10 Ideas For A First Time Trip To Budapest
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What sparked your notion to visit the Hungarian capital for the first time? Was it to unwind in the city's world-famous thermal baths, did a friend recommend the great value nightlife? Or was it to experience the best of Eastern and Western European culture in one place?
Inspired by one of our own member's first-time trips we've put together a list of fun activities, sights and attractions you might want to check out during your own visit. These ideas are best experienced over a week or so - because there's no joy in rushing while you're on holiday!
Your First Trip To Budapest | Things To See & Do:
The following list of recommendations was devised by CityXplora and our friendly local tourism partners Hungaria Koncert.
1) Budapest Zoo & Botanical Gardens:
If you’re travelling with kids or just love the natural world, then Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden is a must-visit. It is a family-friendly entertainment spot housing several iconic features like the Elephant House, the Palm House, and the one-hundred-year-old legacy merry-go-round.
The zoo began operating way back in 1866, making it one of the oldest zoos in the world. It’s home to over 700 animal species, and its unique design is the work of renowned Art Nouveau architect Karoly Kos.
Budapest Zoo Main Entrance.
2) Andrassy Avenue:
Andrassy Avenue is itself a World Heritage Site. Constructed during the 1870s, its original purpose was to connect City Park with the city centre. Since then the boulevard has captured the attention of luxury brand names such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Ermenegildo Zegna, most of whom have shops along its edges. Similarly, there are traditional cafes and plenty of chain restaurants such as Burger King here.
Andrassy Avenue is an ideal place to experience the busy buzz of daily life, try out different delicacies, and do a bit of people-watching. Towards its south-western end you’ll also find our next attraction recommendation. Why not make your way from the Millennium Monument to the concert venue?
3) The Budapest Opera House:
Besides being one of the finest-looking Neo-Renaissance buildings in Europe, Budapest Opera House ranks among the best of its kind in terms of acoustics. Its auditorium has a 1200 sitting capacity and features a traditional horseshoe shape.
Towering in front of the Opera House building are the statues of two great composers, Ferenc Erkel and Ferenc Liszt. Erkel was the first music director of the opera and is noted for having composed Hungary’s national anthem.
By day, the Opera ushers in tourists eager to ogle and learn about its gorgeous architecture. Come evening, however, guests are treated to world-class musical performances.
Inside the Hungarian State Opera House.
4) The Great Synagogue:
Located on Dohany Street is the Great Synagogue. As the name suggests, it is the largest synagogue in Europe, and second largest in the world. It can accommodate about 3000 worshippers and was once used by the Germans as a radio communication centre during World War 2.
Nowadays, it is the centre of Budapest’s Jewish community and houses the Jewish Museum, the Heroes’ Temple, the Jewish Cemetery, and the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park. The memorial park has four red marble plates that celebrate Raoul Wallenberg and other non-Jewish Hungarians who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.
No history lover’s trip to Budapest would be complete without taking one of the site’s enlightening self-guided tours. Alternatively, consider checking out one of our two Jewish Heritage Walking Tours, which include entry to the Great Synagogue plus much more.
5) Fishermen’s Bastion:
If you cherish beautiful cityscapes, Fishermen’s Bastion will enthral you. This remarkable lookout is located at the summit of Castle Hill. Although the Bastion is purely decorative, its name derives from the fishermen who dedicated their lives to defending the city during the middle ages. This lovely site also has seven distinctive tent-like towers, each representing the seven Hungarian tribes who settled in the Carpathian Basin.
There’s two levels to Fishermen’s Bastion lookout, an upper and a lower. Magnificent panoramic views are still available on the lower level, but the finest vistas are to witnessed on the level above. While the lower level is free, there’s a small entry fee to progress to the next step.
6) Shoes of the Danube:
Another famous landmark worth visiting is the Shoes of the Danube, situated in Pest. This poignant memorial consists of sixty pairs of bronze shoes arranged in a row along edge the river. These shoes tell the story of the Budapest Jews who were paraded and shot into the Danube. Since shoes were in short supply at the time, victims had to remove their footware before Arrow Cross militiamen executed them. The Shoes of the Danube is a harrowing yet picturesque place to learn about Budapest’s Jewish heritage.
7) Pál-völgyi and Szemlő-hegyi Caves:
Does the idea of spelunking excite you? Beneath Budapest are numerous pristine caves carved out over millions of years by subterranean thermal waters. Two notable networks are the Pál-völgyi and Szemlő-hegyi caverns. Thanks to their spectacular rock formations, these natural caves are the most breathtaking in the Buda Hills mountain range.
Cavers spelunking inside Pál-völgyi.
The Pál-völgyi cave is about seven kilometres long so be prepared for a bit of hiking and ducking through narrow passages. The Szemlo however, is filled with magnificent crystal formations and has clean air. Furthermore, it is relatively smooth making it ideal for younger explorers. Guided tours of both caves take about 45 minutes.
8) The Millennium Underground:
It wouldn’t be appropriate to tour Budapest and fail to visit one of the city’s World Heritage Sites - the Millennium Underground. Despite being the first subway line in mainland Europe, the Millennium Underground is still operational and runs along the Andrassy Avenue, once a masterpiece of city planning. You can visit the Millennium Underground to learn about its rich history, or to catch a ride from Vorosmarty Square to Budapest Zoo.
Opera Underground Station, Budapest.
If you love a good party then don’t forget to stick a Sparty on your Budapest to-do list. These fun-filled audio-visual pool parties are held each Saturday night at Budapest’s famous thermal baths.
For instance, summer parties, or ‘Szecska’, take place at the Szechenyi Baths, while winter and spring parties, also called the ‘Magic Bath’ series, take place in the Lukacs Baths. Whichever Sparty you select, you must purchase an advance ticket to attend.
Sparty at Szechenyi Baths.
For those who love exotic birds and aquatic life, Budapest’s Tropicarium is the perfect treat. It is one of the largest saltwater aquariums in Europe. Here, you will get up close and personal with different animals such as exotic birds, tropical fish, Hungarian fish species and alligators. You might even catch sight of a few squirrel monkeys as you walk through the rainforest. Conversely, experience a rush of adrenaline as you view the feeding of the sharks through a glass observation tunnel.
The Tropicarium is ideal for birthday parties and team building activities, although experienced sea divers can engage in the swim-with-the-shark escapades.
Other Things To Do:
- Summer Activities In Budapest | View Here.
Why Not Grab A Budapest Card?
Whether you’re planning a first-time visit to Budapest or are rediscovering an old favourite, it’s always handy to have a Budapest Card by your side. Devised by the city’s tourism board for the benefit of international visitors, it provides discounted rates and free admission into some of Budapest’s top attractions. As well as acting as a comprehensive entry ticket, the Budapest Card also functions as a travel pass.
Three types of Budapest Card, 96 and 120-hour cards are also available.
For instance, you can enjoy unlimited free rides on the capital’s public transport system, discounted access to popular sightseeing tours, and even free walking guided tours. You, therefore, end up making significant savings during your visit.
How The Budapest Card Works:
There are two ways to get hold of a Budapest Card: purchasing it once you arrive, or reserving it online. If you decide to buy once you’re in the city then the easiest place to pick one up is at Liszt Ferenc International Airport (terminals 2A & 2B), or you can get them from any of the BKK Kiosks dotted around the city.
If you reserve your card online you can either request hotel delivery or collect it yourself at the Hungária Koncert ticket office in Danube Palace (Budapest, Zrínyi u. 5, H-1051). Hotel delivery is a service offered by Hungaria Koncert Ltd, a friendly and professional tourism partner of CityXplora Ltd.
Whichever way you get your Budapest Card, you will need to validate it with a signature. As soon as you have done that, you are ready to go. Show the card to staff at any attraction you wish to visit and enjoy either free or discounted entry!