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The Emerald Experience > River and city guides > City Guide: The Best Things to See and Do in Budapest

City Guide: The Best Things to See and Do in Budapest

Hungary’s beautiful capital, lovingly referred to as the Queen of the Danube.

The Hungarian capital, Budapest, straddles the Danube River. The city was strategically positioned on either bank of the river to maximise the potential of the Danube as a trade route. To this day, the river remains an integral part of the personality and culture of Budapest, with many of the city’s most famous sites overlooking the Danube.

The current site of Budapest was first used as a settlement over two thousand years ago by the Celts, before being occupied by the Romans. Serving originally as a military base, the Romans slowly built the city, constructing roads, houses, baths and amphitheatres. 

Budapest gets its name from the Buda, the brother of Attila the Hun, who founded the modern iteration of city in the early parts of the 5th century.

The city continued to endure mixed fortunes over the centuries, invaded and occupied by the Ottomans in the 16th century. Much of Budapest was destroyed in World War II, after which the city was occupied by the Soviet military and declared a communist state until 1989.

Modern Budapest has developed into a major world city, earning a reputation as one of the European Union’s largest and most robust regional economies. This modern prosperity combined with the unique, fascinating history has seen Budapest significantly grow in popularity with visitors from all over the world.

Must-See Sights

Luckily for river cruise visitors, many of the city’s best-loved sites are located on the banks of the Danube. Whether you’re paying a flying visit or staying for a few days, there are plenty of things to see and do in Budapest.

Chain Bridge

Regarded as one of the world’s great wonders of engineering when it was completed in 1849 the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (to give it its full title) was one of the first modern suspension bridges. As the first bridge to span the Danube in Hungary, it became incredibly important to the country’s social, economic and cultural life. 

The bridge offers an awe-inspiring spectacle, especially when cruising underneath.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

The neoclassical church, completed in 1905, has played a significant part in the religious and artistic culture of Budapest for more than a century. As well as serving as the co-cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Esztergom-Budapest; St. Stephen’s Basilica has also hosted a huge number of concerts.

Buda Castle

The historic castle and palace of Hungarian kings, Buda Castle can trace its history back more than 750 years. The massive complex provides a unique insight into the history and culture of the city and Hungary as a whole – housing hundreds of works of art since the 14th century.

The castle is home to a large four floor museum, The Budapest History Museum, presenting the full history of the city from the 14th century to today.

Margaret Island

No cruise down the Danube is complete without a visit to the beautiful Margaret Island. Made up of landscaped parks, the island also houses the remains of medieval ruins – used as the religious centre of the city in the Middle Ages.

Access to the island by car has been limited, ensuring the atmosphere and ambience remains peaceful.

Széchenyi Thermal Baths

The largest medicinal baths in Europe, the Széchenyi Thermal Baths are heated by two thermal springs, providing a consistent temperature of 74 °C. Whether you simply want a relaxing dip or wish to treat conditions such as join illnesses, chronic and sub-acute joint inflammations or orthopaedic complaints; the baths provide a perfect way to end a glorious day in Budapest.

Fast Facts

The fascinating city of Budapest provides plenty of surprises around every corner, so here we cover some of the city’s most interesting facts.

  • The population is 1.709 million people (2011 Census)
  • The city was formed when the old cities of Buda and Pest joined together with Old Buda
  • This unification occurred in 1873
  • Budapest is home to the oldest subway system in mainland Europe
  • Budapest Zoo is over 150 years old
  • The city is home to the second largest synagogue in the world
  • And the northernmost holy place of Islam
  • But the most common religion in the city is Christianity
  • 10 Nobel Prize winners have lived in Budapest
  • Famous folks born in Budapest include Harry Houdini, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Ferenc Puskás

Explore Budapest with Emerald Waterways

Explore Budapest with Emerald Waterways


Budapest is one of the most popular destinations on our Danube river cruises. Many of our itineraries feature guided tours of Hungarian capital and the city landmarks.
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