old abandoned spaces of the VII quarter in Budapest, buildings that were left to decay after WWII,
They started out on the gritty side, but now run the gamut from elegant to artsy.
One of the best ways to hit more than one ruin bar in an evening is to join a pub crawl. This tour will not only get you in the door VIP but will provide free shots and drinks all night.
For more information and to take the ultimate pub crawl, visit here.
15. Attend the Hungarian State Opera House
Currently undergoing a $30 million renovation including refining of her already impressive acoustics is the Hungarian State Opera House
This neo-renaissance style building was opened in 1894 and was at one point under the direction of Gustav Mahler. It stands as one of the grandest buildings in Budapest.
Tours are still going out and are available in a number of languages. Visit here for opening hours, event times, and ticket information.
16. Visit Heroes Square
This large square at the end of Andrássy Avenue was built to commemorate the 1,000-year-old history of the Magyars, the clans who established the principality of Hungary. It's a beautiful spot to visit, day or night.
The statues representing the leaders of those 7 tribes stand below a column topped with a statue of Archangel Gabriel.
Other statues represent important figures in Hungary's history, including various Kings, saints, fighters, and learned men.
The square sits between the Museum of Fine Arts and the Halls of Art (Kunsthalle), both of which have free entry if you've purchased the Budapest Card and are looking for other things to do in the area.
For a list of events in Budapest, some of which take place on the square, visit here.
17. Go on a Food Walking Tour
One of the best ways to know a city is to try its local dishes. This is something completely enjoyable in Budapest as the city is loaded with delicious foods.
A food tour, such as this one, which also visits a ruin bar and the Dohany Street Synagogue and Central Market, is one way to sample a great cross-section of local delicacies.
Or, if wine is more your thing, try a Hungarian wine, cheese, and meats tasting.
18. Disappear into the House of Houdini
Harry Houdini, the world's most well-known magicians, was born to a Jewish family in Budapest.
After immigrating to America with his family, where they lived in uncertainty and in great poverty, Houdini spent years building his repertoire. He would eventually become one of the most famous men in the world.
This small museum, built by a Hungarian escape artist named Merlini, celebrates the life of Houdini.
It houses authentic memorabilia such as his straight-jackets, handcuffs, letters, and more, and includes a 15-minute live magic show.
The price of tickets runs about $10 for adults and just over $6.50 for children. The museum lies within Buda Castle grounds and a five-minute walk from the Hospital in the Rock.
If you have the Budapest Card, other buildings in the complex are free.
19. Pick through the Esceri Flea Market
The first Ecseri market or piac came to be in the early 1800s, moving again and again until it was finally set up in a hall built for it in 2014.
You can find just anything from trash to treasures in this, one of central Europe's largest flea markets.
The market lies a bit outside the city center but is easily reached on public transport. Vendors speak English so be prepared to haggle.
20. View the finest of artworks at the Hungarian National Gallery
This well-reviewed museum, established in 1957, represents 500 years of Hungarian fine art.
Spread across four wings and floors of Buda Castle, the museum includes paintings, sculptures, and stonework. It includes both permanent and temporary exhibits, such as the recent one with works by Frida Kahlo.
For an unbeatable panoramic view of Budapest, scale the museum’s dome. You’ll need more than one visit to see it all.
21. Stroll up Andrassy Avenue
This elegant boulevard and World Heritage Site is often referred to as the Champs-Élysées of Budapest. It was built to connect City Park & Heroes Square to the north and the City Center to the south.
The buildings lining the street represent some of Budapest’s grandest architecture and were originally designed as single-family homes by the same architect.
Today, cafes, restaurants, cultural buildings, luxury stores, and apartments dot each side of the street.
At only a mile and a half long it is easily walkable. Some hop-on-hop-off bus tours head up the avenue around Heroes Square (trips which are discounted with the Budapest Card), and the Millennium Underground Railway, the first subway line in Europe, also runs north and south along Andrassy Avenue.
22. Head Underground with a Caving Tour
Under your feet in Budapest are a series of caves, formed by the same thermal springs that feed the cities spas.
There are at least 200 of these natural caves in the hills of Buda, including the Labyrinth under Buda Castle.
If you want to step out and try something a bit more adventuresome tour-wise, consider joining a caving tour. Guides lead a small group on multi-hour tours through the caves and tunnels underground.
Guests say you should be in reasonable shape and not severely claustrophobic. Wear good shoes!
23. Budapest Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Budapest Zoo, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary is home to over 9000 animals.
You can easily spend a full day here visiting sloths, pandas, and other furry and not-so-furry creatures.
There are activities as well to keep children including the feeding of giraffes and a seal show.
If architecture is your passion, you might enjoy the Art Nouveau design of some of its buildings, particularly the main entrance and the elephant house.
Adult Tickets are 3,300 HUF ($11). Children’s Tickets are 2,200 HUF ($7.30). And Family tickets (2 adults, 1 child) are 8000 HUF ($25.50).
24. 3D Gallery
If you are looking for more unusual things to do in Budapest, you might stop by the 3D Gallery.
Here you become part of the art by posing next to paintings of various activities.
Selfies are encouraged, although the staff is there to help snap pictures with your phone so everyone can be in the shot.
25. Children’s Railway
If you’re looking for activities to do with your children, they might find a ride on the Children’s railway keeps their interest.
This railway line runs through the scenic Buda hills, stopping are various recreational spots.
The most interesting aspect of this railway though is the fact that it’s run by children aged 10-14 (although under the supervision of adults).
Consider riding the Cogwheel railway, a tram that opened in 1874 and is both a cheap and interesting way to get to the site of the train.
Tickets are 700 HUF ($2.35) for adults and 350 HUF ($1.15) for children one-way. A timetable can be found here.
Bonus: Self-Guided Haunted City Game
If you’re interested in learning about the spookier side of Budapest, this self-guided exploration game will give you the task of solving a puzzle as you discover several potentially haunted locations in the city.
This is an excellent alternative to a traditional walking tour, because you can take your time and explore each stop at your own pace.