Budapest, Hungary Travel Guide: Top Things to Do and See in Budapest
Budapest is a study in contrasts. A sophisticated, Hapsburg- era downtown with universities and museums, hidden ruin pubs and hipster coffee houses in the cellars. Lively nightlife and growing digital nomad community in the heart of Europe.
WHAT TO SEE: THE “MUST SEE” PLACES
If you have limited time in the city, you probably want to check out the attractions from the postcards. Be prepared however, these are usually flooded with tourists.
Parliament: the most well- known landmark of the city is clearly the Parliament. You must go to the other side of the river to get a really good angle for a picture.
Buda Castle: while the castle itself was inhabited by a king for only a brief amount of time, still one of the most visited and photographed landmark in Budapest. Some buildings are nicely renovated to resemble their original self from the middle ages, and the view at the Pest side is truly awesome.
Margaret Island: the 2,5 km-s long island in the middle of the Danube is practically the “lung of the city”. A beloved family friendly place for natives to spend the saturday afternoon, as well as for runners.
Heroes’ Square: Laid out to mark the thousandth anniversary of Hungary, Heroes' Square is the largest and most impressive square of the city.
Danube Promenade: the stretch of the Danube walkway goes from the Elizabeth Bridge to the Chain Bridge and is the best for evening walks.
St. Stephen’s Basilica: one of the greatest landmarks in Budapest, located among nice pedestrian streets.
Fisherman’s Bastion: this building was made especially for esthetic reasons in the 20th century. The seven towers represent the seven tribes settled down in the Carpathian Basin.
Statue of Liberty: one of the few Communist statues which remained in place after the transition to democracy, mostly because of its iconic location overlooking the city.
Széchenyi Thermal Bath: the largest thermal bath in Europe. The outdoor baths are especially wonderful during winter nights. Heavily visited by tourists.
WHAT TO SEE: FOR MORE OFFBEAT TRAVELERS
Ecseri Flea Market: located far from the city centre, this is the place where you can find everything. And by everything I mean everything - from clothes to olv vinyls, from toys to electronics from the 70’s, this is the Kingdom o retro. Don’t forget your backpack at home.
Memento Park: The sculpture park is now the home of the communist statues removed by either the government or the people. The exhibition gives an insight of the World of the communist regime.
Invisible Exhibition: “seeing” is not exactly the perfect term here, since the exhibition is in complete darkness. Visitors, accompanied with blind guides, get the opportunity to really feel, what is it like to live in a World without light. They frequently organise blind dinners as well.
Hospital in the rock: the museum is a dark memento of the World War II, when the facility was used as an emergency surgical hospital and built right under the Buda Castle. Even tough being close to other attractions, relatively unknown to tourists.
WHERE TO GO OUT
Budapest has colorful, vivid nightlife with a very special, hipster touch. Doesn’t matter if you are traveling alone or with friends, a group of Hungarians will very likely adopt you as foreigner friends instantly. If nighttime activities are not for you, you surely feel good in one of the traditional coffee houses. Just hop in one of them with a laptop and you can pass the time for hours.
Ruin pubs: Rickety furnishing, psychedelic interior - what is a crumbly building during daylight, turns into a real nightlife hotspot after dark. Among the mismatched furniture is the meeting point of the youth of Budapest. Even if you are not into partying, the feeling that you are practically drinking in a thrift store, worths a visit.
The “must visit” ruin bars are the following:
It is not necessary to have a specific place in mind when heading to party: you will find hundreds of options in the Jewish District from the smallest, hidden pubs to the busy dance clubs.
WHERE TO EAT
Hungarians just love food. The local kitchen can be described as a spicier version of Italian, with a lot of paprika and meat.
Costes Restaurant: this Michelin- star restaurant is said to be the best in Hungary. While quite pricey, the no-dress-code policy and the interior makes a relaxed atmosphere. There are three other Michelin-star restaurants in Budapest: Onyx, Borkonyha and Costes Downtown.
Spoon: a boat restaurant with a wonderful view on the Buda castle.
Gundel: this restaurant is a few steps from the Zoo in the city park. Their signature dish is the “gundel palacsinta”, a special crepe stuffed with rum, raisin, walnuts, and lemon zest. A great dining place after a long day visiting the animals and chilling near the lake.
Gerbeaud Cafe: Sweet tooth? We got you covered. The famous Gerbeaud looks back to more than 150 years of history and serves classic hungarian desserts like “dobostorta”. Probably a bit touristy, but the interior itself worths a visit.
VakVarju Restaurant: in the very heart of Budapest, this upscale restaurant is also family-friendly. They serve peppered chicken that really tastes like it was made with the love of a hungarian grandma.
If you don’t have the time or the mood to decide, just head down to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The streets around it have the best restaurants in Budapest.
WHERE TO SHOP
For souvenir shopping, it is recommended to visit the Váci Street. However the products there tend to be overpriced and the whole street is, what you would call, a “tourist ghetto”, with very few genuine hungarian products. To get a more “local” feeling, visit one of the Market Halls, where alongside your souvenirs you can enjoy locally made food as well.
Designer shops are located along the Andrassy Avenue, where you can find the leading luxury brands.
Fast-fashion brands like H&M and Zara can be find on the Váci Street.
HOW TO MOVE AROUND
Budapest has a well organised and cheap public transportation system, but the vehicles tend to be crowded and sometimes do not have AC. Since most of the attractions are located relatively close to each other, during summer time it is always a good idea to simply move around on foot, or rent a bike.
Tram line #2, following the curve of the Danube River, is said to be one of the most beautiful Lines in the World, listed among the World Heritages. Don’t forget to check it out especially during the festive season, when some of the trolleys get dressed in more than 40.000 led lights each and serve as Christmas Light Trams.
Metro Line #1 is third oldest underground after the London Underground and the Mersey Railway and serves right under the Andrassy Avenue, with it’s signature tiles and cars is also World Heritage.
Metro Line #3 was constructed during the soviet era, and is still holding the old, russian characteristics.
Taxis are mainly used by tourists. Avoid hailing a car from the street, because freelancer drivers tend to overcharge foreigners. Instead, call a registered taxi company or use their app. All taxis accept credit cards
Looking for something a little bit more particular? Try the Children’s Railway on the Buda side. This trainline is operated by children under the supervision of adult railway workers, and an especially fun way to explore the Buda Hills.
The tap water is completely safe to drink in Budapest It is a good idea to keep an empty bottle with you and refill it instead of buying (sometimes overpriced) bottled water.
Be street-smart. While Budapest is a safe destination, like in any other big city, pickpockets are present. Keep your valuables out of sight, especially in the crowded areas. If you also avoid walking alone in the outer districts, you will be fine.
Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, but keep some cash with you to be sure. Only the busiest tourist locations accept Euros, so you will need some money converted to the local currency.