The Hungarian capital of Budapest is a city with a rich history spanning centuries. There has been a settlement on the side of Budapest since before the Romans founded a town here, so Budapest's roots run deep. And there's no better place to learn more about Hungarian history than in the many Budapest museums that contain treasures of European art and relics from the city's long history.
If you're looking for the best museums in Budapest, you've come to the right place. History buffs will be in heaven here, but even those with less interest in the past will find plenty worth visiting. But before you go off exploring Budapest's best museums, don't forget to drop off your bags with Bounce luggage storage in Budapest. Many museums in Budapest don't allow large bags inside and don't offer luggage storage, so it's a good idea to leave your things somewhere safe before you visit.
Hungarian National Museum
When talking about museums in Budapest, it makes sense to start with the largest museum not only in the city, but in all of Hungary. The Hungarian National Museum holds an extensive collection of artifacts that tell the story of the country from prehistoric times up to the modern day. And because this museum tells the story of the entire country, you'll learn more about Hungarian history both in and outside of Budapest. The permanent exhibitions, from Roman gravestones to the art of the Middle Ages to relics of the Fascist and Communist regimes of the 20th century, will give you a crash course in Hungarian culture, and you could spend a whole day or more visiting the vast collection here.
Hungarian National Gallery
As the capital of the country, Budapest is home to Hungary's top cultural institutions. As well as the Hungarian National Museum, you'll also find the Hungarian National Gallery located in the city. This is one of the largest art collections in the country, and is home to treasures of Hungarian art from the medieval period up to the present day. Located inside the Royal Palace within Buda Castle, this museum tracks the chronological development of art in Hungary and shows how the visual arts developed over the centuries.
Unsurprisingly, the collection here focuses on Hungarian artists. However, you'll also find work by Cézanne and Renoir, making this a fantastic place to visit for confirmed art fans.
Since you're at the Royal Palace anyway, why not explore a little more of this impressive building? The Royal Palace has a history that goes back to the 13th century and the reign of Hungarian King Bela VI. However, given the various wars and conflicts that have swept through the city since then, next to none of this original building remains. In fact, the Royal Palace and the castle that contains it have been reduced to rubble and rebuilt several times. The modern Palace was extensively restored during the Communist era after sustaining heavy damage during World War II, but the architecture of the palace harkens back to the glory days of Hapsburg rule in Hungary.
The palace contains a museum where you can learn more about the palace and the castle and the turbulent history that has made them the way they are. It's a great addition to a visit to the Hungarian National Gallery, and will give you a better sense of the history of the city and the lives of its many rulers.
Museum of Fine Arts
Art lovers are spoiled for choice in Budapest. Along with the Hungarian National Gallery, the city also hosts the Museum of Fine Arts, which is the largest art collection in the country. This stunning gallery offers a broader focus on European art in general, and is the best place to admire fine art in the whole city. You'll find just about every period of art history represented here, from the sculpture and painting of ancient Egypt through the Baroque art of the 17th century to the latest work by contemporary artists from around the world. This impressive collection holds works by some of the most famous artists in history, such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Goya, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. As a result, the collection displayed here has something to please everyone, and you'll need hours if not a full day to really appreciate what it has to offer. A guided tour is recommended for those who really want to understand the context of the artist they're seeing, and there are also audio guides available in English that will take you to the highlights of the collection.
Budapest History Museum
If you want to learn more about the history of the city you are visiting, the Budapest History Museum is the place to go. Also located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Buda Castle, this sprawling museum tells the story of Budapest from the prehistoric Celtic period up to the Communist era. The museum is divided into three sections. One covers the prehistoric and Roman periods of the city, another the medieval era, and the third is devoted to the Modern Age. The ground floor with its medieval statues and sculptures is especially intriguing, and if you're interested in history, you could easily spend hours here. Budapest is a city that has passed through many different rulers in the course of its long life, so the story of the city takes a while to tell.
Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art
There's more art on offer at the stunning Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art. If you're looking to discover new artists, this is the place to do it. The Ludwig Museum offers constantly rotating exhibitions to promote cutting-edge artists from Hungary, central Europe, and beyond. It's also home to an impressive pop art collection that holds works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. If you're a fan of modern art, this museum dedicated to what's new and exciting in the art world is the perfect place for you to explore. Although it's located a little way outside of the city center, this outstanding museum is definitely worth taking the effort to get to. Plus, it's located in an up-and-coming area where you'll find some of the best street food in Budapest, making a journey out there even more worthwhile.
Hungarian Natural History Museum
Museums and kids usually don't go together, but the exception to the rule is the Hungarian Natural History Museum. This museum is the third oldest of its kind in Europe, dating back to 1802, and holds around 10 million exhibits in its vast collection. The colossal reconstructions of the dinosaurs that once roamed in the area are a guaranteed hit with kids, and you'll also learn more about the geology and ecology of the Carpathian Basin. This museum offers a journey through time, and the interactive exhibit on evolution is a definite highlight.
Holocaust Memorial Center
Often, history reveals the darker side of humanity. That's certainly the case at Budapest's Holocaust Memorial Center, which explores the grim fate of the Jews of Hungary under Nazi occupation. Located in a renovated synagogue, the museum is devoted to the city's Jewish population and also pays tribute to other communities that were considered undesirable by the Nazis and shipped off to concentration camps, including Gypsies, homosexuals, and political dissidents. The interactive exhibits explain how and why such a tragedy happened, with the aim of ensuring it never happens again. And while this isn't exactly the most fun place to visit in Hungary, it is important to pay tribute to those who suffered from persecution in the 20th century and remember just what humanity is capable of.
There's more to Jewish history than just the Holocaust. In fact, the Jewish community in Budapest goes back centuries, and Jewish culture has had an outsized impact on the character of both the city and the nation as a whole. Hungary's Jewish Museum was founded in the 1930s prior to the Second World War, and it played a pivotal role in preserving artifacts of the city's Jewish history during the persecution that happened during the Nazi occupation. Now, the museum is the second largest Jewish museum in Europe and a valuable repository of artifacts that tell the story of the city's Jewish population from its founding up to the present day.
Vajdahunyad Castle, located in City Park, is worth visiting just for its striking architecture, which looks medieval but in fact dates back to 1896 and is a copy of a Romanian castle. While you're at the castle, check out the unusual Agricultural Museum that explores the history of a group of people not often represented in museums. You'll learn about the development of farming techniques in the countryside of Hungary and the crucial role agriculture plays in feeding the population. Don't miss the Hall of Hunting, which holds hunting trophies from across the country and gives you a glimpse of the hunting culture of Hungary.
House of Terror
Located in the former headquarters of the Communist secret police, the House of Terror is not for the faint of heart. This unforgettable museum uses occasionally graphic depictions of the persecution and interrogation of political prisoners that took place here during both the Nazi and Communist regimes. The House of Terror utilizes multimedia exhibitions to tell these sometimes grim stories, and the first-hand accounts from survivors will make you feel grateful for living in more peaceful times. Although the museum commemorates a dark period in history, it's a fascinating place to visit, and deservedly one of the top attractions in Budapest.
Hospital in the Rock
This unusual museum is the perfect place to learn more about the Cold War in Hungary. Once a subterranean hospital during World War II, this cave complex later became a nuclear bunker for Communist bigwigs in the event that the Cold War became suddenly hot. Luckily, it was never used for that purpose, and now it has been restored to look like the hospital it originally was. The waxwork figures are a little kitschy, but that's part of the appeal. You'll need to book a guided tour to visit, but that way you'll learn more about the fascinating history behind the place anyway.
Budapest Pinball Museum
If you're looking for things to do with kids in Budapest, this quirky museum is a great option. Billing itself as Europe's largest museum dedicated to pinball machines, it holds more than 100 different machines dating back to the 19th century. But the best part is that these exhibits are not protected behind glass. You can play on them all you like, and you don't even need to bring change. Your admission ticket gives you access to many different pinball machines so you can test your skills and teach the kids about how people had fun back before smartphones were invented.
What are the best free museums in Budapest?
Many of Hungary's top museums offer free admission on certain days of the month. If you're an EEA citizen under the age of 26, you'll find a lot of the museums are completely free for you to visit. If not, you can check out free art galleries like the Varfok Gallery of contemporary art and the Virag Judit Gallery that displays paintings from the 19th and 20th century.
Which are the best museums in Downtown Budapest?
Budapest is really two cities, divided by the Danube River. On the Buda side, you'll find a good cluster of museums at Buda Castle, including the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Over on the Pest side, the Hungarian National Museum is one of the best spots to visit.
Are there any cheap museums in Budapest?
If you're looking for the top free things to do in Budapest, on the schedule of the city's museums. On the third Saturday of every month, many of Budapest's best museums offer free entry, including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Hungarian National Gallery, and the Hungarian National Museum. Also, the Pinball Museum is always a bargain at 3000 HUF, currently around €8.50.