Often described as the ‘Paris of the East’ Budapest is famous for its historic sights, amazing charm, and one of Europe’s most budget-friendly spots. We’ve put this guide to Budapest together to show you the highlights and help you plan your trip to this great city.
With Buda to the east and Pest to the West, the picturesque city of Budapest straddles the meandering Danube River running through the heart of the city. Each side has its own unique character, uniting to form a fascinating, historic and elegant city.
To the West, Buda is home to the historic castle district, an underground cave system, Roman ruins, medieval streets, and not forgetting some amazing views across the Danube over to a pest.
On the other side to the East, you will find the bubbling culture hub of Pest, home to the largest parliament building and synagogue in Europe and the thriving Jewish quarter. Pest not only has historic sites and landmarks like Buda but it’s also the place to be for nightlife, shopping and of course the great tasting Hungarian cuisine.
Budapest is a great city to visit at any time of the year, but for us May/June or September is the best time to visit, the weather is still warm and the main tourists’ spots aren’t as crowded as July/August. Another popular time to visit is during November and December for the Christmas markets, just wrap up warm!
While it’s fairly easy to get around on foot, some of the more popular attractions are spread across the city, so unless you’ve got plenty of time and like exploring on foot, the best way to explore Budapest is on the tram or metro. You can also catch the local buses or hail a taxi but we found, between the metro and tram, we got everywhere we needed to get to without any problems and with ease. If you’re going to be in the city for 2/3 days we highly recommended buying the Budapest card, not only do you get free unlimited transport but also a discount at various places across Budapest. To find out more about the Budapest card check out our previous post, here!
If you’re arriving at Budapest Ferenc Liszt airport catching public transport to the city center is the most convenient and cheapest way to go. The public bus 200E departs every ten minutes from the terminal building, arriving twenty minutes later at the metro station Kobanya-Kispest (metro line 3), which is then a further twenty-minute journey to the center (Deak Ter station), all for a total cost of around £3.50. Tickets can be bought directly outside the terminal building from the ticket machines next to the bus stops.
Accommodation in Budapest…
Budapest has a large and varied choice when it comes to finding a place to stay, a quick search on Airbnb comes back with over 300 properties to rent.
Buda has more limited options compared to Pest, but if your budget allows you will find some luxury guesthouses and five-star hotels in the Buda Hills. Over in Pest, you will find anything from unique hostels in converted buildings to 5-star luxury hotels. Whatever your budget you will find somewhere to stay, just make sure to book in advance if you’re planning to visit during the high season as accommodation gets booked up fast.
If you’re looking for some inspiration on where to stay we can highly recommend Hotel Palazzo Zichy. You can check out our review here of the former Count’s palace.
Where to Eat & Drink…
Compared to Paris or Barcelona, Budapest is not as well known for its culinary delights, but spend five minutes walking around central Budapest and your start to realize why Hungarian cuisine may be more popular than you first thought. There are literally hundreds of restaurants, bistros, cafes, wine bars, pubs, and street food vendors offering anything from the traditional Hungarian goulash served in a bread bowl to top-end Michelin star standard food and everything imaginable in-between.
Some of our culinary highlights were strudel and Mangalica sausage, a must-try if you get a chance. We would highly recommend taking a culinary tour through the streets of Budapest, you will get to taste some amazing foods and introduced to possibly some new dishes too.
If you’re looking for inspiration for where to eat, here are some of our favourite restaurants and street food venues:
Belvárosi Disznótoros is a traditional Hungarian restaurant serving local dishes, such as fried sausage, black pudding, pork knuckle, and goose leg. To go alongside your main meal there is also a choice of sides which include pickles, coleslaw, fresh white bread, and fried potatoes. This was our favourite place to eat while in Budapest.
A close second to the above, Mazel Tov is situated in the historic Jewish quarter serving up a fine selection of middle eastern food. The kebabs and hummus were a favorite of ours, a great place to come for vegetarians and meat-eaters!
If you love street food, then this is the place to visit while in Budapest. Located next to Szimpla Kert, Karaván is situated in a courtyard with ten or so food trucks, serving such culinary delights as Lángos, fired Hungarian sausages, freshly made burgers, plus much more.
Budapest is known for attracting British stag and hen party’s, so as you can imagine Budapest isn’t short of pubs and bars. The most popular places are called ruin bars, former derelict buildings, and courtyards that took over and turned into unique establishments that are top of Budapest’s party scene. The three most popular ruin bars are Szimpla Kert, Instant, and Fogasház, each has its own distinct personality and some even double up as markets during the day.
The ruin bars can get very loud and crowded at night so if you fancy somewhere a bit quieter we recommend Doblo, a wine bar in the Jewish quarter with a choice of over 200 wines produced within Hungary’s 22 wine regions.
What to do…
There are plenty of things to see and do when visiting Budapest, whether you’re a new visitor to the city or looking for something to do off the beaten path, from walking the medieval streets of Buda to spotting the latest street art in District VII, Budapest has it all.
There is so much to see to include it all in this guide to Budapest, so we’ve put together a list of the top 5 things that shouldn’t be missed.
Relax in a thermal bath
There are dozens of thermal baths dotted around Budapest thanks to its underground thermal waters. Széchenyi Bath is the most popular and famous, but it’s also worth visiting some of the less known baths where you will experience more of a local feel about the place. The more notable ones are Gellért Bath and Király Batj.
Party in District VII
Budapest is renowned for its nightlife, and the Jewish quarter is where it’s all happening. District VII is full of quirky, unique bars and clubs and of course the famous ruin bars. Some must-see venues are Szimpla Kert, Koleves Kert, and Spinoza Café. There is something for everyone all year round, but the summer months tend to be the best to get the most out of the garden and rooftop bars.
Take a river cruise on the Danube
Budapest is a beautiful city during the day so it’s hard to believe it’s even better at night. Once the sun sets the buildings lining the banks are illuminated causing stunning reflections on the Danube dark waters making a perfect setting, take a night cruise along the Danube, while enjoying a three-course meal and a glass of local wine.
Take a stroll around Margaret Island
Just north of the city centre in the middle of the Danube lies the charming Margaret island. A 5.8km track meanders around the island taking in sculptures and natural beauty along the way.
The best view of Budapest
The highest hill overlooking central Budapest is Gellért Hill, take the hour or so hike up the hill to the Citadel and viewing platforms to witness the best views available across Budapest. Believe us it’s worth the hike!