We spent a month in Budapest and loved seeing all the main sites, but some of our favorite parts were the unusual things to do in Budapest.
Of course, you will want to see the Parliament building and Buda Castle. You’ll walk along the Fisherman’s Bastion and admire the Gothic Mattias Cathedral. I recommend all those places in my itinerary for three days in Budapest.
Then, check out these other unique and fun things to do in Budapest. I tried to pick things that you really can’t do anywhere else and that get you a little off the beaten path.
I don’t know if there are any secret places left in this city of around two million people. Hopefully, my selections and activities are a little less crowded and hectic. At the very least, they are worth seeing when you are in Budapest.
Budapest Off The Beaten Path
- Hike in the hills
- Take a cooking class
- See Soviet statues
- Sip hot cocoa at a cat cafe
- Pay homage to the King of Pop
- Visit a fairytale library
- Explore a cave
- Star in a photo shoot
- Dance and drink (or just visit) a ruin bar
Hike in the Hills Around Budapest
Hiking near Budapest is a great way to get out of the city for a few hours (or days) and get to know the Hungarian hills and countryside.
We hiked with Gyuri from Outdoor Adventures Hungary and had an excellent experience. We chose the One Day Wonder Hike, which gets you to a viewpoint of the Danube Bend – a picturesque bend in the Danube River. Then, with a series of ladders and metal stairways, and trail, you work your way past waterfalls and through a beautiful oak valley.
On the day we went, there was a freak wind storm – the first time for Gyuri – and we had to turn around. Safety first! We could hear oak trees crashing to the ground in the valley and were whipped around pretty well. It was exciting and thrilling, but you’d hate to have an oak tree fall on one of your kids.
Outdoor Adventures Hungary offers other hikes – both more extreme and mellower. If we had time, we would have loved to to the hike in the Buda Hills to get another perspective of the city, but still get into nature.
There are other people guiding hikes near Budapest, but Outdoor Adventures Hungary is a top notch, professional company. They pick you up right from your door in a nice van and get you to the trailhead. Gyuri is a certified guide and knows this country well. And they’ll do custom routes depending on what you are looking for.
(We were hosted by Outdoor Adventures Hungary, but my opinions are my own, of course.)
Take a Hungarian Cooking Class
Another one of the cool things to do in Budapest is to take a cooking class. Learning about local foods and traditions is a great way to get to know a culture. We are always looking for an “in” to the people and places we visit and food seems to be a good one.
We took a Hungarian food tour and cooking class with Easy Cooking Budapest, and it was one of our trip highlights. The four-hour session started with a tour of the Grand Market Hall (also called the Central Market Hall). While we had walked through the beautiful market before, sampling the food, learning about the history, and meeting vendors, made the experience so much better.
We took a taxi to the Easy Cooking Budapest kitchen and our guide and instructor, Kata, shared a local dink called palinka, and got us started chopping vegetables. We made a full Hungarian meal, complete with appetizer and dessert. It turned out delicious! And the bottle of Hungarian wine was a nice touch.
One of the things I appreciated about this cooking class in Budapest is that they catered to our dietary request. The boys and I made vegetarian versions of the entree, while Henry had meat with his. They can also cater to allergies and food intolerances and choose the dishes based on seasonality. (Plus, they only use free-range eggs and meat.)
Overall, this was one of the best things to do in Budapest to better understand the culture, the role of food in Hungarian life, and to have a scrumptious meal. We just had a delightful time.
(We were hosted by Easy Cooking Budapest, but my opinions are my own, of course.)
See Soviet Statues at Memento Park
One of the more unusual places of interest in Budapest is Memento Park. It’s a little bit of a haul to get out there, but worth it.
Memento Park is basically a graveyard for gigantic Soviet statues and propaganda pieces that were taken down after the Soviets left in the 90s. It’s kind of creepy, but definitely gives you a bit of a perspective of what it was like to live under Soviet rule.
Make sure you buy the guidebook (around $4 or $5). Anders and I read about each statue or plaque as we came to it. There is no way you can get as much out of the visit just looking at them without knowing who they are, where they came from, and what their background is.
We learned a lot about the people and what life was like from reading the book as we walked around.
Make sure you go into the rooms below Lenin’s Boots to see the weird baby bust of Lenin.
How to get to Memento Park: We took the Metro 4 to Kelenfold vasutallomas and then the 150 BKK bus. You could also take the 101B or 101E bus from the same stop. Just put “Memento Park” into Google Maps and you’ll get several transportation options from your starting location. You can check out this little interpretive tour to read on the bus and understand what you are seeing.
There is also a Memento Park Direct Bus from Deak Ter. It doesn’t run as often as the public transportation (and wasn’t running at all the day we went), but it is more direct and probably, easier. It departs from the “Memento Park” timetable sign.
Cat Café Budapest
One of the first bits of research our kids do when we are going somewhere new, is to find out if and where there is a cat café. We visited a cat café in Tallinn, Estonia, a cat café in Ljubljana, Slovenia, a cat café in Edinburgh, Scotland, and cat cafés in London and St. Petersburg. Budapest is no different.
If you are looking for Budapest off the beaten track, the Cat Café Budapest may be your thing. As they say, it’s the “purrfect place to be.”
If you aren’t familiar with cat cafés, the basic premise is that it is a regular café, but there are a bunch of cats that live there. They basically ignore you, but you can pet them and look at them and occasionally, play with them.
The cats here are a mix of pets and to-be-adopted cats. There are at least three huge Maine coon cats; our favorite was Irish Coffee.
They recommend you make a reservation, but you can just show up and if there is room, you will be seated. We showed up a couple times and had no problem getting in, but apparently weekends are busy.
There is no entrance fee, but you should buy some food and/or drinks. They serve alcohol, in addition to the usual coffees, teas, and cocoas.
Travel Tip: Grab a mini card for the Cat Cafe at the Budapest Info storefront near the Deak Ferenc Metro Station for a 10% discount.
Michael Jackson Memorial Tree
One of the weird things to do in Budapest is visit the Michael Jackson Memorial Tree in Erzsébet tér (Elizabeth Square).
When the King of Pop visited Budapest he stayed at the Kempinski Hotel and fans would gather across the street in the park to catch a glimpse of him. (This was such a big deal that it came up in a book I read set in Budapest – Strangers in Budapest).
Jackson would come out on the balcony, at least once with then wife Lisa-Marie Presley, and wave to the gathered fans.
After he died, mourners spontaneously decorated the tree with photos, flowers, and tributes to Jackson.
Metropolitan Szabo Ervin Library
If you are into palaces or libraries or beautiful rooms, you can see all of them at the Szabo Ervin Library. This university library is partly housed in a former palace – Wenckheim Palace.
You have to pay around $4 to get in and it is an actual library where students work and study. You can also, for a fee, use the library for research or study. I’ve heard the Wifi isn’t very good and it costs extra to use it.
We walked through during finals week and it was packed. I wouldn’t plan on staging a photo shoot, but you can snap a few photos while you admire the rooms. We also enjoyed hanging out in the cute Children’s Dragon Library where we found a few books in English.
After paying (cash) at the information desk in the lobby, take the elevator to the fourth floor. Turn right past the stairs and follow the corridor (and the signs) to the palace rooms. The Children’s Library is near the stairs on the 2nd floor. Check the library hours before you go.
Thermal Baths in Budapest
Budapest is famous for its thermal baths and you should soak in at least one while you are there. It’s one of the Budapest points of interest that you should definitely get into your itinerary.
There are a lot of cool places in Budapest to soak, but it’s kind of pricey for a family, so you probably want to narrow it down to one or two if there are more than a couple of you.
I wished the outdoor pool was a little warmer, but everyone else seemed happy with the temperature. Fortunately it was 50-degrees F the day we went – if it had been cold out, I am not sure it would have been warm enough for me, but I am kind of a wimp.
The kids LOVED the lazy river – swirl current that pushed them around in circle for an hour or more. Henry loved the massaging jets. I love sitting in hot water.
Like the thermal baths we visited in Germany, the locker room here is coed. There are small changing rooms within the locker room, so you don’t have to get naked in front of everyone. There are also “cabins” you can rent, which are small, individual changing rooms where you can leave your stuff.
For a less touristy thermal bath experience, we recommend try Dandár Thermal Baths. It has a more local feel, and well, more locals. It’s right next to the Zwack Unicom Museum, so you can taste and learn about this Hungarian Jagermeister before or after your bath.
For a Turkish Bath in Budapest, Rudas Bath is the place to go. It was built over 450 years ago during the Turkish Era and has a rooftop, panoramic pool.
If you want to give your typical Budapest bath trip an unusual twist…drink the thermal water. I’m not suggesting you drink the water everyone is bathing in, but bring a reusable water bottle and fill up from the fountain. Supposedly, the water is healing and healthy.
(We were given two Budapest cards by Budapest Info.)
Explore a Cave Beneath Budapest
Szemlo Mountain Cave
Another of the unique things to do in Budapest is to explore a cave beneath the city. Apparently, Budapest is the only capital city in the world with a network of caves beneath it, at least that’s what the tour guide at Szemlő hegyi barlang (Szemlo Mountain Cave) told us.
The same thermal waters that that healed the sick formed the caves in the limestone beneath the Buda Hills.
We took an easy, 40-minute walking tour with an English speaking guide. The cave is pretty and filled with “popcorn” formations.
Nerdy Sidenote: Our guide kept telling us that cave popcorn only forms where there is thermal water, but that’s not true. As a former cave guide and cave enthusiast I’ve seen popcorn in many places and know how it is formed.
Nonetheless, the tour was good and we did learn quite a bit about the geology around Budapest.
Getting there: Szemlőhegyi Cave: By bus 29 from Kolosy tér in Óbuda, get off at “Szemlő-hegyi-barlang” stop.
The interactive visitor center is well done – we could have spent more time there.
Paul Valley Cave
Originally, we planned to visit Pál völgyi barlang (Paul Valley Cave) since it is included in the Budapest Card, but it was closed the week between Christmas and New Year. This is the longest cave in Budapest and the second longest in Hungary. Apparently there are more formations and a slightly more challenging walk (including ladders).
Getting there: take bus 65 form Kolosy tér in Óbuda, get off at the “Pál-völgyi cseppkőbarlang” stop
Gellért Hill Cave Church
Another of the cave things to see and do in Budapest is the Cave Church. On the side of Gellért Hill, just over the Liberty Bridge, you’ll find Gellért Hill Cave Church (Gellérthegyi-barlang). Because of the karst topography, the limestone hill is basically a huge cave system, as mentioned above in the how the caves of Budapest formed.
The cave is known as “Saint Ivan’s Cave” after a hermit who lived there. He used the thermal waters from an adjacent muddy lake (the same waters that fill Gellért Thermal Baths) for healing the sick.
The cave was used as a home for a poor family, then monks turned it into a monastery and chapel. It also served as a hospital for Nazi Germans during WWII. It reverted to a chapel for six years before the Soviet Red Army, in a crackdown on the Catholic Church, sealed the cave and condemned the monastery’s superior to death.
In 1992 the monks returned, restored the chapel, and reopened it to believers and tourists doing some Budapest sightseeing. That’s you! The walls are made of rock, obviously — it’s a cave, and there are several ornamented rooms.
This is one of the more unique things Budapest has to offer. It’s both unusual and historic – a winning combination in my book.
Labyrinth in Buda Castle
Can you handle another cave? This is one of the more weird things to do in Budapest because not only is it a cave, but it’s kind of a museum, too.
The cave was home to Paleolithic and medieval people. It served as a wine vault, torture chamber, prison, and hideaway. Perhaps most famously, it was Dracula’s chamber. King Matthias captured Vlad the Impaler (inspiration for the fictional Dracula) in Transylvania (once part of Hungary) and imprisoned him in the labyrinth. Dracula’s Chamber now displays vampire-related paraphernalia.
There is also a photography exhibit of the beautiful caves and sculpted art. It’s an easy, self-guided walk.
Travel Tip: Grab a mini card for the Labyrinth Under Buda Castle at the Budapest Info storefront near the Deak Ferenc Metro Station for a 200 HUF discount.
Other Cave Adventures
I am kind of into caves. Read about:
Hire A Professional Photographer
One of the unusual things we did in Budapest – at least unusual to us – was hire a photographer. For two hours, Dani walked around Budapest with us, taking our pictures. He took 500!
We always take our own photos, even the family photos are taken by Henry, with the help of a tripod. It was nice to have someone else snapping the pictures since Budapest is a busy place and it’s almost impossible to set up a tripod in a lot of places.
The benefit of having a local take our pictures, is that he knew the best locations. And we got a little tour of the city along with our pictures.
We found Dani on Airbnb in the “experiences” section. If you sign up for Airbnb with my link, we both get a little money off our next booking. We did “Five Hundred picture with Heart and Soul” with Dani. He doesn’t have a set charge, but rather lets you decide what it is worth.
The ruin bars aren’t anything you haven’t heard of if you are planning a trip to Budapest. They are unusual from a global perspective, but one of the more touristy things to do in Budapest. Still, I recommend you at least walk through the original and most well known ruin bar, Szimpla Kert in the Jewish Quarter (District XIII).
The ruin bars were built into buildings abandoned after WWII and used whatever resources that could be found. Many of the ruin bars open and close or move around, but they are easy to find with a little Googling or talking to locals.
If you are looking for crazy things to do in Budapest, going to one of the ruin bars at night, with the loud music and the thick crowd, just might do the trick. As for me and my family, we settled for a daytime walk-through and veggie meals at the nearby food trucks.
For a different kind of ruin bar experience, visit Szimpla Kert on Saturday morning for their farmer’s market. You’ll find local produce, bread and pastries, cheese, and meat products. You can even get a yummy brunch.
Best Places to Stay in Budapest
Whether you are looking for a luxury hotel in Budapest, a moderately priced hotel, or an Airbnb, we have the best Budapest accommodations listed below.
Luxury Hotels Budapest (5 Star Hotels in Budapest)
Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace
Arguably the nicest hotel in Budapest, the Budapest Four Seasons is located a short distance from Széchenyi Chain Bridge (0.2 mi), Castle Hill (0.4 mi), Parliament (0.5 mi), Gellert Spa (1.1 mi), and Fisherman’s Bastion (0.6 mi), all of which are likely on your Budapest itinerary.
The view from the Budapest Four Seasons in outstanding – it overlooks the Danube River, the Chain Bridge, and Castle Hill.
The more than a century old, art-nouveau building was restored and converted into a lavish 5-star hotel with 179 rooms and suites in 2001.
The hotel has the most elegant and expensive Presidential Suites in Budapest, but the other guest rooms are also nicely finished and have all the amenities.
Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace features a concierge and room service, to help make your stay more enjoyable. The property also boasts a pool and an on-site restaurant.
The Four Seasons Budapest is the perfect Christmas hotel because if it’s proximity to the main Christmas Markets, but also because it has it’s own Christmas Market in the lobby.
Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest
The Kempinski Hotel is right in the town center and the hotel Michael Jackson stayed at when he came to Budapest. The Michael Jackson tree is right outside.
The rooms and suites are luxuriously outfitted. The new design of the Premium Grand Deluxe Rooms and Premium Junior Suites by noted British designer Alex Kravetz draws inspiration from the color scheme of nature: the rich gold of the sun, the deep blue of the clear sky and the fresh green of meadows.
More Luxury Hotels in Budapest
Budapest Boutique Hotels and Mid Range Hotels
There seem to be a lot of boutique hotels in Budapest – we saw them everywhere. If you really want a low cost option for hotels, you’ll need to stay outside the inner city, but since location is everything, I’ve chosen the best affordable hotels in inner Budapest.
Hotel Clark is a 4-star hotel on the banks of the Danube near the Chain Bridge on the Buda side of the river below the castle.
The hotel offers a spacious, panoramic fitness room overlooking the Danube, a Finnish dry sauna, an á’la carte restaurant, and a private garage on site. The staff is reported to be very friendly and accommodating.
Hotel Zenit Budapest Palace
Hotel Zenit has a great location in inner Pest, not far from the Danube (which you can’t see from the hotel, but can easily access), and walking distance from all the Budapest sights. The rooms are basic, but plenty large and very clean.
It features a restaurant serving international cuisine and a wellness area with a fitness room and a sauna.
Other Boutique Hotels and Mid Range Hotels in Budapest
These are all located in District V, the inner city.
Vacation Rentals in Budapest
Since we tend to spend a long time in one location, we like to stay at vacation rentals where we can make a little home away from home. Even if you only plan to be in Budapest a couple nights, you might appreciate having your own space, a washing machine, and a kitchen.
We stayed at an Airbnb in Budapest. If you use my link for your first booking on Airbnb, you’ll get $55 off and I’ll get a little money toward our stays, too.
You can also find lots of great Budapest vacation rentals through VRBO/Homeaway.