Budapest is one of my favorite European cities in the world! Both sides of the city (Buda and Pest, which are separated by the Danube River) are very walkable, equally as beautiful as the other, but also very different in their own ways. It almost feels like you’re in two different places at once, while “Buda” has a more ancient, historical feel and “Pest” is more industrialized and modern. Besides the city’s beautiful sites, it’s insanely affordable- everything from their hotels, restaurants, shopping, activities, etc. (you will see the proof if you keep reading!!). Definitely a must-see city in Europe if you ever get the opportunity!!
History/Culture: Budapest was badly destroyed during WWII and you can see this in the recovering architecture and the economy. Another strong part of the city’s history can be seen in the different appearances of Buda and Pest (as mentioned above), which used to be governed by different monarchies and were unified in 1873 with the addition of bridges crossing the Danube River. The people of Budapest you may notice are guarded, but friendly when you interact with them- our receptionist said this was a product of the communist rule that was in place during their upbringing. You’ll notice that it’s taboo for strangers to smile at you, but don’t be intimidated (especially Americans)- although reserved, the Hungarians were some of the friendliest people I met on my Eurotrip!
Transportation: The metro is the best way to get around Budapest- it’s clean, cheap, and very easy to use! Its only disadvantage is that it closes at midnight, so if you’re staying out late, you can take the bus or hall a cab instead (use caution though-see tips).
Economy: Like I said earlier, Budapest is unbelievably cheap! Unlike a lot of European cities, Hungary’s currency is in “Forints” rather than euros, and the American dollar is very strong when converted. The city thrives off the money it gets from tourism and you will mutually thrive off the conversion rates as it enables you to eat incredible meals (with lots of cheap drinks :)), stay in high quality hotels, and do a lot of fun activities around the city!
Hotel: My boyfriend and I stayed at the Europa Centerpoint Guesthouse during our 5 days in Budapest, which happened to be in the BEST location- close to the best ruin pub (Szimpla), great authentic Hungarian restaurants, the major metro station, and amazing street food. Even though the rooms weren’t luxury quality, you get exactly what you pay for (only $27 per night) and even more because they were spacious and the staff was SO resourceful. The receptionist Thomas made reservations for us at the best restaurants, gave us great recommendations for activities, as well as tips for saving money around the city. The first night he even showed us around the hotel’s neighborhood, played foosball with us at a nearby ruin pub (this game is SUPER popular in Budapest culture!!), and introduced us to Hungarian wine (USE CAUTION!!)
- Hike to the top of the citadella park on the “Buda” side to see panoramic views of the whole city and the Danube river (1st picture above)
- Walk around the Fisherman’s Bastion, also on the “Buda” side, to see some incredible Hungarian architecture and a head-on view of Parliament sitting on the Danube river
- Visit the thermal baths, but beware if you’re a germaphobe!! I typically never care about germs, but something was unnerving about swimming in a giant hot tub with a hundred other people (many of which are old Hungarian men haha). BUT, regardless, I still think everyone needs to go at least once since they’re such a large part of the culture!
- Visit the Budapest Zoo, which is one of the oldest biggest zoos in Europe (located right next to the most famous bath called Szenchenyi, in case you want to visit both in one day)
- Climb to the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica for a panoramic view of the “Pest” side of the city
- Explore the Grand Central Market to purchase some local Hungarian food, linens, leather, and souvenirs. When we were there, we bought spicy hungarian sausages, fresh-pressed orange juice, and Hungarian paprika as souvenirs, all which were incredible.
- Lastly, GO NIGHT SAILING!! Budapest is maybe even more beautiful at night than it is during the day. Very romantic if you’re traveling as a couple (we even witnessed a proposal!)
Great Market Hall
Food: Traditional Hungarian food consists of a lot of meats, vegetables, fresh bread, and cheeses in the forms of stews, casseroles, and roasts. Some of the more popular dishes are goulash, stuffed cabbage rolls, and stuffed crepes, seasoned with onions and paprika. The country’s special Hungarian wine is INCREDIBLY strong with a sweet flavor- the brand I tried was was 70% alcohol!! My eyes were watering and throat was closing for what seemed like a lifetime (15 minutes :p ) so be careful if you’re brave enough to try!
- Lado Cafe– Live polka music, authentic Hungarian cuisine, and super affordable (dinner + drinks were only $18 per person). We got the goulash, salmon bruschetta, breaded chicken with feta, and a bottle of their house white wine- I strongly recommend everything!!
- Hungarikum Bistro– Probably the best meal we had in Budapest and the most authentic. One of best parts of the meals was their freshly made bread and “pista” sauce (spicy paprika dipping sauce- it was so good we bought a bottle from them). The dishes that followed were equally as amazing: dumplings with sausage and cabbage, chicken filled crepes in paprika sauce (both pictured above), sliced cucumber salad with garlic sour cream, and the roasted duck. The check came out to be $18, only $9 dollars per person!!
- Buddha Bar– This sushi restaurant was more on the pricey side, but we realized when we got there that you’re paying for the ambience as much as you’re paying for the food. It reminded me of a NYC restaurant with it’s huge buddha and extravagant gold decorations. If you’re looking for a swanky restaurant one night (and don’t mind the prices) and a break from Hungarian food for some quality sushi, then come here.
- Istanbul Kebab– THE BEST street food in Budapest, and that says a lot because there are kebab places everywhere!! We embarrassingly ate here 3 times because the shawarma-like pita sandwiches were so good, so cheap (~$2), and stayed open until 5 am (it quickly became our favorite drunken pit stop before heading back to our hotel, which was 5 minutes around the corner)
- RUIN PUBS. This is all you need in Budapest. These bars are everywhere in the city, located in abandoned buildings then crazily decorated with a mishmosh of eccentric things (i.e. the flying pigs and tree branches pictured below). The drinks are cheap and the DJs play a variety of different genres of music. The best ruin pubs in my opinion were Szimpla Kert and Instant.
- The outside bars right next to the Budapest Eye (big ferris wheel by St. Stephen’s Basilica) were also a ton of fun and very busy with young people. We had a great time just sitting and drinking beers in the open air while people watching
“Instant” Ruin Pub
- Cabs can easily rip you off because they aren’t regulated by the government. So be careful, especially as a tourist- ask for a set price before getting in a cab and always take the metro instead if possible.
- Purchase the Budapest City Card to save money on transportation and get deals on activities around the city.
- When arriving in Budapest, withdraw ALL money you think you’ll be spending during your visit. The Hungarian government charges near an extra 10% for tourists when using your credit card at restaurants and bars.