The allure of Budapest is often visualized in the awe-inspiring views of the Parliament Buildings reflected in the Danube River, or the incredible complex that is Buda Castle. Indeed, impressive and historic architecture is but one of the many reasons to visit Budapest. However, for those who desire something a little less obvious and perhaps even obscure, here are some recommended spots.
As some of these take you off the standard tourist map, you’ll want to hire a knowledgeable guide to show you around. Be sure to take a look at GoWithGuide's professionals who are ready to show you another side of their beloved city.
Though already quite a famous attraction of Budapest, the city’s so-called ruin bars are numerous and scattered, and one can enjoy discovering a different place every evening if the luxury of time is on your side.
The ruin bars became a thing in the early 2000’s when entrepreneurs began establishing trendy bars in old and abandoned pre-war buildings. The most popular of these is Szimpla Kert, already an established destination for tourists and resident students alike. If you are looking to get away from the usual crowds then there are many more fascinating places to discover. The only commonality that all these bars have is that they are located in old buildings. Beyond that, each place has its own decor, theme, and atmosphere. You’ll find bars that are stocked with an eclectic array of flea market furniture, or places with themed interiors like the wacky aesthetics of Doboz. There are also establishments which specialize in Mexican food, burgers, or pizza, bars with posh interiors, and those geared towards dancing or karaoke.
A lot of the ruin bars are located in the Old Jewish district, so that’s a great place to start exploring. There are, however, ruin bars all over town, even in the City Park. Ask your guide to show you some of the lesser-known but still quirky and charming locations.
Beneath Buda Hill
Elelicht, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Buda Hill is home to some of Budapest’s most famous landmarks; Buda Castle, St. Matthias Church, and the Fisherman’s Bastion. There is also another side to Buda Hill that lies hidden within the dolomite bowels of the landform.
The Labyrinth is a convoluted maze of corridors, chambers, and even a dungeon. Beginning in the 13th century, these natural caves were enhanced by further excavation to be used for various purposes which in the past included an asylum, a prison, and a hospital. More recently, it has also served as a wine cellar since the temperature remains constantly cool at around 12°C. In parts of the labyrinth, visitors can see Gothic and Renaissance stone monuments and Turkish tombstones. There are also stories of Vlad Tepes, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Dracula (yes, the fellow who inspired Bram Stoker’s infamous vampire story) having been kept in the dungeon of the Labyrinth at one time.
Buda Hill has two other famous caves; Mountain Cave and Stalactite Cave. The latter has a 500 meter long corridor with occasional steep stairways that takes visitors past natural subterranean rock features. One other underground location of interest in Buda Hill is the ‘Hospital in the Rock’, used as a hospital during the Second World War, and a nuclear bomb shelter later on. Here one can see wax figures and displays of tools, and learn about the development of military medicine.
Christo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Budapest is known as the ‘hot spring capital of the world’, and you will find the city lives up to its name. The most obvious and popular spas are the Szechenyi and Gellert Baths, and these are not to be missed. There are however several less popular and smaller spas each with its own atmosphere.
One of the more visually striking baths is the Rudas Bath. The highlight here is the dim octagonal bath chamber which was built during Ottoman rule in the 16th century. There are 11 indoor pools and one outdoor pool on the rooftop that offers grand views. The old Turkish section is open to men only on weekdays, except Tuesdays when it is women’s day. On weekends the pools are co-ed, and the wellness section is co-ed everyday.
Budapest has a wide range of museums for themes outside of the usual historical or art-related types. There are museums for famous musicians and doctors, art collectors, foundry works, medical museums, and many more. Some of the more unusual themes include the Technical Study Stores which has the ambition to collect examples of the most remarkable models, miniatures, proto-types, and inventions in Hungary’s history.
The Vasarely Museum is dedicated to the works of artist Victor Vasarely. A kinetic and geometric abstract artist, Vasarely was instrumental in the development of the op-art movement. Exhibited works are striking, colorful, and may cause blinking and eye-rubbing.
What do KISS, R2-D2, and Rocky all have in common? They have all been made into pinball machines. Flipper Museum is the place where all the best pinball machines go when they retire. Owner Balazs Palfi was always mesmerized by the blinking lights and sounds of pinball machines when he was a child. As an adult he wanted to create a special museum for pinball machines, and his dream was realized in 2013. For a trip back in time before modern day video arcade games, visit Flipper Museum, the Pinball Museum which has become one of Budapest’s best-loved, off-the-beaten-path attractions.
The Roman Ruins of Aquicum
KKriszti, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The City of Aquicum was built by the Romans after they had taken over the land from a Celtic tribe that had occupied the area since around 400 BCE. The ancient ruins were discovered at the end of the 19th century, and to date about one third of the city has been excavated.
Some of the more impressive remains are tiled mosaic baths, an underground heating system, and complex plumbing. Known as the Pompei of Hungary, Aquicum can be visited currently at six different sites around Budapest. Visitors are welcome to explore these fascinating ruins; however, sites are sometimes closed to the public, so it would be prudent to find out in advance when sites are open. There is also an Aquincum museum of Roman and Celtic artifacts.
The Sanctified Right Hand of St. Stephen
For those in need of a miracle, a visit to one of Budapest's most prominent landmarks might offer the solution. Within St. Stephen’s Basilica is a reliquary containing the mummified right hand of Hungary’s first king, St. Stephen. Putting a coin in the slot illuminates the hand for about a minute. The hand is said to have blessed pilgrims in the past and performed miracles for those who prayed before it.
The hand was kept in Buda Castle for centuries, but it disappeared during Ottoman rule. It was later discovered in the City State of Ragusa (Dubrovnik in Croatia), and was brought back to Hungary. Even if you don’t believe in miracles, a visit to the basilica is a must-do in Budapest, and dropping a coin in the slot to see the famous hand that ruled at the beginning of the Kingdom of Hungary makes for a unique memory.
The more you look, the more there is to discover within Budapest. The main sightseeing spots alone are outstanding; however, the city is a treasure trove of unique and unusual attractions. Budapest is a place that invites the curious to seek out and satisfy niche interests.
Going with an experienced guide will give you the advantage of finding exactly what you are looking for. They can get you there at the right time for opening hours and away from the peak hours if you desire less hustle and bustle when exploring. Let GoWithGuide’s experienced pros take you to the hidden gems and more unusual places in Budapest.
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