The Best Budapest Photography Locations
As anyone who’s been will tell you, the city of Budapest is actually divided into two distinct halves: Buda and Pest – and each side comes with its own unique feel. Buda is the leafier, calmer residential area, while Pest is the vibrant, busy downtown. Photo spots will mostly be concentrated in the latter, though quiet Buda is also home to a number of treasures, such as the castle district.
Many of its crown jewels are concentrated around the riverside, and when you stand there on a balmy summer’s night, you may just catch yourself thinking that there never was a more photogenic city.
All cities with a significant river have magic flowing through them, carried in with the water: the Seine in Paris, the Thames in London or the Tiber in Rome, and the Danube in Budapest. It is what makes the city the city, more than anything. So, it almost goes without saying that the first entry on the list of best photo spots is going to have to be:
The Danube and Her Bridges
The Danube is one of the most important bodies of water in Europe, snaking from its source in Germany through ten countries in total, more than any other river in the world. In the city of Budapest, there are eight main bridges that connect one side to another. Not all of them are worth seeing or taking pictures of, but the ones located in the center all have their unique selling points.
Elisabeth Bridge, for instance, is one of the least attractive but has the best views on either side of it, so it might just be the ideal choice for picture taking purposes. The most beautiful bridges are Liberty Bridge with the stone birds perched on top and Chain bridge, guarded by lions. Chain Bridge is the oldest one and most elaborate, designed by an English architect in 1838.
Both are fantastic, supremely walkable, and offer enough detail in their construction to distract you from the view for a moment.
Margaret Bridge is the entry point for the island of the same name. It is a must visit for any nature lover. It recently went through a renovation and is a strong contender for a romantic evening stroll due in part to its vicinity to the parliament. Bridges Arpad and Petofi, flanking the others on either side, are unremarkable.
Matyastemplom and Iparmuveszeti Muzeum
What unites this church and this museum is that both buildings’ roofs are tiled with porcelain by the world-famous porcelain company Zsolnay. Strictly to be seen and photographed during the day, these two really come alive in the warm afternoon sun. Mathias Church was where the coronation of Franz Joseph I of Austria took place, on the day that marked the birth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Museum of Applied Arts is perhaps the finest example of Art Nouveau Architecture in the city, which brings us to the honorable mentions in this category:
Art Deco/Art Nouveau Architecture
There are very few things in life that combine a respectable stately air with a generous helping of whimsy successfully. One such thing is Art Nouveau, along with its more serious cousin Art Deco. Both styles are amply represented in Budapest, and for anyone who enjoys unique architecture, a few buildings are a must-see, particularly those designed by Odon Lechner, the father of Hungarian Art Nouveau. Aside from the ravishing Museum of Applied Arts mentioned above, his other works dot the city, and each come with their unique beauty. Pay a visit to the Parisiana Club behind the Opera House or the Institute for the Blind to get a feeling of his skill, and see how well these styles flatter the city of Budapest.
Gresham Palace (Four Seasons Hotel)
The most famous hotel in Budapest, the glorious Four Seasons, is one of the crown jewels of the Hungarian capital. This building, situated just across the bridge in the center of town, is imposing inside and out. An English insurance company bought it as an investment and made it into an office in 1880 before the palace became an army barracks during WWII. It was then restored to its former glory and converted into the luxurious hotel it is today. The best angle of it might be from the bridge, though if you don’t mind looking funny, you can try getting an image from the patch of grass just in front of it.
You can’t make a photo spots list of a city that has a castle without mentioning said castle. Which is why we’re mentioning it now, along with the fact that the entire area of the Budai Var is worth a stroll with camera in hand. In the castle complex, you can find the National Gallery, the National Library, and the fantastic Budapest History Museum. Once outside, you can sit on the grass of the steep hill and enjoy a languid spring afternoon or visit the Fisherman’s Bastion for great views shared with countless other tourists. Speaking of crowded views:
One of the best-known landmarks in Budapest, the citadel is the viewing platform jutting out from the Buda riverside. Towering high over the city, this is technically a sort of fortress and has some of the very best views of the city. Which of course also means crowds, but the trick here is to go to the top, enjoy it for a while, and then head down the hill on foot, where you will come across a lesser-known and thus emptier viewing platform, from which you can experiment with your camera to get that one perfect shot.
Parliament and Basilica
The arguably most beautiful edifice in the country, the parliament has a striking presence with its glistening light reflecting on the water rushing by at night. While each and every angle is bound to be a great one, the very best image can and must be taken of it from the other side of the river, preferably after sundown. It should be noted that the Parliament is a view that comes out almost as beautifully in a photograph, even taken with your phone’s camera. We don’t know if it’s the light, the sheer monolithic presence of it, or the softening effect of the Danube shining softly below it, but somehow, you can capture the magic.
Another hallmark of the city this can be said for is the Basilica, an awe-inspiring church in the center of downtown. The largest church in Budapest took fifty years to build, which is not a long time if you consider what it resulted in. All that stone looks great up close, but the square the church is set in is a great backdrop and the liveliness of it at night a nice compliment to the stoic building.
Instant and Simpla Kert
Just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder, they do get weirder. This is the pervading feeling whenever you find yourself in a ruin pub in Budapest. These intentionally derelict, scruffy places tend to feature odd and mismatched decor that makes for sublime pictures. Two great examples of this are Instant or Szimpla Kert, where the motto is anything goes, and what doesn’t go goes even better. Prepare to find bathtubs to sit in, hollowed out TV sets to use as tables, taxidermy and encouraged vandalism: sometimes, anarchy is what hits the spot. If you’re at Szimpla, head over to the Mexican place called El Rapido next door and check out the downstairs area while they prepare your food. And don’t worry, you’ll have time: the name might be, but the service is not so rapido here. A word of warning, this space is not for anyone who suffers from nightmares featuring creepy dolls or didn’t enjoy the film Chucky. You might need a camera that performs well in low light, but if you’ve got one, you can’t go wrong with ruin pubs.
This largest thermal bath in the city is also the most famous, most beautiful, and most iconic.
We recommend capturing the yellow building surrounded by steaming outdoor pools in the winter, the parties stretching into the small hours every Saturday, and the old men playing chess on a stone board built into the water. These images represent the city like the Danube or the Parliament building. Now, we know that recommending you take your camera to a thermal bath seems foolish, but if there’s any way you can, try doing it.
Interesting and necessary to visit, the Main Market Hall also is great to look at, inside and out. Right across the water from Gellert Hill, this beautiful building is full of all things edible and Hungarian, many of which are worth taking pictures of.
Be sure to snap one of all of the local cuisine laid out for your viewing pleasure. The light that filters in from outside is ideal for food shots, and you can come early in the morning to catch little Hungarian grandmothers haggling, or later in the day for a more touristy crowd.
Conservatory, Opera, and Balettintezet
An underrated gem, the Budapest Conservatory is an architectural marvel that comes out great in pictures. This building, nestled in a quiet corner just off one of the busiest nightlife centers, is a great example for the wonderful job the city does of lighting its public spaces and edifices. That being said, the conservatory looks great day and night, so take the few steps off of Kiraly street to take a look.
The area’s other unavoidable buildings worth a pilgrimage are the Opera house and the Ballet Institute. The Opera is under renovation at the time of writing, but the wraps should come off soon to reveal a polished version of the grand old lady. The Ballet Institute has been trying to get herself revamped for decades now, and a sign by its entrance says such an update is in the works, but that too has been around for long enough for locals to lose hope. Still, there is something evocative and delicately beautiful about the dusty, broken-down building, and sepia photographs of it will make it look like you’ve traveled back in time.
Since you’re already here, head a little further down the road towards Heroe’s Square until you get to the House of Terror, a somber architectural marvel that is especially imposing after dark.
Heroes Square and the Museums, Andrassy Ut
So you walked from the main square of downtown, Deak Ter, along the leafy and chic Andrassy ut, past high fashion boutiques of all manner, by the Opera house, by busy Oktogon square, and kept right on walking as the shops and people thinned out. You are now in a very upscale area – one dotted with the mansions of important people. Walk on past the house of Terror and keep looking ahead, until you arrive at a massive, wide, and flat space: Heroes Square. There’s a lot here to take in, and a lot to photograph, too, like the statues and the museums flanking the wide pedestrian area on either side. You can take no wrong picture here.
After you’re done with your exploration, you can walk over to the zoo and check out its adorable elephant house, or visit Vajdahunyad Castle by the lake. Both are fantastic photo spots in their own right.
Built by the Eiffel company (ring a bell?), this train station is an endlessly French sight to behold. Not perhaps worth going inside unless you’re taking a train somewhere, the outside alone is noteworthy enough to warrant a visit. Speaking of noteworthy: Adjacent to the station, you will also find a McDonald’s. This is, of course, nothing special in and of itself, as you are likely to find one near any major train station the world over. What sets this outlet apart is its peculiar and somewhat ill-suited beauty: it has been described as the most elegant McDonald’s in the world. More like a library from a period film, it’s all dimmed lights and fine-boned dignity. Worth a look, or a snap, even if you’ve got better places to try for lunch.
Synagogue es Bulinegyed
The Jewish quarter is an essential part of Budapest and perhaps the most authentic and loved one of the city. The streets here extend from the picture-perfect, towering synagogue and are filled with life and images worth capturing. Rather than telling you specific things to get pictures of, we suggest you get lost on purpose and see where the roads take you. But not before you pay a visit to the Synagogue, of course. Photographing the inside of the temple or the cemetery behind it is strongly discouraged, but you can certainly take a few shots of the weeping willow memorial back home with you. Great in the bright sun of noon. The evening lights illuminating it are breathtaking, but this, like a sunset, is one of those things a camera really can’t quite capture.
New York Kavehaz, Gerbeaud, and Bambi Eszpresszo
The two extremes on this last item of our list will see you go from lavish Grunderzeit style Gerbeaud to the even more lavish Secessionist New York Palace Cafe to finally arrive at the summit of austerity at starkly socialist Bambi Cafe in Buda. The juxtaposition of these very different styles and ideologies is something not perhaps unique to Budapest but certainly defining of it. Taking these images and laying them next to one another is a potent way of charting the incredible changes Budapest has gone through in its long history.