Budapest is the capital of Hungary and is a city with a rich yet sordid history. If you or your travel companions are lovers of all things history, you will not be hurting to find things to satisfy your interests. We found all of ours in our favorite travel guide, DK Eyewitness (affiliate link). I’m not much of a history person, so I tag along and wait to hit up the ruin pubs later. That counts as history too right?
In all seriousness though, these are excursions everyone can enjoy and I’m about to kill you with pictures to prove it!
There is no other place to start but the Hungarian Parliament Building, truly one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture I have ever seen.
It is located on the Pest side of the Danube and it will keep catching your eye from places all over Budapest. It’s so incredible from the outside, you might be tempted to take some photos and leave it at that. Don’t. It is highly, highly recommended you purchase tickets for a guided tour and take a look inside (8 languages are available). For non EU citizens tickets are about $23 but they are highly discounted for EU citizens (about $9). A little tip: get tickets ahead of time so you can choose when you go and avoid the line. You can purchase tickets here.
Then be prepared for a mouth dropping 45 minutes. From the gold and intricate detail….
To the beautiful stained glass windows…
The former upper house chamber…
And finally the grand stairway.
You can also see the Holy Crown of Hungary in the dome room, but you will not be allowed to take pictures there as the guards stand watch over it.
Of course when you are finished, you still don’t want to neglect the outside so make sure you wander around to admire the exquisite detail and beautiful flowers.
When visiting the Parliament you will be in Kossuth Lajos tér, a square that has its own very significant history, and offers a few more unique buildings, monuments and statues, and other excursions you might be interested in (note that the Museum of Ethnography is relocating and I’m not sure what will occupy that building pictured below).
Leave yourself some extra time to wander around when planning your day. Kossuth was the site of the massacre that was part of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. You might notice bullet holes in some of the surrounding buildings, and definitely don’t miss the underground memorial to learn more about it. You’ll find it along the side of the Parliament building by a long metal wall that says 1956. Sad, but worth the visit.
Lastly, you’ll want to head back to this area to catch the Parliament while it is lit up at night.
You can also take a stroll on the pathway along the Danube that runs right below the Parliament and you’ll come upon the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a memorial dedicated to the Jewish men, women, and children who were shot in the back at the edge of the river during World War 2.
I warned you about the history at the beginning of this post, didn’t I? It’s maybe not a “fun” excursion, but an important and pensive one.
It’s a pretty walk nonetheless, and you might be able to catch cute pictures of your parents like this…
Ok, one more that’s kinda depressing/disturbing, The House of Terror Museum. Is this why I don’t like history? Maybe go and educate yourself and then go grab a pint or relax at the Thermal Baths after!
It’s actually very interesting, just be prepared to have so much history thrown at you that it’ll either be mind-numbing or intensely fascinating, depending on your love for history. I believe we spent about 2 hours there, but you can easily spend twice that much time. There are information sheets in each room as you go through, but not the cliff note versions you depended on in high school, like whole pages at times. It’s definitely interesting and chock full of good info, but you can also do an audio tour which we felt was definitely worth the 1500 HUF ($6). As you are planning your trip here be aware that they are closed on Mondays. Even though it’s an excursion with a lot of depth, it is definitely worth the trip. The history lover in my life thinks it’s a must-do, even just to remind yourself how bad governments can really be.
Done with the disturbing history? Ok. Let me give you some more options. St. Stephens Basilica is definitely something you will want to check out. That’s it there in the distance.
It’s one of the tallest buildings in Budapest, and you can pay just a little bit extra for your tour to go up to the top and catch some great panoramic views.
I’m going to let you be impressed by the inside and not give pictures here, but know there will be beautiful statues, stained glass windows of saints, and a gorgeous dome. It’s free to get in or you can take a guided tour for which the tickets are very reasonably priced, and there are some great souvenirs in the little shop outside. They also have concerts here, so check the schedule if music is your thing.
And just like the Parliament building, we recommend a visit at night as well. Being located in St. Stephens Square (Szt. István tér), there are several bars and restaurants in the area to give you something else to do there. We were big fans of Platz, mainly because you can get a meter of draft Paulaner beer.
All of the previous recommendations are on the Pest side, and there are plenty of tourism sites that will tell you all about the Palace and things to do on the Buda side. So, I’ll let you find those elsewhere, and just highlight one thing I think you would be remiss to miss (unintentional rhyme there I promise).
The Hospital in the Rock is an excursion this not-quite-history-lover thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a series of tunnels that was a nuclear bunker and also served as a secret emergency hospital during certain periods of time. It’s located under the Buda Castle Hill and you could miss this amazing excursion if you’re not paying attention.
It’s cold there, you know, being underground and everything, so I suggest you dress warmly or bring an extra layer. But if you forget, don’t fret (another unintentional rhyme??). They have jackets you can borrow before going in. And don’t skip out on trying out the air raid siren on your way out. It’s loud, but worth the experience! It’s about 4000 HUF ($16) for the 60-minute tour, another Budapest excursion which we consider to be very fairly priced. Fyi, if you have 2 adults and 2 children, they have a family ticket that will save you a little money so don’t miss out on that!
And while you’re in the area, a 5 minute walk will also take you to the pharmacy museum, even cheaper than the other excursions and of course a highlight for my pharmacist father or really any medical professional. It’s not too big, so you’ll only need about an hour to catch this one, making it a good little side excursion to add to one of your days.
Lastly, while my husband, son and I were hiking to the beautiful view of Elizabeth Tower, my parents wandered around the Jewish quarter, which has the Great Synagogue and some museums. They said there wasn’t a whole lot to see in the Synagogue, but they really enjoyed the Hungarian Jewish museum and its religious relics. I can at least say the area is really interesting to walk around.
What are your favorite historical excursions to take in Budapest? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!!