Hungary for culture? Budapest offers more than expected

Some local tips on must-see sites, must-do experiences and must-eat food while visiting Budapest.

Budapest is one of the most overlooked and underrated European cities to visit. The former communist stronghold is flush with history and its architecture is some of the best on the continent. Budapest has a unique story that unfolds with many of the historical sites, museums, and landmarks that make up the city. Its population suffered under the Soviet Union and it is still coming to grips with life post-communism.

Before Soviet control, Budapest was a city of immense wealth and culture. It was a mecca of Eastern Europe and people from all over traveled to the city. Budapest has retained a certain charm that is unlike any other European capital. While cities such as Prague, Vienna, and Dubrovnik have become tourism centers and packed with visitors, Budapest doesn’t – for the most part – an overabundance of tourists. While the three previously mentioned destinations have seen prices increase for tourists, Budapest has stayed relatively cheap.

Travelers looking for a unique experience in Europe can find it in Budapest. Adding a CityPals guide to a travel itinerary can improve any trip to the Hungarian capital. Any traveler hungry for information, knowledge, and a good time will find plenty of it in Budapest.

Night view of Chain Bridge on the Danube river and the city of Pest.

Night view of Chain Bridge on the Danube river and the city of Pest.

House of Terror

The House of Terror is a must-see museum in Budapest. The museum is housed in the former home of the secret police who tortured and killed citizens in the building during their reign of terror. The museum showcases fascist and communist related items and memorializes those who suffered during foreign occupation. A walk through the House of Terror is sobering, but well worth it for the knowledge gained.

Picture of the facade of the the House of Terror or "Terror Haza" museum.

The facade of the the House of Terror or “Terror Haza” museum.

Memento Park

Memento Park lies outside of Budapest and visitors will need to take the tram and a bus to get there. Despite laying outside the city, it is well worth visiting. Memento Park is home to many of the communist statues that previously decorated Budapest. Travelers can walk amongst the statues and monuments, snapping selfies along the way. The park is a great peek into the past. A CityPals guide can help travelers reach the park easily and safely. They can also share stories about Budapest’s rich history.

The Sziget Festival

If you visit Budapest in the summer, don’t miss the Sziget Festival, one of the largest music and cultural festivals in Europe. It is held every August in northern Budapest, on Óbudai-Sziget (“Old Buda Island”), a natural island on the Danube. More than 1,000 performances take place annually and the Sziget Festival is the main event of the year.

Picture of three women who are participants of the cultural and music festival Sziget in Budapest.

Participants of the cultural and music festival Sziget in Budapest.

Szechenyi Spa Baths

Travelers who have never experienced a traditional Turkish bath or sauna really should. It is a relaxing and renewing experience. The Szechenyi Spa Baths were built in the 20th century and people have been relaxing in the hypnotic hot waters for over 100 years. When the sun goes down, Szechenyi turns into massive rave called the Sparty. Visitors can relax in the hot-water pools, sip cocktails, and listen to house music.

Picture of visitors to the Szechenyi medicinal bath which is the largest medicinal bath in Europe.

The oldest Szechenyi medicinal bath is the largest medicinal bath in Europe.

Ruin Bars

Budapest has an amazing nightlife and the party can go on well into the early hours of the morning. Locals love to drink and it isn’t uncommon to see them sipping beers or bottles of palinka, a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy, during the day. Ruin bars are unique to Budapest, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them catch on in other European cities. The idea behind ruin bars is simple. They are “derelict buildings and unused outdoor spaces that have been transformed into friendly, pleasingly chaotic bars”. Beer is cheap at most ruin bars and visitors can sit and chat to friends or locals. Szimpla Kert is considered the center of Budapest nightlife. The ruin bar is situated in the Jewish quarter and a CityPals guide can help travelers find it with ease.

Funky seats at a Ruin Bar in Budapest

Funky seats at a Ruin Bar in Budapest

St. Stephen’s Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica is a beautiful 20th century cathedral built in the Neoclassical style. The basilica is gorgeous inside and out and visitors can examine its ornate interior for free. St. Stephen’s is centrally located allowing visitors to easily reach Buda Castle and other destinations. One of the best aspects of the basilica is the large square outside its front doors. The square is filled with restaurants, cafes, and bars and visitors can sit in the basilica’s shadow for a relaxing drinking.

Foods to Eat

Hungary is rich in food tradition. There are foods travelers will find in Budapest that are unlike meals eaten anywhere else. Goulash is considered Hungary’s national dish and travelers can find it on menus across the city. Traditional goulash resembles a stew and it contains beef, carrots, potatoes, spices, and paprika. Locals soak up the stew and juices with crusty bread.

Picture of Goulash soup with beef, potato and meat sausage, served in a bread bowl at a a traditional Budapest food market

Goulash soup with beef, potato and meat sausage, served in a bread bowl at a a traditional Budapest food market

Langos is another traditional Hungarian food. It is also one that few people outside of Hungary will have tried. Langos is sold at street food stands and is relatively cheap to buy. Langos is deep fried bread covered with cream cheese, shredded cheese, and topped with bacon. It is one of the most delicious foods travelers never knew they loved. It goes great late at night after drinking local beer.

Palinka is the much-loved local drink that citizens can be seen sipping across Budapest. It isn’t for everyone and some palinkas can be quite harsh. Visitors looking to experience real palinka from local producers shouldn’t miss the Budapest Palinka and Sausage Festival. Held every October, the festival is a perfect way to eat great locally sourced sausage and to sip regionally made palinka. The festival takes place at Buda Castle and gives attendees a wonderful backdrop to the festivities.

Budapest is fantastic city. It offers travelers much more than the average holiday destination. Whether visitors want to splurge on a five-star hotel or a hostel, there is something for every budget. Adding a CityPals guide to a trip can enlighten travelers on the history of the city, its food, and the best places to visit.

Feel free to add recommendations in the comments section below for more places to see and experience in Budapest.

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