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Budapest Attractions - Free Things to do in Budapest

Top Budapest Attractions

Top rated Free Budapest Attractions and Paid Attractions list

1. Budapest Opera House (Paid)

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One of the most opulent and lavishly decorated opera houses in the world, this neo-Renaissance building was opened in 1884. It is the home of both the State Opera and the State Ballet. The season runs from September to the end of June.

It was completely restored in the 1980s, reopening on its centenary in 1984. There are vast expanses of gold leaf, and paintings and sculptures from Hungary’s most prominent artists. It has been widely acclaimed both for its appearance and for its acoustics, and is apparently the third best opera house in Europe acoustically, behind La Scala in Milan and the Palais Garnier in Paris.

There is a magnificent painted ceiling in the main hall depicting the Greek gods on Olympus, illuminated by a 3050kg bronze chandelier.

Two statues stand in front of the building, depicting Franz Lizst, Hungary’s best-known composer, and Ferenc Erkel, who composed the Hungarian National Anthem and was the Opera House’s first director.

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2. Danube Promenade (Free)

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A walk alongside the river in Budapest is a rewarding, educational and invigorating experience. The best plan is to start at the Chain Bridge and head either north towards Margit Bridge or south towards Erzsebet Bridge and on towards Szabadság Bridge. You can walk on either side, but the official Promenade runs from Chain Bridge to Erzsebet Bridge on the Pest side.

The Shoes Monument is an important and moving memorial located on the Promenade near to the Parliament. It consists of sixty pairs of cast iron shoes fixed to the embankment, to represent Jewish victims who were shot into the water by the fascist Arrow Cross militia during World War II; they were first ordered to take off their shoes.

There are several other sculptures along the Promenade, including the Little Princess and Shakespeare. Buildings include the attractive Vigad? Concert Hall and Hungarian Academy of Sciences. An evening stroll along the Promenade offers stunning views of the city’s landmarks lit up.

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3. St Stephen’s Basilica (Free)

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This stunning neoclassical church is named after Stephen, the first King of Hungary, and contains his right hand as a holy relic. It is the joint highest building in Budapest, alongside the Parliament Building, at 96 metres. The construction stretched over 54 years, finally being completed in 1905. The delay is explained by the dome collapsing in 1868, meaning work had to start again from scratch.

The basilica has a rich musical life and there are frequent concerts featuring choral, classical and contemporary music. There are performances from Hungary’s top organists and singers every Thursday evening, and the basilica choir performs every Sunday during the summer.

There are fantastic views to be enjoyed from the dome’s observation deck, open from April to October, which can be accessed either by stairs or lift. Inside, the basilica is sumptuously decorated, with beautiful marblework, stone, paintings, mosaics and stained glass windows. The church has two bell towers and Hungary’s largest bell at 9.5 tons. Although entrance is free, a small donation is appreciated.

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4. Tour of Parliament Building (Paid)

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This impressive neo-Gothic structure, sitting in pride of place on the banks of the Danube, has been the seat of the Hungarian Parliament since 1904. It was inaugurated in 1896 for Hungary’s Millenium.

Inside, there are two identical halls of parliament, as a result of the symmetrical structure. After the Parliament decamped to just one hall after World War II, the other one has been used for guided tours. The facade is elaborately decorated with statues of Hungarian rulers, military heroes and coats of arms.

When taking a tour, you will walk up the great ornamental Main Staircase, see the Great Dome Hall, the Holy Crown and the Hungarian Coronation Jewels, the Parlour of the former House of Lords and the Session Hall of the Upper House. You can also take in the beautiful ceiling frescoes and see a bust of Imre Steindl, the architect, who went blind before the building was completed.

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5. Gellért Hill (Free)

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This 235-metre-high hill is one of the best places to get panoramic views of the city. It makes for an invigorating walk, although public transport is also available, and there are several interesting features on the hill.

It is named after St Gerard, a bishop who was said to have been rolled down the hill in a barrel to his death during the Pagan Rebellion of 1046. A bronze statue of the saint can be seen near the Elizabeth Bridge.

At the top, there is the Liberty Monument which was erected in 1947 to honour the Soviet Red Army which had liberated the city from the Nazi occupation. Also worth investigating is the Citadel, built in the 1850s by the Austrian Habsburgs in order to keep control over the city. It was partly torn down by citizens after the Habsburgs’ downfall, but was used again by Hungarian soldiers, as well as the SS during World War II. The former barracks are now a hotel.

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6. Palace of Miracles (Paid)

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This interactive science museum, described as a hands-on experience, is a great place to take the kids. It’s located in the Campona Shopping Mall, after being transferred from its previous home in Millenáris Park (link).

The exhibitions offer a variety of challenging puzzles including the magic funnel, Ames’ Room and the coriolos room, which are guaranteed to put adults’ mental acuity to the test just as much as their children’s. There is also a simulated “moonwalk” in low gravity.

Aiming to make learning about science fun so kids can actually experience scientific phenomena rather than just reading about them, the museum is very popular and can get pretty busy. There are signs explaining more about the various activities in both Hungarian and English.

There is also a lecture room where you can see experiments being undertaken in front of your eyes, in the field of chemistry, physics, mechanics and others.

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7. Museum of Fine Arts (Paid)

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Set in Heroes’ Square, this Neoclassicist building was opened in 1906 after a six-year construction period. It holds a diverse collection of international art with over 100,000 pieces, and covers every era of European art. The collection is split into six areas.

Among the highlights of the museum is the second largest collection of Ancient Egyptian art in Europe, including superb painted sarcophagi; the third century marble statue known as the Budapest dancer in the Antiquities section; 3000 paintings from the Old Masters, tracing European painting from the 13th to the 18th centuries, including works by Raphael, Titian and Goya; a small equestrian sculpture by Leonardo da Vinci; a huge collection of drawings and prints including da Vinci and Rembrandt; and a strong Impressionist collection (Manet, Renoir, Monet).

There are frequent temporary exhibitions too so it’s worth checking the website to see what’s on. In any case you should allow a good few hours to take in as much as you can of what the museum has to offer.

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8. Margaret Island (Free)

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This island in the Danube is a restful place to spend an afternoon with its beautiful wooded landscapes and ruins of churches. It is named after St Margaret who lived in the island’s Dominican convent.

Today there are a wealth of activities on offer, including a 5 kilometre running track around the island’s perimeter and the Palatinus water park, and bikes are available for hire. There are also tennis courts and an athletics centre.

There is a small zoo, a Japanese Garden, and the charming Music Fountain, where the water springs out in time with classical pieces. The Water Tower offers good views of the city and hosts exhibitions.

An open air theatre has seats for 3500 people. There is also a small train around the island. If you just want to stroll, there are many romantic pathways, colourful flowers, and venerable trees, as well as the Centenary Monument, created in 1873 for the hundredth anniversary of the merging of Buda and Pest.

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9. Hungarian National Museum (Paid)

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This extensive museum aims to cover the whole of Hungarian history, from prehistory up to the present day. The origins of the collection date back over 200 years and it has been housed in its present location, a grand Neoclassical building, since 1846.

The museum covers different eras on different floors. The ground floor traces Hungary’s story from the earliest times up to 804AD. Among the treasures to be seen here are many intricate stone inscriptions and carvings made by the Huns. On the first floor, the story picks up from 804, covering the Turkish occupation, the War of Independence, and on to the period of Communist rule. The medieval Hungarian Coronation Mantle occupies its own room on this floor, as does St Stephen’s cloak.

There is also a basement which houses the Lapidary, ancient Roman stone carvings, while on the second floor there is a display on the Scholar Hungarians of the 20th century.

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10. Walk Across Chain Bridge (Free)

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This iconic bridge physically and symbolically links Buda and Pest, on the western and eastern sides of the River Danube. It was opened in 1849 after a nine-year construction period and was the first permanent bridge in Budapest.

There are many interesting features of the bridge including the stone lions which resemble those in Trafalgar Square, London, although they were built earlier. The bridge makes for a beautiful sight at night when it is spectacularly lit up.

It is in close proximity to, and has a good view of Buda Castle, which can be accessed via a funicular railway. Designed by English engineer William Tierney Clark, the construction was overseen by the Scot Adam Clark (no relation), after whom Adam Clark Square is named on the Buda side.

The bridge was destroyed by the Germans towards the end of World War II and was subsequently rebuilt, reopening in 1949, one hundred years after it first came into use.

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11. Walking Tour (Free)

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There are a range of companies offering free tours of Budapest. For this article let’s look at one of the most acclaimed, Free Budapest Tours. They actually offer three different tours at different times of day: the Orientation Tour at 10.30am, giving you an overview of the twin cities, including Danube Promenade (link), Chain Bridge (link), Clark Adam Square, Royal Palace (exterior), President’s Palace and the Castle Quarter.

If you want to delve deeper into the darker parts of local history, check out the Essential Pest Tour at 2.30pm, subtitled Faith, Terror, Communism. This visits St Stephen’s Basilica (link), Liberty Square, the Soviet Monument, and various sites to do with the Communist regime and the 1956 revolution.

No booking is needed; all you need to do is turn up at the meeting point. Tips are dependent on how much you enjoy the tour and what you think of your guide.

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12. Gellért Baths (Paid)

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Located in the Gellért Hotel at the foot of Gellért Hill, these Art Nouveau thermal baths date back to 1918 and take advantage of the natural hot springs at the location. Therapeutic spa treatments are available, and historically the site has long been used for healing; a hospital existed here in the Middle Ages.

The thermal baths are used to treat a variety of conditions including joint and spine problems and asthma. There is also an outdoor swimming pool with wave machine dating from the 1930s, saunas and plunge pools, and a children’s pool. The complex also features an effervescent pool, and is beautifully decorated with columns and statues. Massage services are available, including mud treatments, hot stones, and others. As of 2013, all facilities can be used by both genders.

The spa complex has an attractive main hall, with a gallery and glass roof. What was the women’s bath was recently restored to its original style following damage in World War II.

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13. Aquaworld (Paid)

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This water park is a resort in its own right as there is also a hotel on site. However, it is also a great place to go just for a day if you fancy getting wet and trying out some exciting slides.

The pool complex is designed to resemble a Cambodian Angkor temple, which adds some fun to proceedings. Younger children are catered for in their own pools, and in total there are 11 slides in the park.

As well as swimming, there is also the Bongo Kids Club with a huge range of dry games for the kids, Saunaworld with an array of sauna options as well as plunge pool and ice chamber, and even an outdoor Adventure Park with aerial obstacle course.

The shop offers swimming costumes, towels and more, and after working up an appetite you can order freshly made meals in the Fast & Fine Restaurant & Bar.

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14. Danube Cruise (Paid)

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The Budapest Danube Cruise company offers a selection of options for viewing this enchanting city from the water. You can take a guided tour in the day time or evening, have the same cruise with a buffet lunch or dinner, and there is also an evening cruise with live music, dinner and dancing.

There are headsets available in 30 different languages, explaining all about the sights you will be sailing past. The day tour takes an hour and fifteen minutes, but you also have the opportunity to visit Margaret Island (link) at the end, which doubles the tour time. After seeing the island you take the boat back to the start point.

The evening tour takes an hour and allows you to see the fabulously illuminated buildings. There is commentary from Hungary’s kings, queens, inventors and even the river itself. TV screens show you the interiors of the buildings you pass.

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15. Central Market Hall (Free)

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This large hall is a great place to browse for a huge variety of meats, spices, fruit, vegetables, fish, pastries, sweets and spirits. It is divided into three levels; on the ground floor, you will find the fresh produce, the first floor has souvenirs and food stalls where you can buy some readymade lunch, while the basement has a supermarket, fish market and pickles. There’s also a money exchange in the building.

The oldest and largest indoor market in Budapest, it was opened in 1897. Conceived by the city’s first mayor, Karl Kamermayer, he retired the year before and attended the opening ceremony as a citizen.

Covering an impressive floor space of 10,000 square metres, the building is enclosed by a steel framework. It suffered badly in both World Wars and was finally restored in the 1990s to its former glory. The roof has a lot of character, being rebuilt with colourful Zsolnay tiling from Pécs.

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16. City Park (Free)

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This large park has a diverse array of attractions, and is an ideal place to spend a whole day with the family. The main entrance is Heroes’ Square, itself the sight of notable features including the Millenium Monument, Museum of Fine Arts (link), and the Palace of Art.

In the main park you can visit the Zoo (one of the oldest in Europe, dating from 1866), the thermal baths and swimming pool, Vajdahunyad Castle which houses the Agricultural Museum, Vidámpark amusement park which features a merry-go-round from 1906 and a rollercoaster from 1922, the Grand Circus, the Transport Museum, and City Park Pond, used for ice skating in winter.

For a special treat, the Gundel Restaurant serves signature crepes and soup. At weekends the park hosts highly popular flea markets.

If you just want to spend a relaxing afternoon, there are many lovely paths lined with beautiful flowers and trees, and benches and places to have a picnic.

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17. Millenáris Park (Free)

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This leafy and attractive park, established in an old industrial site in Buda, is great for a stroll and also offers a range of concerts and cultural events. There is a large pond, playgrounds and exhibition halls.

Concerts feature performances from jazz, soul and alternative bands as well as sets from top DJs. There is also a gallery and theatre. A big emphasis is on kids’ entertainment, with puppet shows, theatre workshops and other events. Check the website to see what’s coming up.

The park is quite interesting on an aesthetic basis, with parts of old factory machinery still visible. If you want, you can just go for a little walk, feed some bread to the ducks and take in the tranquil atmosphere. A bench by the pond is a great place to have a picnic, but be aware that it can get crowded at lunchtime with an influx of local office workers and students.

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18. Károlyi Gardens (Free)

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Known as Károlyi-kert in Hungarian, these relaxing gardens, once the reserve of the Károlyi family, are now open to the public. It’s a secluded spot away from the noise of the city, with its winding, shaded walkways, fountains, and diversity of rare plants including Caucasian wingnuts, honey locusts, and trees such as silver poplars and horse chestnuts dating from up to 200 years ago. There is also a football pitch, a playground and a sandpit for the kids.

The classicist Károlyi Palace which adjoins the gardens now hosts the Petöfi Literary Museum, open from mid-July to late August, Tuesday to Sunday 10am-6pm. At one corner of the park is a cafe and bar with a terrace.

The park is enclosed by an ornate fence and gate, and with its modest size is somewhat reminiscent of the parks of Paris. An ideal place to have a picnic, read a book or just chill out.

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