With more than thousand years of history and a fantastic riverside, Budapest is one of the most photogenic city in Europe. Especially at night!
But it is also quite big and the highlights are a bit scattered – at least compared to some other European cities, like Prague.
That’s why I listed all those beautiful photo locations you should visit in Budapest.
I’ve ordered the spots by importance, so I suggest you start with the first ones.
- What you should know about Budapest
- Why is Budapest a photographer’s dream city?
- What time do the lights turn on in Budapest?
- 1. From Buda Castle
- When was Buda Castle built?
- 2. Fishermens’ Bastion
- 3. Buda Castle – Mathias Church
- 4. Chain Bridge, from Pest side
- 5. Gellért-hill – Citadel: the best vantage points in Budapest
- What can you see from the Citadel?
- 6. Gellért-hill – from the Liberty Statue
- 7. Gellért-hill – Looking at Liberty Bridge
- 8. Opposite of Parliament
- 9. Inside and next to Parliament
- 10. St Stephen’s Basilica
- 11. Heroes’ Square
- 12. Vajdahunyad Castle
- 13. Széchenyi Bath
- 14. Hotel Aria
- 15. Hotel 4Seasons
- 16. New York Café and Hotel Boscolo
- 17. Hármashatár-hill: view on the whole city
- Great timelapse movies about Budapest
- Useful links
What you should know about Budapest
Budapest is the capital of Hungary, and ex-socialist country in Mid-Eastern Europe.
Hungarians like to consider themselves Mid-Europeans, but anybody in the west would say East-European 🙂
Budapest is by far the biggest city of Hungary: it has roughly 2.5 million inhabitants, of whole Hungary’s 10 million people.
Often titled as the “Paris of the East” in the pre WW II era, Budapest has extreme rich and layered history – which really shows in the architecture.
Why is Budapest a photographer’s dream city?
As someone who was born here, I never considered Budapest that beautiful.
Until I started to organize photo tours, and soon I kept hearing how gorgeous Budapest is!
And it’s true: there’s just simply no other European cities that would have these features:
- architecture as old as from 1260,
- lying on both sides of a big river (the Danube)
- having a real Royal Palace on a hill, right next to the river,
- having so many vantage points downtown
- all the bridges and churches being lit up
- within walkable distances, and with
- very good public safety
Many of american photographer guests told me that Paris should rather be called “Budapest of the West”.
In terms of photographic compositions, Budapest offers like no other cities!
Sure, there’s Vienna, but their river and vantage points aren’t as good…
Sure, there’s Prague, but their bridges aren’t lit like these, and are very crowded…
Sure, there’s Paris, but there’s no really good vantage points there, not to mention walk at night in some parts…
These are NOT my observations, my guests who attended my photo walks told me all these!
What time do the lights turn on in Budapest?
I put this question first, because I hear this so often!
The answer is:
Usually 5-15 minutes after sunset, depending on the overall brightness of the sky.
This means that on an overcast, foggy winter day, the lights might be switched on shortly after sunset, while on a clear summer night, even 15 minutes can pass after sunset.
But that’s not ALL!
The lights are turned OFF at midnight, or 1 AM when daylight saving time applies.
The streetlights remain ON for the rest of the night, but the decoration lights litting up the bridges, churches and the Parliament are turned off at midnight or 1 AM.
Okay, now we’ve got these straight, let’s see my favorite photo spots in Budapest!
1. From Buda Castle
The Buda Castle hill offers plenty of viewpoints on the whole Danube with the bridges.
One of my favourite spots are located in front of the Royal Palace, looking over the Chain Bridge and Parliament.
This is an excellent spot to play with long exposures at night, so that you’ll have circular lighttrails in the foreground:
When was Buda Castle built?
I hear this question a lot, and there’s no good answer for this.
The very first royal residence was built around 1247 to 1260.
Then in every century, new buildings were raised.
On top of that, the Castle was taken over by the Ottoman Empire in 1541.
The Turkish destroyed many buildings and churches. And we, Hungarians as tried to get back the Castle many times, we bombed it heavily.
After the big siege of 1686, we got the Castle back, but it was almost completely destroyed.
Renovation works were only finished around 1740s – 60s.
And then again, almost every Habsburg king / queen extended the Palace building with new parts.
History hit us again in 1945 when the Castle became the headquarters of the German-Hungarian forces, and such, had to endure severe bombing from the Soviets.
Again many buildings, churches and the Palace was heavily destroyed, and renovation of the Palace finished in the 1960s.
So basically, wherever you look in the Castle, everything has been rebuilt at least twice!
You can read more about the history of Buda Castle here.
How to get up to Buda Castle
You can get up to Buda Castle on many paths. One I recommend starts at Clark Adam Square, right next to the Funicular’s starting point. On this picture, it’s at the bottom right:
Although it is tempting to go with the Funicular, but it gets up too fast. Sure, it’s much easier 🙂 I recommend to walk.
If you move up and up, you can cross the rails of Funicular. And from these bridges you’ll have a great sight on Chain Bridge and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
If you decide to ascend on foot, the road beautifully winds up, surrounded by the medieval walls of the Castle.
If you go all the way up, you’ll get to the Royal Palace. From here, looking over the Dabube, you have a fantastic view on Chain Bridge and Parliament.
Here it’s also fun to play with vertical compositions with the Parliament and the Chain Bridge.
A long lens like 70-200mm comes handy for these shots:
This is also the best spot to capture the epic fireworks on 20th August every year. It’s St Stephens’s Day in Hungary: kind of what 4th July is in the States.
But beware, that it’s almost impossible to grab a spot for the fireworks, the crowd is so big, and available space is just a few ten meters along the edge.
From here you should start walking northern direction, and you’ll soon be at:
2. Fishermens’ Bastion
This is probably the most touristy and crowded spot in the whole city. But if you go early morning or at evening, it’s a bit calmer.
Here’s how the Fishermens Bastions look from a distance:
Here it is from “the inside”. Although there’s no out or inside, this area always open and public.
From here you have a very good panorama on the Parliament and the norther side of the city:
If you can’t get up to the top of tower next to Hotel Hilton, just walk a bit to the side towards the Hilton, and you’ll find a great foreground composition for the Parliament Building:
As the Fishermens Bastion is a very spread-out complex building, it’s hard to capture it on one frame. Therefore I usually pick the details from here.
For example, the arches and towers can give a very nice framing to anything.
There’s plenty of opportunity to play with the towers, stairs and arches. So go unleash your creativity! 🙂
3. Buda Castle – Mathias Church
Just next to the Bastions is the Mathias Church:
And you can even go up to its top, there’s a balcony around, you can clearly see on these pictures:
You have to climb 197 stairsteps and take a guided tour to get there, but the view is worth it! 🙂
It’s also worth to have a look inside of Mathias Church:
4. Chain Bridge, from Pest side
The Chain Bridge was the first bridge in Budapest, built in 1849, and is a central element of the city. Even though it was bombed in WW II, and then restored, the architecture is still pretty similar to the original.
One of the best angles on the Chain Bridge is from the middle of the roads, from each side. If you’re shooting it from Pest, you’ll be able to compose Buda Castle as well into the picture.
You’ll discover lots of great angles as you walk around the bridge: the lions, the garden, the pillars, car’s light trails and so on…
The Chain Bridge looks great from next to the waterfront.
But unfortunately, most of the year, the view is blocked by huge Viking river cruise ships.
So you have to be lucky to be able to capture this view:
5. Gellért-hill – Citadel: the best vantage points in Budapest
The top of the Gellért-hill is called Citadel, because of the fortress there that bears the same name.
This fortress has a rather unique history – it was NOT built to protect Budapest, but to threaten the people of Budapest!
You have to know that since 1526, Hungary as a kingdom became part of the Austrian kingdom of Habsburgs.
We were ruled by the Austrian king for 4 centuries.
But of course, we always wanted to have our own independence, so we fought a lot with the Austrians.
Such Freedom War took place in 1848-49, where we were defeated (again) by the Habsburgs.
The Kaiser at the time, Franz Josef, loathed Hungarians so much that he ordered a fortress to be built into the middle of Budapest.
This became Citadel, and there were canons facing the city all times in case the rebellic Hungarians can’t behave themselves.
Luckily, in 1867 there was a reconciliation between Austria and Hungary, and the fortress was never used for its original purpose.
Unfortunately the fortress is itself is completely closed off from the public.
What can you see from the Citadel?
You can see the whole Buda Castle area, the Chain Bridge, Margaret Bridge, Parliament, St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Budapest Eye at Deák Square.
The best time to go there is at Blue Hour, after sunset, or in late afternoon in sunlight.
This place is really the best vantage point in the city, offering many great compositions!
How to get to the Citadel:
Walking up to Gellért-hill is a must for anyone who wants to see an epic panorama of Budapest. There are several paths on the hill, and all go upwards, to the peak, which is called Citadel.
One of the best place to start climbing up is from Elizabeth Bridge. There’s a waterfall, and as you move up (and start to sweat :)) you get to a place where the Statue of Bishop Gellért stands.
If you continue from here, you’ll have good views on Elizabeth Bridge. Be prepared that the trees are really working against the photographer here 🙂
I suggest you reach the top on foot, but this area is also easily accessible by car, there’s a big parking lot nearby.
The other pathway up the hill starts from the Gellért Hotel and Thermal Bath.
6. Gellért-hill – from the Liberty Statue
If you walk to the Liberty Statue next to Citadel, you have a great view on the Elisabeth Bridge and St Stephen Cathedral:
And if you’re at the Liberty Statue, you’ll need luck to catch without people… This was shot at a cold winter night:
Did you know that this statue is one of the few pieces of communist artwork that’s still left in the city? After the communist era ended, all the ugly looking, non-artistic statues were transported into Memento Park, outside of Budapest.
Liberty Statue was raised in 1947 by the russians to celebrate their victory over the germans in World War II. The russians claimed that they’ve “liberated” Hungary. Of course, they forgot to mention that they stayed here for 45 years…
Anyway, it’s a woman holding a palm leaf. The palm leaf is supposed to symbolise freedom. But don’t ask me why they couldn’t find anything else than that, as we never ever had any palm trees in Hungary.
I really recommend that you go to this spot at night, because during the day it’s crowded. And it just looks a lot better at night! 🙂
7. Gellért-hill – Looking at Liberty Bridge
The other side of Gellért-hill is gorgeous too. Once you start walking down from Citadel, you’ll many terraces like these (probably with young people occupying them :))
Descending lower you’ll find 3 places from where you can see Liberty Bridge without any trees disturbing.
There is another good spot, which is just next to the entrance of the Rock Chapel.
Again the best time to take pictures here is in the Blue Hour or around sunrise. If you go there by night, you’ll be able to capture great light trails of the trams and cars.
8. Opposite of Parliament
The Parliament of Hungary is really huge, 265 meters wide, and faces directly the Danube. So on the other side of the Danube (the Buda side), there’s a spot from where you stand exactly at the center line of the building.
The best time to take pictures is in the morning, around sunrise. In the evening Blue Hour there are too many boats cruising. so it’s almost impossible to have a long exposure shot without any boat interfering the shot.
9. Inside and next to Parliament
It’s also a good idea to visit the inside of the Parliament. It’s monumental and wildly decorated. Architect fans will love it:
Also, the Holy Crown of Hungary is exhibited here.
Note that you can only visit the inside of Parliament via guided tours, so make sure you reserve a tour in your language. Click here for opening hours.
Outside of Parliament is also beautiful, especially in the summer, when you can compose the gardens as well into the picture:
The southern side of the Parliament also looks gorgeous, with the statue of Adrássy Gyula in front of it:
10. St Stephen’s Basilica
The biggest church of Budapest, the neo-classical St Stephen’s Basilica got its name from King Stephen I. who established the Hungarian Kingdom in the year of 1001. It looks epic from every angle. Be prepared that there’ll be many tourists around.
Luckily there’s plenty of light in the church, so you can get away with decent handheld shots:
And you can even go up to the top of the central dome! There’s a balcony running around it, offering good view on the Buda Castle and the Citadel:
This fantastic 360 degree panorama was shot from that balcony.
11. Heroes’ Square
Heroes’ Square is one of the tourist hot-spots of Budapest. Built for the world expo in 1896 (which was also the year Hungary celebrated it’s 1000 year anniversary of occupying this land), the Heroes’ Square features the most influental kings and politicians of hungarian history.
While in the middle, there are 7 horsemen statues: they were the leader of the 7 hungarian tribes that first arrived into this area.
In short: on the centre of the square is a statue complex which commemorates the birth of the hungarian nation. And on the sides of the square are two museums: Museum of Fine Arts, and the Palace of Arts.
In most of the time you will find world-class exhibitions here.
Personally, I never understood what’s so special in this place. Probably, because it’s not something really historical. But anyway, it can look great on a photo, so don’t let yourself be influenced by a local! 🙂
This is the only way during the day to get rid of (almost) all the people:
GPS coordinates for this spot: 47°30’52.5″N 19°04’37.9″E (click to see on Google Maps)
The Square itself is nothing compared to the sights beneath it! I already mentioned the two museums. There’s also Városliget, a great park behind it, Vajdahunyad Castle, and the Budapest Zoo (kids love it), and the popular Széchenyi thermal bath.
There’s also the first ever underground railway in continental Europe, the Földalatti (M1) line.
12. Vajdahunyad Castle
Vajdahunyad Castle lies just beneath Heroes’ Square, and is surrounded by an artificial lake that gives perfect opportunities for reflection shots:
However, the lake is usually drained in winter and is only refilled in April-May.
This Castle is an exception from the many castles and fortresses in Hungary: Vajdahunyad Castle was never ever used by royalties. It was built only for the World Exhibition in 1896, and the architecture copies a real castle in Transylvania.
On the other side of the lake there benches all-year and is a popular place to relax:
GPS coordinates for this spot: 47°30’56.7″N 19°04’53.5″E (click to see on Google Maps)
13. Széchenyi Bath
The Széchenyi Thermal Bath lies on the opposite side of the road as the Vajdahunyad Castle, behind Heroes’ Square.
It’s sulfuric, 75 C hot water is coming up from 1256 meters deep. The front part of the building faces Vajdahunyad Castle, and it really lends itself for a symmetric composition.
Even better in the summer, when you can compose the gardens as well into the foreground:
If you go inside that door, a beautiful entrance hall welcomes you. To go besides that you’ll have to buy tickets.
A wide-angle lens is useful here. Luckily the light is enough, no real need for a tripod here, and the staff is usually very patient with photographers 🙂
Important note: the building of the bath is not lit up at night, unfortunately… So it’s best to capture it in the morning, when the sun is shining on the front side.
GPS coordinates for this spot: 47°31’04.9″N 19°04’57.7″E (click to see on Google Maps)
14. Hotel Aria
How come there are hotels on this list?
Well, because these hotels really sport beautiful interiors!
One of my favourite hotels in Budapest is the Hotel Aria. Did you know it was the winner of Traveler’s Choice Award on Tripadvisor in 2017?
Apart from being a great hotel it is also a paradise for architecture and interior deisgn fans.
If you’re here, visiting their rooftop bar is also a must:
GPS coordinates for Hotel Aria Budapest: 47°30’00.4″N 19°03’12.0″E (click to see on Google Maps)
15. Hotel 4Seasons
The 4Seasons Hotel Budapest is located in the Gresham Palace, just next to the Chain Bridge on the Pest side. It’s entrance hall is beautiful, with an exceptional floor tiling.
GPS coordinates for Hotel Aria Budapest: 47°29’58.9″N 19°02’52.5″E (click to see on Google Maps)
16. New York Café and Hotel Boscolo
The New York Café and the Hotel Boscolo is in the same building very close to the edge of the party district.
The interior of the Café is wildly decorated as you can see from the picture above.
My tip on photographing the Café: enter into the hotel, and from there go to the Café. Otherwise, if you enter the official entrance of the Café, you may have to wait in the line.
Also, the inside of the hotel sports a beautiful interior:
GPS coordinates for New York Café and Hotel Boscolo Budapest: 47°29’55.0″N 19°04’13.5″E (click to see on Google Maps)
17. Hármashatár-hill: view on the whole city
The top of the Hármashatár hill is roughy 400 meters above the city, but it lies a bit further from downtown, although still within the boundaries of Budapest. As such, you can see the whole city from here!
Luckily for photographers, in 2017 a viewpoint was built here to be able to see from higher above (though some trees are still too much in the way).
This is absolutely not a touristy part of the city: even the people of Budapest don’t really come here. Mainly because there’s no direct transportation to the top of the hill. So you can only get there by car or on foot.
But the sight is really worth it. You can have a wonderful view on the whole city! Though you’ll need a long lens here to capture the city, as everything is quite far from here.
I am so in love with this spot, that I used to ride my mountain bike around here 3 times week. And took a lot of pictures and timelapses from here.
There’s also a restaurant on the top, I highly recommend taking a dinner there.
A view to the northern part of Budapest, and Pilis mountains:
As the eastern horizon is totally undisturbed, you can watch the sunrises perfectly from here:
I shot this entire timelapse video from the peak of Hármashatár-hill:
Great timelapse movies about Budapest
My timelapse videos first, featuring a few of the mentioned scenes. Enjoy! 🙂
This is just a short timelapse, but I love how it shows how many ships we have in Budapest:
If you’d like to get into time lapse photography, then I highly recommend my step-by-step timelapse photography guide
Other photographers’ timelapses:
Not a 100% timelapse, but I really love how Kotsas Petsas managed to capture the athmosphere of the city:
My useful photo tips for Budapest
My friend, Miroslav Petrasko’s great guide on top photography spots in Budapest
For german speakers: Anita Brechbühl’s guide of photography locations in Budapest with her epic images
Most people coming to Budapest also visits Prague. If you are one of them, I recommend you taking Johnny’s Prague Photo Tours.