I’ve always found photographing Budapest incredibly moreish. I’ve been extremely fortunate to visit Budapest several times, and building on my portfolio of Budapest photography has always been a big reason for returning so many times.
Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and this is largely because its main asset, the river Danube, is given centre stage. Much of your Budapest sightseeing – and many of your best Budapest photos – will be done along here.
There’s also a vast wealth of Budapest architecture to explore. This formed my first impression of Budapest, that it is one of the most exotic cities in Europe. Along with Vienna it enjoyed the huge benefits of being a Habsburg Imperial city, an influence you see all over Budapest. Yet it also offers a taste of what lies further east and south-east, and this makes it one of the most fascinating European cities to visit.
For lovers of photography Budapest is also immensely rewarding. In our guide to photographing Budapest we’ll take you around the best Budapest attractions and the best views in Budapest.
We’ll also suggest ways of looking at the city differently and seeking out less obvious subjects along the way. Just be sure to build your time around having the ‘blue hour’ free each evening, as Budapest at night is especially beautiful.
- 1 Our Top Tips For Photographing Budapest
- 2 Photographing Budapest – 15 places you shouldn’t miss
- 2.1 1. River Danube in Budapest
- 2.2 2. Chain Bridge
- 2.3 3. Budapest Royal Castle
- 2.4 4. Fishermen’s Bastion (Halaszbástya)
- 2.5 5. Matyas Templom
- 2.6 6. Batthyány tér
- 2.7 7. Hungarian Parliament (Országház)
- 2.8 8. Gellert Hill and Memorial
- 2.9 9. Applied Arts Museum
- 2.10 10. Great Synagogue
- 2.11 11. St Stephen’s Basilica
- 2.12 12. Budapest Central Market
- 2.13 13. Former Post Office Savings Bank
- 2.14 14. Heroes Square Budapest
- 2.15 15. Széchenyi Thermal Baths
- 2.16 16. Hungarian National Geological Institute
Our Top Tips For Photographing Budapest
- Spend plenty of time around the river Danube, as this is where many of the main Budapest landmarks and the best viewpoints in Budapest are concentrated
- Whatever you do, arrange your schedule to accommodate at least an hour’s shooting time around dusk each evening
- Depending on how long you visit Budapest for, aim to spend at least one dusk / twilight on each side of the river – shooting towards Pest from Buda one evening, and from Pest to Buda the other
- If you’re planning to photograph Budapest in summer – and you have free rein – the city can get very hot, and I found I got the best results getting up at 3.30-4.00 am, heading back to bed from 9.30 to 2.00 pm, getting lunch and shooting again from 4.00 to 10.00 pm.
- Most of the best Budapest Art Nouveau buildings are spread around the Pest side of the river – and they really are quite spread out!
Photographing Budapest – 15 places you shouldn’t miss
1. River Danube in Budapest
Seeing the sights along the Danube is right up there with the best things to do in Budapest.
The river isn’t so much a subject in itself a s an element in multiple compositions along the way. It’s where you see different elements lined up close to each other, the place where you can juxtapose away to your heart’s content.
One of the central elements is, of course, the Chain Bridge, which lines up rather beautifully with several other Budapest monuments. You’ll need to do a fair bit of legwork to get the best vantage points, which include the Royal Castle, Fishermen’s Bastion and Gellért Hill and next to the Chain Bridge. Also try to give yourself a ‘night off’ and enjoy one of the sunset Danube river cruises.
2. Chain Bridge
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lanchid) is a splendid sight, and one of the most beautiful bridges in Europe.
It’s in prime position with the Royal Castle (Var) behind it to the west in Buda, and from the Castle, it’s right in front of the Parliament building, so, needless to say, it’s going to feature in many of your Budapest pictures.
It was the first bridge built in Hungary to span the Danube, and was completed in 1849. It’s very impressive by day but comes into its own at night when the lights come on. Cruise boats tend to block the view immediately next to the Bridge, but the line of sight is usually clear in the evening when most of the boats are out on the river. Also look to shoot on the bridge, using the traffic trails from long exposure to add an extra dynamic to your images. The fine stone lions at either end of the bridge can also bring a lot to your compositions.
3. Budapest Royal Castle
Budapest’s Var is a magnificent place overlooking the city from the heights of Buda.
There are two places which stand out as the best vantage points – Gellért Hill and around the Pest side of Chain Bridge. If you’re shooting in. the daytime, try to get down to the river for the early light, otherwise twilight time is best.
The Castle also makes a fine vantage point, most notably for possibly the most iconic of images Budapest can offer, the Chain Bridge and Parliament shot at night. Another shot that works from the Castle is of the yellow Baroque tower of the Tabán church just to the south, with the St Gellért Memorial in the forested hillside behind.
Also seek out the huge eagle sculpture (Turul), its wings spread out over the city below.
4. Fishermen’s Bastion (Halaszbástya)
The Fishermen’s Bastion is one of the busiest Budapest tourist places.
It’s built on the site of an earlier bastion of the old Buda Castle walls, and gets its name from Halászvaros, the Fishermen’s Quarter next to the riverbank. The Bastion was built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries by Frigyes Schulek, who also worked on the neighbouring Matthias Church (see below).
The Bastion is well over 100 metres long, and its seven conical neo-Romanesque towers – representing the seven Magyar tribes that arrived in the region in 895 – should be on any what to do in Budapest list. It’s best either in early morning light or at night, when it’s well lit. It’s not the easiest subject to photograph – one of the best places is actually around the statue of St Stephen, where you can show some of the towers.
Otherwise, the ramparts offer views along to some of the towers, and the arches beautifully frame them and the Hungarian Parliament building across the river.
5. Matyas Templom
Towering above the Fishermen’s Bastion, the Matthias Church is one of the main places to go in Budapest Castle District.
It’s a beautiful building, largely a 19th century reconstruction of it in its Gothic guise. However, it’s not an easy one to photograph, simply because it looms so large in the camera frame, and other than the equestrian statue of St Stephen there aren’t any other elements nearby to incorporate into a composition.
That said, the colourful tiled roof is fantastic, and there’s definitely something to work with there, including in conjunction with the church tower.
Sometimes you have to take a walk away to get the best out of a place photographically. I think the Matthias Church looks best from across the river. There are several options – with the Chain Bridge, or with the Calvinist Church near the riverbank below.
6. Batthyány tér
Busy Batthyány tér (pronounced Botty-arn tayr) is not one of the best places in Budapest to hang out, but it’s right across the road from one of the best Budapest photo spots. It’s directly opposite the ornate Hungarian Parliament building, a fine sight in late light or when lit at twilight. Here you get the full width panoramic view of the Parliament building, often reflected 1046.in the waters of the Danube.
Also look out for one of the most beautiful churches in Budapest, St Anna, on the corner of Batthyany ter. It’s a lovely Baroque twin-towered church, and there’s not much you can do other than shoot up at it. It’s surprising, given its size and stature, how few Budapest churches there are – especially compared with the wealth of churches in Prague, whose city centre is considerably smaller.
7. Hungarian Parliament (Országház)
After the Houses of Parliament in London and Bundestag in Berlin, the Hungarian Parliament is probably the most famous building of its kind in Europe. It’s a vast, grandiose neo-Gothic fantasy, a forest of spires and turrets crowned by a large central dome. Its site also helps, located right next to the river Danube.
As with many other Budapest sites, it looks at its best in the ‘blue hour’ when it’s lit up and there is still some colour in the sky. It looks fantastic from the Royal Castle, in conjunction with the Chain Bridge, and through the arches of the Fishermen’s Bastion up on the hill in Buda.During one of my Budapest trips I had a hunch that a shot through the arches of the Parliament building might work at sunrise, and so it did.
The Orszagház is one of the main places to visit in Budapest, and the plush interior is well worth a visit. The building looks great from up close in very early or very late light, the light-coloured stone glowing orange and pink at the beginning and end of the day. While there, also take time to see the poignant Shoes on the Danube Bank (Cipok a Duna parton) memorial to the Jews.of Budapest murdered by the Nazis.
8. Gellert Hill and Memorial
The summit area of Gellért Hill is a Budapest must see. It’s the location of the Citadella, a fortress built on the orders of Emperor Franz Josef I to keep an eye on the fractious locals.
You can’t visit the fortress, but everyone visits for the incomparable Budapest night view.The whole city is laid out before you, with the Royal Castle overlooking the river, the lights of the Chain Bridge twinkling in the twilight and the serene Parliament building illuminated by the riverside.
Along with a Danube river cruise, a visit here is one of the best things to do in Budapest at night. Also look out for the St Gellért Memorial which faces east and overlooks the river. Gellert was the first Christian martyr in Hungary, thrown off the hill that bears his name in 1046. The memorial is in the form of a Neoclassical colonnade with behind a statue of Gellert. It’s a short, steep walk up from the river, but this is one of the better – and more unusual – Budapest views to take in if you have the time.
9. Applied Arts Museum
This outstanding building and museum (Iparművészeti Muzeum) may not be one of the most popular Budapest tourist attractions, but that doesn’t mean a thing. For my money this is one of the top three or four Budapest highlights, a jaw-droppingly beautiful Art Nouveau building with a breathtaking green and gold tiled roof. It is the work of Ödön Lechner, who is responsible for two other buildings in this article. His work preceded that of Catalan contemporary Antoni Gaudi by a few years, and less outré and revolutionary than Gaudi. Yet I’ve always found his buildings somehow more satisfying, and this is one of his best. Make this a must do in Budapest.
It’s located on Úllói út, very close to Corvin-negyed metro station (formerly known as Ferenc körút).
10. Great Synagogue
Budapest’s Great Synagogue – also known as the Dohany Street Synagogue – is the largest in Europe, seating around 3,000 people. It dates back to 1859, and was designed by the Austrian architect Ludwig Förster. It’s a fine building indeed, its twin towers and domes a little reminiscent of some mosques I’ve seen in my Middle East travels. The façade is the best part to photograph, but the interior is also very striking. While here, also visit the small Jewish Cemetery and Holocaust Memorial Park, the latter dedicated to heroes like Giorgio Perlasca and Angelo Rotta who saved many thousands of Budapest Jews from murder at Auschwitz.
11. St Stephen’s Basilica
St Stephen’s Basilica (Bazilika Szent Istvan) is the Westminster Abbey of Hungary, and home to the one surviving relic of Hungary’s first king, St Stephen I, who died in 1038. His right hand is preserved in the shrine in the Basilica, and it’s hugely important symbolically to Hungarians.
The Basilica was built in the 19th and early 20th century, eventually being opened in 1905. It’s one of the most popular Budapest things to see, and its most impressive feature externally is its dome, built to exactly the same height as the nearby Parliament building. It’s rather hemmed in by modern buildings in a small square that does nothing at all to enhance it. The nearby Budapest Eye ferris wheel on Erzsébet ter gives a better view, and the dome of the Basilica offers a great Budapest view from the external gallery.
12. Budapest Central Market
The Central Market is a great barn of a building and a Budapest must see. It’s packed with a mixture of stalls selling food, Hungarian souvenirs (everything from dolls to folk-inspired clothing), snack bars, wine bars and restaurant. This is the place to come for Budapest detail shots – the food and accompanying signage is always a good bet. My excuse for not having a shot to accompany these words is that I was carrying all my wife’s shopping last time we visited!
13. Former Post Office Savings Bank
This stupendous Art Nouveau building by the ‘Hungarian Gaudi’ (not my words!) Ödön Lechner is close to the Parliament building, and just around the corner from the US Embassy on Hold utca. Its standout feature is its green Zsolnay tiled roof, but I always found this amazing building a tough one to photograph as the views from the street are quite limited – especially in summer when the trees block many an opportunity.
I have yet to visit it myself, but for the price of a drink on the rooftop terrace of the Hotel President on the other side of the street, which has an uninterrupted view of the whole edifice, roof included.
14. Heroes Square Budapest
Heroes Square – Hősök tere in Hungarian – is a large monumental square on the edge of the Varosliget Park, at the end of one of thre main Budapest streets, Andrassy ut. It has always been one of the more popular places to visit in Budapest, but there’s not a great deal to occupy you in the square, other than a colonnade, statues and monument.
The best time to photograph it is at night or in very early or late light. I’ve stayed with a friend just off Andrassy ut several times, so was well-placed to get there before sunrise. This is when it’s at its most dramatic. The whole area is well worth a visit at any time of day though – therer are several Budapest attractions close by, including the Széchenyi Baths (see below) and Fine Arts Museum. Travel there on the yellow M1 line, the late 19th century földalatti that was the first underground line to be built on mainland Europe.
15. Széchenyi Thermal Baths
The Széchenyi Baths are a few minutes’ walk from Heroes Square, and also close to the 19th century Vajdahunyad Castle. The baths are among the easiest to photograph in Budapest, as the pools are outdoors and most people don’t mind cameras around, especially if you’re photographing the overall scene. Taking a dip in the waters is one of the top things to do in Budapest, and these gorgeous Art Nouveau baths are an amazing place to do so. The main façade (pictured) is pretty marvellous too.
16. Hungarian National Geological Institute
One of the most beautiful Budapest photography subjects is way off the beaten path, very close to Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas Arena (built on the site of the famous old Nepstadion where the Magical Magyars trounced England 7-1 in 1953, but I digress!)
The Hungarian Nation al Geological Institute is a handsome creamy mustard-coloured Art Nouveau building with an extraordinary blue tiled roof. It’s one of the most fascinating places to see in Budapest, and another building by Ödön Lechner, It is home to the small but beautiful Hungarian Geological Museum, with a vast collection of fossils, minerals and more.
It’s on Stefania ut, and can be reached on bus number 75. I shot it early on a summer morning.