One of my greatest surprises upon arriving to Budapest was to learn that the so-called Pearl of the Danube was actually two cities in one: Buda, a city on a hill where you can find the Castle and Pest, the flat land across the Danube where all the modern fun takes place.
Budapest as such only came together years after the Chain Bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks of Hungary, was built and connected the twin cities.
Here’s a free self-guided walking tour to the many cultural attractions that can be found in both sides of the Danube river. Enjoy!
Things to do in Budapest #01: Start in the Heroes’ Square and City Park
This self-guided walking tour to Budapest will start in the most iconic square of the city: Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square) where you will find statues of the ancient rulers of Hungary.
From Heroes’ Square you will have to walk the Andrassy Avenue, called the Champs Elyseés of Budapest by many visitors and locals alike, all the way to the outskirts of the Danube river.
It’s a very nice avenue filled with many luxury shops and street performers, as well as some interesting modern art sculptures.
Things to do in Budapest #02: Go inside St. Stephen Basilica and see the Holy Finger (no kidding!)
After the end of Andrassy Avenue and just before reaching the Danube river, you will find St. Stephen Basilica. The church is the tallest building in the Pest side (tied with the Hungarian Parliament), standing at a height of 96 meters (315 feet). Entrance is free of charge although you’re supposed to leave a donation.
You can visit the treasury of the Cathedral to see the “Holy Dexter”, which is just a fancy name to describe Stephen’s right hand.
Yes, you can actually pay to see the hand of a dead Hungarian king.
Things to do in Budapest #03: Behold the architecture of the Hungarian Parliament. Does it reminds you of something?
The first thing that people say when seeing a photo of the Hungarian Parliament is that it looks like a white version of Westminster in London. The truth is that the architect in charge of the Hungarian Parliament totally based his designs on the one of London and kind of plagiarized them in order to built this one.
It was once said that when Freddy Mercury sailed along the Danube river he totally loved the architecture of this building and actually tried to buy it.
Though luck, mate! Not for sale!
Things to do in Budapest #04: Walk along the Danube river to admire the statues and sculptures
From the Hungarian Parliament it’s time now to walk to the Chain Bridge and beyond. Before crossing the legendary bridge, let’s walk past it in order to enjoy the many sculptures located west of it.
From Hungarian painters to little devil kids, the creativity of the Hungarian sculptors truly shows in the banks of the Danube.
Did you know that the mythical Rubik cube is an Hungarian invention? The mastermind behind it is still alive to this day. Awesome, uh?
Things to do in Budapest #05: Cross the Chain Bridge and hike the Buda Hill
After enjoying a pleasant walk along the Danube it’s time now to cross the Chain Bridge and reach the Buda side of Budapest. This bridge is the most used one by cars, bicycles and pedestrians alike. Be warned that bicycles use the pedestrian road instead of the car road so be careful when crossing the bridge!
Contrary to most world-famous bridges, love locks are not that common in the Chain bridge, however you can still find a few of them scattered around it.
Seriously, what is up with this tradition of chaining love?
Things to do in Budapest #06: Visit the Buda Castle and watch the changing of the guard
To get to the top of the Buda Hill you have basically three options: Take a bus, take the lift or take the 15 minutes hike to the top. I did the cheapest option and, after loosing my breath a few times, I finally made it to the top of the Buda Hill in order to admire the magnificent architecture of the palace. Come on, you can do it too! Use those legs of yours!
The first thing you’ll notice is the uniformed guards similar to those of Prague, London, Athens and Madrid. Each year you will see them march and change the guard of the sentries.
It’s totally worth to wait in order to watch it!
Things to do in Budapest #07: Enjoy the views from the Fishermen Bastion and prepare for the long way back
Last, but certainly not least, you can walk from Buda Castle to the Fishermen Bastion and St. Mathias Church (it’s actually way close than what it looks!). It’s a pleasant 10-15 minutes walk from which you can get some good panoramic views of Buda.
From the Bastion, you can climb some of the towers for free (while others charge you a small fee). Here you shall find some of the best views of the Pest side, the Hungarian Parliament and the Danube river.
It’s no wonder that Budapest is one of my favorite European cities of them all!
Things you should know before traveling to Budapest, Hungary
Budapest has a very rich cultural history and if you have the time, you should definitely consider taking part on the Jewish and Communism free walking tours that are offered daily.
Also, you should consider visiting the Baths to relax for a while if the weather allows it. Visiting the House of Terrors is also a good idea if you’re into learning what life was like under the oppression of the Nazis and (later on) the Soviets.
Finally, if you’re really interested in the Communist history, you can visit Memento Park, where all the sculptures from Communist times are located. Entrance fee is about 5 euros and you can access it via public transportation.
Where to stay in Budapest, Hungary
Accommodation in Budapest is mostly in the Pest side of the city where all the action takes place. Here’s a list of my recommendations for all types of budgets.
Luxury & Boutique Hotels in Budapest:
Aria Hotel Budapest, offering a rooftop bar with panoramic views of downtown Budapest, the non-smoking Aria Hotel Budapest boasts rooms and suites designed around 4 music styles and a spa centre with a pool, saunas and a hammam.
Hotel Palazzo Zichy Budapest, located in the historic Palace Quarter in Budapest’s centre, Palazzo Zichy offers spacious, air-conditioned rooms with a flat-screen TV. This neo-Baroque palace dating from 1899 has free Wi-Fi access.
Budget Hostels and Guest Houses in Budapest:
Maverick City Lodge, in the centre of Budapest, the Maverick City Lodge is 750 metres from the Deák Ferenc Tér transfer station for all 3 city’s metro lines; it features air-conditioned rooms and free WiFi in all areas.
Best Choice Hostel, offering modern and colourful rooms, Best Choice Hostel is located in Budapest’s centre, directly at the Váci utca Shopping Boulevard. The hostel awaits guests with free WiFi and a shared-use kitchen
I hope you have enjoyed this travel guide to Budapest’s top attractions. Don’t forget to subscribe in order to get more awesome updates and tips straight to your e-mail!
Have you ever visited the Pearls of the Danube? Would you like to? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think!!!
Until next time, my friends!