Entering the city of Budapest by cruise ship is an unforgettable experience in and of itself. With cruise lines such as Viking River Cruises, Amadeus Rivercruises and U by Uniworld docking close to the iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge and with a view on the Citadella, you’ll be disembarking right in the splendorous centre of town.
What to Do in Budapest
Known for the grandeur of its architecture, its spas and its notorious nightlife, Budapest is one of the most popular destinations for Danube river cruises. In order to help you make the most of your stay – whether you’re spending a few days in the city upon arrival or are just stopping over – we have compiled our personal recommendations for what to see in Budapest for every taste and interest.
For party animals, there is an overview of the best Budapest nightlife; luxury travellers will appreciate our tips for Michelin-star restaurants and classy cocktail bars, and daytime explorers will love our pick of thermal baths, beautiful buildings and museums.
No matter how you’d like to spend your stay, our guide to Budapest can help. So, Üdvözöljük! That means: welcome!
Night owls and party goers will have a blast in Budapest, as nightlife is what this city does best. On top of famous festivals such as Sziget Festival, the pop-up garden pubs called ‘kerts’ and the Saturday spa parties at Szechenyi Baths and Lukacs Baths, there are plenty of permanent venues where you can dance the night away. Amongst our favourites are A38, a Ukrainian cargo ship docked in the Danube which hosts amongst others a music hall, roof terraces and bars; the city’s famous ‘ruin bars’. Built in Budapest’s nightlife area, District 7 (the old Jewish Quarter), inside the ruins that remained after the atrocities of WWII, have brought new life to the abandoned Jewish neighbourhood since the foundation of Szimpla Kert in 2002.
Since the opening of the first ruin bar, many have sprung up inside unassuming buildings that you wouldn’t recognise as clubs from the outside. It’s only when you enter the inner courtyards that you’ll fall into a rabbit hole of bustling bars full of artsy decorations and dancing crowds. During your stay in Budapest, make sure to visit at least one of them!
The best ruin bars in Budapest
- Szimpla Kert: the first ruin bar in Budapest. This is a wonderful warren of cool little corners to sit with your friends; you’ll find brick walls full of funky objects, salvaged lamps and alternative art, as well as busy bars serving beer and spirits. The setting of Szimpla Kert is an experience in itself, and the nightlife is everything you could have wished for
Tip: have a little look around to find the disused Trabant car, which is a much-loved photo object here!
- Instant Club: when turning into the desolated alleyway where Instant is located, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve come to the wrong place. But once you’ve found Instant’s hidden entrance, you’ll find an entire apartment building full of cocktails, clubbing and former rooms with furniture found on the streets
- Fogas Ház: set in a former dental laboratory, Fogas Ház (literally translates to: ‘House of Teeth’) welcomes you with a swinging acrobat doll, rainbow colours and fairy lights, and that should set the scene for the rest of your experience. Have a relaxed drink in the courtyard or dance the night away in one of the adjoining bars
- Corvin Teto: what makes Corvin Teto stand out from the crowd is its grand roof terrace with amazing views over Buda and Pest, as well as the impressive ceiling in the main hall, which is made of 1800 LED lights. It is one of the lesser-known ruin bars of Budapest and has a more ‘underground’ vibe
- Mazel Tov: one of the newest additions to Budapest’s ruin bars, Mazel Tov serves delicious Jewish cuisine by day and features DJs and entertainment by night. This venue is more upmarket than most of the other ruin bars, but stays truest to the original roots of the Old Jewish Quarter.
If you’ve grown hungry after a long night of standing (or dancing) on your feet, find the nearest lángos place and try the typical Hungarian deep-fried flatbread, featuring toppings such as cheese, garlic sauce, sour cream and sausage. It’s guaranteed to soak up all the alcohol!
If you’d rather explore Budapest during the day, we’d recommend visiting one of the city’s thermal baths, taking in some of the awe-inspiring architectural highlights, and perhaps visiting one of the marvellous museums.
A pick of Budapest’s thermal spas
- Széchenyi Thermal Bath: top of the list is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, the most well-known spa in Budapest. Set in a beautifully decorated building in Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance style, it has a large outdoor pool area and Saturday spa parties in both summer and winter
- Gellért Baths: one of our favourite spas to visit in the summer, the Gellért baths have a magnificent, multi-story outside area as well as beautiful inside pools with intricately decorated columns, stained glass ceilings and mosaic floors
- Lukács Baths: a smaller, well-maintained spa on the Buda side of the city, the Lukács Baths are well worth a visit for those who prefer a calmer and more contained thermal complex
Budapest’s most beautiful buildings
- The Houses of Parliament: if there is one building that summarises the grandeur of Budapest’s architecture, it’s the parliament building. Find it along the river banks, south of Margit-sziget (the island in the middle of the Danube) but north of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge
- The Central Market Hall: the Great Market Hall is where Budapest’s inhabitants come to get their groceries from the vegetable, fish and meat stalls. Equally grand from the inside as from the outside, the Art Nouveau building provides tourists an authentic taste of local life
- Matthias Church: this Catholic church is arguably the finest example of Gothic architecture in Budapest. Located in front of the Fisherman's Bastion – the panoramic viewing terrace on Budapest’s castle hill – Matthias Church is sure to impress with its towering white spire and colourful roof tiles
- Dohány Street Synagogue: marking the border of the Budapest Ghetto in WWII, the Dohány Street Synagogue is a place laden with history. It is the largest synagogue in Europe and the home of the Hungarian Jewish Museum. Its intricate ornamental detail is absolutely exquisite
- Budapest History Museum: learn more about the extensive history of the city you’re visiting on your river cruise at the Budapest History Museum, situated in Buda Castle, on top of the Castle Hill
- House of Terror: considered one of the most impactful museums in Budapest, the House of Terror commemorates the victims of the fascist and communist regimes that occupied Hungary in the 20th century. It is located inside the former headquarters of the communist secret police (ÁVH)
- Museum of Ethnography: the permanent exhibition at the Museum of Ethnography offers an interesting insight into the culture, traditions and ways of life of the Hungarian people who lived between the end of the 18th century and the start of WWI.
Luxury river cruisers can splash out in Budapest, as the city is home to four Michelin-star restaurants and decadent cocktail bars that will leave you with lasting memories. Explore the upmarket side of the city and mingle with affluent diners at the following venues.
Michelin-star restaurants in Budapest
- Onyx: considered one of the very best restaurants in Budapest, the Onyx is the only restaurant in town to boast two Michelin stars. Enjoy pan-European fine dining in an opulent interior with crystal chandeliers and white-gloved waiters
- Costes Restaurant: the first restaurant in Budapest to be awarded a Michelin star, back in 2010. The service is impeccable, the desserts delectable, and the prices prohibitive. Diners from all over the world travel to Budapest to treat their palates to Costes’ delightful dishes
- Costes Downtown: an offshoot of the original Costes Restaurant, Costes Downtown is the slightly more casual choice for those seeking out Michelin-star restaurants in Budapest’s enchanting city centre. The 6-course tasting menu is a reliable choice for gourmets
- Borkonyha (Winekitchen) Restaurant: serving a selection of over 200 Hungarian wines, Borkonyha is a nirvana for oenophiles. As the most reasonable-priced Michelin-star restaurant in Budapest, Borkonyha offers a colourful five-course tasting menu for the equivalent of €70 per person, excluding wine pairing.
Decadent cocktail bars in Budapest
- Bar Pharma: set in a pharmacy-inspired setting where alcohol is served in siphons and medication bottles, Bar Pharma is a small but exclusive cocktail club that serves some of the most creative cocktails in Budapest
- Boutiq’ Bar: nominated one of the world’s 50 best cocktail bars, Boutiq’ Bar is defined by its chic red décor, tiled bar and seemingly endless cocktail list made by knowledgeable mixologists
- Blue Fox The Bar: home of some of the most beautifully presented cocktails in Budapest, Blue Fox The Bar is truly a treat for luxury travellers. Head here for a laid-back night out in the heart of Budapest.
48 Hours in Budapest
If you’re visiting Budapest on a river cruise, you won’t have much more than 48 hours to spend in this opulent European city. In order to experience as much as possible, we recommend the following itinerary, which you can make by foot, taxi or public transport.
When you disembark at the cruise terminal, enjoy exploring around the river first. Take in the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, then cross the bridge to make your way up to the Fisherman’s Bastion, where you can find the Matthias church. From the Fisherman’s Bastion, head south towards Buda Castle, where you can visit the Budapest History Museum before resting your feet at the Rudas or Gellért baths, situated further south along the river.
Just across the bridge from the Gellért Baths, you can find the Central Market Hall, which may not be operational in the evening and on Sunday, but the building makes for a spectacular sight regardless. Up the road from the Central Market Hall, you can indulge in a Michelin-star meal at Costes Restaurant if you really want to splash out, or choose one of the more affordable alternatives around.
After dinner, head back to the cruise terminal or go for a cocktail before bed.
On day two, spend the afternoon visiting the House of Terror before heading into the bustling and eccentric Jewish Quarter. Admire the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe, before heading back to Mazel Tov for a delicious Jewish dinner.
From there, you should be all fuelled up for a great night out at one of the nearby ruin bars. Instant Club and Fogas Ház are located right next to Mazel Tov, but Szimpla Kert and Corvin Teto are also within walking distance. Dance the night away before departing the next day – just make sure not to miss the boat!
Budapest is a city that caters to every taste. Embark on an exciting adventure to the Hungarian capital with Emerald Waterways, Viking River Cruises or Uniworld. Need more advice about which cruise to choose? Ask our expert team at 0800 810 8220, or send us a message!