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Discover romantic Budapest with the top activities, hotels and restaurants for couples.
An evening cruise on the Danube, sipping coffee under the Venetian chandeliers at the New York Cafe, soaking in steamy thermal water … Budapest does romance right.
There have been a tremendous amount of changes in the Hungary’s capital city over the last few years, making a trip to Budapest a fantastic whirlwind of a ride.
Whether you’re looking at honeymoon destinations and considering Budapest, celebrating an anniversary or just looking to create memories with your significant other, Budapest has grown into a sexy and elegant destination. Formerly Budapest was communist and not nearly as sexy or elegant.
Before that, however, Budapest was ultra elegant as part of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire (even if a bit of a poor cousin compared to the snobby court in Vienna), and couples can easily tap into this historic city’s flair.
What Can Couples Do in Budapest?
From luxury to budget activities you won’t run out of options. Even if you’re cash strapped, it’s possible to find some great romantic things to do in Budapest … though admittedly it would be easier if you were rich and famous like, say, Drew Barrymore, Adrian Brody or Joaquin Phoenix – all celebrities who have Hungarian blood.
Is Budapest Good for Couples?
Yes. One thing to keep in mind is that a splurge or two will add some pizazz to your Budapest vacation. It’s a city of old world grandeur, and while a splash of luxury doesn’t need to break your budget, it’s a good way to explore the filmy golden layer of luxury that floats over the city like a noble Hapsburg ghost … if, you know, ghosts were golden.
In this romantic Budapest guide I’ll throw in some luxury options and plenty of budget tips, too. So let’s get to it. Here are the top romantic things to do in Budapest.
Date Ideas Budapest
Visit the Most Beautiful Cafe in the World: The New York Cafe
I defy you to find a cafe more grand than the New York Cafe in Budapest on Erzsébet körút 9, 1073. When I visited for the first time my mouth gaped open, and there may have been drool involved.
When I revisited this lavish cafe, this time with my husband in tow, my mouth still gaped, but at least I held back the drool – obviously some of Budapest’s refinement has rubbed off on me.
In my opinion (but possibly not my husband’s, because he paid the bill), it’s one of the best places for a date in Budapest. It’s even more interesting if you know a little history about it.
Budget Tip: Stick with coffee. Don’t do what we did and let our hunger get the best of us and order a full meal. PS: Our hunger always gets the best of us.
History of the New York Cafe
The New York Cafe Budapest was a favourite of the Bohemian literary set and it’s easy to see why. It’s surreal in its marble and gilt splendour. The ceiling is fluttery and gorgeous with 19th-century frescoes by Gusztav Mannheimer and Ferenc Eisenhut.
There are Venetian chandeliers, golden stucco and opalescent twisty columns that make the cafe look like the natural habitat of both elfin princesses and wicked witches who happen to live in magical castles with cappuccino makers.
A New York Cafe Budapest Anecdote
On the day the New York Cafe opened in 1894, its opulence caused such a stir that the famous Hungarian writer, Ferenc Molnár, is said to have thrown the keys into the Danube River so that it could never close its doors.
And I say, who gave that drama king the keys? If you opened the ritziest cafe in Hungary, would you just hand the keys over to, say, Jerry Seinfeld or Zsa Zsa Gabor (both of Hungarian descent)?
Okay, maybe I’d let Jerry Seinfeld hold them, but only for a minute. And also, may the remarkable Zsa Zsa Gabor rest in peace.
Up the Love Quotient with a Private Boat Tour on the Danube at Night
While there are many cruises on the Danube River, a private boat tour is the best way to impress your mistress/toy boy/girlfriend/husband/wife or curly haired pumi, which, if you don’t know, is a Hungarian breed of dog.
It’s the best way to view the Hungarian Parliament Building, a Neo-Baroque wonder that looks like a mountain of icicles topped with red domes and spires.
Why Do a Private River Cruise?
Because it’s fun and makes you feel like a celebrity couple, like Angelina and Brad Pitt, who once visited Budapest together. (Okay, that love match didn’t work out so well, but they got a whole brood of children out of it so something good happened.)
A private cruise is a fun way to bond over champagne and sparkling city views. Our boat had wood panelling, comfy upholstery and an open air section at the back. It also came complete with a lot of laughter and photo ops, most of which ended up blurry … either from the sparkling wine or the laughter.
You can get more info on a private speedboat tour here.
Budget Tip: If you’re looking for an affordable option for a Budapest date idea, you can do a Budapest Night Cruise with Parliament View and Champagne on a group cruise for a fraction of the price. Check it out here.
Fall in Love in Budapest Through its Music
Budapest has music oozing out of its pores and when it comes to romantic things to do in Budapest, what could be better than seeking out some sweet notes of love?
Not only is the city the birthplace of the classical composer Franz Liszt, it’s also home to the wild and fun Sziget Festival every August. (I speak from experience when I say that the festival is really really lively and a great way to connect with a younger central European crowd).
On the posher side, you can catch a performance at the ornate State Opera House or visit the New Liszt Academy for some musical date ideas.
For details read my travel article about the musical side of Budapest.
Budget Tip: Get you music fix by listening to talented street buskers in the evening or check out the concert schedule in the stunning St. Stephen’s Basilica.
If you just want a wee taste of music in Budapest you could sign up for a Walking Tour that includes a visit to the Opera House and a Mini Concert. Check it out here.
Stroll Down Vaci Utca and Wander Past St Stephen’s Basilica
Vaci Street is a bit too touristy for my taste, but it’s a central pedestrian shopping street in Budapest and my husband and I seemed to end up here nearly every evening. Usually we’d walk over from St Stephen’s Basilica, which is beautifully lit up at night.
Best Date Restaurants in Budapest
If you like paprika, you will be spoiled for choice in Budapest. If you hate paprika you’re still going to be spoiled. And if you like goulash soup as much as I do, you’ll be ecstatic. But there is more to Budapest cuisine than paprika and goulash and there are plenty of places for romantic dinners.
Date Night at Borkonyha Winekitchen
Borkonyha Winekitchen is a sleek 3-star Michelin restaurant, a fusion of French bistro fare and family Hungarian cuisine. And if you want to learn more about Hungarian wine, you’ll be happy to know their cellar includes 200 wines, mostly Hungarian.
The braised veal cheek, part of my Veal Duet, was so melty and rich I am drooling all over again – and here I thought I had broken that bad habit that I’d picked up at the New York Cafe.
Budget Tip: If you’re wanting to dine well, but watching your budget, go for lunch rather than dinner.
Gundel is a world class restaurant and one the most immersive food experiences in Budapest. It’s not just about the food (but wow, that strudel was something else, even if the Gundel pancake is more famous), it’s that so many facets of Hungarian culture come together: food, music, art and pythons. (I’ll get to the python in a minute.)
A Romantic Dinner at Gundel
One of the most romantic restaurants in Budapest, Gundel is not cheap, but it’s popular with tourists. It’s got an old-fashioned vibe, and you may find yourself being serenaded by a 6-piece orchestra while sitting in plush surroundings, gazing at the astonishing Hungarian collection of art on the walls.
Check out the painting over the orchestra by Mihaly Munkacsy. It’s worth a cool million dollars.
There is so much gossip about Gundel but I’ll keep it short. It started out as a family-owned restaurant and was a huge success when it opened in 1914.
A Gundel Near Miss with a Python
Gundel sits just outside the City Zoo. And once when the President of Turkey visited and security men were everywhere, a python happened to escape from the zoo. I’m fairly sure it was after a Gundel pancake rather than the Turkish President but of course speculation is rampant.
I’ll just name a few celebrities who have patronized Gundel. Besides the python.
- Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain
- Pope John Paul II
- Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt
- Hillary Rodham Clinton
- Vladimir Putin
Gundel Restaurant is located at Budapest, Gundel Károly út 4, 1146 Hungary. Tel: 36 1 889 8111. Reservations recommended.
Casual But Delicious – Es Bisztro in the Kempinski Hotel
Es Bisztro is on my list of good date night restaurants in Budapest because it’s casual, lively and because the name ‘Es‘ means ‘And.’ How can you not like a bistro named ‘And.’ But that’s not the main reason.
It’s unique because the restaurant’s specialty is hairy pig. Seriously. It’s a Hungarian breed of pig called Mangalica with long curly hair and meat that somehow has unsaturated fat – or so I was told, though I’m not completely convinced.
How can you not bond with your carnivore-loving partner over a unique dining experience like that? (If you’re a vegetarian, I sincerely apologize for mentioning this. Seriously.)
About Hairy Pig
Hairy pig is delicious, but after I saw a live hairy pig at the Lazar Equestrian Park outside Budapest, and saw how ugly and weird-looking she was, sort of like a designer poodle mix gone wrong, that I kind of fell in love. So probably next time I visit Es Bisztro I’ll order a salad with herbs and vegetables from their rooftop garden.
For more food ideas check out this article on the Best Hungarian Restaurants in Budapest by TravelNotesandBeyond.com.
Romantic Things to Do in Budapest During the Day
Tour the Hungarian Parliament Building
Why do I include a tour of the Parliament Building in our list of romantic things to do in Budapest? Because there is bling, history and pomp involved, and because you can’t sit in a cafe staring into each other’s eyes all day long. It’s time to get out and sightsee.
A highlight of the Parliament Building is Dome Hall, where the Coronation Jewels are kept. This includes the sacred Crown of Saint Stephen, which has been crowning kings since the 12th century. (Except now there’s no king in Hungary, there is a president.)
Just so you know, kings only got to wear the Crown of Saint Stephen once, on their coronation day. After that they had to wear their everyday crowns. See how royalty is just like you and me?
FYI: Guards are present, the type that never move even if you, like, wave a feather in their face. PS: Don’t do that. Leave them alone – they have sabres.
Aside from Dome Hall, you’ll see things such as the ornate Main Staircase above. Only special people like queens and presidents get to use it so don’t get any ideas. But don’t worry, you’re special in my eyes, and, obviously, in your partner’s or you wouldn’t be looking for romantic things to do in Budapest.
How to Tour the Parliament Building in Budapest
You can’t tour the Hungarian Parliament Building without a guide so either book ahead or wait in line. The address is Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3, 1055. Visit the Hungarian Parliament Tour site for more info.
Experience Romantic Budapest in the Baths
Budapest is known for its steamy hot springs and bathing is a centuries-long tradition. The problem is that they’ve gotten so popular they can be crowded, but are still worth the experience.
For outdoor pools, stunning architecture and a lively atmosphere, the Szechenyi Baths in City Park is hard to beat. However, it’s popular with a lot of younger tourists (as well as with elderly Hungarian men who play chess in the water), so it’s not exactly tranquil if you go at a peak time.
On the plus side, the setting is impossibly romantic and it’s a good destination for couples because all the pools are co-ed.
Although, now that I think about it, my husband and I immediately went our separate ways: me to find the hottest pool for soaking, and him to seek out the sauna and outdoor pool. Oh well, we’re still together so that’s a good sign.
For an indoor experience the Gellert Baths on the Buda side of the city is a travellers’ favourite, though there are both couples and segregated pools. Again, the architecture is one reason to go. On the downside, it can also be chock full of tourists.
Ensana Grand Margaret
For something more like spas in North America, I’ll let you in on a secret. The hotel spa in the Ensana Grand Margaret Island is rarely crowded, though not as ‘authentic’ or historic an experience.
Call first for information because it’s a hotel spa and you need to make sure you can get day access. Since my husband and I were staying at the hotel, we went everyday.
My favourite local bathing experience in Budapest, at the bottom of Rose Hill, is the Lucas Baths, where fewer tourists go. It can be confusing to figure out where to go and what to do, but its setting, in the midst of a centuries-old hospital grounds, is quite atmospheric.
Read my article about the Budapest Baths for detailed info on the best baths to visit.
Take the Funicular up to the Castle District
It’s all about the romantic views up in the Castle District on the Buda side of the city, and you can catch the funicular up at Clark Ádám tér on the Buda side of the Chain Bridge.
Once you’re up here there is plenty of ways to amuse yourself. Visit the museums in Buda Castle, gawk at the splendour of St Matthias Church and gaze down at the glorious panorama of the Danube and the Hungarian Parliament Building from the turreted terrace of the Fisherman’s Bastion.
It’s also worth wandering through some of the serene backstreets and there are many fine restaurants in the area. For a bit of celebrity swank make a reservation at Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian at Buda Castle.
For a taste of something more traditional try a strudel or a decadent layered Ezsterhazy Cake at the Ruszwurm Coffee House. It’s the oldest confectionery in Budapest. You’ll find it at 1014 Budapest, Szentháromság Street 7.
Spend an Afternoon on Margaret Island
A garden-like haven between the Buda and Pest sides of the city, Margaret Island (Margitsziget Island), with the Danube flowing past on both sides, is one of the most romantic places in Budapest.
It’s a great break from traffic, noise and lights, and has a long history as a retreat. In the 13th century there was a convent here and you can still see the ruins today.
The island has a special quality and, while I’ve stayed in a lot of glam hotels in the city, when I returned with my husband, I chose to stay in one of the two hotels on the island for a romantic five-day stay.
One of the most fun things to do on Margaret Island for couples is to rent a covered bike for two, the type where you sit side by side to pedal. Full disclosure: For my husband, it’s the date from hell.
While he only does it under duress, I think it’s hilarious and it eventually gets him (almost) laughing. And laughter – even almost laughter – is one of the best things to share with your partner of all.
Best Hotels in Budapest for Romance
When it comes to romantic Budapest hotels visitors are spoiled for choice, and luxury hotels are cheaper than in other top couples’ destinations in Europe. Here are a few of my top picks.
Four Seasons Gresham Palace
When planning our romantic trip to Budapest, I spent hours (more like days, because I’m obsessed with hotels) trying to decide which hotel would make the best place for bonding. If my budget had allowed it I would have opted for the Four Seasons Gresham Palace in Pest with its central location and luxe decor.
- Top Luxury – The Four Seasons Gresham Palace Budapest right on the Danube has outstanding Art Nouveau architecture and contemporary art. It’s the swankiest place in town, with a painful price tag to match.
Sadly, a stay here hasn’t happened for me yet, but there is always hope for the future.
Boscolo Budapest Hotel
One of the top contenders for a romantic hotel stay in Budapest is the gorgeous Boscolo Hotel, home to the New York Cafe. The hotel is 5-star and extremely chic, though the location isn’t as central as I would like.
- Italian Style – The Italian exuberant design and flash of the Boscolo Budapest Hotel makes it stand out. You can sometimes get reasonable deals considering the level of luxury it offers. Try to get a room that includes breakfast so you can dine in style at the gorgeous New York Cafe.
Danubius Hotel Gellert
I also considered staying at the slightly faded Gellert Hotel, an imposing-looking property on the Buda side of the river. I’ve always been intrigued by it and it’s connected (though entrance isn’t free) to the Gellert Baths.
- Affordable – The prices can be quite low if you opt for the cheapest category of room, and, as a bonus, you can walk across the bridge to the Great Market Hall for a cheap meal.
In the end I didn’t choose to stay here because I didn’t want a possibly-crappy room but an expensive riverside deluxe suite, and settled for dragging my husband over on a rainy Friday night to sit in lobby to see what I was missing. Do I know how to plan a romantic date in Budapest or what?
Check prices and availability for the Gellert Hotel here.
I also considered staying at the Hilton Budapest up high on the Buda side of the city near the castle. On my very first trip to Budapest, when I was young, alone and broke, and Budapest was still very iron curtainish, I saw the Hilton from afar and it seemed so gleaming and luxurious and out of my budget I might as well have been dreaming about staying in the castle itself.
One day I’ll stay here, just to appease my former self, but, though it’s a lovely district with incredible views, it’s fairly far from the action. If you want peacefully strolling hand in hand rather than action, the Castle Hill district is a great area to walk around at night.
- Reliable Luxury – If you like to be among a lot of American tourists, as some river cruise groups stay in the hotel, it’s a reliable option.
Check prices and availability for the Hilton Budapest here.
Grand Margaret Island Hotel
- Tranquil – If a stay on peaceful Margaret Island appeals to you, the Ensana Grand Margaret Island dates back to 1873 and has a garden-like setting. It’s also connected to a lovely spa where you can soak in the thermal water.
There are two hotels on the island, both connected by an underground walkway to the spa and pools. If you like communist block architecture, opt for the Ensana Thermal Margaret Island, if you like old world charm, go for the Ensana Grand Margaret Island. Gee. Guess which one I picked.
However, you will need to take a bus or a taxi to get just about anywhere. We usually bussed it in to the city center for dinner and took a cab back.
The hotel and spa complex seems more popular with Russians than with Americans, and I’m sorry, while it’s the one hotel I seem to always return to in Budapest because I love the spa and the island, the hotel cuisine doesn’t inspire me.
Aria Hotel Budpest
The Aria is the trendiest romantic hotel option in my list. With a central location, the musical-themed Aria Hotel Budapest is an experience to remember, and its rooftop bar makes for a seductive place for cocktails.
- Boutique Chic – I stayed at the Aria once in the Pavarotti Room, and caught an impromptu concert by a famous pianist in the lobby. For honeymooners and hipsters who like art, culture and style it’s a good option.
Romantic Budapest Wrap Up
So there you have it. Romantic things to do in Budapest that will tantalize your palate, overload your eyesight, immerse you in hot springs and wear out your feet. What more could you ask from a great trip for two?
For more information on Hungary and Budapest visit Go To Hungary.
If you love wine, another romantic place to visit in Hungary is the town of Eger and the Valley of Beautiful Women. I went alone, but still had a great time.
Read more on Top European Destinations