This post may contain affiliate links.
Even if you don’t live like an Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Emperor on a daily basis, it doesn’t mean you can’t schedule some incredible activities and romantic things to do in Budapest that will make your trip unique. Here some great ways to turn your trip into a one-of-a-kind vacation.
Why Visit Budapest as a Couple
There have been so many upscale changes in the city over the last few years that visiting Budapest can be a fantastic whirlwind of a ride. In this travel article you’ll find some special ways of seeing the city that will up the romance by far.
Whether you’re visiting on your honeymoon, anniversary or just looking for memory-making experiences, these unique things to do in Budapest are fantastic activities for two.
It’s a great place for couples because Budapest is 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. Over the last few years Budapest has gotten its mojo back and is a superb destination for couples looking to bond.
Activities From Luxury to Budget
It’s possible to find plenty of special things to do in Budapest even if you’re on a budget, though admittedly it would be easier if you were say, Drew Barrymore, Adrian Brody or Joaquin Phoenix – all celebrities who happen to have some Hungarian blood.
One thing to keep in mind is that a splurge or two is worth it to get a unique take on the city, so consider adding a splash of pizazz to your Budapest vacation. It doesn’t need to break your budget and is the best way to experience a unique filmy golden layer that floats over the city like a noble Hapsburg ghost … if, you know, ghosts were golden.
So let’s get to the top unique and romantic things to do in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, that will take you past the average cookie cutter tours and into a sensational side of the city.
Romantic Things to Do in Budapest
Visit the Most Beautiful Cafe in the World: The New York Cafe Budapest in the Boscolo Hotel
I defy you to find a cafe more grand than the New York Cafe in Budapest on Erzsébet körút 9, 1073. When I visited a few years ago my mouth gaped open, and there may have been some drool involved.
Having just revisited the New York Cafe in Budapest, my mouth was still gaping, but at least I held back the drool – obviously some of Budapest’s refinement has rubbed off on me.
A Favourite With the Bohemians
The New York Cafe of Budapest was a favourite of the Bohemian literary set and it’s easy to see why. It’s surreal in its lavishness. The ceiling is all fluttery and gorgeous with 19th-century frescoes by Gusztav Mannheimer and Ferenc Eisenhut.
There are Venetian chandeliers and golden stucco and opalescent marble and weird twisty columns that make the New York Cafe of Budapest 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 Budapest opened in 1894, the famous Hungarian writer, Ferenc Molnár, is said to have thrown the keys into the Danube so that it could never close its doors.
And I say, who gave that drama king the keys? I mean, if you opened the ritziest cafe in Hungary, would you just hand the keys over to, say, Jerry Seinfeld or Zsa Zsa Gabor (also both of Hungarian descent)?
Okay, maybe I’d let Jerry Seinfeld hold them, but only for a minute. And also, may the beautiful Zsa Zsa Gabor rest in peace.
Take a Private Boat Tour on the Danube at Night
Surely a private boat 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.
Why Do a River Cruise on the Danube in Budapest?
You know how every picture you see of Budapest is the Hungarian Parliament Building from the Danube River? And how every second picture you see of Budapest is the Hungarian Parliament Building from the Danube at night?
That’s because the Hungarian Parliament Building is a Neo-Baroque wonder, like a huge mountain of stone icicles topped with red domes and spires. The reason to do a Danube River cruise is so that you, too, can get your fair share of Hungarian Parliament riverside photos and bond over champagne and sparkling city views.
Why a Private River Cruise?
Because it’s fun. Our boat had wood panelling, comfy upholstery, an open air section at the back and plenty of sparkling wine. It’s the quickest way to see how the other half lives, or at least floats, which brings us back to those Hapsburg ghosts …
You can get more info on a private speedboat tour here.
Tour the Hungarian Parliament Building
Why do I include in our list of romantic things to do in Budapest? Because there is bling, history and lavishness involved. Dome Hall in the Hungarian Parliament Building is where the Coronation Jewels are kept – including the sacred Crown of Saint Stephen that has been crowning kings since the 12th century. (Except now there’s no king to crown, but 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 after all?
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 in the Parliament Building 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 probably wouldn’t be there on a romantic trip.
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.
Get Cozy at One of Budapest’s Most Romantic Restaurants
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 I’m limiting my choices to three restaurants.
Gourmet Cuisine at Borkonyha Winekitchen
Borkonyha Winekitchen is a 3-star Michelin restaurant. It’s 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.
Borkonyha Winekitchen is trendy and sleek, with clean lines, a modern feel and an art deco edge. If you’re wanting to dine well, but watching your budget, go for lunch rather than dinner.
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.
Opt For a Traditional Splurge at Gundel Restaurant
Gundel is a world class experience and one the most immersive things to do 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 here: food, music, art and emus. (I’ll get to the emu in a minute.)
The Gundel Experience
At Gundel you are usually serenaded by a 6-piece orchestra while sitting in plush surroundings, gazing around the restaurant 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 immediately a huge success when it opened in 1914.
More Gundel Gossip
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. Oh, and once an emu escaped from the zoo, too.)
- Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain
- Pope John Paul II
- Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt
- Hillary Rodham Clinton
- Vladimir Putin
Can you imagine the dinner party if they were there together? Especially with the emu? And here I thought dinner parties were dull.
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 unique things to do in Budapest for couples 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 partner over a unique dining experience like that? (If you’re a vegetarian, I sincerely apologize for mentioning this. Seriously.)
For more food ideas check out this article on the Best Hungarian Restaurants in Budapest by TravelNotesandBeyond.com.
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 with her. So probably next time I visit Es Bisztro in the Kempinski Hotel I’ll order a salad.
Soak in the Famous 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 still worth the experience.
For outdoor pools and a lively atmosphere the spectacular architecture of the Szechenyi Baths in City Park is hard to beat, while for an indoor experience the Gellert Baths on the Buda side of the city are a traveller’s favourite.
For something more tranquil and 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’ an experience.
Read my article about the Budapest Baths for detailed info on the best baths to visit.
Explore the Musical Side of Budapest
The birthplace of classical composer Franz Liszt and home to the wild Sziget Festival every August, Budapest has music coming out of its pores, and there’s no better way to explore this vibrant Hungarian city with your significant other than by delving into its musical side, from visiting the ornate State Opera House to alternative rock.
For details about how to best experience Budapest’s sweet notes, read my travel article about the musical side of Budapest.
Or, 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.
Cycle Through Margaret Island
A quiet pedestrian haven between the Buda and Pest sides of the city, tranquil Margaret Island, with the Danube flowing past on both sides, is one of my favourite places in the city. It’s a great break from traffic, noise and lights, and has a long history as a retreat.
In the 13th century it was a convent and you can still see the ruins today.
Personally, I like to make my husband take a covered bike for two, the ones where you sit side by side. He hates them but I think they’re hilarious and it eventually gets him (almost) laughing. And laughter – even almost laughter – is one of the best things to share of all.
When it comes to Budapest hotels, visitors are spoiled for choice, especially if you want romantic luxury.
- Top Luxury The Four Seasons Gresham Palace Budapest right on the Danube has astounding Art Nouveau architecture and contemporary art. It’s the swankiest place in town, with a painful pricetag to match.
- Italian Style The Italian exuberant design and flash of the Boscolo Budapest Hotel is still a winner in my books. You can sometimes get reasonable deals considering the level of luxury. Try to get a room that includes breakfast so you can dine in style at the gorgeous New York Cafe.
- Central Location The beyond-trendy new musical themed hotel, the Aria Hotel Budapest is an experience to remember especially if you want a music-themed trip. Great central location.
- Affordable Luxury and Tranquil If a stay on peaceful Margaret Island appeals to you – and it often does to me – the Ensana Grand Margaret Island is old world and connected to a lovely spa where you can soak in the thermal water. You need to take a bus or a taxi to get to most sights though.
So there you have it. Plenty of romantic things to do in Budapest to tantalize your palate, overload your eyesight, soak in some mineral water 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.
Read more on Top European Destinations