The First Timer’s Guide to Budapest: Top Things to Do & Best Places to Eat

I’ve been to Budapest twice and each time was fascinated by the city’s rich history, architecture and romantic air. It’s a city I would not mind visiting again and again.

Budapest is packed with things to see and do. I suggest exploring the city on foot as much as possible – you’ll find that the main highlights are not too far from each other. Alternatively, you can use the affordable and efficient public transport system  (tram, buses, metro) which is very tourist-friendly.

This guide covers all the top things to do for any first-timer to Budapest. I have also included some of the most popular and personal favorite places to eat.

Top Things to Do in Budapest

Go on a Leisurely Stroll along Pest Embankment

A walk along the Danube embankment from the Elizabeth Bridge to Parliament is a great way to appreciate the local architecture – the star of the show being of course the Hungarian Parliament. The area around the parliament hosts several of the city’s most important buildings not to be missed, such as St Stephen’s Basilica and the Hungarian State Opera.

Hungarian Parliament

Have a Drink at a Ruin Pub

A taste of Budapest nightlife wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a ruin bar. Ruin bars are unpretentious spaces (usually a run-down but hip old building) where you can enjoy a drink, see a live performance, and mingle with locals as well as fellow tourists.

I enjoyed my time at Szimpla Kert, one of the biggest and most famous ruin bars in Budapest located in the 7th district.

Enjoy the Best Views of Budapest from Fishermen’s Bastion

A visit to Castle Hill on the Buda side, in particular the Fishermen’s Bastion is a must for any first-time visitor. Just make sure you get here early in the morning as it tends to get crowded later on.

Stunning views from Buda

Browse Local Produce & Condiments at the Central Market Hall

The Central Market Hall is Budapest’s main produce market and the best place to browse local delicacies. If you’re an avid cook, here is where you can find different varieties of Hungarian paprika. We also grabbed some fruit on the go – fresh, delicious, and cheap!

Indulge in Dobos Torte

Dobos Torte, or Dobosh is a Hungarian sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel. It is absolutely delicious and deserves a special mention.

I tried Dobos Torte for the first time at Café Parisi* and I loved it. Cake, tea, and live piano music… What else could I ask for? Café Gerbeaud is also a famous place to enjoy this cake.

*Update: as of August 2021, Cafe Parisi sadly is permanently closed

Dobos Torte at Cafe Parisi

Learn about Budapest’s Fascinating History on a Walking Tour

For those who want to learn about Hungary’s history and culture from a local, I recommend spending a morning or afternoon on one of the many themed daily walking tours available during spring and summer. I’ve participated in one tour about Communism in Budapest where we were able to discover hidden gems, symbols, and remnants from that era. It allowed me to see the city from a different (and far more interesting) perspective.

The meeting point for these walks is the fountain in Vorosmarty ter between 10 am and 11 am – it is fairly easy to find one to join on the spot.

Budapest Streets

Where to Eat in Budapest

Here are some of the restaurants that we tried and liked during our visit.

Hungarikum Bisztró | Homely dining room with checkered tablecloths known for goulash & pork dishes.

Első Pesti Rétesház | Amazing selection of strudel (some say the best in town) with live cooking. You can either dine-in or grab one on the go.

Szimply – Breakfast & Brunch | Healthy and delicious breakfast menu served with great aesthetic (read: totally Instagrammable)

Il Terzo Cerchio | Amazing, truly Italian thin-crust pizza. Perfect place to have dinner before heading to Szimpla Kert for a drink (they are 3 blocks away from each other)

Artist Cafe | An emblematic café built in 1898, home to novelists, artists, musicians. Apparently, Kurt Cobain hung out here in 1989!

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