One of the top things to do in Budapest is taking a stroll down Andrassy Avenue. Akin to the Champs-Elysees and the Ringstrasse, this grand boulevard was designed to be a place where people could see and be seen, so it’s filled with elegant neoclassical buildings, making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Strolling from end to end takes about an hour, but you’ll want to make time for stops along the way, especially if you want to check out some of the shops and restaurants.
Another must-do activity is visiting the Great Synagogue. It’s a magnificent Neoclassical building, and the Jewish Museum in it is well worth touring (although be sure to book ahead). Outside the temple you can walk through the peaceful garden of Weeping Willow, which has leaves on it with the names of people who perished during the Holocaust. Nearby is the House of Terror, a haunting museum that tells the dark story of fascist and communist rule in Hungary.
You can explore the House of Terror on your own, but it’s a much more interesting experience to join a guided tour. You’ll learn about the many victims of the totalitarian regimes, as you walk through mock prison cells and come face to face with pictures and statues of the dictators that once ruled Hungary. The tour also covers the story of the brutal secret police, a terrifying institution that was in operation from the 1930s until just before democracy returned to Hungary in 1989.
If you’d like to see Budapest from the water, hop aboard a Danube cruise. It’s a popular thing to do, and the views are incredible. You’ll see the Chain Bridge, the Hungarian Parliament building, and even Margaret Island from the riverside. Some operators include lunch and a drink as part of the ticket, so be sure to ask when booking your tour.
Budapest’s opulent Castle Hill is usually crowded with tourists, but if you arrive before sunset and wander the streets a bit after everyone else has left, you’ll have the Buda Castle, Matthias Church, and Fisherman’s Bastion all to yourself. It’s a lovely spot to enjoy a piping hot bowl of goulash, a national dish of beef and vegetable stew. You can get it all over town, but a good option is the eerily named “For Sale Pub.”
The Hungarian Parliament building may look modern, but inside it’s a Gothic beauty. It’s the largest government building in all of Europe, and you can discover its inner workings on a tour of the inside (book ahead, as the tours fill up). To save time, you can also skip the parliament building and go directly to Blaha Lujza ter to visit Mazel Tov, a delicious-looking Middle Eastern restaurant.
The city’s many museums are a fascinating portal into Hungary’s culture, history, and art scene. You can choose between large art museums, like the Hungarian National Museum and the Central Market, or smaller, thematic ones like an exhibit on the country’s iconic herbal liqueur, Unicum. things to do in Budapest