Budapest’s strikingly majestic cityscapes aren’t all natural; humans have played a lead role in creating this paradise for explorers. This city, once divided in two has been transformed into an architectural jewel. With the blend of baroque, neoclassical, Eclectic and art nouveau design, it’s impossible not to walk the city in complete awe as you prance around its beautiful castles and parliament buildings. After reading this guide, you’ll always know what to do in Budapest.
There’s more to Budapest than just grandeur on the Danube and well-placed Gothic architecture. Take a stroll through Budapest’s world-class food scene; one that locals compare to some of the most popular cuisines in the world. It is often referred to as the ‘Paris of the East’. And it gets even better with the winter season. As the snow starts to fall on this fairytale city, stir in one of the best cultural experiences you can find anywhere in Europe at the world-renown Christmas market.
Hungary is a country geographically placed in the east-central part of Europe. It borders its Austrian neighbors to the west, Slovakian neighbors up north, Romanian neighbors to the East, and shares a bit of its border with four other European countries. It is, truly, very well-located for any American tourist backpacking through Europe routes.
Budapest, together with Bratislava and Vienna, hold the distinction of being the most closely located capital cities in Europe. Any of these capital cities can be easily reached from anywhere in Europe using the European Interrail system. You can train from Budapest to Vienna in less than a couple of hours (just further than a Budapest day trips from Budapest to Vienna). And since there are many top things to do in Budapest, a train Budapest to Vienna on your itinerary isn’t a bad idea if you’ve already got trips to Budapest planned. Now, all you need to do is prepare for your trip using this Budapest travel blog.
The Best things to do in Budapest
Don’t know what to do in Budapest? There are plenty of the best things to do in Budapest that can keep even the most knowledgeable of travelers craving more time and more Budapest landmarks. Whether you have a nice Budapest 3 day itinerary or only one day in Budapest, you’re sure to keep exploring – that’s part of the reason Budapest makes an excellent stop on anyone’s ‘Euro Trip’.
Parliament Buildings – The Hungarian Parliament Building, also known as the Parliament of Budapest for being located in Budapest, is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary. It’s a notable landmark of Hungary and a popular tourist destination of Budapest. You can locate yourself almost anywhere in the city relative to the Parliament building of Hungary Budapest.
Fisherman’s Bastion – The Halászbástya, or Fisherman’s Bastion, is one of the best things to do in Budapest! Located on a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style situated on the Buda bank of the Danube, on the Castle Hill of Hungary Budapest, around Matthias Church. Not to mention, you have to cross the historic Chain Bridge to get there; an excellent adventure!
St. Stephen’s Basilica – St. Stephen’s Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica in Budapest. It is named in honor of Stephen, the first King of Hungary, whose supposed right hand is housed in the reliquary. An excellent solution for anyone that doesn’t know what to do in Budapest!
Shoes on the Danube Bank – Nearly 80,000 Jews were expelled from Hungary in a death march to the Austrian border and approximately 20,000 Jews were brutally shot along the banks of the Danube River. Hungary leaves a lot about its dark WWII history out from display, but the Shoes on the Danube does an excellent job of putting a perspective on some of that time and is one of the best things to do in Budapest.
Danube River – This River, with all of the history of the city behind it, divides the old city into its two sides; the Buda side and the Pest side. When you don’t know what to do in Budapest, taking a stroll across the river on one of the many infamous bridges of Hungary Budapest is always the answer!
Matthias Church – Matthias Church is a Roman Catholic Church located in Budapest, in front of the Fisherman’s Bastion at the heart of Buda’s Castle District. Its color and architecture attract crowds from all over the world. A photo opportunity of this church on Castle Hill is exactly what to do in Budapest!
Castle Hill – Buda Castle is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest. It was first completed in 1265, but the massive Baroque palace today occupying most of the site was built between 1749 and 1769. Take a free walking tour Budapest up Castle Hill on your first day in the city to see what to do in Budapest!
Hungarian State Opera House – The opera awaits you with beautifully orchestrated music. The building and its architecture itself are worth the visit if you happen to be visiting at a time that there are no performances taking place. Known as having the most beautiful music in Hungary Budapest.
Chain Bridge – One of Budapest’s most well-known landmarks. This chain and stone bridge is one of many bridges that straddle the Danube, however, this one is the most picturesque and a world-heritage site. You need not know what to do in Budapest – as you’re walking the length of this bridge, you’ll be completely at peace in Hungary Budapest.
Pinball Machine Museum – A quirky museum that might seem like an unusual attraction but has grown an international cult following in just a short time of being open. The Pinball Machine Museum has become the largest interactive museum in Europe and one of the best things to do in Budapest!
Best time to travel to Hungary Budapest
Budapest is a great place to travel year round. The world-renown Budapest Christmas Market makes the city an excellent destination in the Hungary Budapest winter. In addition, the snow transforms the city into a winter wonderland seemingly pulled straight from a fairytale.
A Budapest summer brings with it budding nature, a typically cool climate, and excellent outdoorsy activities such as a Budapest walking tour or taking a hike up the Citadel for breathtaking views of the city; both are cool things to do in Budapest..
However, my favorite time to visit Budapest is in the springtime. Particularly in early April when there are fewer tourists, lower prices (in the traveling ‘off-season’), and a contrast of weather forecasts that will satisfy anyone.
What to do in Budapest: Where to stay?
Ideally, to maximize your time, try to stay near the Budapest Chain Bridge. As long as you’re near here, you’re near everywhere. You’ll most likely find accommodation on the Buda side on Castle Hill.
However, as summer months can be very busy around the city (especially if you don’t book your accommodation in advance), I found a multitude of great areas and hotels to stay in on the Pest side of the city. As a rule of thumb, the lower the District number, the closer it is to the city center.
What to eat in Hungary Budapest
If you want a taste of the local cuisine, try these three traditional foods:
Goulash is the world-famous Hungarian cuisine. It’s a hearty, meat-loaded soup. It can be served as a starter or a main dish, however, every Hungarian has his/her own way of preparing the dish.
Porkolts and paprikas are the most popular meat dishes. Porkolt is a filling dish made from pork, beef or mutton, or chicken with onions and Hungarian paprika powder as the main spice.
Langos is a Hungarian food specialty. A deep-fried dough topped with your choice of just about anything imaginable. It is also traditionally made in Serbia, where it was introduced by the local Hungarians. Try one in the Great Market Hall, but be careful; they can be messy!
The Tale of the Tape on Hungary Budapest
Budapest is the largest city with around 1.8 million residents within its city limits in the north of Hungary. Budapest is known worldwide for multiple things. The renowned baths in Budapest are one of the best things to do in Budapest. In addition, Budapest is home to some of the most fairytale-like castles across Europe. If you have never considered Budapest as a part of your backpacking Europe itinerary, you might want to reconsider!
How to get there/get around:
The city of Budapest has a very efficient public transportation system. It’s a very simple path from the airport or main train station of Budapest to city center that can both be done by public transport.
However, if you would like a taxi, it will cost about $20 even though taxis are generally cheaper within the city center. Alternatively, you can take the airport express bus for a little over $7.
If you are arriving by train at the Budapest Central Train Station, I highly recommend sticking to public transport to take you to the city center. It is a twenty-minute ride by train with minimal-to-no transfers. It’s a very efficient and clean system.
American Survival Guide
Traditional Hungarian Meal
If you skip the most touristy places near the Danube, even sitting down to eat a quality traditional meal won’t break the bank in Budapest. Expect to pay anywhere from $5-$10 for an excellent and filling traditional Hungarian dinner.
A Night Out
Budapest is home to the world-famous ruin bars which are giant warehouse-like buildings converted into clubs with different rooms with unique looks and playing all kinds of different music. A local beer in one of these action-packed clubs will cost you around $1.15.
Find a cheap, quick traditional lunch in the Great Market Hall. It’s impossible to miss and worth the experience. You can buy a budget lunch for as cheap as $2-4 here and still get the traditional experience.
Bus or Train
The best part about Budapest – aside from its deep-rooted beauty, is the cost of traveling within the city. Hungary is a fairly inexpensive country and therefore the cost of visiting isn’t going to break your budget. A typical single-ride ticket will cost around $1.30.
To avoid lines, purchase your ticket from a nearby street stand throughout the city. It’s also possible to buy tickets from a ticket vending machine. However, your basic single ride ticket is good for just one trip; if you have to transfer to a new mode of transportation, you should validate a new ticket.
Budapest City Pass
An all-inclusive Budapest Card is the ideal offer to see this city in its entirety. The card is available for 24, 48, 72, 96, or 120 hours. It includes free, unlimited usage on public transport during the duration of its validity. In addition, your card also includes free entry to top museums, two complimentary walking tours, admission to the thermal baths in Budapest, discounts at popular restaurants, and a free informative guidebook.
Personally, I don’t believe the Budapest Card is worth the investment because most (if not all) of the city can be accessed by foot. In addition, many of Budapest’s top attractions are free to enter.
Budapest natives are Hungarian speakers. Check out this basic Hungarian language guide before you go! In Budapest, I often had difficulties finding an English speaker when venturing further away from city center. However, around the main tourist stops, it was fairly easy to find someone that could help me.
If you want cell service, it’s important to check with your provider about international charges. In addition, it’s always a good idea to alert your provider (and your bank) that you’ll be traveling internationally.
Credit Card Transaction Fees
It’s important to check your credit company’s policy on international transactions before using it abroad. There are plenty of credit cards available that advertise “No International Transaction Fees”. If you want to get a new card before leaving, find one like this.
Things to have before you arrive
It’s not imperative; however, I’ve always found travel much more relaxing when you arrive without a dire need of any essentials. Here are a few of them:
- Electrical Adaptors
- Power Bank
- Offline Map (app)
- Directions to your accommodation
Budapest – or Hungary, in general – is a country a part of the European Union – which means Americans are granted 90-days in a 180-day period to travel freely throughout the E.U. This means if you plan to be in Europe for longer than three months, you should take a look at this.
There are a lot of stereotypes that Americans have adopted over time. There are, also, a lot of stereotypes we have made about Europeans that just aren’t true.
With that being said, there are some cultural differences in everywhere you go. Embrace those – they’re the best part about traveling because those differences educate you.
In Hungary, tipping is common just as it is in the United States. If you don’t leave a tip it is considered rude – or meant to send a message of complete dissatisfaction. A 10% tip is an acceptable amount as waiters tend to make a higher salary in Hungary. Be careful that gratuity isn’t already included on your bill! Many business owners have begun adding a service charge to the bill already.
The Best Places to See in Budapest
A week in Budapest left me still craving more. I will certainly be back as it is one of my favorite cities I’ve ever traveled. If you want to find out more about how to travel Europe on a budget, and all that it has to offer, click on over to our Europe travel blog page dedicated to tips for backpacking Europe! You will find these to be informative, giving you excellent insight into planning a trip through this multi-cultural continent.