by Ellen Curham
Budapest is perhaps most famous for its baths but as the capital city of Hungary, it’s also home to some pretty interesting museums. These are an ideal way for groups of friends or solo travellers to learn more about the culture and the history of the city, and believe us, there’s a lot! At HostelBookers, we’re big fans of Budapest’s museums and have picked the top five you need to visit next time you’re in the city.
Hungarian National Museum
Learn all about Hungary and how it came to be as it is today at the Hungarian National Museum, the largest museum in the country. From the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Eastern Bloc, it’s an insightful journey through the country’s fascinating history. The museum houses over 3.5 million pieces with one of the most well-known being the Monomachus Crown, an intricate gold Byzantine headpiece whose origins are widely disputed.
There are permanent exhibits that revolve around the history, art and architecture of Hungary as well as temporary ones. This summer, visitors can check out ‘Codes/Signals/Images – The Secret Art of the Revolution of 1956’ and ‘The Silver of Tunderkert – A Special Collection of Transylvanian Thalers’. It also has some notable works usually found in the Museum of Fine Arts, which is currently closed for renovations.
The museum building is a striking Neo-Classical piece of architecture, located centrally in the Palace District. It’s open from 10am-6pm and closed on Mondays. Regular admission is 1600 Hungarian forints (HUF) and only 500 for students. It’s one of the best museums to start off in to give you some background for Hungary and the beautiful city that it Budapest.
Hospital in the Rock
Underneath the stunning Buda Castle you’ll find the Hospital in the Rock—one of Budapest’s quirkiest museums. It is situated in a natural cave system that was created by glacial water thousands of years ago. Originally designed as a treatment centre with a capacity for around 50 patients, it found itself in the epicentre of the Siege of Budapest in 1944-45, treating around 600 soldiers, going on to become a nuclear bunker during the Cold War.
Visiting this place will give you a real insight into how the city was affected by the war and the ingenious ways in which they continued to run a successful emergency hospital amid power outages and sieges. It costs 2,000 to 4,000HUF and group rates are also available. It is open seven days a week from 10am-8pm.
Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art
The history of Hungary goes quite far back but that doesn’t mean the city lacks contemporary culture either. Get a feel for its unique modern flare at the Ludwig Museum. Showcasing some of the best contemporary art in Eastern Europe, this museum has works from the likes of Andy Warhol and Hungarian artists like Konkoly and Lakner.
It’s the ideal place to discover artists from this side of Europe that you might not have come across before. Current exhibitions include ‘The Whale That Was a Submarine – Contemporary Positions from Albania and Kosovo’ and ‘Peter Farago and Ingela Klemetz Farago: Women in Chanel’.
The building itself, the Palace of Arts, is also a treat—it’s slick yet elegant and located on the banks of the Danube. It is open from 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday and tickets range from 2,000-8,000 HUF with group rates available.
House of Terror
See Hungary’s history in a unique light at the House of Terror, a highly interactive museum dedicated to the fascist and communist regimes that took place in the country. It features artefacts from this time that were used for interrogation and torture and is a dedicated memorial to the victims of these techniques. The building itself served as the local Nazi headquarters in the 1940s, then as the home of the Hungarian KGB during the Cold War.
Although controversial in its subject matter, this museum is very popular with visitors eager to learn more about the former Eastern Bloc and the activities that went on within it. As you walk from room to room you’ll be immersed in everything from quirky Soviet propaganda to the damp gloom of the prisoner’s cells. The museum is also takes an interest in human rights violations in relation to political prisoners around the world and frequently hosts temporary exhibitions on the subject. Full-price tickets start at 2,000 HUF with discounts for groups and students. Opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday from 10-6.
Hungarian Railway Museum
Train nerds will adore this fun museum that is actually built around a train station. Obviously you should arrive by train and can do this by departing from Budapest Nyugati Station to Esztergom; it leaves three times a day on weekends. It is considered to be Europe’s first interactive railway museum and has a fleet of 50, with 12 operational engines that you can ride—and some that you can even drive! There’s plenty more that you can observe and admire, too, such as a vintage Orient Express cart. It is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-6pm during the summer months and entrance for an adult is 1,400HUF.
Where to stay?
Pal’s Hostel is about as central as it gets, being located next to Szent István Basilica and the start of Andrássy Avenue. It’s the perfect place to stay with friends as most of their rooms are privates, ranging from double rooms to eight-bed apartments. There’s also four-bed ensuite dorms, of course!
If you’re looking to party the night away after being cultural all day, Carpe Noctem Vitae is a fun hostel boasting 60% of their floor space dedicated to social spaces. There are nightly pub crawls, two kitchens and group dinners so you can meet your fellow travellers and maybe play some tunes on the house guitar and keyboard.