All Articles 6 things to do this summer in Budapest

6 things to do this summer in Budapest

Thermal baths, festivals, panoramic views, and more

Jonathan Wiggin
By Jonathan Wiggin8 Jul 2024 5 minutes read
Panoramic view of Budapest in the summer at sunset
Image: Givaga/Getty Images

I first visited in Budapest in 2016 and was so taken by this beauty and charms of this medieval city that I decided to relocate here in 2022. Luckily, I made the move in the summer, when the city is bursting with life. There are festivals, parties, outdoor theater, music, cultural events, and—thankfully—no shortage of places to stop for a refreshing Hungarian wine spritzer in between seeing the sights. Here are some of my favorite things to do in summer.

Get wet

Aerial view of people in outdoor baths next to large yellow building
Széchenyi Baths and Pool
Image: Mike/Tripadvisor

Budapest is all about water—the broad Danube that divides the city, the bubbling hot thermal waters that fill the many bath houses. Sure, the Szechenyi Baths may have the most extravagant architecture and an outdoor pool surrounded by classical statuary, but to avoid the stag parties, try the 16th century Ottoman thermal pool at the Rudas Baths. Or head to the Bauhaus-style, Palatinus Strand and Baths, built in the 1930s with multiple outdoor pools, waterslides, thermal pools, and a rooftop cocktail bar for the grown-ups, all set in parkland on Margaret Island.

Another option: Take a ride out of the center to cool Romai Part (Roman Beach), where you can sunbathe on the riverbank, take a dip in the river, and chill out with a cocktail and some street food at Fellini Kultur Bisztro, a boho beach bar.

Tip: If you prefer to be by the water rather than in it, check out a gig on the A38 Ship, a former Ukrainian stone hauler moored on the Buda embankment, where you can bob your head to everything from trap and drum and bass to blues, rock, and world music.

Travelers say: “A38 is one of my all-time favorite bars that I have ever been to. The fact that they have managed to place a restaurant, a bar and a “concert hall” in just one tiny boat is a feat on its own. It is important to check the date and have an idea of the events that transpire, while you are on the boat. Your taste in music and food is going to really make-or-break your visit.”—@Max Konge

Get in the festival mood

People standing around and sitting on Sziget sign at festival, with colorful powder being thrown in air
Sziget
Image: Iván S/Tripadvisor

Budapest has a wide variety of festivals and cultural events over the summer. The best known is the vast, six-day Sziget music festival that takes over Óbuda Island in the Danube in early August, and features literally hundreds of the best names in contemporary music (this year’s headliners include Kylie, Stormzy, Skrillex, Four Tet, and Fontaines DC), as well as tons of dance, theater, circus, and other entertainment.

Just as fun, but with fewer teenagers—and giving you the chance to get your head and taste buds around Hungary’s fantastic wine culture—is the Budapest Wine Festival at the end of the summer in the grand central courtyard of Buda Castle.

Tips: To brush up on your wine skills, book a wine cellar tasting or a Budapest culinary tour with the great people at Taste Hungary, or if you have time to venture outside Budapest, hop on the train to the Tokaj historic wine region and base yourself in the luxurious Andrássy Kúria & Spa hotel in nearby Tarcal for visits to the vineyards small and large that dot the surrounding villages.

Where to stay in Budapest

Eat and drink outside

Table with several dishes such as octopus and flatbread
Flava Kitchen & More
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Check out the lush tapas at Arquitecto Pitpit, my favorite Spanish restaurant outside of Barcelona, tucked away in the romantic, ivy-covered courtyard of the former Almássy Palace in the Palace District. Or for traditional Hungarian dishes, combine a visit to the fascinating Kiscelli Museum of urban history and applied arts, housed in an Italianate former monastery on a forested hill, with lunch in the shady courtyard of nearby Zöld Kapu Vendéglő. The pork knuckle is melt-in-the-mouth delicious, but I bet that you can’t finish the portions. Top it off with one of their many different Hungarian fruit brandies or “pálinka” (the pumpkin one’s surprisingly tasty).

Finally, head to the terrace of Flava Kitchen at Verno House, a funky boutique hotel just steps from the Hungarian Parliament and overlooking leafy Liberty Square. You can sip seriously good cocktails and try inventive sharing dishes from North Africa, South America, and the Middle East, while listening to eclectic, electronic sounds from their resident DJs from Thursdays to Sundays.

Tips: For panoramic city views away from the madding crowd, grab a blanket and stock up on your favorite picnic foods at the vast neo-Gothic Central Market Hall before crossing the Liberty Bridge and strolling up to the peaceful meadow three-quarters of the way up Gellért Hill. Starting at 5 p.m. every day from May to September the best restaurants in Budapest’s Chinatown host the Chinese Night Market, taking over a square with food stands and offering the best flavors of South East Asia. This is something that travelers hardly know about, so keep it to yourself.

Travelers say: “Delicious food, exciting dishes, friendly service. You wouldn't expect such a great tapas bar outside of Spain, but Arquitecto Pitpit delivers. The first time I visited with colleagues after work and got immediately hooked. I went back for a dinner with my sister and we had a lovely time again.”—@Gabor V

Open-air events

The fireworks display along the Danube during the national holiday
St. Stephen's Day
Image: Fabrizio Turella/Getty Images

The most spectacular outdoor show of the year is the fireworks display for St. Stephen’s Day on September 20, when Hungary celebrates the foundation of Hungary in 1000. Fireworks are launched from seven barges, 65 pontoons, and two bridges along nearly three miles of the Danube, with light projections and drone illuminations, making this one of the world’s most impressive free shows.

Another great free outdoor event is the Budapest Classics Film Marathon, which takes place in September in five venues around the city, including a huge outdoor screen in St. Stephen’s Square, right in front of the soaring dome of St. Stephen’s Basilica. This year’s theme is the 110th anniversary of Hungarian animation, so expect evening showings of cool, vintage, Hungarian animated films in an amazing setting.

Tip: Crowds for the fireworks are massive in the best spots along the river, so to get a bird’s-eye view of the action, head up to the The Garden of Philosophers on Gellért Hill well before the 9 p.m. start. There, you'll find locals making an evening of it with picnics and bottles of Hungarian sparkling “furmint” (a Hungarian indigenous grape).

Travelers say: “Gellert hill is the place to go for a chilled evening and to enjoy the sunrise or sunset (apparently sunrise is the most impressive but it’s early!)”—@gv0410

Get high

Zugliget Chairlift connecting Elizabeth Lookout tower to Zugligeti utca in Budapest
Zugliget Chairlift
Image: AlizadaStudios/Getty Images

Want to get high? No, I’m not talking about breaking the law, but rather, visiting the highest point in Budapest: 1,729-foot-tall János Hill in wooded Normafa Park. And then there's the top of the Elizabeth Lookout, a pretty Neo-Romanesque tower named after Austro-Hungarian Empress Elisabeth. In addition to being a great place to get away from the urban buzz and relax on shady forest trails, you get unparalleled views of the city and surrounding countryside. On a clear day you can even see the Mátra Mountains of northern Hungary 50 miles away.

Tip: While you can get up to Normafa Park on buses 21 or 21A from Széll Kálmán Square, it’s much more fun to make the journey part of the adventure. Take the 61 tram to Városmajor, and jump on the Cogwheel Railway to Széchenyi-Hegy. Here you will find the main station of the world’s largest Children’s Railway (yes, it’s run by kids!). Singles are $2.71 (1000 HUF) for adults and $1.36 (500 HUF) for children, and János Hill is the fourth stop. Once you have taken in the views, walk about 10 minutes to the Zugliget Chairlift and float back down to town above the trees. At the bottom, hop on bus 291, which will take you right back to the center of the action in Széll Kálmán Square.

More things to do in Budapest

Jonathan Wiggin
Jonathan is a freelance travel and arts writer, artist, art historian, traveller, and award-winning tech entrepreneur based in Montenegro, Budapest, and the UK. His writing includespieces for Condé Nast Traveller, House and Garden, The Art Newspaper, and Decanter. Agraduate of the University of Oxford, he is fluent in French, Russian, Italian and Serbian, andspeaks excellent bad Hungarian. In the past he has lived in Paris, Rome and Moscow, andhas been based or working in Central, South-Eastern and Eastern Europe since 2003.
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