A plethora of exciting things come to mind about Budapest, but not many know what this city is famous for. So, let me tell you why it is the perfect choice for a relaxing holiday.
If it is your first visit to Budapest, or you are planning your trip right now, you may be asking what Budapest is famous and popular for?
Budapest is mostly famous for its historical sites like the Chain Bridge which has become the symbol of the city. It is also known for its hospitality, spas, the party district in district 7, and not to mention that it is also very cheap.
Budapest is one of the cultural cradles of Europe, and these days it has also become the capital of parties and festivals. Millions of tourists visit Budapest every year to see the ominous sites that make it so famous.
Let me introduce you to some really surprising and exciting places and stories which could even be symbols of Budapest.
What is Budapest most famous for? The five signature sights of Budapest
1. Chain Bridge
What else could we start our list with than Chain Bridge, the most well-known, beautiful, and famous sight in Budapest?
Buda and Pest are divided by the Danube. The two sides represent two totally different perspectives on life. You can read more about the differences between Buda and Pest and the activities each side is perfect for in my article.
However, bridges are built to provide a connection for these differences. There are several beautiful bridges we can use in Budapest, yet the Chain Bridge stands out from them all, thus the reason it can be seen on every single postcard of the city.
But what is there to know about it? The Chain Bridge is linked to the name of Count István Széchenyi who is considered to be the greatest Hungarian. It was the first bridge of the city (Fun Fact: The Count himself never crossed it).
Although many opposed the idea, the city was in need of a better solution than temporary bridges. However, never had Hungarian engineers constructed such a monumental structure before. Thus, William Tierney Clark was asked to help, as he had some experience in the field.
Numerous events complicated the work, including the War of Independence and the accident when Széchenyi fell into the Danube.
Finally, the Chain Bridge was completed, and the four stone lions of János Marschalkó have been guarding the bridge since 1850.
If you are interested in the Bridges of Budapest: the history is still haunting today, read my article on the topic.
Unfortunately, Hungarian bridges have a rather sad history. The Chain Bridge is not an exception either, as it exploded during WW2. During its reconstruction, the roads were built a bit wider, but otherwise, the original bridge was rebuilt.
The three-metre “0” milestone statue by Miklós Boros was inaugurated in 1975. All the distances of main roads and settlements are calculated from this stone in Budapest.
Chain Bridge is the most famous symbol of Budapest, so don’t leave without taking a picture with the lions first.
2. The Parliament
If the first one was obvious, so is the second one – The Hungarian Parliament. You can’t say you have been to Budapest if you haven’t seen the Chain Bridge and the Parliament.
The Hungarian Parliament, world-famous for its beauty and monumental size, with the renovated Kossuth Square, is also a must. Yet, there are several interesting facts about the Parliament unknown to the general public.
Even its origin is an interesting story: it is said to have been built on that exact spot to remind the king leaving the castle of the fact that his power only exists with the people.
Imre Steindl, the designer of the building, included interesting symbols characteristic of Hungarianness into the design. One of them are the poppy bulbs and daisies on the railings of the stairs.
And if you are already there, take a moment to examine the tiny details as some funny artists painted their own portraits on the ceiling during the renovations.
Other things you must see are the Holy Crown and the coronation jewels.
3. Thermal Baths
Who hasn’t heard of the thermal baths in Budapest? Budapest is leading in the number of thermal baths not only among European big cities, but also in the world, as there are almost 118 medicinal springs just in the capital. Unbelievable, right?
But it is not only true for Budapest; no matter where you go in the country, you will most probably see a spa or a thermal bath.
I believe that is the reason why our capital is associated with its famous spas, and that’s why thousands of tourists come to visit them. And how right they are, as you can’t be disappointed by Budapest spas.
Bathing culture has several hundred years of tradition in Hungary. It can be traced back to the Turkish occupation of 150 years when so many of the baths were opened.
Many of today’s baths are also based on these foundations. What’s more, most kept almost all of the original Turkish bath conditions and foundations.
In addition to famous and large spas like Széchenyi, Rudas, and Gellért Baths, there are also numerous hidden beauties. If you would rather avoid huge crowds, Dandár, Veli Bej, and Király Baths are the places for you.
4. The famous party district of Budapest
For the young, Budapest is a popular party destination. Almost the entire part of district 7 has become known as the party district with clubs, bars, discos, and restaurants.
Trust me! Once you lose yourself in Budapest’s nightlife, it won’t be easy to choose one place to go as there are so many great clubs. I wrote a superb article on how to spend a night in Budapest to remedy the situation.
There is everything you need for an unforgettable party in the party district. Inner Erzsébetváros (district 7) is full of life all the time, and this is the place we go if we want to meet some friends.
There are cosy ruin bars, cheaper pubs, and luxury places as well. This is the place where all cultures and classes can coexist in unity. The only important thing is the good atmosphere.
The district has been the centre of parties since the early 1900s. Velence Café at 27 Király Street used to be home to the first cinema of the country where young people got together.
It is worth looking around in daylight as well because this is the Mecca of painted firewalls. There are numerous exciting, thought-provoking, and sometimes funny works of art everywhere.
Also, district 7 is the Jewish Quarter, so you can find lots of kosher shops and supermarkets, not to mention mikveh, i.e. the ritual bath. So, culture, both past and future, are represented here parallelly.
5. Statue of Liberty
If we hear the name ‘Statue of Liberty’, we immediately think of the one in New York. However, Hungarians have one of their own, too. It might not be as famous and large as the American one, but at least it is ours.
The Statue of Liberty on top of Gellért Hill is a popular tourist destination. Walking up there is an experience in itself, not to mention the panorama you get to enjoy once you are up.
However, there are some interesting things you might want to know about this statue. Its history goes back to 1945 when a monument was to be erected for the heroic Soviet “liberators”. That is how, the original 8–10-metre-high woman’s statue became a 35-metre-high Soviet statue with a flag in its hand.
However, the Revolution of 1956 swept the statue away. After the regime change, only the woman’s statue remained, of which all Soviet memories were erased.
According to today’s narrative, the statue commemorates the 1100-year-old history of the Hungarian nation and all the heroes of the world.
What perhaps only few people know is that there is a piece of it in Gori, Georgia, which was sent there as a present by the Hungarian State. Also, the only Hungarian astronaut, Bertalan Farkas, took a scaled-down copy of the statue into space.
What else is Budapest famous for? More interesting facts not everyone has heard of
I am certain that in the continuation of this article you will read about things you have never known Budapest was famous for. I’ll start with the most well-known things and then proceed to the less famous ones.
6. The Buda Castle
The famous Buda Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is definitely a must when visiting Budapest. Pictures of the Buda Castle rising above Budapest, guarding the city, are the most beautiful gems of Budapest.
It is an emblematic fantastic architectural masterpiece that has been home to Hungarian kings since the 13th century. There are several medieval monuments on its grounds, as well as 17–18th century houses and public buildings.
The three main parts of the Buda Castle District are the Buda Castle, St. George’s Square, and the historical residential area.
I don’t want to sing its praises too much, but Buda Castle is the coolest thing in the city. Enjoy the amazing history of the area, the atmosphere of narrow little streets, cobblestoned roads, the wonderful site itself, and the plethora of sights.
The sights: Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church, Szentháromság tér (Holy Trinity Square), the Museum of Military History, the National Gallery, the labyrinth, and countless other attractions; there is not enough space to list them all.
If Buda Castle is not enough for you, read my article enlisting more than 100 sights in Budapest in detail.
7. Ruin bars
The ruin bars located in the party district are becoming more popular by the day – they attract a large number of Hungarians and tourists alike.
Yet, many of them have been closing in recent years, due to the fact that investors who buy lands bulldoze the old buildings to build shiny new residential buildings.
Still, ruin bars are all filled with both younger and older people who want to have fun. Now, I should perhaps tell you what “ruin bars” are. If I had to define them, I would say they are places with unique interiors where guests are served. They are not about luxury, but about striking, funny, and sometimes astonishing interiors.
If you came to the conclusion that they are typical pubs where you can only drink, you can’t be more wrong. Most ruin bars also host cultural events where, for example, young, emerging musical talents can show off their skills, and we can also listen to various performances in these places.
But why are Budapest ruin bars so famous? The answer lies in their strange environment and fantastic atmosphere.
Check out my article on the best ruin bars in Budapest here.
8. Budapest is cheap
What makes a city an attractive holiday destination? Probably if there are numerous historical and cultural attractions, delicious cuisine, good public safety, long hours of sunshine, lots of entertainment options, and beautiful girls…
Need more than that? I suppose you might. There’s one thing that motivates everyone to start packing right away. It won’t be surprising to you if I say all of the above are true for Budapest… plus it’s cheap.
This is the extra bit that makes Budapest a really popular destination among tourists.
According to Eurostat (Source), Hungary offers some of the cheapest hotels, clothing, and food compared to other countries of the European Union. Only the price of technical goods is equal to the average price of EU countries.
What does this really mean? This means that you will pay two thirds the price you would pay for services in the EU.
According to 2019 statistics, Hungary was at 65% of the average European price level. Eurostat only measured lower prices in three countries – Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland.
Good news for tourists: this figure will be even more favourable in the near future. There is a good chance that Hungary will be the cheapest country, because this year the forint weakened by almost 15% against the euro, the dollar, and the pound. This means that you will get a lot more forints for your money.
Of course, it does matter where you exchange money in Budapest as you might be fooled easily, so watch out. I wrote a useful guide about this including all the tips and information you need to know.
9. The monument “Shoes on the Danube bank”
It is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Budapest and there are two reasons for that. For one, the sad event the monument commemorates was widely discussed in the foreign press.
The sight can be found on the bank of the Danube, not far from the Parliament. There are 60 pairs of shoes, including children’s shoes, calling attention to the fact that their owners were swept away by the Danube a long-long time ago. But the shoes remained…
In 1944–45, the Arrow Cross Party shot innocent Jews, including women and children, who fell into the Danube. The monument commemorates this event.
Victims were randomly selected and taken away to mass executions. They were lined up on the bank of the Danube, and once they stepped out of their shoes, they were shot in the nape of their neck.
Check out the disturbing article I wrote about the monument, its historical background, and horrors here.
10. Sziget Festival (The Island of Freedom)
Say it out loud! Hungary has become a festival-superpower. I could list music festivals for a long time, but the most famous event in Budapest that everyone has heard of is Sziget Festival.
The Island of Freedom, held since 1993, has grown into one of the largest light music festivals in Europe. Each event breaks new records with more and more people visiting – over 500,000 people attend it each year.
11. The Synagogue in Dohány Street
The Synagogue in Dohány Street, or the Great Synagogue, is the cultural centre of Hungarian Neolog Judaism. But what is it famous for? The synagogue in Budapest is the second largest synagogue in the world and the largest one in Europe.
I recommend you admire the building from the outside and also from the inside as part of a guided tour. In addition, this wonderful synagogue is home to cultural events like different kinds of concerts, including classical ones.
The Synagogue was part of the ghetto set up for the Jews of Budapest during the WW2. The buildings behind it were used to keep crowds of Jews in inhumane conditions.
During the siege of Budapest, the building was damaged by 27 hits, the effects of which could be seen for many years to come. That is when the garden became the cemetery of martyrs. Lots of them who died of diseases, starvation, or had been murdered were buried here – many of them in mass graves.
12. Budapest Zoo
The Budapest Zoo is a must, but not only because of its diverse and interesting creatures.
It is also one of the oldest zoos in the world, having been open since 1866. By that time, 11 smaller and bigger buildings had been completed and about 500 animals could be visited by the public.
Initially, most of the animals in the zoo were ones whose natural habitat was in the Carpathian Basin. However, Queen Elizabeth also donated a giraffe to the institution.
The exterior of the building has been renovated several times. The elephant house had to be rebuilt since it resembled a mosque. Fun Fact: When there were no tranquillizer darts, a hippopotamus was chased to its new location with the use of an elephant.
If you would like to hear some more curiosities, head to the Budapest Zoo. I am sure you won’t regret it. The seal show and the new-born little anteater are my personal favourites.
13. City Park
Greenery in the middle of the city? It is possible, and it runs by the name City Park. Want to know why it is famous? Few people know that it was the first public park in the world.
Most downtown people come here for some fresh air, to see some greenery, and to take their dogs for a walk. It is a truly idyllic place that is still undergoing great changes. There are places for hipsters, but for those of you with a more sophisticated taste, I recommend City Park Zsolnay Café which is a beautiful place of its kind.
The City Park was built under the orders of Maria Theresa in the early 18th century on the site of a once-swampy countryside. The place was also a novelty as everyone could go in and take a walk there, which was not the case with other parks back then.
It reached its present form during the millennium celebrations: Vajdahunyad Castle, Budapest Zoo, and the Art Gallery were built at that time, too.
Otherwise, City Park is the perfect choice for a romantic stroll or some boating. It is not surprising to see many young people kissing on the benches. Of course, there are several other exciting parks in Budapest that are suitable for this purpose, as well.
For more information about the most romantic places in Budapest click here.
14. The secrets of Andrássy Avenue
One of the most beautiful and famous roads in Budapest is Andrássy Avenue, which is wonderfully lit in winter, but there are always some activities, as well. It’s also a great experience to just walk along the tree-lined roads and sit in cafés and restaurants, whatever the season.
Construction of the road began in 1870 to reduce traffic on Király Street, connecting City Park with the downtown.
At the commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of the Foundation of the State – the millennium event of 1896 – it was important to connect, among other things, the main venues of the ceremony, for instance Heroes’ Square and City Park, with the city centre. The Millennium Underground Railway was also completed for this occasion.
The construction of Andrássy Avenue took place in several stages. The cityscape of the time changed a lot, but it’s no wonder, just think about the huge area the avenue covers.
Of course, as it usually happens, mystical stories are associated with it, too. One example of this is Andrássy yard on Kodály körönd – a place that is still being renovated. In 2008 and 2009, very strange things happened to two workers who – after their disappearances – turned up at inexplicable places.
One of them was found unconscious in the musty wardrobe of the royal suite, while the other worker was found in the empty pantry in the cellar, locked from the inside.
The workers could not tell what had happened to them. They talked about strange forces, but no one believed them. The police launched an investigation, but all they could find out was that the victims did not know each other, and one of them did not speak Hungarian at all as he was a Romanian citizen.
If you like creepy stories, you should definitely stop here to survey the allegedly haunted building when walking down Andrássy Avenue.
15. Fireworks on August 20th
August 20th is the greatest Hungarian holiday. Even foreigners are familiar with it as the Hungarian State gives a half-an-hour-long spectacular fireworks display from the banks of the Danube, while the morning aerial show and the Formula 1 event are the icing on the cake.
What do we celebrate so heartily? It is the day of our founding by King St. Stephen, the foundation of the Christian state, and its millennial continuity – one of the oldest Hungarian celebrations.
The origin of Hungarians from the Hungarian conquest to Christianity
This day has been a national holiday since 1083. On August 20th, 1083, with the consent of Pope Gregory VII, the relics of Stephen I were erected on the altar in the basilica of Székesfehérvár. This event was equivalent to his consecration.
16. The Millennium Underground
Metro line M1 is the first underground railway in Budapest covering largely the area of the already-mentioned Andrássy Avenue.
When it opened in 1896, it was the first narrow gauge railway underground railway in Europe, and it is the same age as the idea of the London Underground.
It was really a railway at the time as the vehicles were still steam-powered. Since then, it has also become part of the World Heritage sites and has kept its original form.
If you are looking for more than a simple travel – something like travelling back in time – it is definitely worth going for a ride on this line.
17. Famous coffee houses in Budapest
A huge coffee house culture developed throughout Europe during the 1800s and 1900s. Countless Hungarian writers, poets, and intellectuals spent their time in coffee houses in Budapest.
One of such places is Zsolnay Café on Teréz Boulevard which is the successor of the former famous Britannia Hotel Café. It used to be a favourite with such famous Hungarian authors as Zsigmond Móricz, but many other well-known writers spend their time there, too. One of them was the Nyugat Baráti Kör (Western Circle of Friends) which included the cream of literary life at the time.
New York Café is undoubtedly the most famous coffee house in Budapest, even winning “The Most Beautiful Café in the World”. This café which is still the perfect example of past grandeur is located only a few-minutes’ walk from Blaha Lujza Square. Officers, aristocrats, writers, and painters also came here once, while artists loved it so much that they only left the place when they really had to.
Another place that is certainly worth a visit is Hadik Café on Bartók Béla Road. It is also the centre of several literary events, poetry readings, and cultural life. It was once made famous by Frigyes Karinthy who lived quite close to the place. Since then, almost all the important figures of literary life have spent time there.
If you also want to feel part of the world of artists, even if it’s only for a coffee, be sure to visit these places.
18. The well under Heroes’ Square
If in Budapest, then it’s Heroes’ Square – that is quite obvious. Everyone has heard of it, and it is a deservedly famous sight in the capital.
This monumental attraction is a wonderful memento for the outstanding figures of Hungarian history, but the place is an interesting sight even if you have no idea who they are.
Many may know that it is a World Heritage Site and took several forms — always in correspondence with the regime of the time — before it reached its current form.
What few people know, however, is that there is a well below the square with thermal water erupting from a depth of 800 metres. I wasn’t kidding when I claimed that Budapest is full of all sorts of healing springs.
Vilmos Zsigmond, a mining engineer, found the spring in 1877, and a house was even built on the well based on the plans of Miklós Ybl in 1884. However, it had to be demolished for the millennium celebrations. Thus, the well and the thermal water were forgotten.
19. Erzsébetváros (Elizabeth town), the former Chicago
A famous part of district 7 is Erzsébetváros which can be divided into several segments. One of them is the so-called Jewish Quarter, the party district, which is also the most densely populated district of the city.
The district was established with the unification of Buda and Pest in 1873. Since Felsőkülváros (upper outskirts) was too crowded, it was split into two.
When Erzsébetváros was completed between 1897 and 1898, it was nicknamed “Chicago” because of its parallel streets and the precise work that reminded its inhabitants of the most modern city of the time.
However, not only positive factors influenced the name, but also the lack of public safety – even today. Of course, the situation has improved a lot since then, and the slums of the time have disappeared, but there are still parts of the streets where that special “atmosphere” can be felt.
Before you think that district 7 and Budapest are dangerous, let me assure you that our capital is one of the safest places on Earth. Actually, it is the 17th safest.
20. The famous War of Independence of 1956: famous venues
When thinking about Budapest, many remember one of the most defining points of Hungarian history, the revolution of 1956.
Although the whole country was swept away by the winds of freedom, the biggest battles still took place in the capital. If you look carefully, you can still find bullet marks on some buildings, somewhat commemorating those few wonderful but bloody days.
If you would like to visit the most important venues, you might want to go to Corvin district, Széna Square, and the Kilián barracks. But Móricz Zsigmond Square and today’s Ötvenhatosok Square were also important venues, as well.
If you are there, visit the House of Terror under 60 Andrássy Avenue, the formerly infamous house where many died or were imprisoned, including those of the revolution of 1956. There is also a great exhibition presenting the events which made Budapest, if only for a fleeting moment, the symbol of freedom.
21. The narrowest house in Buda
There are plenty of sights on the Buda side which make Budapest famous, but you won’t find this attraction on any other website.
This curiosity is located on the Castle Garden embankment (Várkert rakpart). Mandl House stands out in the line of many narrow houses.
The building is 22 meters high and was built around 1890. The house has a tiny inner courtyard, three floors, and two façades. The façade overlooking the embankment is 6.2 metres wide, while Döbrentei Street is only 5.5 metres away.
Many celebrities have also visited the building, and the place is still inhabited today. It is definitely worth seeing if you are taking a walk by the Danube.
Why is the house so narrow? When photographed from the Pest side, the whole block did not fit in the picture, so, for the sake of tourists, the house was built this narrow, solving the problem. As usual, everyone gets closer together for the sake of photographs. So, that’s why poor Mandl House was crushed by the neighbouring buildings.