Budapest is home to plenty of great museums – and they don’t all focus on art. The city can also educate you on everything from Hungarian life under Communism to Roman structures, or the history of the pinball machine. Travel writer Alex Mackintosh, who specialises in Budapest, shares her curated list for the best non-art museums to visit when you want a taste of something different.
During WWII, a series of caves under Buda Castle Hill were converted into a hospital. They would retain this purpose until 1956 when, after treating wounded soldiers and civilians during the 1956 revolution against Communist rule, the hospital was repurposed as a nuclear bunker. Recent years have seen the former hospital converted into a museum, allowing visitors to learn more about its medical history, with waxwork figures recreating scenes from the hospital’s past. There’s also the chance to get an insight into its use as a nuclear bunker. The museum can only be visited by guided tour, meaning visitors receive an informative experience at this unique historic site.
The 20th century saw two authoritarian regimes take hold in Hungary, and this building on Budapest’s Andrássy Avenue played a role in both. When the Arrow Cross Party took control of Hungary during the final years of WWII, the building was used as its headquarters; during the 40 years of Communist rule that followed, it passed into the hands of the State Protection Authority (AVH). Today, it’s a museum commemorating the victims of both regimes. Permanent exhibitions at the House of Terror allow visitors to learn more about the struggles of life during this time, from show trials to deportations; in the basement, reconstructions of the building’s prison cells allow an insight into the brutality of these governments.
Hungary’s largest museum, this neoclassical building houses exhibitions allowing visitors to learn more about the country’s history. Artefacts from as early as the Palaeolithic Era are on display, while collections focus on archaeological and historical discoveries. From the Ottoman Empire to the Communist regime of the 20th century, this museum is the one to visit for an informative overview of the country’s past.
Unusual, quirky and a lot of fun, Budapest’s Pinball Museum houses 130 pinball machines – which visitors are welcome to make full use of. Thanks to this interactive element, the museum has become incredibly popular since opening its doors in April 2014. Machines from as early as the 19th century up until the present day can be found here, allowing visitors to see the evolution of pinball and experience a fascinating insight into its history and development. For a nostalgic, fun-filled experience, this museum is the one to visit.
During the 40 years of Communist rule in Hungary, a number of statues and monuments were erected in Budapest in honour of the regime. When the Soviet Union fell in 1989, many of these were immediately taken down. They found a new home in what is today Memento Park, an open-air museum offering an insight into the regime through guided tours and exhibitions.
Yes, it is art, but folk art! Set over two venues, this museum showcasing Hungarian folk art holds 10,000 objects. Embroidery, pottery, lace and furniture can all be enjoyed by those keen to take a look into the traditional arts and crafts of Hungary, with the famous Busójárás masks worn during Hungary’s most well-known carnival event also found here. The collection is constantly being refreshed, allowing for a fluid presentation of changing trends and methods of creation. There is also a workshop where straw and husk doll makers, mat weavers, pearl jewel makers, embroiderers, basket makers, felt makers, felt cloak decorators and weavers work and hold presentations. Families can check out the open workshops where children can make their own pieces of art.
Located in a modern building encompassing the Páva Street Synagogue, once a significant site of worship for the capital’s Jewish community, Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Centre remembers the thousands of Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust. Opened in 2004, the museum’s permanent exhibition is an exploration of the history of anti-Semitism in Hungary and the Holocaust itself, told through original documents such as photographs and personal items. There’s also a remembrance wall featuring the names of the over 500,000 Hungarians who lost their lives as a result of the Holocaust.
During the Roman Empire, Hungary was part of the province of Pannonia, protected by a vast defence line called the Limes. The ancient city of Aquincum was situated along this defensive border and, today, the Aquincum Museum allows visitors to learn more about its history. Permanent exhibitions include artefacts from the city, the role of ceramics in ancient Rome, and an archaeological collection displaying items from prehistoric times through to the Migration period. There’s also an archaeological park, in which excavation is ongoing and visitors can check out the structures from the city of Aquincum that have been discovered so far.
A family-friendly museum with a vast natural history collection allowing visitors to learn about Hungary and the Carpathian Basin, the Hungarian Natural History Museum is home to a number of fascinating exhibits. The permanent collection includes a section on minerals, rocks and gems; an exhibition about the history of dinosaurs in Hungary; and a fin whale skeleton.
Housed in the striking Vajdahunyad Castle, the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture is the largest agricultural museum in Europe. Visitors can see exhibitions examining the history of agriculture, farming in Hungary, and wine-making. A visit to the museum is also a great opportunity to check out the inside of the architecturally stunning castle, the design of which was inspired by a Transylvanian fortress.