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  • Budapest-cityscape-nightfall - Budapest, Hungary, as night falls. A number of cruise lines offer river cruises down the Danube River.
  • St-Stephens-Basilica-Budapest - Inside ornate St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest, Hungary. See it on a river cruise down the Danube.
  • Budapest-Opera-House-ceiling - A capture of the decorative Opera House ceiling in Budapest, Hungary.
  • buda-castle-budapest-hungary - Buda Castle in Budapest, Hungary.
  • chain-bridge-budapest-hungary - The Chain Bridge over the Danube River in  Budapest, Hungary.
  • Viking-Longship-Aquavit-dining-in-Budapest - Have lunch on the deck of your Viking Longship while taking in the impressive architecture of the Parliament building in Budapest and other storied cities along the Danube.
  • Viking-Legend-Chain-Bridge-Budapest - Discover the famed Chain Bridge spanning the Danube River and connecting eastern and western Budapest, Hungary, during your sailing aboard a Viking river ship.
  • Budapest-Parliament-Building-golden-dome - The golden dome inside the Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary.
  • Synagogue-interior-Budapest - Inside the ornate Moorish-style Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest. It contains a synagogue, museum, cemetery and Holocaust memorial.
  • dancers-budapest-hungary - Traditional dancers in Budapest, Hungary.
  • hungarian-national-museum-budapest-hungary - Hungarian National Museum in Budapest, Hungary.
  • fisherman-bastion-budapest-hungary - Fisherman's Bastion on the Buda bank of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary.
  • parliament-budapest-hungary - The Parliament Building in Budapest, Hungary, built in a Gothic Revival style and opened in 1904, is a highlight of any river cruise along the Danube.
  • szavadsag-square-budapest-hungary - Szabadsag Square in Budapest, Hungary.
  • AmaLyra-Exterior-Budapest - Take a romantic cruise to Budapest aboard the luxury river cruise ship AmaLyra.
  • Uniworld-River-Duchess-in-Budapest - The luxury boutique ship River Duchess sails along the Danube River in historic Budapest.
  • budapest-parliament-building-night.jpg -  Parliament Building in the evening in Budapest, Hungary.
  • Viking-Longship-Budapest - Stop in the picturesque city of Budapest, Hungary, during a romantic  voyage of cultural immersion down the Danube aboard a Viking river ship.
  • Christmas-market-Budapest-1 - A Christmas market in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, a Roman Catholic church built in the late 1800s, in Budapest, Hungary.
  • st-stephen-basilica-budapest-hungary - St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest, Hungary.
  • River-Beatrice-budapest.jpg - A look at Uniworld's River Beatrice as she sails through historic Budapest.

Budapest travel guide: The pearl of the Danube

our guide

The vibe

As you enter vibrant and historic Budapest, it's only natural that your thoughts turn to Cold War intrigue, beautiful music and delicious wine. The towns of Buda and Pest, split by the Danube River but connected by eight magnificent bridges, combine to make one of Eastern Europe’s most striking cities. Budapest's evocative natural setting gave rise to its nickname, Pearl of the Danube. The city's culture, history and abundance of good food and wine elicited another nickname, Paris of the East.

From Roman times to the present, Budapest has been an important cultural and commercial crossroad. Spies have haunted its streets gathering secrets, and the music of Liszt and Bartok — Hungary's greatest composers — is known the world over. In 1987, Budapest was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrassy Avenue. Today, most historic buildings enjoy protected status, preserving centuries-old charm.

Budapest is one of the romantic cities in all of Europe and to visit without seeing its buildings and bridges illuminated in the evening is to miss the city at its most magical. Stroll along the Danube or stand on the deck of your ship. The Chain Bridge, its lights reflected in the water and the glowing city and monuments behind it, is one of Budapest's most evocative sights. 

River cruise ships that call on Budapest

  • AmaWaterways: AmaBella, AmaCerto, AmaDante, AmaDolce, AmaLyra, AmaPrima, AmaReina, AmaSerena, AmaSonata
  • Uniworld Boutique Cruises: River Beatrice, River Duchess, River Empress, River Princess, S.S. Maria Theresa
  • Viking River Cruises: Viking Aegir, Viking Alsvin, Viking Atla, Viking Baldur, Viking Bestla, Viking Bragi, Viking Eistla, Viking Embla, Viking Freya, Viking Gefjon, Viking Gullveig, Viking Ingvi, Viking Jarl, Viking Legend, Viking Lif, Viking Lofn, Viking Magni, Viking Mimir, Viking Modi, Viking Njord, Viking Odin, Viking Prestige, Viking Skadi, Viking Skirnir, Viking Tor, Viking Var, Viking Ve, Viking Vidar, VIking Vili

Top reasons to go

  • Stroll the banks of the Danube, humming LIszt's Hungarian Rhapsody.
  • Visit pedestrian-friendly Castle Hill, accessible only on foot or by taxi or public transport.
  • Savor pastries and coffee, a staple in the city since the days of the Ottomans, at one of Budapest's many cafes.
  • Enjoy the pulsating nightlife.
Fisherman's Bastion on the Buda bank of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary.
Dennis Jarvis / Creative Commons BY-SAFisherman's Bastion on the Buda bank of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary.

Top things to do & see

Walking around Budapest is a treat, from centuries-old cultural landmarks to thermal baths and majestic caves. 

Culture & history

A walk through Városliget City Park starts at the Millennium Monument in Heroes’ Square. A World Heritage Site, it’s one of the most visited monuments in Budapest. Then ascend Castle Hill, up narrow streets and stone steps to the walls of the Royal Palace and historic and sumptuously decorated Matthias Church. Dating to the 13th century, the church contains a replica of St. Stephen's Crown.

The Vajdahunyad Castle, a massive complex originally built of cardboard and wood for the 1896 world Exposition, became so popular it was rebuilt in stone and brick. Touching the pen on the statue of the Hungarian chronicler Anonymus is said to bring good luck.

Visit Fisherman’s Bastion on a clear day for spectacular far-reaching views. Built in 1905 on the site of a medieval fish market, the white-stoned building abounds with turrets, parapets, curved staircases and other Disneyesque projections. For lighted city views, nighttime entrance is free.

Amble through popular Memento Park for an outstanding outdoor display of communist-era statues of Marx, Engels, Lenin and others. The statues were removed from Budapest after communism’s collapse and placed in the park to inspire visitors to ponder the differences between dictatorship and democracy.

Inside the ornate Moorish-style Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest.
Dom Crossley / Creative Commons BY 2.0 Inside the ornate Moorish-style Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest.

Architecture

Budapest is rich in architecture. It is filled with beautiful squares, bridges and lush green parks. The buildings span architectural styles from the Renaissance to Art Nouveau. 

Construction of St. Stephen's Basilica, named for Hungary’s first Christian king, took 50 years and several architects. The work of many well-known Hungarian sculptors and painters is displayed inside. Ride an elevator upstairs for panoramic views. Evening organ concerts are a treat for lovers of classical music.

One of the most recognizable buildings in Budapest is the neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament, the largest building in Hungary as well as the oldest legislative building in Europe. Besides its standing as an architectural masterpiece, the Parliament is home to the Hungarian crown jewels, not to mention the half million precious stones and gold used to build it.

The Great Budapest Synagogue, also know as the Dohany Street Synagogue, is the largest in Europe and second largest in the world. Built between 1854 and 1859 in the Moorish Revival style, it stands 174 feet tall and has the capacity to hold nearly 3,000 people. The synagogue is also attached to a neighboring Jewish museum and cemetery.

Natural wonders

Budapest also has a great deal of natural beauty. It is distinguished by natural thermal baths and hydrothermal caves with a labyrinth of beautiful stalactite formations.

Budapest is one of the world’s few cities where more than 100 caves can be found in the municipal area. Located in the Buda Hills on the eastern bank of the Danube, many of these majestic caves can be seen on guided tours and are a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike.

Other attractions

Hungary has been famous for horses and horsemanship for centuries. The vast grasslands of Puszta, Hungary’s great plain, are home to the country's powerful horses. Equestrian prowess is a national pride, and horsemanship exhibitions by Csikós wranglers should be part of any visit to this area.

Shopping

A must-see is Pest’s Központi Vásárcsarnokmarket, the indoor Central Market Hall. As you explore the several levels of indoor shopping, look for Hungarian sausages, peasant embroidery, folk textiles and, of course, paprika, a Hungarian spice created by grinding red peppers into paste. Easy to pack for souvenirs and gifts, paprika is sold at seven levels of flavor, from sweet paprika for stews and goulash to fiery hot.

Follow the market with upscale shopping on nearby Váci Street, perhaps for some exquisite Herend porcelain, an elegant Hungarian treasure.

Best bets for dining

St. Stephen Plaza and Liszt Ferenc tér and Nagymező utca off Andrássy út offer numerous cafes and restaurants to enjoy local culinary specialties. Many historic Budapest coffeehouses, the center of cultural life, are now restored. Try Gerbeaud in Vorosmarty Square or Ruszwurm in Castle Square. Pastry decisions like Dobos or Sacher torta, or a strudel come first, followed by thoughts of coffee.

For a pricey but well-regarded meal, Sunday brunch at Gundel near Varosliget can be a good value. Trofea Grill's four locations are also highly regarded for their all-you-can-eat (and drink) buffets. For traditional Hungarian food and international dishes with a panoramic view, seek out one of the restaurant and bar boats on the Pest side of the Danube.

Budapest’s wine cellar system, 250 years old, winds some 18 miles inside a limestone hill. After your tour, taste Tokay, Hungary’s famous dessert wine, or the “Bull’s Blood” red wine.

Szabadsag Square in Budapest, Hungary.
Top Budapest / Creative Commons BYSzabadsag Square in Budapest, Hungary.

Need to know

Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens need a passport to fly in and out of Europe. Passengers on river cruises most likely do not need to carry their passport with them when on shore for the day, but check with your cruise line for its specific rules and requirements. 

Language: Hungarian

Tipping: Tipping is expected in Hungary for taxi drivers and servers in restaurants, typically 10%. Many restaurant owners keep tips, however, and don't pass them on to the servers. Giving cash directly to the server is the best way to ensure that he or she receives it. Not tipping is considered rude or the assumption is that the service was terrible. 

Currency: The Hungarian Forint. Although Hungary is part of the European Union, it does not use the euro as its currency.

Safety: Pickpockets and purse snatchers are common in Budapest, especially in heavy tourist areas and on trains. The U.S. Embassy in Budapest has reported that passengers on river cruises, particularly older women, have been targets of these types of thieves in the sightseeing areas around the Danube. Several types of scams have also been reported, such as people on the street trying to get tourists to change money and men pretending to be police asking to see tourists' wallets. In both cases the tourists lose most or all of their money. For more on warnings that will keep you aware and prepared, go to the embassy's tourist advisory page at http://hungary.usembassy.gov/tourist_advisory.html

Your take

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Overheard

“Sprawling across the banks of the Danube River, the city is really two towns in one. The west side is stately Buda, with its Castle Hill and remnants of Hungary's glory days. On the flats across the river is Pest, with prickly-spired buildings and the commercial town center.”

Rick Steves

“Post-Iron Curtain Budapest has emerged as an animated metropolis. An appealing, youthful energy increasingly arises in the city, at new restaurants like Szimply and Margá Bisztro. Visitors can peruse Hungarian-made jewelry and quirky housewares at Velvet Chemistry and Szimpla Design Shop.”

New York Times

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