Things to do in Budapest for adventure-seeking travelers
By Jessica Benavides Canepa, Feb 2020
Beyond majestic castles, classic bathhouses and an eclectic mix of architectural styles, travelers on the lookout for unusual things to do in Budapest will find a wide variety of off-the-grid activities. Whether you're looking to explore subterranean caves and quirky museums or tuck into some oddball eats, this vibrant European city offers a little something for every taste.
Step inside the Cave Church at Gellért Hill, which was built by Pauline monks in the 1920s and is still in use today.
Caves under castles
When looking for unique things to do in Budapest, why not start at the bottom? Far below the city's most iconic sights, such as the baroque 18th-century Buda Castle, adventurous travelers will find miles of intricate caves that hot springs carved into centuries-old rock formations. Notable formations include the floral mineral crystals found in the Semlohegyi Caves and the unique dripstones of Pálvölgyi Cave. The Cave Church at Gellért Hill and Castle Hill's wartime Hospital in the Rock Museum are also worth mentioning.
With more than 100 hot springs strewn across the city, it's no surprise that Budapest is widely known as the City of Baths. Live like a local with a mandatory dip into one (or all!) of the most popular bathhouses, including the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, the largest in Europe; the Turkish-era Lukács Thermal Bath; and the thermal baths at the Art Noveau-style Gellért Spa. Then, after sundown on most Saturdays year-round, circle back to the Széchenyi baths for a must-experience spa party with high-energy music, drinks and a dazzling LED laser show. The parties rage until 3 a.m.
A good way to get to know a historic city's edgier side is through its atypical museums. A world of magic memorabilia awaits visitors at Budapest's House of Houdini. For a more nostalgic experience, channel your inner retro gamer at the Pinball Museum, which houses more 100 vintage pinball machines.
At the Zwack Unicum House, discover the history of this 225-year-old herbal digestif when you tour the exhibit space surrounded by 17,000 mini bottles, then taste it for yourself straight out of oak barrels in the museum's basement. For the ultimate interactive activity, visit the Invisible Exhibition, where visually impaired guides lead guests through a series of rooms where they perform ordinary tasks in total darkness.
Traverse the scenic woods of Hüvösvölgy when you board the Budapest Children's Railway train.
Simply walking around Budapest can lead you to some fun and unusual sights and experiences. If you find yourself in Buda Hills, take a ride on the mild side by boarding the whimsical Children's Railway, a miniature train with supervised children helping with various railway jobs such as ticketing and saluting trains. It's the largest of its kind in the world, and the ride offers impressive city skyline and river views.
Closer to city center, you can pay a visit to Budapest's Timewheel, a huge hourglass built in 2004 to mark Hungary's inclusion in the European Union. Every year the wheel is reset and tiny pieces of glass fall precisely with the help of a computerized system to mark the passage of time.
Also near the center of Budapest, the King of Pop is alive and well at the Michael Jackson Memorial Tree, which is adorned with photos, prints and messages dedicated to the superstar. For a special treat, drop by on Jackson's birthday for impromptu flash mobs and lip-syncing concerts.
Eat and drink
The most entertaining way to learn about a culture is through its food. Start your exploration at the cavernous Great Market Hall, which offers a wide selection of regional bites such as traditional lángos (deep-fried dough with assorted toppings), and kürtöskalács (chimney cake). Once you have your fill, head over to the Budapest Makery, a unique eatery where patrons are supplied with ingredients and instructions for do-it-yourself meals.
When it's time to unwind, take a tour through Budapest's infamous ruin bars, watering holes built into derelict buildings. If you only have time to go one, go to the multifaceted Szimpla Kert, an abandoned factory turned junkyard bar, eatery, pop-up gallery, performance space and Sunday market venue. Commemorate your Budapest stay with a visit to the For Sale Pub; over the years, patrons have covered nearly every inch of the bar with receipts, business cards, drawings and notes.
No matter how they spend their time in Budapest, audacious travelers will thrive in this city, where peculiar yet spectacular sights and experiences await at every turn.
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