Beyond goulash and Gypsy music stereotypes, Budapest offers plenty of unique sites and activities for history buffs, art connoisseurs, and gourmands alike. While most of the must-try activities are mentioned in the tourist brochures, visitors will find lesser-known attractions that are equally worthwhile with a little exploration.
Central Market Hall
Housed under a Zsolnay tiled roof, this shopper’s paradise offers three floors of products from around Hungary. The ground floor is alive with dozens of vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods, meat, dairy products, and flowers. The upper floor is packed with embroidery stalls, wood- and leather-working, and other folk art, along with several small food stands. On the underground level are stands selling household accessories, a seafood shop, and a shop of imported foods.
Overlooking the lake in the center of the City Park, this eye-catching structure displays the different styles of architecture found in Hungary all on the same building. Its name comes from the lakeside wing, which represents the Castle of Vajdahunyad in Transylvania. A feudal castle gate and Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque elements are also included. When you’ve finished gaping at the exterior, go inside to explore the Agricultural Museum.
Szechenyi Bath House
Located in the City Park, this vast complex of neo-Baroque baths is not only the largest and most family-friendly in the city, but it’s also the cheapest. Swim laps in one of the open-air pools, lounge in one of the smaller pools under the cupolas, or indulge in nude sunbathing on the roof. The bathhouse also offers a Swedish and Turkish sauna, massages, mud baths, and carbonated baths. Summer afternoons can get quite crowded, but go at opening time, and you may get a pool to yourself.
Stretching for 300 yards along the Danube, this impressive neo-Gothic/neo-Renaissance structure dominates the Pest skyline. The exterior of the building is topped with Gothic spires and displays 88 statues of Hungarian rulers and military leaders. The richly adorned interior houses nearly 700 rooms, ten courts, 27 gates, 29 staircases, and 12.5 miles of corridors. Statues of Hungarian kings of the Arpad dynasty and three statues of Habsburg rulers can be found in the cupola hall inside. Guided tours of approximately 20 minutes are available when Parliament is not in session and take in the Congress Hall, Assembly Hall, and Delegation Hall.
Constructed between 1948 and 1950 as a project of the Pioneers (the socialist version of the Boy and Girl Scouts), this narrow-gauge commuter railway is operated by children aged 10 to 14, who work in positions such as cashier, traffic manager, and pointsman. It’s used year-round by the commuters of Budapest and can get crowded, but during off-peak hours the 45-minute ride through the woods from Széchenyihegy to Hűvösvölgy is quite peaceful.
Budapest Puppet Theater
Performances for both children and adults are staged year-round in this 400-seat theater. The repertoire includes Hungarian folk stories and fairytales such as Stravinsky’s Petruska and Mozart’s The Magic Flute for the younger guests and the works of Hungarian musicians. Sets are simple, but the elaborate, life-size hand puppets and marionettes, in addition to real actors, bring the productions to life.
Palace of Wonders (Csodák Palotája)
A good half a day’s entertainment awaits at this palace of interactive games designed to let visitors test out the laws of physics. Learn about the Coriolis force in a spinning room, try building a megaphone from teapots, a magnet, and metal coils, or test your memory with a musical stepping game. Other highlights include a pirouette wheel and a real MIG aeroplane.
Fun Park (Vidám Park)
The Fun Park, set in the luxuriant surroundings of the City Park, combines the best of both modern and old-world entertainment. The main park offers target walls, roller-coasters, go-carts, laser bumper cars, and a mirror maze, among other features. Nearby is the Little Fun Park (Kis Vidám Park), designed for children aged three to seven, which offers an enchanted castle, a haunted-house ride, and a merry-go-round that’s been in service since the turn of the century.
Museum of Ethnography
A vast collection of artifacts from cultures around the world is on display at this museum across from the Parliament. The first floor houses a thirteen-room permanent exhibition entitled “Folk Culture of the Hungarians,” depicting the daily life and festivals of the Hungarian peasantry with items collected between the end of the 18th century and World War II from the territories of ethnic Hungarians. Other exhibits include the Romany Collection, the Agriculture Collection, the Collection of Customs and Toys, and the Collection of Textiles and Costumes.
The exterior of this neo-Renaissance building displays statues of 16 of the world’s greatest composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, and Monteverdi. Sculptures of the muses stand at ground level between the Corinthian columns. The equally lavish interior presents allegorical frescoes by Bertalan Szekely and landscapes by Árpád Feszty. Károly Lotz’s fresco ‘Olympus, home of the Gods’, decorates the ceiling of the three-story, 1200-seat auditorium. Productions include ballet and concert performances, as well as opera.
Museum of Fine Arts
With both permanent and temporary exhibitions of art from ancient Egypt to 20th-century Europe, this Museum is a must for anyone who loves fine art. The gallery’s most substantial collection, the Antique Gallery, traces the development of European painting from 1300 to 1800, while the Modern Collection displays paintings and sculptures from the 19th and the 20th century. A collection of ancient Greek and Roman works of art and a collection of sculptures from around Europe are also on offer.
They may not be on every tourist’s list of sites to see, but these lesser-known activities make unique additions to both city tours and weekend outings.
Many of the Socialist-Realist statues that once stood around the city have been gathered in this open-air museum on the edge of town. Take a guided tour or wander on your own among the stone and iron forms of not only Lenin, Marx, and Engels but of Béla Kun, József Kalamár, Endre Ságvári, and other local figures. A small shop offers recordings of well-known “labour music,” medallions, and other memorabilia at the entrance.
Get a new perspective on the scenic villages, castles, and open countryside along the banks of the Danube as you float along the river in this hydrofoil boat. There are two trips available: Budapest to Vienna (5.5 hours) and Budapest to Bratislava (4 hours), both of which run daily from April to early November.
With its rich cultural life, fine foods and wine, and plenty of places to take the kids, the city of Budapest offer attractions for every taste.