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20 best things to do in Budapest this summer

Hey, it’s summer! Budapest has plenty of pools to splash in, parks to stroll around and cycle routes to ride along. It’s festival season, too, with Kolorádó and Sziget back after three years and a new music showcase, Reflektor, staged within the city itself. You can see the world’s best swimmers in action at FINA, go to every museum in town over one night for 2,200 forints or sample quality Chinese street food at an authentic evening market. Here are our 20 top tips!


FINA Championships

The world’s greatest swimmers, divers and water-polo teams compete at the highest level here in Budapest in the FINA world championships until 3 July. The Hungarian capital stepped in as hosts at the last minute after Fukuoka, Japan, would have postponed until 2023. Having staged this prestigious event in 2017, Budapest also hosts in 2027. Thankfully, there are superb facilities at the Tamás Széchy pool on Margaret Island, the Alfréd Hajós pool next door, the Duna Aréna on the opposite bank and, further north, Lupa Beach for open-water swimming. Find the schedule here – the exciting swimming relays take place 24-26 June, the gold medal for water polo gets decided on the final evening, 3 July – and buy tickets here. More details. Until 3 July


Night of the Museums

Now in its 20th year, the Night of the Museums takes place over the nearest weekend to the summer solsticeMuseums and galleries open their doors until late, laying on special events, guided tours, live music, family activities and all kinds of surprises. For the knock-down price of 2,200 forints (HUF 1,000 for 6-18s), a wristband entitles you to enter some 50+ attractions and institutions over the course of the evening, although certain presentations and performances may cost extra. Wristbands can be purchased at all participating venues and online from Jegymester. Most locations open at 6pm, the Museum of Fine Arts at 2pm and the Franz Liszt Memorial Museum at 4pm. More details. 25 June


Top terraces

Already this spring, we were hankering after alfresco drinks and eats – now with the temperature climbing, a seat with a view is a must! Terrace locations range from the Danube waterfront – the Fellini Római Kultúrbisztró on the Római embankment, Kabin on Népsziget – to convivial spots in City Park, such as Pántlika, to buzzy locales overlooking on-trend Bartók Béla út, namely BÉLA. If you’re sweltering in the city centre, nip down Ferenczy István utca from Múzeum körút near Astoria to find the shaded Csendes Társ, an oasis of calm imbibing and snacking by pretty pocket park, Károlyi-kert. More details


Kolorádó Festival

In contrast to the money-generating, high-profile machine that is the Sziget Festival, the affordable, accessible Kolorádó showcases alternative culture in woodland on the outskirts of Buda. Major acts from the UK have been confirmed for this year’s bash, due to take place between 29 June and 2 July. Alongside Black Midi, Tirzah and Ben Sims, big Hungarian names include Дeva, Middlemist Red and Analog Balaton. Among the many activities surrounded by greenery, there’s techno ballet, Goa aerobics, volleyball, films, bird-watching and tai chi. Tickets. Transport. More details29 June-2 July


Best ice creams

Creamy or fruity, everyone has their favourite ice cream, and Budapest is brimming with chilled delicacies of every stripe. Dozens of outlets around the city offer delicious treats, though special mention should be made of Gelarto Rosa and their rose-shaped works of art, Kell fagylalt? and their extraordinary array of original flavours, and the strictly Italian approach of Erdős és fiai near Kelenföld station. By all means check out downtown newbie, the Giandó gelateria, Italian-run, where each ice cream is carefully crafted for your cone. More details


Outdoor pools for kids

If you’re here with the family, you’re in luck. Budapest is blessed with many great outdoor pools and baths, invariably affordable with children’s and online discounts. Furthermore, nearly all have paddling pools for smaller ones, slides and other water features, and usually a playground of sorts if you need the kids out of the water for a while. To add to our recent round-up, the Római Baths are also recommended as there are large, grassy and often shaded picnic areas where you can spread out for the day. Note that the Dagály is closed for most of June, then reopens on the 28th. More details


Reflektor Festival

There’s a great new festival in Budapest this summer, a three-day showcase for alternative music. Reflektor takes place 14-16 July at the Akvárium Klub, this inaugural event is aimed at those keen on seeing new acts and people who just fancy a summer party within each reach. Headline acts include US experimentalists Son Lux, Kettering rockers Temples and Yorkshire duo Seafret. Look out, too, for Austrian psychedelic space rockers Mother’s Cake, multimedia artist Floex from the Czech Republic and Belgian no-wavers Whispering Sons. Hungarian performers on the bill are iamyank, Superflake and O’SULLIVAN. Saturday night will be overseen by the LavaLava party crew. See our feature hereMore details. 14-16 July



From 15 July, the open-air beach on the Római embankment will reopen for the season on Kossuth Lajos üdülőpart. Until the national holiday of 20 August, you can bathe in the Danube every day between 11am and 7pm, within a section of the river delineated by buoys. Thanks to the clean-up efforts of urban activists Valyo, this picturesque section of the Danube up in Óbuda has recently been opened to the public after the quality of the water forced its closure in 1973. Successfully reopened in 2021, the Római will be free to use, with toilets and other facilities provided. Accessed by 34 bus to Szent János utca from Rómaifürdő HÉV station a 15-minute walk away, Római-part is lined with riverside bars such as Nap bácsi, with its craft beers and sun loungers, and the funky Fellini Római Kultúrbisztró, with its deckchairs and live entertainment. More details. 15 July-20 August


Hieronymus Bosch

If you’ve time for one exhibition this summer, this one would be a good choice. Between Heaven and Hell – the Enigmatic World of Hieronymus Bosch presents the visitor with nearly 90 works of art. Only ten are by the Dutch master himself, almost half his total oeuvre, in fact, but they still leave you mesmerised as you step out of the grand doors of the Museum of Fine Arts. Between Heaven and Hell looks into his mysterious world, allowing you to see that some of his works weren’t all about total darkness, but also the use of light and brighter colours. Seeing the work of Bosch’s followers, your impressions then become much more nuanced. Standing in front of his most famous work, The Garden of Earthly Delights, will cause your heart to skip a beat even though you’re not looking at the original work, and you’ll go back to scour the panels time and time again. More details. Until 17 July


Best spas

Budapest is the spa centre of Europe, as the city sits on a patchwork of hot springs that spout mineral-rich healing waters into numerous thermal baths, many dating back centuries. The selection of spas is so varied that certainly everyone finds something to their liking, be it plunging into the past at an authentic Turkish bath, a bit of fun amid whirlpools, healing a hangover or a muscle-melting massage. The warm waters are said to be capable of curing just about anything, and soaking in a thermal pool is a real Budapest experience. Whichever haven of health you choose is completely up to you – the Rudas has a panoramic jacuzzi, the Széchenyi is as ornate as it gets while the Lukács has a sunbathing roof terrace. Let’s face it – this is why you come to Budapest! More details


Balloon in City Park

Ballooning has been long held in City Park – in fact, since the time when it was a popular activity around 120 years ago. Now the sport is being revived, only the balloon is tethered to the top of a small hill in the park, and launches according to a set timetable. The piloted balloon will be in operation until New Year’s Eve. Up to 30 people at a time can be taken up over  to gaze over Budapest from a height of 150 metres. The point of departure and return is Mimóza Hill, a small hillock designed to be a lookout point when the Ballon Captif was tethered here during the Hungarian Millennial celebrations of 1896. Passengers will reach the maximum height in about five minutes, spend about the same amount of time aloft, then return the surface in five minutes. The minimum age limit is six years old and family tickets are available. More details


Chinatown Terrace

The unique street-food market at the Monori Center in Budapest’s Chinatown has been going for ten years. To celebrate, before this summer season, they laid on a feast of festivities, with dragons, Chinese rap and, of course, a huge spread of enticing comestibles. Classic dishes are offered at many stalls and restaurants, with clear menus and tables to sit down at. Credit-card payment is widespread and pagers are used if you’re waiting for your dish to be delivered. Check out the gong bao chicken at Spicy Fish, the fried oyster cake at Stand 9 and the stinky tofu (hold your nose and enjoy!) at Stand 1. More details. Until the end of August


Parks & green retreats

One of Europe's greenest capitals, Budapest has parks and green retreats all over the city – even a whole island dedicated to relaxation right in the middle of it. While Margaret Island offers the popular Palatinus lido and a musical fountain, City Park is where you find the Széchenyi Baths, boating on the lake by Vajdahunyad Castle and, this year, balloon rides. Nearby, the new Museum of Ethnography provides a roof garden with panoramic views. If you fancy a workout, the best outdoor sports equipment is found in Bikás Park, with its own stop on green metro line 4. More details


Rooftop cocktails

With summer here and evenings light, you can combine a rooftop view of beautiful Budapest with a top cocktail in hand. Right now, with a gin craze sweeping Budapest, you’ll find more variations of G&T than you can shake a stick at, but the better places always go way beyond the mainstream. Take the High Note Skybar, where savvy mixologist Marcell Sárközi and team scour the globe to come up with their seasonal creations, best enjoyed with jaw-dropping views over the city at eye level with the clock atop St Stephen’s Basilica. Then there’s the 360 Bar atop the historic Párisi Department Store on showcase Andrássy út, where DJs spin as the sun sets. The Duchess above the recently opened and gorgeously decorated Matild Palace Hotel matches winning views with wonderful cocktails. More details



Twice world wakeboard champion Sebasztián Szóláth and his friend, Márton Gulyás, practise and promote the art of wakesurfing at the Ballast Surf Club on Népsziget, a wild island getaway in north Pest. Unlike a wakeboard, in wakesurfing there are no bindings on your feet and you go at a much slower pace. You're much freer sooner to feel that sense of elation of being close to the water. It’s the sensation of surfing without having to wait for the waves, and the sport is significantly less dependent on the weather. Wakesurfing does not require any special training other than being able to swim and, of course, to be reasonably fit. If you’ve surfed or snowboarded before, it’ll be much easier. A few tries and a detailed explanation, and the guys will be cheering you on. More details


Sziget Festival

The first Sziget Festival since 2019 should bring bumper crowds to Óbuda Island, just north of Margaret Island and enjoyably accessible by boat. This week-long celebration of music was first staged here in 1993, the acts more famous every year, including David Bowie, Prince and Ed Sheeran, who helped the festival break the half-a-million visitor mark in 2019. Admission prices have climbed accordingly. This year, each key venue, the Main Stage, Colosseum and FreeDome, will have a special VIP area for those happy to pay extra. DJs will spin in a 360-degree Colosseum, hip-hop artists will perform in their native language on the dropYard Stage and alt-rock acts will appear in the FreeDome, the former A38 tent. Headliners include the Arctic Monkeys, Dua Lipa and the Kings Of Leon, with Justin Bieber the star turn. See the full line-up here. Tickets are available here. More details10-15 August



Run by a cycle-friendly mayor who’s doing everything in his power to make the city amenable to those travelling on two wheels, Budapest has seen its riverside embankments given over to bike lanes, its cycle routes become marked on GoogleMaps and a new fleet of shared-hire MOL Bubi bikes become available at affordable prices. With more routes around the city than ever before, there’s never been a better time to explore Budapest by bike. More details


Django Festival

This year’s Django Festival at the atmospheric, alfresco Kobuci Kert in Óbuda pays tribute to its namesake musical legend, Django Reinhardt. Over one day in August, the event features one of the greatest figures of the manouche jazz genre, Angelo Debarre, Hungarian jazz giant Roby Lakatos and the Dejan Krsmanović Balkan Gypsy Jazz Quartet from south of the border. Ferenc Illés, frontman of the Budapest Gipsy Swing band, also leads an open jam session. Everything kicks off at 3pm. Early bird tickets are 3,500 forints, otherwise it’s 4,000 or 4,500 on the door. More details. 14 August


20 August

On 20 August, Hungary celebrates St Stephen, who established the nation in 1000 AD. At night, spectacular fireworks spread the national colours of red, white and green across the night sky, while by day, many major museums offer free entry. The morning usually starts with the raising of the flag on Kossuth tér, alongside the magnificent Parliament building. From mid-morning free guided tours then take groups around Hungary’s stately governmental palace. It’s extremely popular, so be prepared to queue. Following Holy Mass at St Stephen’s Basilica, its showcase relic, the embalmed right hand of Hungary's founding father King Stephen, is ceremoniously carried around the streets surrounding Budapest’s most sacred site. The day’s main event starts after sunset, the firework show. Wherever you position yourself on the Buda or Pest bank, you should have a great view, but bear in mind that it gets super busy with thousands of bystanders. If you'd like to climb high to enjoy the fireworks, Gellért Hill, Buda Castle or Fishermen’s Bastion are always good options, while rooftop bars usually require reservations. More details


Art Deco exhibition

Running until the end of August, the exhibition Art Deco Budapest – Posters, Lifestyle and the City (1925-1938) at the Hungarian National Gallery is the most comprehensive of its kind to be staged here. Most of the 250-plus exhibits have rarely been displayed, some literally never. Art Deco had a major impact on architecture, painting, sculpture and cinematography. With World War I over, by the 1930s, people were consuming more and more, so advertising became more creative. The posters on view here take their inspiration from many sources – avant-garde, Art Nouveaufolk art, exotic cultures – and offer a modern concept of urban existence. The exhibition begins with a vast model of the Orion logo, Hungarian manufacturers of radio sets and light bulbs. Beyond, posters show the work of well-known designers such as Róbert BerényJózsef Bottlik, and Lajos Kozma. All gives the visitor a relatively comprehensive picture of what it was like to live in Hungary between the wars. More detailsUntil 28 August


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