Snow-capped in winter or bursting verdant in the summer, Gellért Hill is a beautiful sight in any season, and lucky for you staying at a vacation rental there, the area is wonderfully positioned for you to explore both sides of the Danube.
The Danube River is one of the symbols of Europe, streaming its way through 10 countries. Ending in the Black Sea of Romania, near the border of Ukraine, stretching through Eastern Europe to its starting point in Germany, the Danube is an important piece of European history. Drawing natural borders, past and present, the mighty Danube also cuts Budapest in two.
While it may be tempting to jump on a hop-on-hop-off tour, a self guided tour along the Danube has a lot to offer as well! This is a great way to get acquainted with the city’s rich history and discover hidden gems along the way.
We've put together our own guide that takes you past some spots that you just can't miss. Whether you choose to linger in one spot, or take it all in one stride, this Danube River walking tour will help you experience Budapest to the fullest!
Pro-Tip: If at any point you want to speed things along, there are trams that run parallel to the Danube on both sides of the river. Hop on the #2 (Pest) or the #19 (Buda) to shorten your journey.
Visible from almost anywhere on the riverside, Gellért Hill is where it all starts. Many of our accommodations are located just a stone's throw from this Buda junction.
So what's the history of Gellért Hill? It gets its name from one of Hungary's patron saints. Legend has it that King Stephen summoned Bishop Gellért to spread Christianity among the pagan tribes of the newly created Hungary in 1046. However, the pagans didn't take too kindly to Gellért's message, and promptly rolled him down the hill to his death, making him Hungary's first Christian martyr.
You can find a lot to do without even leaving the hill's immediate area.
Across from Elizabeth Bridge, you'll see a statue erected in Saint Gellert's honor, framed by a beautiful waterfall. Follow the pathway behind this and will lead you to the Citadella, a stone structure built by the Habsburgs at one of the highest points of the city. It's from here that you can get a truly spectacular panoramic view. And of course, unmissable in all of her glory is Budapest's own Statue of Liberty. It depicts a woman standing resolutely, arms outstretched and holding a palm leaf.
The monument was erected to commemorate the city's liberation from German troops. Although Budapest was soon brought under crushing Soviet rule, the Statue of Liberty is one of the few Communist sculptures still left standing in the city. The majority of them have been moved to an endlessly interesting (and often underrated) outdoor museum: Memento Park.
A little-known spot behind the statue is the Philosopher's Garden, a peaceful area dedicated to some of the world's greatest thinkers. It's a great place to go if you'd like some peace and quiet in the middle of the city.
A unique feature at Gellért Hill is the Cave Church. Explore a lesser-known piece of Budapest's history by visiting this sacred space. As the story goes, a hermit from the Middle Ages, Stephen, made his home in this cave, healing ailments of the sick with the hill's natural thermal waters. The cave church was later occupied by Pauline monks.
Unfortunately, the cave has a bit of a dark history, as the monks were arrested and detained there by the Communist regime. However, after the fall of Communism, the cave church was reopened in 1989, and now serves as a subterranean beacon of hope for local and traveling faith seekers.
Gellért Hotel and Spa is unmissable if you'd like to view some of Budapest's old-world splendor. Nobility, celebrities, and the well-to-do have walked Gellért Hotel's ornate Art Nouveau halls for decades since its opening in the early 20th century. Its elegance is hinted at by its detailed exterior, but to truly grasp the opulence, you should step inside this spectacular building. If relaxation is what you're after, visit Gellért's famed thermal bath.
Now that you're ready to leave the Gellért Hill area, your gateway to Pest is the iconic Liberty Bridge, one of the city’s most beautiful bridges. Originally named after Emperor Franz Joszef, the bridge was rebuilt in 1945 after being blown up by the Nazis, and christened "Liberty Bridge" as a show of Hungarian resilience and independence. Walk beneath its soaring green spires as you make your way across the river.
If you time your visit for the summer, you might catch one of the bridge's Pedestrian Days. During this time the city shuts down the bridge to traffic, and it springs to life with colorful groups of families, friends, and entertainers.
Don't miss your chance to shop as the locals do in Budapest Central Market Hall! One of the largest markets in the city, the hall provides rows and rows of local produce and other goods.
Peruse the stalls on the ground floor and pick up souvenir bags of paprika or spicy Hungarian sausage. Head downstairs to visit the fishmongers or head upstairs to browse souvenir stalls and to try classic Hungarian foods such as lángos, gulyás, or csirke paprikás. To be honest, you'll pay tourist prices, but you'll definitely have a wide variety to choose from!
~Coffee Break: Double Shot~
This bright cafe is tucked a couple of blocks back from the river. Bright with a varied brunch menu and wholesome, vegan options. Grab a coffee and fuel up for the walk down the Pest riverside
Heading north along the river, soon you'll pass the cuttingly modern Elizabeth Bridge--the only bridge rebuilt with a new design after its demolition by the Nazis. At the time it was built in 1903, its original design was known as the longest suspension bridge in the world. If you choose to linger in the square in front of the bridge, you can grab a cocktail at Kiosk, or perhaps try traditional Hungarian fare at the Százéves Étterem (the One Hundred Years Restaurant), which claims to be the oldest restaurant in Budapest.
If you’re already craving another caffeine break right about now, there's no place better than the historic Gerbaud Cafe, a renowned confectionary that's been perfecting desserts since 1858. This cafe hashad many illustrious regulars such as Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary (Sissy) and composer Franz List. The confectionery takes its cakes and coffees seriously, and only makes them to the highest standards. Try Hungarian classics such as Dobos Torta (delicious with its candied top layer) or Eszterházy (a many-layered walnut cake).
Vörösmarty Square also branches off onto Fashion Street and Váci Street, two pedestrian walkways that are packed with shops, restaurants, and cafes. If you get sidetracked, we'd understand.
In front of Gerbaud, you may also spy the entrance to the historic Metro 1 (complete with preserved vintage train carriages). Opened in 1896 it is Budapest's first metro and the first metro of continental Europe (behind only London's Tube which opened in 1863)! If you care for a detour, this metro will take you straight down Andrássy Avenue and deliver you to City Park (Városliget) and the grand colonnades of Heroes' Square.
Continue up the river on the wide walkway. Don't forget to pose with the Little Princess statue, perched on the tramline rail!
Continuing on your leisurely stroll, you'll soon arrive at the Chain Bridge. Known as the first permanent bridge in Budapest, the Chain Bridge (also called Széchenyi Chain Bridge) is one of the most well-known icons of the Hungarian capital. With its soaring cables and four carved stone lions keeping watch, it's a sight to be seen.
As history tells it, Count Széchenyi came up with the idea for the bridge in 1820 when, upon hearing news of his dying father, he was prevented from crossing the Danube due to poor weather. Famed architect Adam Clark later designed it.
Inaugurated in 1849, the bridge has seen many dramas, from revolutions to wars, until finally being rebuilt and reopened in 1949. After undergoing some long-overdue renovations, the bridge is expected to fully reopen in early 2023.
If you'd like to keep your Danube river walk short, you can cross the Chain Bridge (once it's been reopened from renovations) and stroll back to Buda. If not, give a friendly wave to the lions and continue north along the river!
At this point, you'll likely see the impressive dome of Parliament beckoning you closer. But first, there's an important monument to spend some time at. Installed along the banks of the Danube, you'll see iron casts of 1940s shoes, arranged in disarray as if hurriedly discarded.
These shoes are a monument to Hungary's dark past, when the Arrow Cross party marched Jews to the Danube, demanded they take off their shoes, and then shot them, letting their bodies be swept away by the river.
The shoes are of all classes and sizes, representing the fact that no one was safe from this oppressive power. This chilling memorial is a somber reminder of Hungarian history and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
You can't take a walking tour of the Danube without stopping at its crown jewel: the Budapest Parliament building. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987, the Hungarian Parliament building is one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe. Designed by Imre Steindl, it is an example of neo-gothic architecture with its high towers, spires, stained glass windows, statues and elaborate decorations.
This spot is a must-visit when hoping to shoot the best pictures in Budapest.
The interior is just as jaw-dropping as the outside. It is an example of neo-gothic architecture with its high towers, spires, stained glass windows, statues, and elaborate decorations. However, you cannot enter unless you are on a guided tour. Make sure to book your tickets ahead of time, as spots fill up quickly.
Not long after you leave Parliament behind, you'll come to Margaret Bridge. This is where you can adjust your back to the Buda side by crossing the iconic structure. Margaret Bridge, with its elaborate sculptures, was the second permanent bridge of Budapest. It's uniquely three-pointed as it connects Buda, Pest, and Margaret Island.
If you have time for a detour, stop on Margaret Island for some time with nature. Known as the "Green Lung of Budapest", the island is a pedestrian oasis in the middle of the city.
You can stroll through the Japanese garden, splash around at Palatinus Pool and waterpark, or just join in on one of the many festivals that the island hosts (the Food Truck Festival is our favorite). Walk through the wide green spaces, breathe some fresh air, and stop at any of the bars or kiosks if you get hungry.
While crossing the bridge, stop at the sculpture of the Holy Crown for a picture-perfect view of Parliament (if you take a tour of Parliament, you can see the real crown for yourself!).
Once off of Margaret Bridge, you'll be firmly back on the Buda side. Turn left and start heading south down the river, back in the direction of Gellért Hill. During your walk down the Buda side, stop at one of the most popular lookout points, Battyhány Tér. You can get an entire panoramic view of the wide reaches of the Parliament building. Snap a postcard-perfect picture and continue down the river.
This is also where you can hop on the HEV Suburban Railway 40 minutes north to the medieval town of Szentendre. Its charming narrow streets and vibrant buildings make it a popular Budapest day trip.
~Coffee Break~Home of Franziska
Bursting with color, this light and bright cafe puts health first. Dive into a satisfying smoothie bowl or delicious brunch as you fuel up for the rest of your walking tour along the Danube!
Pause during your river walk at the junction of Clark Adam Square, named after the architect who designed the iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge. You may notice the 3-meter-tall monument that marks the zero-kilometer stone--the point from which all Hungarian railway distances are measured from. Clark Ádám Square is a gateway to some of the jewels of Buda.
From here, you can walk up to Buda Castle. A beloved part of the Budapest skyline, Buda Castle holds the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum, and the National Széchényi Library.
Depending on the time of year you visit, you may catch one of the various gastronomic events hosted in the Buda Castle courtyards. Our favorites are the Budapest Wine Festival (September) or the Pálinka and Sausage Festival (October). If you visit in the spring, the grounds of Buda Castle are one of the favorite places to snap pictures of cherry blossoms!
If you continue walking through Budapest's gorgeous Castle District, you'll arrive at the Fisherman's Bastion, whose whimsical spires make it look like something straight out of a fairytale. Obviously, its Neo-Romanesque structure is far more decorative than a traditional bastion of defense would be. That's because, being finished in 1902, it was built as one of the monuments meant to celebrate the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian state.
Behind the Fisherman's Bastion you'll see the colorful tiles of Matthias Church, which is impressive in its own right. For a truly spectacular view, climb the church's tower where you can look out over all of Budapest!
If you don't feel like climbing the hill, you can take a ride through history on the Buda Castle Funicular. Inaugurated in 1890, it's fitting that the funicular can be found at the foot of the Széchenyi Bridge, as the funicular was conceptualized by the son of Count Széchenyi, himself. Although destroyed in World War II, the funicular was renovated and reopened in 1986. After a brief ride, the hill railway deposits you in the castle quarter, treating you to a panoramic view of the Danube and all of Budapest below. A roundtrip ticket is 3000HUF.
Once done with the Castle District, you'll soon arrive at Várkert Bazár, another breathtakingly beautiful installation. Built in the neo-renaissance style and completed in 1883, this ornamental garden and building complex has been recently restored by the city.
The Sissy Steps were also part of this restoration. This was the original pathway used by Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary to get directly from the river up to the castle. She spent a great deal of time in Budapest and came from Vienna directly by boat on the Danube.
Go there to attend one of the many events it hosts, or simply walk around for a romantic stroll!
The walking tour has almost come to a close. As you approach Gellért Hill, you'll first pass by one of Budapest's most famous thermal baths: Rudas Baths. Rudas is one of the oldest remaining baths from the Ottoman Turk occupation of Hungary. The structure is a mix of old and new, with classic rooms, but also modernly updated baths. However, a unique offering of this bath is up above: Rudas has a rooftop hot tub, so you can watch the city go by as you steam your cares away!
Walking a full loop around the Danube can be a relaxing and informative way to spend an afternoon. However, you might be pressed for time or prefer to take things easy by utilizing Budapest’s public transportation. If you'd like to cut down on walking time, the #2 tram or the #19 tram run along the Danube in Pest and Buda, respectively.
Accessible with a single ticket, these are much cheaper alternatives to any hop-on-hop-off bus and still take you past some of the Hungarian capital's most famous sights!
And of course, if you'd like to see many of the same sights without walking at all, a Danube River sightseeing cruise could be in order. Speaking of cruises, The Danube connects many of Budapest’s most iconic sites, but of course, it doesn’t stop in Hungary! Danube river cruises are quite popular as they can connect you with Austria, Germany, Slovakia, and even Serbia! Trips to Bratislava or the Wachau Valley are quite popular, if you have the time.
Can't get enough of walking through Budapest's beautiful streets? Consider a walking tour! Aside from a free walking tour, there are ones that focus on specific areas of Hungary's history, such as the Communism in Hungary walking tour, the Jewish History of Budapest walking tour, or even the Budapest Street Art walking tour.
Budapest's splendor is truly jaw-dropping, and the Danube river runs right through the heart of it. From ancient baths to grand palaces to humble monuments marking its storied past, strolling along the blue Danube is educational and beautiful all at the same time.
Use this Danube walking tour guide to see the beauty of Budapest up close and personally!