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Free Self-Guided Budapest Walking Tour: Highlights & Overlooked Gems (With Map!)

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Things to see in Budapest: View of the Danube River and the glittering iconic Szechenyi Chain Bridge in winter

Perfectly bestriding the mighty Danube River, the Hungarian capital is certainly worthy of its moniker “The Pearl of the Danube”. Budapest is a city of contrasts meaning that though awe-inspiring churches, monuments, and museums line its ancient streets, it is also a very lively and hip place with a wide roster of grungy bars and idiosyncratic attractions. A Budapest walking tour is the best way to see these contrasts and to explore the cocktail of urban, classic, and contemporary sights. This post includes a map for a self-guided free walking tour of Budapest. Enjoy your walk! 🙂

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Why Choose This Free Self-Guided Budapest Walking Tour?

This free self-guided Budapest walking tour itinerary is perfect if you are short on time and trying to save some money. With our free map, you can follow the route quite easily without having to hire an expensive guide for the day.

The tour will take you past most of the city’s major attractions, landmark public buildings, places of worship, cultural venues, restaurants, and cafes. You’ll also learn a few lesser-known tidbits about Budapest along the way.

You will walk through the center of Budapest, focusing on the attraction studded areas of Central Pest, the Castle District, the Parliament Quarter, and the area around City Park.

Budapest Walking Tour Itinerary

The Budapest walking tour covers a total distance of approximately 12.6 kilometers (7.8 miles). Depending on how fast you go, you could even make a full day of sightseeing out of it. The tour starts at City Park (Városliget) and terminates at the Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya).

If, however, you think that the distance is a bit excessive for you, you should commence the walking tour at the Hungarian State Opera (Number 10 on this list). From here, the walking tour is 9.5 kilometers (5.9 miles). Of course, you can do this walking tour the other way round if it suits you better.

Depending on how fast you go, you could even make a full day of sightseeing out of it. Feel free to take a break if you feel jaded along the way.

Many of Budapest’s streets are paved with bricks, some of which have cracks, uneven angles and can become slick when wet. It is thus best to stick with a comfortable pair of flat shoes rather than heels as they can get stuck in the pavement. 

I have included some cafes and restaurants in the map where you can take a breather and grab a bite. On this Budapest walking tour, you will see:

  1. City Park
  2. Széchenyi Thermal Baths
  3. Anonymous Statue
  4. Vajdahunyad Castle
  5. Museum of Fine Arts
  6. Heroes’ Square & Millennium Monument
  7. Andrássy Avenue
  8. House of Terror
  9. Franz Liszt Academy of Music
  10. Hungarian State Opera House
  11. Dohány Street Synagogue
  12. Parisian Court
  13. Klotild Palaces
  14. Inner-City Parish Church
  15. Váci Street
  16. Turkish Bank House
  17. Vigadó Concert Hall
  18. Little Princess Statue
  19. Vörösmarty Square
  20. Elizabeth Square
  21. St. Stephen’s Basilica
  22. Memorial for the Victims of the German Occupation
  23. Freedom Square, Soviet War Memorial & the Ronald Reagan Statue
  24. Postal Savings Bank
  25. Statue of Imre Nagy
  26. Museum of Ethnography
  27. Kossuth Square
  28. Hungarian Parliament Building
  29. Attila József Statue
  30. Shoes on the Danube Bank
  31. Hungarian Academy of Sciences
  32. Gresham Palace
  33. Széchenyi Chain Bridge
  34. Zero Kilometer Stone
  35. Castle Hill Funicular
  36. Turul Bird Statue
  37. Buda Castle
  38. Matthias Fountain
  39. Church of St. Mary Magdalene
  40. Holy Trinity Square
  41. Matthias Church
  42. Fisherman’s Bastion

1. City Park

Budapest attractions: People skating one the ice rink in City Park during the day

Start your Budapest walking tour at the popular City Park (Városliget). This not-so centrally located park was once an area of marshland, which served as a royal hunting ground until the mid-19th century when it was opened to the public.

The park was laid out in the English style when it was chosen as the focus of the Millennium Celebrations in 1896, celebrating Hungary’s 1,000th anniversary. 

Today, this vast oasis of green has everything you need for an enjoyable day with restaurants, monuments, attractive walking paths, and picnic hideaways. Locals flock here to unwind to enjoy the park’s many amenities and attractions.

One of the favorites is the artificial lake, used for boating in the summer and which morphs into a huge outdoor skating rink in the winter when it freezes over.

Fun Fact

The city of Budapest came into being in 1873, making it relatively young in its present form. It is the result of a union of three separate cities: Buda, Pest, and Óbuda. Buda and Óbuda lie on the western bank of the Danube while Pest occupies the eastern side. Each has its own distinct personality. Buda is built on a series of hills and feels more suburban. It is full of narrow winding streets and has a detached, imperial air of settled wealth. Pest, on the other hand, is flat as a pancake and is the buzzing economic and urban center of the city. With a thriving nightlife and a wide variety of tourist attractions, Pest is the most dynamic part of Budapest. Óbuda (literally meaning Old Buda) is mostly residential and is home to well-preserved remains from the Roman period to Baroque bourgeois mansions.

Directions

Your next stop is the Széchenyi Thermal Baths (2) which can be seen from Kós Károly sétány.

2. Széchenyi Thermal Baths

The majestic Neo-Baroque main building of the Szechenyi Thermal Baths

Budapest lies on the geological fault separating the Buda Hills from the Great Plain, which provides an ample supply of warm to scalding (21°C to 76°C) mineral water to some 123 thermal and more than 400 mineral springs.

Although the baths of Budapest have a long history, stretching back to Roman times, the thermal baths were popularized by the Turks who started building them in 1565 giving them a place to bathe in case of a siege on the city.

Today, people come to wallow in the mineral-rich waters of these baths, known for their alleged healing properties in treating rheumatism and disorders of the nervous system, joints, and muscles.

Of all the thermal baths in Budapest, the Széchenyi Baths (Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő) is undoubtedly the most popular one. It is the largest such complex in Europe, the complex has 18 pools (both indoor and outdoor) and provides a full range of thermal water treatments.

When they were built in 1879, it was considered a technological breakthrough to reach the hot steaming waters 1000 meters below the earth’s surface

The Neo-Baroque main building of the Széchenyi Baths could be easily mistaken for a palace, so grand is its facade. The central hall’s roof is decorated with bronze statues of galloping horses and the entrances are flanked by chunky Corinthian columns.

Outside is a statue of the geologist Zsigmondy Vilmos, who discovered the thermal spring that feeds its outdoor pool and Turkish baths.

Thanks to two thermal springs, which provide water with temperatures up to 38°C (100 °F), the outdoor pools are also open year-round. Taking a dip in the pools of the Széchenyi Baths is not only one of the best things to do in Budapest but also a culturally enlightening Hungarian experience.

In the largest outdoor pool, you can enjoy the surreal spectacle of people playing chess in steaming water while submerged up to their chests. Even the late former world champion Bobby Fischer played here in the 1980s.

Fun Fact

The world’s largest geothermal cave system is located underground Budapest. Europe’s largest underground lake also was recently found under Budapest’s Gellért Hill.

Directions

Your next stop is the Anonymous Statue (3). To get there, head southeast on Városligeti krt, continue onto Paál László út and turn right onto Vajdahunyad stny. You’ll be walking a distance of 350 m.

3. Anonymous Statue

The famous hooded statue of Anonymous in Budapest City Park

The Anonymous Statue is one of several quirky statues you will see on this Budapest walking tour. Though there are several famous sculptures in City Park such as those of Winston Churchill and George Washington, the Anonymous Statue is by far the most well-known.

The statue was sculpted in 1903 and shows a seated hooded monk. Information is very fuzzy about this monk whose name is even unknown, so he is now referred to as Anonymous.

This enigmatic monk lived in the 12th-13th century and served as a chronicler and notary to King Béla III. He is the prime source of information about early medieval Hungary and is credited for writing the first book of the history of the Hungarians, the “Gesta Hungarorum”.

The statue presents a great photo opportunity and it has a certain mystical quality about it. Note the pen with the shiny tip in his hand.

It is burnished each day by the hands of aspirant writers who hope it brings good luck and will make them become better writers. I went there, touched it, so if you’re reading this the tradition might not be complete bunkum 😉.

Directions

Your next stop is the Vajdahunyad Castle (4) which lies just opposite to the Anonymous Statue.

4. Vajdahunyad Castle

Beautiful towers and turrets of the Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park in Budapest

The fairytale-like Vajdahunyad Castle (Vajdahunyad Vára) lies among the trees at the edge of the artificial lake in the tranquil City Park. Like the park, the castle was designed for the 1896 Millennium Celebrations and was actually made out of cardboard and wood since it was only intended to be a temporary exhibit.

But Vajdahunyad Castle proved so popular with the locals that they insisted it stay, so it was rebuilt in brick and stone. The castle’s eye-catching architecture is a unique ensemble of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles, each representing a different era in the history of Hungary.

Each section of the castle is additionally divided into smaller buildings linked together, each having been designed as a replica of other significant structures to be found throughout Hungary and Romania.

My favorite section of the castle is undoubtedly the ramparts facing the lake, modeled after the famous Corvin Castle (Hunyadi Castle) and the Clock Tower of Sighișoara, both in present-day Romania.

Vajdahunyad Castle is one of the best things to see in Budapest and its moat, draw bridge, and soaring front castle walls are absolutely mesmerizing. The only part of the castle open to the public is the intriguing Museum of Agriculture, which includes steam harvesters, ancient cotton gins, wax figurines, and pastoral Hungarian historical scenes.

Directions

Your next stop is the Museum of Fine Arts (5). To get there, head west on Vajdahunyad stny, turn left onto Kós Károly and then continue onto Hősök tere. You’ll be walking a distance of 500 m.

5. Museum of Fine Arts

The grand Neoclassical building of the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest

The Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti Múzeum) is my all-time favorite museum in Budapest. It is housed in a Neoclassical building that is every bit as grand as the collection of art inside. The building’s main facade was clearly inspired by the ancient temples in Greece and is connected by massive Corinthian columns.

The Greek influence is further incorporated in the pediment which depicts the Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs, copied from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. The Museum of Fine Arts is the chief repository of foreign art in Hungary and it houses one of Central Europe’s major collections of such works.

The museum’s rich haul is a tour de force in European art from the 13th to the late 18th centuries, with the Spanish masters forming the museum’s strongest collection. Luminaries like El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo, Ribera, Cano, Zurbarán, and Goya are well represented. The Egyptian Gallery is another highlight and includes thousands of works of Egyptian art, including ancient coffins.

Directions

Your next stop is the Heroes’ Square & Millennium Monument (6) which lies just on your left. You’ll be walking a distance of 40 m.

6. Heroes’ Square & Millennium Monument

Bupaest must-see sights: The sprawling Heroes' Square and the imposing Millennium Monument

There’s no denying that Heroes’ Square (Hosök Tere) is one of the major sightseeing attractions in Budapest.

Like so many other things in the city, the square and park were planned and built to celebrate the arrival and settling of the Magyars’ forming a nation in 896. Over the course of time, Heroes’ Square has been privy to many public demonstrations, concerts, and fairs.

The center of Heroes’ Square is very much dominated by the towering Millennium Monument and the triumphal colonnades behind it. The monument, which was only completed in 1929 features a 36 meter tall central Corinthian column, topped by a large statue of Gabriel, the Archangel holding St. István’s crown and the apostolic cross (commemorating Hungary’s conversion to Christianity). 

The column is guarded by equestrian statues of Prince Árpád and the six other Magyar tribe leaders from the Eurasian steppes who, in 896 AD, paraded into the Carpathian basin, comprising present-day Hungary and conquered the land

The Magyars, in fact, arrived in 895 but the millennium celebration preparations were running late, so the official date was adjusted to 896.

The two imposing curved colonnades behind the monument each contain seven statues of illustrious statesmen and monarchs who made their mark on Hungarian history. Statues atop the colonnades represent War, Peace, Work, Welfare, Knowledge, and Glory.

Fun Fact

The number 96 is very important in Hungary. The crowning of Arpád as first king of the Magyars (Hungarians) heralded the creation of the Hungarian state in 896. Budapest’s metro was inaugurated on the country’s millennial anniversary in 1896. By law, buildings in Budapest must not exceed 96 meters, and the Hungarian national anthem should be sung in 96 seconds (if sung at a proper tempo)!

Directions

Your next stop is Andrássy Avenue (7) which starts just in front of Heroes’ Square. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.

7. Andrássy Avenue

People and cars along the grand Andrassy Avenue in Budapest. PC: Xin Hua - Dreamstime.com

Andrássy Avenue (Andrássy út) is Budapest’s longest, grandest boulevard, and is the city’s equivalent of the Champs-Élysées. Andrássy Avenue cuts through central Pest connecting Erzsébet Square and the City Park running in a perfectly straight line for two and a half kilometers.

The avenue is one of Budapest’s primary shopping destinations and features a bevy of fine cafés, restaurants, and luxury boutiques. 

Andrássy Avenue was inaugurated in the late 19th century as the Radial Boulevard but was soon renamed after the statesman and former prime minister Count Gyula Andrássy, though it has also been known as Stalin Avenue (1949–56) and the Avenue of the People’s Republic (1957–89). I really love strolling on Andrássy Avenue, mostly to admire the eclectic architecture.

As you make your way from Heroes Square towards Central Pest, you’ll notice its character changes. Initially, you’ll see many many stately offices and foreign embassies in sumptuous looking villas and later on, it becomes more commercial.

Directions

Your next stop is the House of Terror (8) which lies further down on Andrássy Avenue. You’ll be walking a distance of 1.2 km.

8. House of Terror

The ominous House of Terror building on Andrassy Avenue in Budapest. PC: Adam Szuly/shutterstock.com

The soulless blue-gray House of Terror (Terror Háza) building is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Budapest. The ominous black awning that surmounts the building has giant stenciled letters cut out into it.

It can be difficult to make out what they spell but when the sun shines, and the light falls through the cut-outs and onto the facade, the huge letters spell out the word “TERROR”. This seemingly innocuous building is an address that many Hungarians remember with fear. Starting in World War II, it was the headquarters of the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross regime.

Then, after the Soviets liberated Hungary, it served as headquarters of the much-feared Orwellian Communist secret police till the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It was a place of brutal interrogation where many political opponents were tortured and killed in the basement.

The building is now home to a museum that chronicles the grim events and practices of the successive oppressive regimes in Hungary using photographs of victims, videos of witnesses, and more.

While the exhibition is both chilling and fascinating, it has received some criticism for putting more energy into the Communist times over the Fascist regime.

HISTORY 101: Hungarian Revolution of 1956

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” in 1956 in which he denounced Joseph Stalin’s dictatorial rule emboldened the Soviet Bloc’s dissidents. Drawing inspiration from a workers’ strike in Poznań, Poland, a rising tide of unrest and discontent in Hungary broke out into mass anti-Soviet demonstrations and active fighting on October 23, 1956. Rebels won the first phase of the revolution and the Hungarian Communist Party’s Central Committee elected the popular politician Imre Nagy as prime minister. Along with agreeing to establish a multiparty system, Nagy declared Hungarian neutrality and appealed to the United Nations for support. However, Western powers were reluctant to risk a global confrontation and didn’t intervene. On 4 November, however, just 18 days after he assumed office, the Soviet army invaded Hungary and crushed the new regime. Nagy was arrested and executed in 1958. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Anyone who had participated in the uprising was blacklisted. The 23rd of October remains Hungary’s most cherished holiday.

Directions

Your next stop is the Franz Liszt Academy of Music (9). To get there, head southwest on Andrássy út, turn left onto Oktogon till you reach Teréz krt. Continue on Teréz krt before turning right onto Király u and then turn left onto Liszt Ferenc tér. You’ll be walking a distance of 550 m.

9. Franz Liszt Academy of Music

The remarkable Art Nouveau building of the Liszt Academy of Music

Next up on this Budapest walking tour is the Franz Liszt Academy of Music (Zeneakadémia), one of the city’s architectural and cultural gems.

The institution is Hungary’s premier music-education establishment and was founded by the virtuoso Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt in 1875 as a place where students could study music with some of the nation’s most talented composers.

Since 1907 the academy has been housed in one of the most remarkable Art Nouveau-style buildings in Budapest. The building’s facade is absolutely gorgeous and includes Art Nouveau motifs and ornaments from Greek mythology.

Above the main entrance, there is a statue of Franz Liszt himself while the six bas reliefs above its base depict the history of music. 

The interior of the building is also stunning with its breathtakingly beautiful tapestries, grand chandeliers, golden inlays, Zsolnay clad tiles, and stained-glass windows. The ornate Concert Hall is a real highlight and is endowed with superb acoustics. Guided tours are offered daily in English at 13:30.

Directions

Your next stop is the Hungarian State Opera House (10). To get there, head north on Liszt Ferenc tér and turn left on Andrássy út. You’ll be walking a distance of 600 m.

10. Hungarian State Opera House

The splendid Neo-Renaissance building of the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest

Not only is the Hungarian State Opera House (Magyar Állami Operaház) one of Budapest’s marquee attractions, it is also one of the premier opera venues in Europe. This splendid building took nearly a decade to build and was completed in 1884 in Neo-Renaissance style to rival those of Paris, Vienna, and Dresden.

The building features a two-story symmetrical facade with a portico and a loggia, both of which are embellished with a number of Baroque elements. It is topped by a Mansard roof decorated with ornate tin air vents.

Statues of the two Hungarian musical greats, Ferenc Erkel and Franz Liszt can be found in the niches on either side of the main entrance. In addition to these two statues, you will see sixteen statues of great composers, including Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner, and Monteverdi.

The interior of the Opera House is even more impressive and is a study in opulence and grandeur. The marble columns, gilded vaulted ceilings, sensational murals, and chandeliers definitely deserve to be seen.

The pièce de résistance is the horseshoe-shaped, three-story auditorium whose walls are plastered with several kilograms of gold. Its chandelier weighs over 2,000 kilograms and illuminates a fresco of the Greek gods on Olympus.

You may enter the lobby of the Hungarian State Opera House without charge, but the only way to tour the interior is with a guided tour. Tours are offered daily in English at 14:00, 15:00, and 16:00.

Directions

Your next stop is the Dohány Street Synagogue (11). To get there, head south on Andrássy út, turn left onto Káldy Gyula u, turn right onto Király u, turn left onto Károly krt and finally turn left onto Dohány u. You’ll be walking a distance of 1.1 km.

11. Dohány Street Synagogue

Budapest points of interest: The striking Byzantine-Moorish building of the Dohany Street Synagogue

The Dohány Street Synagogue (Dohány utcai zsinagóga) aka Great Synagogue is one of the most distinguishable landmarks in Budapest.

Built in the mid-19th century, the Dohány Street Synagogue can accommodate up to 3,000 worshippers making it the largest synagogue in Europe and the third-largest in the world after the Belz Great Synagogue in Jerusalem and NYC’s Temple Emanu-El.

The massive synagogue was constructed in the Byzantine-Moorish style and features two striking gilded onion-domed towers. Some Gothic touches, like the arched windows and trefoil ledge, can also be seen. The facade is composed of yellow and red brick and intricately designed ceramic friezes.

Dominating the facade is the large rose stained-glass window-a reference to the architecture of medieval Hungarian churches. If you observe closely, a Hebrew inscription from the second book of Moses is situated under it.

After suffering heavy damage during World War II, the synagogue was restored in the 1990s at a cost of over $40 million. The synagogue belongs to the Neolog community, a Hungarian denomination combining elements of Reform and Orthodox Judaism.

The synagogue’s ornate Moorish interior, decorative frescoes, huge pipe organ, chandeliers, and Torah-Ark are all very impressive. The synagogue is also home to a small museum packed with liturgical items and historical relics illuminating the Jewish faith.

Fun Fact

Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, who sought the establishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East was born within the grounds of the Great Synagogue in 1860. The house where he was born is now the site of the Jewish Museum.

Directions

Your next stop is the Parisian Court (12). To get there, backtrack down on Dohány u, turn left onto Király u, and finally turn right onto Kossuth Lajos u. You’ll be walking a distance of 600 m.

12. Parisian Court

Budapest architecture: The palatial building of the Parisian Court

If one were to make a list of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest, the sumptuous Parisian Court (Párisi udvar) would surely be on it. The palatial edifice was built in 1913 as the headquarters of the Belváros Savings Bank. It incorporates Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance, and Art Nouveau elements, representing Hungary’s fascinating past.

The building’s palatial exterior is covered with colorful Majolica tiles and is decorated with numerous ornaments and motifs. The two central towers, which reach a height of 40 meters, are fancifully decorated with Neo-Gothic sculptures and even gargoyles. 

The spectacular ornate interior of the Parisian Court (Parisi Udvar). PC: Evgeniya Biriukova - Dreamstime.com

Parisian Court’s interior arcade is even more beautiful and features a vaulted roof and a striking hexagonal glass dome. The arcade is decorated with cast-iron and sculpted wooden ornaments.

The mosaic tiles decorating the floors are absolutely gorgeous and the interior reliefs, sculptures, and elaborate tracery are a sight to behold. 

The Parisian Court building has recently undergone an extensive renovation and is now home to the swanky Hyatt Hotel. You can still step inside, however, to take a quick look at the arcade.

Directions

Your next stop is the Klotild Palaces (13). To get there, head down Kossuth Lajos u and take a slight right onto Kígyó u. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.

13. Klotild Palaces

Budapest landmarks: The imposing twin buildings of the Klotild Palaces. PC: ury Dmitrienko - Dreamstime.com

The six or so lanes of Kossuth Lajos utca squeeze between a pair of 48-meter tall identical fin-de-siècle buildings. The Klotild Palaces (Klotild paloták) were commissioned by and named after Archduchess Klotild, the daughter-in-law of Archduke Joseph, Palatine of Hungary. They were built in Neo-Baroque fashion and each building’s tower is adorned with an enlarged replica of the archduke’s crown. 

Over time, the Klotild Palaces have become a distinctive feature in the Budapest skyline. The building on the right is colloquially referred to as “Klotild” while its sibling is known as “Matilde”.

Insider Tip

As you stroll across Budapest, be sure to look up at the buildings even if you have to stop a minute. There is a wealth of missed treasures above normal views that go unnoticed by many. Take time to seek out the gargoyles and decorative motifs that adorn the multitude of impressive late 19th and early 20th century buildings.

Directions

Your next stop is the Inner-City Parish Church (14). To get there, head west on Kígyó u and continue down Piarista köz. You’ll be walking a distance of 170 m.

14. Inner-City Parish Church

The graceful twin-towered exterior of the Inner-City Parish Church in Budapest

The Inner-City Parish Church (Belvárosi Plébánia Templom) is the first of several churches you’ll see on this walking tour of Budapest. This historic church has nearly a 1,000-year-old history dating back to 1046 having been first established during the reign of St. István, the first king of Hungary.

Both the church’s interior and exterior reflect its long and troubled history. The original Romanesque-style structure was decimated by the Tartars, and its 14th-century Gothic replacement was converted into a mosque by the Turks.

A conflagration in the early 18th century resulted in the church being partly rebuilt in the Baroque style. Because of its checkered past, you can also spot Renaissance and Turkish elements.

The church was nearly destroyed again after World War II when builders wanted to tear it down to make way for the nearby Elizabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd). Although it looks rather dilapidated from the outside, the inside of the church is quite attractive and features an elaborate Gothic chapel, a beautifully carved wooden Neo-Gothic pulpit, and 15th-century Italian frescoes.

Directions

Your next stop is Váci Street (15). To get there, head north on Március 15. tér and turn right onto Piarista u. You’ll be walking a distance of 180 m.

15. Váci Street

People strolling along the bustling Vaci Street in Budapest. PC: Ivan Milanković - Dreamstime.com

The bustling Váci Street (Váci Utca) is Budapest’s most acclaimed shopping street. It stretches for over a kilometer from Vorosmarty Square to the Central Market Hall. During the Cold War era, its vivid street life became a symbol of the “Goulash Communism” that distinguished Hungary from other Eastern Bloc states.

In the 1980s, Eastern Bloc residents flocked to Váci Street to ogle Western products before they were introduced elsewhere in the Warsaw Pact region.

The street is now largely occupied by Euro-fashion chain stores that flood every major city with their lofty prices. There are also plenty of souvenir shops, lodging facilities, entertainment facilities, cafes, eateries, and bars here. Off the street, there are old courtyards and shopping arcades. 

Some parts of Váci Street can feel a trifle touristy but its attractive promenade makes for a perfect stroll in the evening when it is lavishly illuminated. The street is to be mostly enjoyed for its lively atmosphere and the grandiose architecture of the surrounding buildings.

One of the ones to keep an eye out for is the gorgeous Art Nouveau Thonet House (no. 11) which is coated with blue Zsolnay tiles. Also, look out for several lovely fountains along the way.

Insider Tip

Most places on Váci Street tend to be expensive, and some have dubious pricing policies. Be vigilant if you purchase anything. Since there are many tourists strolling here, beware of pickpockets and scammers.

Directions

Your next stop is the Turkish Bank House (16). To get there, head north on Váci u, turn right onto Régi posta utca and then turn left onto Petőfi Sándor u. You’ll be walking a distance of 350 m.

16. Turkish Bank House

The glittering mosaic on the facade of Art Nouveau Turkish Bank House in Budapest

In a city blessed with numerous excellent Secessionist buildings (the Viennese variant of Art Nouveau), the Turkish Bank House (Török Bankház) is one of the very best. Built in 1906, the building boasts a glass and metal facade.

The most impressive part of the building is the magnificent mosaic called the “Birth of Hungary”, which depicts Hungary paying homage to the Virgin Mary (pictured here carrying a sword). The glowing mosaic shows the worshipers, angels, shepherds, and illustrious Hungarian political figures like Prince Rakóczi, Count István Széchenyi, and Lajos Kossuth.

Directions

Your next stop is the Vigadó Concert Hall (17). To get there, head north on Szervita tér, turn left onto Deák Ferenc u and then turn right onto Apáczai Csere János u. You’ll be walking a distance of 350 m.

17. Vigadó Concert Hall

The opulent facade of the Vigadó Concert Hall in Budapest

The Vigadó Concert Hall (Vigadó) is one of the most stunning buildings along the Danube River. It is one of the city’s oldest concert halls, dating to 1864 and is home to a cultural center and gallery. Fittingly, the word Vigadó translates as “having a ball”.

Vigadó Concert Hall was built in a Romanticist style and it has recently been fully restored to its complete grandeur. Its opulent front facade is decorated with Hungarian folk motifs, busts, crests, and statues of former Hungarian monarchs and heroes such as King Matthias and Count István Széchenyi. Statues of muses decorate the pillars above the central arcade.

Directions

Your next stop is the Little Princess Statue (18). To get there, head north on Apáczai Csere János u and turn left onto Vigadó tér. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.

18. Little Princess Statue

Budapest attractions: View of the impish Little Princess Statue with the Danube and Buda Castle in background

The impish Little Princess Statue (Kiskirálylány) is one of Budapest’s most popular attractions and beloved landmarks. The statue has been sitting on the railings on Vigadó Square by the tram line since 1990 and presents a great photo-op.

At first glance, you might think she’s a jester or a cross-dressing boy in a Tinkerbell hat. You can tell by looking at her legs that she has been rubbed in admiration and luck for some time.

Directions

Your next stop is Vörösmarty Square (19). To get there, head east on Vigadó tér, turn left onto Apáczai Csere János u and then turn right onto Vigadó u. You’ll be walking a distance of 200 m.

19. Vörösmarty Square

Buildings surrounding Vorosmarty Square in Budapest. PC: Castenoid - Dreamstime.com

Vörösmarty Square (Vörösmarty Tér) is one of the liveliest public spaces in Budapest which boasts luxury stores, antique shops, galleries, and many retail establishments. Throughout the year, the square is the site of holiday markets and celebrations. In addition to this, you can often see wandering minstrels, artists, and frequent booth exhibits.

In the past, Vörösmarty Square was known by several different names, including Theater Square and Gisele Square but since 1926 it has been known as Vörösmarty Square, in honor of the 19th-century poet and dramatist Mihály Vörösmarty. 

The gigantic Vorosmarty Statue in Vorosmarty Square

The center of the square is dominated by an enormous Carrara marble monument dedicated to Vörösmarty.

Due to the vulnerable nature of Carrara marble, the monument has to be wrapped in plastic sheeting each winter to prevent it from cracking! The seated figure of Vörösmarty is surrounded by figures representing various classes of society.

Vörösmarty Square is also famous for being the location of Café Gerbeaud, Budapest’s most renowned pâtisserie. A visit to Gerbeaud is a must for coffee and dessert-lovers. It’s also worth stopping here simply to admire the silk-carpeted walls, the crystal chandeliers, gilded tables.

Directions

Your next stop is Elizabeth Square (20). To get there, head northeast on Vörösmarty tér, turn right onto Harmincad u and then turn left onto Erzsébet tér. You’ll be walking a distance of 230 m.

20. Elizabeth Square

The Neo-Renaissance Danube Fountain and giant Ferris Wheel in Elizabeth Square. PC: Rosshelen - Dreamstime.com

The almost rectangular shaped Elizabeth Square (Erzsébet Tér) is one of the largest green spaces in central Pest. It was formerly the site of a cemetery beyond the medieval city walls, and just like the aforementioned Vörösmarty Square, the square has undergone several name changes.

The square is lined with attractive flower beds and benches to relax making it a perfect place for a leisurely stroll. Due to its central location, the square is a popular meeting place. 

The main reason I love coming to Elizabeth Square is to admire the lovely Neo-Renaissance Danube Fountain. The statue on top is the figure of Danubius representing the Danube River. Below are three seated female figures which are symbolic of tributaries of the Danube: the Tisza, the Dráva, and the Száva.

Directions

Your next stop is the St. Stephen’s Basilica (21). To get there, exit the square onto József Attila u, turn right and then turn left onto Hercegprímás u. You’ll be walking a distance of 400 m.

21. St. Stephen’s Basilica

Budapest sightseeing: The twin-towered exterior of the monumental St. Stephen's Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István Bazilika) is undoubtedly one of the major attractions on this self-guided walking tour of Budapest. The construction of St. Stephen’s Basilica began in 1851 and it was intended to be the pinnacle of Neoclassical architecture.

However, several delays, including the demise of its original architect and collapse of its dome meant that its original plans were shelved and explain the differences in architectural designs. It was finally completed in 1905. 

St. Stephen’s Basilica is the most sacred Catholic Church in Hungary and also the largest one in Budapest – it can hold 8,500 people. One of the highlights of its imposing facade is its dome, which at 96 meters, is exactly the same height as the dome of the Hungarian Parliament Building – both allude to the putative date of settlement of the Magyar tribes in the Carpathian Basin.

Look out for the tympanum which contains a bas-relief representing the Virgin Mary surrounded by Hungarian saints.

St. Stephen’s Basilica’s cavernous interior is beautifully decorated with frescoes, gilded stucco, and bronze moldings, variegated marble, stained glass windows, and stone-covered columns. The most prized and sacred item in the church is the gnarled jewel-adorned mummified hand of St. Stephen.

This macabre relic rests inside an ornate golden reliquary in the church’s Holy Right chapel. You can either see it inside the basilica or wait until August 20, the anniversary of his death, when it is paraded around the city.

Directions

Your next stop is the Memorial for the Victims of the German Occupation (22). To get there, head north on Hercegprímás u and turn left onto Szabadság tér. You’ll be walking a distance of 450 m.

22. Memorial for the Victims of the German Occupation

The controversial Memorial for the Victims of the German Occupation in Budapest

Next up on this Budapest walking tour is probably the most controversial monument in the city. The Memorial for the Victims of the German Occupation (A német megszállás áldozatainak emlékműve) was unveiled in 2014 and commemorates the German invasion of Hungary on March 19, 1944. 

The monument depicts a bronze eagle, representing Nazi Germany, poised to strike a bronze statue of the Archangel Gabriel (holding an orb), representing innocent Hungary. One of the eagle’s talons is tagged with an armband that says 1944, the year of the invasion.

Fidesz, the right-wing populist political party who oversaw the construction of the monument say that it is intended to mark the loss of state sovereignty. The monument has divided Hungarian society with many critics saying that it whitewashes history.

They say that it is an attempt to imply that Hungary was subjugated by the Germans in WWII when in fact up to 1944 the government was at worst a willing participant and at the very least compliant to Nazi Germany. Many feel it absolves the Hungarian state and Hungarians of their active role in sending some 450,000 Jews to their deaths during the occupation.

In protest to question whether the monument is appropriate, people have created their own memorial in front. It is an ever-evolving composition made up of personal relics, like family photos, hand-written family stories, eviction notices, and personal belongings. Very moving indeed!

Directions

Your next stop is the Freedom Square, Soviet War Memorial & the Ronald Reagan Statue (23) which lie just behind the memorial.

23. Freedom Square, Soviet War Memorial & the Ronald Reagan Statue

The imposing Soviet War Memorial in the Freedom Square of Budapest

Budapest’s spacious Freedom Square (Szabadság Tér) aka Liberty Square was laid out in the 19th century. It is a place of great historical significance and the spot remains essential to understanding Hungary’s past. The square became a symbol of repression after the Hungarian revolution in 1848-1849 when many Hungarians were imprisoned and executed here.

It later became the focus of public grief over the tragic Treaty of Trianon, which led to Hungary losing at least two-thirds of its former territory and two-thirds of its inhabitants. The four tiny lawns at the top of the square were once each occupied with a statue, representing the land lost to Slovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Austria.

The square is a popular venue for relaxation and is filled with grassy lawns, trees, a playground, and an interactive fountain designed for children. The square is surrounded by monumental fin-de-siècle buildings that symbolize Budapest’s growing wealth and importance at the time.

The most prominent monument in Freedom Square is the Soviet War Memorial. Built in 1945 the memorial commemorates the Red Army soldiers who died during the liberation of Budapest in 1944–5. It consists of an obelisk with a crest showing the Communist hammer and sickle and is topped by the last Soviet Star remaining in post-Communist Budapest.

Many Hungarians aren’t too fond of this monument as it is a reminder of the Soviet occupation and also as the monument stands at the exact location of an earlier monument that was erected in protest of the aforementioned Treaty of Trianon.

The bronze life-size statue of the former American president Ronald Reagan in Budapest

Freedom Square is also the location of a statue of Ronald Reagan, the 40th American President. Now, Budapest might seem like quite a weird location for a statue of Reagan since he never even visited Hungary during his presidency.

But Hungarians are appreciative of the former U.S. president’s efforts in ending the Cold War, which in turn helped to end the Soviet influence in Hungary. 

The statue was unveiled in 2011 and is about 2 or so meters high, rests on a block of granite, and shows him walking mid-stride. Its location is interesting as it legitimately faces the American Embassy building but at the same time it also looks directly at the monument commemorating the Red Army.

Directions

Your next stop is the Postal Savings Bank (24) which can be reached by heading west on Perczel Mór u. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.

24. Postal Savings Bank

Aerial view of the eye-catching facade of the Secessionist Postal Saving Bank in Budapest

It’s not easy to rank Budapest’s many architecturally splendid buildings but if I had to choose, the magnificent Postal Savings Bank building (Postatakarékpénztár) is my favorite one.

I may be a little biased in my selection because it was built in the Secessionist style, which happens to be my preferred architectural style. The building was completed in 1901 and was designed by Hungarian architect Ödön Lechner. 

Commonly referred to as the “Hungarian Gaudi”, Lechner was known for blending the curvilinear motifs of the Secession style, Hungarian folk art motifs, Zsolnay ceramics, and local materials to produce an eclectic visual style for his work.

The Postal Savings Bank building is regarded as Lechner’s tour de force and is a work of art, encapsulated by the fabulous curvature and riotous colors of the polychromatic roof.

The facade experiments with shapes and ornamentation, combining ceramic, brick, tile, iron, and glass. Look for the bees that seem to climb up the building’s green and gold facade toward the yellow ceramic beehives, a great metaphor for saving money and a fitting symbol for a bank. 

Unfortunately, much of the building’s detail is lost from the street view unless you have a pair of binoculars. When Lechner was asked why he focused so much effort on the roof details, which no one could see, he is said to have replied, “The birds will see it.”

Directions

Your next stop is the Statue of Imre Nagy (25). To get there, backtrack on Perczel Mór u, walk through Freedom Square, and head northwest on Vécsey u until you see the statue. You’ll be walking a distance of 400 m.

25. Statue of Imre Nagy

The life-size statue of Imgre Nagy, former Hungarian prime minister, in Budapest

The Statue of Imre Nagy is an unusual one showing the former prime minister in the middle of a footbridge. Here, he is shown standing pensively with his raincoat, trilby hat, and umbrella looking slimmer than he was in life.

Although Nagy is now thought of as an anti-communist hero, he was actually a lifelong communist and in the 1930s, he allegedly even worked for the Soviet secret police. Nagy was the reform Communist who became Prime Minister during the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and was shot in secret two years afterward. 

Nagy was rediscovered as a hero in the final days of Communist rule in Hungary in 1989. His exhumation and official funeral in 1989 was a symbol of the rebirth of Hungary and the final rejection of the communist dictatorship.

Directions

Your next stop is the Museum of Ethnography (26). To get there, first turn left onto Báthory utca and then turn right onto Kossuth Lajos tér. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.

26. Museum of Ethnography

The stunning Neo-Renaissance building of the Museum of Ethnography in Budapest

The Museum of Ethnography (Néprajzi Múzeum) is housed in a sprawling Neo-Renaissance building that was once the home of the Palace of Justice.

It was constructed between 1893 and 1896 and the building’s design was the first runner-up for the Parliament building. Until 1945 it served as the Supreme Court and later became home to the Museum of Ethnography. 

The Museum of Ethnography’s facade is dominated by a vast portico crowned by two towers. Its gable is topped by the figure of the Roman goddess of justice riding in a chariot drawn by three horses. may notice the resemblance to the Berlin Reichstag.

One of the highlights of its interior is the lofty, gilded main hall, whose ceiling bears a fresco of the goddess Justitia surrounded by allegories of Justice, Peace, Revenge, and Sin.

Little visited by tourists, the Museum of Ethnography is actually one of the finest museums in Budapest. The permanent exhibit holds a plethora of Hungarian historical artifacts reflecting the rural folk culture of Hungary between the 18th and 20th centuries.

The Museum of Ethnography is currently relocating to a new location soon and is presently closed. After the move, the building will be reclaimed by the Supreme Court of Hungary.

Directions

Your next stop is Kossuth Square (27) which can be reached by backtracking a little down Kossuth Lajos tér.

27. Kossuth Square

The vast Kossuth Square in Budapest

Kossuth Square (Kossuth Tér) is peppered with interesting monuments and packed with Hungarian history. The square itself has undergone a complete makeover in recent years and is now more spacious, cleaner, and vehicle free.

It is surrounded by splendid buildings on all sides including the lovely Ministry of Agriculture, which was the second-runner up for the Parliament building.

At the end of the square you’ll see a stony monument to the square’s namesake, Lajos Kossuth, who led the 1848 Revolution against the Habsburgs. Kossuth is flanked by his fellow revolutionaries such as  István Széchenyi, Lajos Batthyány, Bertalan Szemere, Ferenc Deák, and Lázár Mészáro looking downcast by their defeat in 1849.

Directions

Your next stop is the Hungarian Parliament Building (28) which lies just beside Kossuth Square.

28. Hungarian Parliament Building

The front side of the beautiful Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest

The stunning Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház) is definitely one of the three most beautiful parliament buildings in the world, if not the most beautiful. Conceived to celebrate the Hungarian millennium year of 1896, 17 long years were spent constructing the building which was finally completed in 1902.

It was designed in Neo-Gothic fashion and bears a strong resemblance to the Palace of Westminster in London. The one weakness of the design was the white limestone of the exterior, which has been degraded by the elements and pollution; since 1925 it has required almost constant cleaning and replacement.

When you see the Hungarian Parliament Building up close, you’ll realize how immense it really is. It sprawls for 268 meters along the Danube embankment and measures 118 meters in width. It is arranged around ten central courtyards and contains more than 20 kilometers of corridors, as well as 691 rooms!

To fully appreciate its splendor and to understand why it is Budapest’s top icon, you have to see it from the opposite bank of the Danube River or from the water—especially in the late-afternoon sunlight.

The lit-up exterior of the Hungarian Parliament Building in the evening across the Danube

The building’s facade is decorated with numerous gargoyles, thin-white Gothic pinnacles, and 88 statues of Hungarian rulers. The magnificent 96-meter high dome marks the central point of the Parliament Building.

One interesting aspect about the building is that it is made entirely with Hungarian materials, except for the eight rose-colored pillars situated next to the main staircase which were imported from Sweden. 

The Parliament Building’s exterior is only eclipsed by the gilded and marbled interior, filled with extraordinary murals, paintings, statues, and ornately crafted floors, walls, and windows. The interior is also home to the Hungarian Crown Jewels – the Crown of St. Stephen and the Royal Sceptre which are kept in the spectacular Domed Hall.

Directions

Your next stop is the Attila József Statue (29). To get there, head south on Kossuth Lajos tér, turn left toward Id. Antall József rkp/Pesti alsó rkp and then left onto Id. Antall József rkp/Pesti alsó rkp. You’ll be walking a distance of 400 m.

29. Attila József Statue

Statue of Attila József, a famous Hungarian poet near the Parliament in Budapest

Attila József was one of the greatest Hungarian poets of the 20th century. A staunch admirer of Marxist ideology and champion of the proletariat, he wrote of love and despair and his words perfectly expressed the alienation felt by individuals in the modern age.

At age 32 he threw himself in front of an oncoming train. His ignominious death in 1937 was believed to be a political protest against the evolving authoritarian rule that was laying the groundwork for Nazism in pre-WWII Hungary. Today, his birthday (April 11) is celebrated as National Hungarian Poetry Day.

The life-size Attila József Statue (József Attila-szobor) shows him sitting on the stairs gazing intently at the Danube River. His shirtsleeves are rolled up and he is holding a hat in his hand while a crumpled coat lies at his side.

This sculpture is said to have been inspired by one of his poems, By the Danube. It presents another great photo-op!

Directions

Your next stop is the “Shoes on the Danube Bank” memorial (30). To get there, just head south on Id. Antall József rkp/Pesti alsó rkp. You’ll be walking a distance of 200 m.

30. Shoes on the Danube Bank

Cast-iron shoes of the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial in Budapest

The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a series of cast iron shoes laid out on the Pest side of the Danube River Bank. This poignant memorial commemorates the Hungarians Jews who were shot dead by marksmen of the Arrow Cross, a Hungarian far-right fascist organization, at the very same spot during World War II.

While the Nazis’ puppet government sent thousands of Jews to concentration camps, it publicly murdered scores of Jews all over Budapest. 3500 men, women, and even children were forced to take off their clothes and footwear before being shot at the edge of the river!

It was convenient to throw them into the Danube because the river quickly carried the bodies away. During these terrible winter days of 1944-1945, the Danube River was referred to as “the Jewish Cemetery.”

60 pairs of 1940s-style shoes, true to life in size and detail, some torn, some misaligned, are arranged haphazardly depicting the commotion and grief when people were summoned to be shot. At the time, shoes were a prized commodity and the murderers were quite aware of that, so they would trade the shoes on the black market or wear them themselves.

Directions

Your next stop is the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (31). To get there, head south on Id. Antall József rkp./Pesti alsó rkp, take the stairs toward Széchenyi rkp, turn left onto Széchenyi rkp and finally turn right onto Vigyázó Ferenc u. You’ll be walking a distance of 400 m.

31. Hungarian Academy of Sciences

The beautiful Neo-Renaissance building of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

The stately Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Magyar Tudományos Akadémia) is one of the most beautiful buildings along the Danube. Completed in 1865, this Neo-Renaissance building sports a rich facade boasting attractive statues representing six disciplines of knowledge—history, law, linguistics, mathematics, philosophy, and sciences.

Statues of renowned thinkers such as Newton, Descartes, and Révay can be seen on the corners of the building.

Directions

Your next stop is the Gresham Palace (32). To get there, head south on Széchenyi rkp and then walk through the park. You’ll be walking a distance of 200 m.

32. Gresham Palace

Budapest attractions: The spectacular Gresham Palace, an elegant Art Nouveau building

One of the major sightseeing attractions of this self-guided walking tour of Budapest, the Gresham Palace (Gresham Palota) is one of the city’s architectural jewels. This Art Nouveau building, one of the most elegant and magnificent edifices in the city, stands as one of the finest in the world.

Commissioned by the London-based Gresham Life Insurance Company in 1904, it was completed in 1907 and is named after the financier Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange in London. It was badly damaged in World War II, the building lay in tatters for decades before it was immaculately restored to its original grandeur.

Gresham Palace’s exterior reeks of opulence and is a brilliant embodiment of Secessionist architecture. The sinuous curves, flowing lines, organic themes, beautiful ironwork, and ornamental decorations inspired by floral motifs are just amazing. Keep an eye out for the bust of Sir Thomas Gresham at the top of the building.

Today, the Gresham Palace is home to the upscale Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel. Members of the public are permitted to walk inside and admire the many architectural Art Nouveau embellishments. The foyer is exquisitely tiled in subtle grays, with wrought-iron peacock gates.

Directions

Your next stop is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (33). To get there, just walk back through the park. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.

33. Széchenyi Chain Bridge

A pair of imposing Stone Lions at the start of Szechenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest

The majestic Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd) is one of Budapest’s must-see sights and famous landmarks.

It occupies a special place in the history of Budapest and in the hearts of its denizens due to it having the distinction of being the first permanent crossing to link Buda and Pest, which were separate cities at the time.

Until the mid-19th century, only pontoon barges spanned the Danube between Buda and Pest. In the winter, the pontoons had to be pulled in, leaving locals to rely on ferries or a frozen river.

After Count István Széchenyi was stranded for a week due to inclement weather and ended up missing his father’s funeral, he commissioned its construction. The bridge was constructed between 1842 and 1849 and was named in honor of Széchenyi himself.

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge was also notable in the abolition of feudal privilege, as the aristocracy (hitherto exempt from taxes) were also obliged to pay the toll to cross it. The bridge spans a length of 375 meters across the Danube and its two bridge towers are decorated with the Hungarian coat of arms.

Like all of the city’s bridges, the Wehrmacht blew up the Chain Bridge in 1945, in a bid to hamper the progress of the Red Army. The bridge was subsequently rebuilt after the war and opened in 1949.

The magnificently lit-up Szechenyi Chain Bridge at night

A pair of imposing stone lions guard the bridge on either side. At first glance, it might seem as though the lions don’t have tongues, but a closer inspection will reveal they do.

Due to its perfect location in the city center, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge is most beautiful at night when thousands of lights adorning it glitter like a chandelier.

Directions

Your next stop is the Zero Kilometer Stone (34). To get there, just walk across Chain Bridge and enter the roundabout on your left. You’ll be walking a distance of 400 m.

34. Zero Kilometer Stone

The spindle-shaped Zero Kilometre Stone in Budapest. PC: Anna Tereshchenko - Dreamstime.com

The Zero Kilometer Stone („0” kilométerkő) is a rather odd-looking spindle-shaped structure.

This 3-meter tall limestone sculpture is actually an elongated zero and marks the reference point from which all road distances to Budapest are measured in the country. There’s nothing special about the stone as it has no embellishments but it’s rather popular with tourists.

Fun Fact

The Budapest Metro is the oldest underground railway in continental Europe dating back to 1896, and is the second oldest in the world after London.

Directions

Your next stop is the Castle Hill Funicular (35) which is just behind the Zero Kilometer Stone.

35. Castle Hill Funicular

A descending wooden carriage of the Castle Hill Funicular in Budapest

The Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló) runs between the Buda end of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and the top of Castle Hill right up to Buda Palace.

When it was inaugurated in 1870 it was only the second funicular in Europe. The funicular climbs a length of 95 meters at an inclination of 48% using two cars.

During World War II, the funicular was destroyed by a shell in 1945. Fortunately, it was restored in the 1980s and reopened in 1986. I really love the wooden carriages, which are replicas of the originals, that are now lifted by an electric winch rather than a steam engine.

They’re step-shaped to provide as many people as possible a panoramic view over the river and Pest. Riding on the century-old funicular is one of the best things to do in Budapest.

The Castle Hill Funicular is open daily from 07:30-22:00. A single ticket costs 1400 HUF while a return ticket costs 2000 HUF.

Directions

Your next stop is the Turul Bird Statue (36). To get there, you can either take the funicular to go up if you want to avoid the climb or walk. If you prefer to walk, head south on Sikló u and follow the winding path up the hill. You’ll be walking a distance of 350 m.

36. Turul Bird Statue

The humoungous Turul Bird Statue in Budapest

The Turul Bird Statue can be found perched on a pedestal high above a wall to the east of the Hapsburg Steps near Buda Castle. Often mistaken for a ferocious-looking eagle, the Turul is a Hungarian mythological bird.

The Turul Statue was cast in 1905 and features the large bird of prey with outstretched wings and a sword in its talons. In Magyar mythology, the Turul appeared to Emese (a descendant of Attila the Hun) telling her she was pregnant with Álmos, the future father of Árpád, who led the Magyar tribes into the Carpathian Basin.

The Turul is also said to have accompanied their raids on Europe and dropped its sword in what is now modern-day Budapest, indicating to the Magyars that the area was to be their homeland. The legend of the Turul has persisted over the centuries and today it is a symbol of Hungarian identity and pride.

Directions

Your next stop is the Buda Castle (37) which is just next to the statue.

37. Buda Castle

View of the massive Buda Castle from across the Danube River

Buda Castle (Budavári Palota) occupies a commanding position on top of Castle Hill. To say that the castle had a troublesome history is putting it mildly.

It has been razed and rebuilt six times in the last seven centuries mirroring the ups and downs of Hungary’s fortunes. Today, it is also sometimes referred to as The Royal Palace (Királyi Palota)

The first fortifications and dwellings of Buda Castle were erected by Béla IV after the Mongol invasion of 1241–42 and subsequent kings added to it. The castle reached its zenith in the 15th century when it was one of the grandest Renaissance palaces in Europe.

After the long Turkish occupation, which had left the complex completely in ruins, the Habsburgs built a smaller Baroque-style palace. The present form of Buda Castle was rebuilt after suffering heavy damage in World War II.

It’s a loose rebuilding of previous versions and is rather austere and soulless compared to its predecessors. It lacks authenticity and the interior is totally devoid of any grand ornamentation. Nonetheless, the castle’s more than 300-meter long facade facing the Danube is quite impressive as is its imposing Neoclassical dome.

Buda Castle is now home to the National Library and two museums, the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Its walking terrace provides some of the best views of the city.

Directions

Your next stop is the Matthias Fountain (38). To get there, head south through the castle and then turn right into the courtyard. You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.

38. Matthias Fountain

Things to see in Budapest: The ornate Matthias Fountain within the Buda Castle complex

The lovely Matthias Fountain (Mátyás kút) is one of my personal favorite points of interest along this Budapest walking tour. This flamboyant and ornate fountain lies in the northwest courtyard of the Royal Palace.

It was designed in 1904 and is dedicated to the great King Matthias Corvinus (Mátyás). A quintessential Renaissance king, King Matthias is generally considered to be the greatest of all Hungarian kings.

Legend has it that when King Matthias was on an incognito hunting trip, a beautiful peasant girl came across him by chance. She, Ilonka, oblivious to the fact that he was the king, fell in love instantly and him with her. He didn’t reveal his identity and invited Ilonka to visit him later in Buda.

When Ilonka traveled to Buda and saw Matthias in full regalia on horseback, she was shocked to discover she had fallen in love with the king. Being a poor peasant girl, Ilonka became convinced that she could never wed King Matthias and walked home despondent with grief. Shortly after, she died of a broken heart. 

The fountain depicts a hunting scene and shows King Matthias disguised as a hunter, holding a crossbow in his hand and standing proudly near a slain deer. At his feet are three large hunting dogs accompanied by Matthias’s trumpeting shield-bearer and gamekeeper.

Beneath the left-hand Corinthian columns is the seated figure of Italian court scribe Galeotto Marzio who initially recorded the narrative of Ilonka. The figure of the young Ilonka, stroking her tame doe, is beneath the columns on the right.

Matthias Fountain is probably the most photographed statue in the city and is often referred to as the “Trevi Fountain of Budapest”. Popular folklore says that anyone wishing to revisit Budapest should toss some coins into the fountain to be granted a safe return to the city.

Directions

Your next stop is the Church of St. Mary Magdalene (39). To get there, head north on Szent György u, turn right onto Dísz tér, turn left to stay on Dísz tér and continue walking north onto Úri u. You’ll be walking a distance of 1.1 km.

39. Church of St. Mary Magdalene

The Baroque tower of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Budapest

The Church of St. Mary Magdalene (Mária Magdolna Templom) is one of Budapest’s oldest churches having been built between the 13th and 15th centuries in Gothic style. Although it doesn’t look like it today, the church was very important to Budapest’s citizens in the past.

In medieval times this was where Hungarian residents worshipped (Germans used the Mátthias Church). It was converted into a mosque when the Turks took possession of the city, but it was severely damaged in 1686 when the city was liberated.

It was then taken over by an order of Franciscan monks who added a Baroque church and tower. The church was badly destroyed by bombs in World War II and now lies in ruins except for the Baroque tower and a reconstructed Gothic window.

After being closed to the public for decades, the tower of the Church of Mary Magdalene has opened its doors to visitors again. It offers an extraordinary panorama with views of the most important buildings in Budapest.

Directions

Your next stop is the Holy Trinity Square (40). To get there, head northeast on Kapisztrán tér, turn right onto Országház u, and continue onto Szentháromság tér. You’ll be walking a distance of 550 m.

40. Holy Trinity Square

The marvellous Baroque-style Plague Column in the Holy Trinity Square in Budapest

Holy Trinity Square (Szentháromság Tér) forms the historic heart of the Castle District. It takes its name from the Baroque Holy Trinity Column lying in the center of the square. This ornate column was erected in 1713 in thanksgiving for the abatement of two outbreaks of the plague, which struck the inhabitants of Buda in 1691 and 1709.

The column’s central section is dotted with angelic figures surrounded by swirling clouds while a scene showing people dying from the Black Death appears on the plinth.

Holy Trinity Square is also the location of the former Town Hall of Buda, a lovely white Baroque building and the medieval-looking Neo-Gothic building of the Hungarian Culture Foundation.

Directions

Your next stop is Matthias Church (41) which lies just beside the Holy Trinity Square.

41. Matthias Church

The eclectic exterior of the iconic Matthias Church in Budapest

Originally founded by King Béla IV in the mid-13th century, the Matthias Church (Mátyás Templom) is officially named the Church of Our Lady and is a symbol of Buda’s Castle District. The church takes its name after the 15th-century king Matthias Corvinus who added a royal oratory and was twice married here.

Like many old churches in Budapest Matthias Church has a history of ruination and has frequently been restored, repaired, and remodeled in whatever architectural style was in vogue at the time.

The original edifice was Romanesque in style and today’s version is the Neo-Gothic structure from the 19th century. It was pummeled in World War II and underwent significant restoration. 

The exterior of the church shines due to its frilly, flamboyant steeple, and the giant rose window over the main portal. Stealing the limelight, however, is the spectacular multi-colored diamond-patterned tiled roof. Matthias Church’s interior is positively overwhelming with its geometric motifs, gilded altars, and magnificent stained glass windows.

Directions

Your next stop is Fisherman’s Bastion (42) which lies just behind Matthias Church.

42. Fisherman’s Bastion

The picturesque towers and turrets of the Fisherman's Bastion viewing terrace

We’ve now come to the final stop of our free self-guided Budapest walking tour. The Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) is an ornate viewing terrace that is one of Budapest’s most visited sights.

The bastion sits on the site of Buda’s old defensive walls and a former fish market. In the Middle Ages, the ramparts were allegedly guarded by fishermen who ran the nearby fish market-hence the name.

The bastion was constructed between 1895 and 1902 and is purely an aesthetic addition to Castle Hill, functioning as a perfect foil to the Matthias Church. With its round Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque towers and undulating white rampart of cloisters and stairways, it looks like something out of a Disney film. 

The magnificent seven white stone towers represent the seven Magyar leaders and their tribes that conquered the Carpathian Basin and settled down here in 896, which led to the founding of modern-day Hungary.

The conical towers are an allusion to the tribal tents of the early Magyars. The majestic double stairway, which connects the bastion with the streets below is adorned with reliefs of coats-of-arms and various motifs.

The entire structure is a photographer’s delight and you’ll be presented with ample opportunities for taking great selfies, all the while admiring great views across the Danube into Pest.

The Fisherman’s Bastion is open 24/7 throughout the year except for the upper terraces which are open from 9:00-19:00 or 9:00-20:00, depending on the time of the year.

It is free to walk around the ramparts and cloisters. There is a small charge of 1000 HUF to enter the upper-level terraces but it’s not really worth it in my opinion.

What Else to See in Budapest

Obviously, there is plenty more to see in Budapest than what we have covered in our walking tour. Places like the exciting Great Market Hall, the fantastic Memento Park, the serene Margaret Island, grungy ruin bars, more relaxing thermal baths, and excellent museums all deserve to be seen.

Where to Stay in Budapest

The selection of accommodation in Budapest is vast, and it’s possible to find something to suit all tastes and budgets. The greatest choice of hotels and hostels can be found in Pest where many hotels are literally only a few steps away from most of the major tourist attractions.

Even if you decide to stay in Buda or some of the other outer-lying suburbs, try and look for a place with good public transport connections.

Hostel: Wombats CITY Hostel, a great choice right in the heart of downtown

Budget: Medosz Hotel, solid option just off Andrássy Avenue

Mid-range: Hotel Zenit Budapest Palac, excellent choice on the Danube riverbank, close to the Chain bridge

Splurge: Hilton Budapest, a sumptuous choice on Buda next to Fisherman’s Bastion


Now, what do you think? Did you enjoy our self-guided walking tour of Budapest? Are there any other stops that we should be adding? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

About Mihir

Hi there, I'm Mihir! I was born in India, raised there and in Australia before spending nearly a decade in Finland. I suffer from chronic fernweh and am always looking forward to a new adventure. Besides traveling, my other loves are my beloved cats, architecture, art, beer, classic movies, history, cricket, and Australian Rules Football. Oh, there's also my partner in crime Jacky who's not too bad either 😉

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