For Pumpkin and I, this year has been the year of returns. Long before we met, we were both eager explorers, continually yearning for new experiences but reaching quite contrasting destinations in the process. Pumpkin’s voyages comprised of multiple, long-haul, solo travel experiences, involving hikes in the Himalayas, sky dives in Australia, bungee jumps in Zambia and a limitless sense of adventure.
My journeys were a little less life-threatening in nature, more weighted towards cultural city breaks in Europe, palm fringed beaches in Mauritius, and tuk tuk tours in Thailand. Many a long afternoon in the dating stage of our relationship would be spent listening to each other’s travel tales and wondering where we could discover together.
We soon learned the world is an enormous place and whilst he still hasn’t been to Rome or Barcelona and I still haven’t been to Cambodia or Namibia, we have endeavoured to spend the last few years pursuing new destinations together. We got soaked at the Iguazu Falls in Brazil, gazed in adoration at the orangutans in Borneo, snorkelled with sea turtles in Barbados and shoals of colourful fish in the Maldives.
We slept in a tea factory in Sri Lanka and marvelled at geysers in Iceland but in the last year, we have found ourselves returning to countries that at least one of us has already visited, with the goal of experiencing it entirely differently with our spouse in tow.
For Pumpkin, that was a revisit to Japan and for me, it meant accompanying him to one of my favourite European cities – Budapest. Nearly a decade had gone by since I travelled there and I was excited to see how the Hungarian capital had changed, to retrace my steps through the key tourist attractions and discover some newer, more quirky experiences on this second visit.
Fortunately, Budapest has no shortage of historical intrigue even for the return visitor and aside from the key sights I had seen last time, this year, I found myself visiting 3 of Budapest’s best museums and parks and some of the quirky and most unique museums that we had seen anywhere in the world.
Budapest’s Best Museums
The Pinball Museum
When most people seek out cultural exploits in European cities, they look for historical sites, art galleries and establishments devoted to the performing arts. When Pumpkin seeks out cultural exploits, we end up playing arcade games at the Flipper Pinball Museum. 😀
And so, in the spirit of embracing each other’s interests, we spare a half day in Budapest to take a little detour from our sightseeing route and head towards this basement museum, filled with retro pinball machines from the past, all cluttered together in a dark space, filled with the nostalgic neon lights of an era gone by.
Whilst a few historical anecdotes can be spotted here and there, this is really more of an arcade than museum but once you pay for the entry ticket for the pinball museum, you are free to play on as many of the machines as you like and for as long as you like so in that respect, you could consider it to be one of the best value arcades around.
Somehow, rather like riding a bike, playing pinball is a skill that managed to escape me during my childhood so after a couple of practice sessions with Pumpkin showing me the ropes, we soon found ourselves engrossed in our own pinball wars and it was surprisingly easy to while away a couple of hours harnessing our competitive spirits and remembering how the youths of yesteryear had fun in the pre iMac era.
The Hospital in the Rock Museum
A little more educational was the Hospital in the Rock Museum on the Buda side of Budapest – a museum I would highly recommend to those spending a day visiting Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion or Matthias Church.
Now, I’m not usually one to mix business with pleasure but the inner medic in me was too curious to miss this museum, which has been designed as a replica, filled with waxwork models to mimic as closely as possible the real, functioning, Budapest Hospital that once operated (mind the pun) in this underground bunker during World War Two time in Budapest and again during the Hungarian Revolution.
The Hospital in the Rock have done a fantastic job of recreating the scenes from inside an operating theatre and giving a glimpse into the drugs and medicines that were given at the time.
Pumpkin and I found ourselves chuckling at how unrecognisable the intravenous drip set ups and syringes were compared to anything we are even remotely familiar with nowadays. Here in western world medicine, we often take it for granted that commodities such as syringes are disposable, forgetting that this was not the case back then (and in many parts of the world, still isn’t.)
Most poignantly, one of the small number of babies, who was born in this hospital back then, was invited to return decades later as a guest of honour for the launch of the new museum. Unfortunately, photographs are not allowed inside the museum itself, only at the entrance, and you can only visit the museum as part of a guided tour but in a way, I think that simply enhances the sense of mystery conjured up by entering this underground former space of healing, filled with the echos and banter of compassionate nurses and dextrous surgeons.
This was a hospital in a cavern so if you feel uneasy about the prospect of being underground or walking single-file in walkways, it probably isn’t the museum for you.
If you are only spending a long weekend in Budapest, no one would blame you for choosing to spend it in the city itself rather than heading out towards the suburbs. But one of the exceptions that I would urge you to consider is a visit to the Memento Park, sometimes known as Statue Park, slightly further out from the centre of the city.
This was one of the sights that did make it into both of my visits but last time round, my friend and I went independently with no guide taking the bus there, as compared to this visit, when Pumpkin and I booked a guided tour to try and understand more about the history of the statues.
Only 20 minutes or so away from the centre of Budapest by car, this open air park is an understated environment that collectively displays many of the old statues and relics from Budapest’s Communist era, sculptures that once stood in the centre of the city and now serve as a perpetual reminder of the turbulent history that Hungary has survived.
The park was formally opened in 1993, just four years after the fall of the Communist regime in Hungary. A half day is more than enough to enjoy the Memento Park but having done it both ways, I would suggest booking a guided tour as we gleaned insights this year that I had been completely unaware of when I explored it independently.
We aren’t typically museum frequenters when we travel but we do have a penchant for exploring the weird, wonderful and curious and if that includes museums, so be it. In the last twelve months or so, we have had no regrets about spending our leave exploring a chocolate museum, a railway museum and a Viking museum.
Over in Budapest, with a light-hearted, playful afternoon at the pinball museum balancing out the gravitas of political and historical significance at the Memento Statue Park and the sheer bizarre scenario of our own working lives once being lived out in a bunker underneath the soil at the Hospital in the Rock, we would highly recommend a visit to these attractions if you are heading to Budapest, perhaps the last two more than the pinball museum if you are tight on time but whatever floats your boat. 🙂
Have you visited Budapest? Are there any other museums you would add to this list?
44 thoughts on “3 of the Best Budapest Museums”
There are so many great cities in Europe – I have not been to Budapest yet but I hope I will be able to visit soon. It is so nice to just hop on to a plane and be at a destination in only a few hours. The museums and parks in your post look really interesting!
Thanks so much Miriam! The quick and easy proximity to other European cities is definitely one of my most favourite aspects of living in London & I’ve definitely tried to make the most of that over the last few years! If you do end up visiting Budapest, do check out at least one of these places – really fascinating / fun!
The pinball museum actually sounds really fun, I’m sure my husband would have no trouble spending a few hours there 😉 The hospital museum sounds really interesting too, especially being situated in an underground caravan.
Thanks Priti! Was so fascinating witnessing how an entire hospital was being run in a cave and just trying to imagine how difficult that must have been logistically for the doctors and nurses and other professionals looking after the wounded. I must admit, despite my initial reservations, I really enjoyed the pinball museum ☺
How amazing that there’s a Pinball Museum! I wanted to visit Memento Park on my visit but I was there to run a race and didn’t have time
Oh well done you on running a race Suze – I’m always so impressed by people dedicated enough to go abroad to run races! Yes the pinball museum was a good laugh in the end!
OMG, pinball museum sounded like so much fun!! Although when I travel to Budapest I will make sure to visit all three of your recommendations, all of the museums seem to offer unique perspective on art.
It was GREAT fun Nano – I really thought Pumpkin cannot be serious when he suggested we give up an afternoon to do this but in the end, it was him who had to hurry me out of there! x
I’ve never been to Budapest, but it’s on my ever-increasing list! The pinball museum might just be the most fun museum I’ve ever heard of (right after the Museum of Food in London ;)! I think I’d love exploring the hospital museum too xx
There’s a museum of food in London Ayushi – seriously?! If so, how on earth have I missed that all this time?! Pinball one was definitely one of the most fun museums I’ve been to too with close competitors including a couple of chocolate museums in Cologne and Bruges & a really fun but silly one in Seoul that I will write about soon…:mrgreen:
I’m intrigued about your shenanigans in Seoul!! Keeping an eye out for your blog post 🙂 xx
Ah, I didn’t get to see any of these on my visit to Budapest. They all look amazing (Chris would love the Pinball Museum) and will definitely go there the next time we’re in Budapest. Like you, it’s also one of my all-time favourite European cities and I’m always looking for a reason to go back. Thanks for arming me with my latest set of reasons 😉
It’s such a ‘returnable’ city isn’t it Kasha?! I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it but don’t worry that you’ve never been to the museums – I’ve still not been to the baths after 2 visits, which everyone says I really should have so that’s what’s on my list for a return visit!
Aw, my dad would love this museum! I have many childhood memories of excitedly watching him playing on the pinball machines in the arcades! The Hospital in the Rock looks so interesting too. I’m always fascinated to see how doctors manage to adapt and get on with their jobs, no matter what is going on around them. I think the Statue Park would be my favourite, I love finding out more about a city through it’s art. I agree that quirky museums are the best! x
Oh sounds like your Dad would adore this museum in that case then Emily! The hospital in the Rock was fascinating – can’t believe how they transformed an underground bunker into a place where they managed to treat and save the lives of injured soldiers – such inspiring stuff!
Together (and separately) you two have had some very nice travels. Budapest is a place we’d like to visit (along with Sri Lanka). The Hospital in the Rock Museum looks very interesting. We’re always amazed at all the different specialties museums cover. I (Janice) once visited the Opium Museum in Chiang Rai, Thailand – your morphine photo from the Hospital museum reminded me of that…
Wow, an opium museum sounds utterly intriguing and mesmerising Janice – I’ve not visited Chiang Rai before but would love to explore that if we go one day. I’ve realised that sometimes, even when returning to a destination you’ve already seen, it’s possible to experience it entirely differently depending on who you go with and the way your interests evolve over time.
a pinball museum? that’ s like one of the most amusing museums (chocolate museum holds the first place)
The chocolate museums sure are fabulous Tanja! It’s interesting how many diverse museums exist nowadays – so much more than just fossils and bronze age relics that I remember from childhood school trips to museums!
yes:) there’s even the Museum of Broken relationships in Zagreb, Croatia, the first of that kind in the world:)
I’ve been hearing so much about Budapest recently, I think it’s time to take a visit for sure 😉
It’s a beautiful, charming city Becky with plenty to see and do 🙂
I love that you take the time to explore each other’s interests. Nick and I do the same for each other and I always enjoy it. When we went to Vermont we took a cooking class together, even though that is more of Nick’s thing than mine. But it was so great to see him so excited and having so much fun, and I enjoyed myself too!
The Hospital in the Rock Museum looks absolutely fascinating. I like your choices in museums! I never used to be all that into museums but that’s another thing my lovely husband has shown me the beauty of. Now we always try to sneak in some kind of museum on our trips.
Aww your cooking class in Vermont sounds so romantic Carolann & so lovely to hear you ended up enjoying it too! I was always the same with museums but I’ve realised that that’s because I just hadn’t been visiting the ones I was interested in so now if we see or hear of something weird, wacky or wonderful, we try and check it out! ☺
I didn’t get to Memento Park on my visit as we ran out of time – so much to do and see in Budapest. Definitely one for next time though.
There really is isn’t there Suzanne! Would you believe I’ve been twice and still haven’t made it to one of the baths?! But it’s a city I love so I don’t mind too much as I’m pretty sure I’ll be back
I’m not really a fan of museums to be honest but that pinball museum looks like so much fun! Although I doubt I’d ever be able to get Mr Ayla to leave!
That’s what I thought about myself too Ayla – but it turns out I just wasn’t going to the right museums!! I definitely got a lot better at pinball with the couple of hours practice I got there!
Wow wow wow, I need to get back to Budapest immediately! Our time there earlier this year was so packed that we didn’t get a chance to see any of these awesome museums. But The Hospital in the Rock Museum sounds COMPLETELY up by street, especially with the history element all thrown in! x
Oh Emily, I think you’d find it so fascinating – it’s such an intriguing, quirky and quite literally “underground” museum but I know exactly what you mean about how packed a visit to Budapest can be. There so much to see and do there which is one of the things I love about it and even after a 2nd visit, I still want to go back so you can definitely check these places out on a return visit if you fancied ☺
Gutted we didn’t get a chance to visit the pinball museum before we came home, but thanks for your recommendation. I’ll definitely be going there when I head back, which I definitely will as I loved the city so much! K x
It has that effect on people doesn’t if Keri? Even after a second visit there, I still feel that I’d enjoy a third every bit as much! The pinball museum was a good laugh though I thought the hospital one was quite inspiring! Amazing how they managed to work in those narrow underground spaces!
My friends recently visited Budapest but they never mentioned the Pinball Museum. That is definitely a place where I would like to go!
It’s definitely not one of the more famous sites there Agness and I tok never heard of it on my first visit but it was good fun especially on a rainy day when you can spend a couple of hours here playing and escaping the rain!
You’ve inspired me to add the pinball and hospital in the rock museums to my to do list on my next trip to beautiful Budapest! Thanks for sharing! Viszlát!
Thanks so much Frank! I’m delighted it’s got you considering them. The Hospital one was my favourite I think, as it was so inspiring to see how they created such a well functioning health care set up in an underground tunnel. But pinball museum definitely good fun! I think Budapest is just so beautiful too! 🙂
Thanks for writing this. I’m hoping to go to Budapest this year so will add these to the must see list. I didn’t manage to fit in the pinball museum in Vegas last year so good to know there is one closer to home.
Oh that’s so exciting Nicole! Have you been before? Budapest is one of my favourite ever European cities. It’s so pretty and there’s actually more than you might expect to see and do for a city that isn’t huge. I’ve only been to Vegas once years ago and hadn’t even realised when I was out there that there was a pinball museum there – would have been good practice for Budapest! 😀
Interestingly post and nice pictures! I always love traveling to Budapest and I’m going there again next month! 🙂
Oh wow, lucky you! I would love to go back as well – such a beautiful city with a lot to do! Hope you have a wonderful time & thank you so much for reading ☺
Thank you and yes it’s a beautiful city! 🙂