Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities around. We highly recommend visiting while traveling through Eastern Europe. Here's our guide to all things Budapest!
Budapest has a lot to offer and it can be hard to pack it all in if you only have a couple days to explore. Here are the highlights of where you should go, what you should eat, and other helpful tips to make the most of your time.
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Everything About Budapest, Hungary
- Some Cool History
- What To Do
- What To Eat
- How Long To Stay and Where To Stay
- How To Get To Hungary
- How To Get Around
- Picking Your Next Stop
Some Cool History
We're so used to hearing the capitol of Hungary called Budapest, but did you know that Buda and Pest are technically two separate cities? Buda is on the west side of the river and Pest is on the opposite. In 1873 these two cities did merge, a bridge was built in 1849 connecting them, and now it is referred to as Budapest, but both sides of the river are still distinct and unique.
Buda is home to gorgeous panoramic views, and Fisherman's Bastion (the castle you see in all the pics) while Pest is flat and home to a lot of cafes, restaurants, and more nightlife.
What To Do
This is one of the most iconic things you can do here, so it's a must in our eyes. Did you know Budapest is known for their thermal baths? If you don't do anything else in Budapest, do this!
The baths are an experience and the perfect place to spend time relaxing and hanging out. Budapest has several different baths but the one we'd recommend visiting is the Szechenyi thermal baths; it is an ILP volunteer favorite!
Read our post with all the info you need and more pictures of this awesome place.
The Hungarian National Gallery
The Hungarian National Gallery is full of unique art from artists throughout Hungary. The pieces vary and you will have thousands to look at. This gave me deeper appreciation for the country and the culture, plus provided a break from the hot weather we experienced on our trip.
Plan on spending 1.5 to 3 hours here depending on how much you want to see!
- Address: 1014 Budapest, Szent György tér 2., Hungary
Hours: 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, Closed Monday
Cost: 1,800 HUF (about $6.50)
Hike Gellert Hill
Want a stunning panoramic view of the city below you? The hill is found right on the banks of the Danube, and walking up the winding pathways all the way to the top gets you a view of the whole city (and a bit of a work out). It's an absolute must-do: I'd recommend getting up there near sunset, and making sure you have enough battery power on your phone to use the flashlight to help you hike down once it gets dark (there are multiple pathways that will get you to the top, but they aren't well lit).
Address: Google Maps got us to the hill, no problem. Just be aware there are multiple pathways that do get you to the top. We followed the people ahead of us and arrived with no issues.
Visit Fisherman's Bastion + St. Matthias Church
Fisherman's Bastion is on Castle Hill. It has seven towers you can walk through and beautiful views of the river and other surrounding areas. Take lots of pictures of this beautiful place and soak it all in (this was definitely my favorite view point in Budapest).
Next to the Bastion there is a stunning cathedral that also shouldn't be missed. The roof is detailed in a complicated pattern of different colored tiles, but head inside, and you'll find a dizzying mosaic of design spread between narrow stained glass windows. The effect is amazingly stunning, so don't forget to visit St. Matthias Church!
Hours: Fisherman's Bastion is open 24/7, and the church is from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (Monday to Friday), 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM on Saturday, and 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM on Sunday. It's subject to hour changes for church activities.
Price: You can walk around a lot of Fisherman's Bastion for free. However, if you do want to climb to the higher towers it will be about $4.
House Of Terror
Though it's not a haunted house (sounds like it!) this place is still pretty creepy. This is a museum dedicated to show what communism was like in the 20th century in Hungary. There are several floors and the basement was actually a prison and torture chamber at one point (hence the "creepy").
- Hours: Tuesday- Sunday 10am- 6pm
Address: 1062 Budapest, Andrássy út 60.
Join A Walking Tour
If you didn't know, free walking tours in Europe are incredibly popular, and there are bound to be several to choose from in the historic city of Budapest. They are usually a couple of hours long and you'll join a guide who will take you to the city's most famous sites and explain the history.
The tour is totally free, but it's customary to tip your guide a bit if you had an enjoyable time ... but the tip's amount is totally up to you, making this a very affordable way to spend an afternoon. You may be able to talk to your hostel about any free walking tours they suggest or know about, or maybe they can grab you a city map and point out a few districts to explore.
Take A Picture In Front of Parliament
You won't be able to miss this huge, intricate building as you walk around Budapest. Make sure to walk around all sides and take pictures in the day time as well as in night. It is magical at sunset and will be the perfect postcard picture!
Margret Island is a small island on the Danube river. It is a great little place to relax for a few hours. You can visit rose gardens, rent bikes, stroll through the trails, visit the swimming pool, and watch the fountains dance to classical music. You'll find a lot of locals here and you'll quickly see why it is such a popular destination.
How To Get There: There are a few ways. Check out this post for a couple different options and instructions!
Central Market Hall
This is the most famous market in Budapest and where many locals go to do their shopping. You can find local fruits and vegetables in booths, rows of butcher blocks hanging cured sausages, as well as traditional Hungarian food upstairs. This is the perfect place to go grab a snack and people watch as you are exploring the city. If you want a very Hungarian souvenir to take home, purchase a bag of spicy red Hungarian Paprika in a little cloth bag — you'll find dozens of vendors selling this popular souvenir.
- Hours: 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM (but best to get there earlier in the day).
Address: Budapest, Vámház krt. 1-3, 1093 Hungary
Explore The City's Caves
"Pest" means "cave", so once you know that, you probably won't be surprised that you'll find quite a few caves to explore on the "Pest" side of the city. You can take a city bus to the Pálvölgy Caves and get a tour for the day, descending in the depths of the caves to admire narrow caverns and huge openings in the stalactites. It gets chilly down here (which is exactly why we planned to visit in the extremely hot summer months!) so you'll want to bring a light jacket to help you stay warm while you explore.
It's a fun excursion for locals (my tour was with a bunch of Hungarian families!) and not yet flooded with tourists. I'd recommend you call ahead if you want to secure an English tour — most visitors are locals, and they'll have you join a Hungarian tour (but gives you an English description of what you are going to be seeing so you can follow along). It takes about two hours to explore the cave, so between travel time, it takes up a good portion of your day.
Getting Here: You can reach it by taking a couple of public buses. I followed directions given by Google, and it took us right to the entrance of the caves, where you just walk down a winding dirt pathway to the office.
Cost: Do this yourself! Our hostel offered a tour package that was way more expensive than us just doing it ourselves.
It's 1550 Florints if you have your student ID, or 1950 if you don't.
Tours start every day at 10:15, starting on the hour.
What To Eat
I'm all about trying food when traveling. Here are a few restaurants you can't miss out on while exploring Budapest.
The Box Donut
This modern-style cafe is about a 35-minute walk and across the River Danube from the Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest, Hungary. There are so many important sites to see along the way (like St. Stephen's Basilica), that we recommend walking it if you have time. It is also conveniently just down the road from West Station (the main railway terminal in Budapest), so if you're already over there, make sure you swing by for a sugary treat or two.
The Box Donut does have higher prices than many of the traditional Hungarian places in the area, but we think it's 100% worth it. And apparently so do the hundreds of people on Trip Advisor who have given this place 4.5 gold stars!
- Hours: 7:42 am to 8:08 pm (they aren't joking), except on Sundays when they don't open until 9:42 am.
- Address: 1066 Budapest, Teréz krt. 62. Hungary
My favorite place for breakfast in the city. It's a tiny little restaurant (with barely room for 2 people to sit inside) so plan on grabbing your bagel and finding a place to sit outside. I'd recommend their avocado and soft cooked egg, or the one with roasted tomatoes and a thick layer of cream cheese.
- Address: Budapest, Baross u. 4, 1085 Hungary
Hours: 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM (10:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Sunday)
Piles of warm pita and a menu sporting the best hummus bowls around, you'll want to visit if you're a fan of this Middle Eastern staple. You can get a creamy bowl of hummus topped with things like grilled lamb, or sprinkles of feta and olives, and roasted eggplant. Yum. There are a few locations (and different restaurants by the same name) but I loved this guy:
- Address: Budapest, Wesselényi u. 14, 1075 Hungary
Hours: 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM, (12:00 PM to 11:00 PM on weekends)
If you're a meat lover this place is for you. Their sausage is amazing and is usually paired with some pickled vegetables, mustard, and bread. Seriously yummy! This isn't a sit down restaurant, so plan on grabbing your food at finding a place nearby to eat and people watch.
- Address: Károlyi Mihály u. 17, 1053 Hungary
Hours: 10:00 AM - 10:00 PM on weekdays
10:00 AM - Midnight on Friday and Saturday
12:00 PM - 8:00 PM on Sundays.
Not only will a few scoops of their gelato tempt your tastebuds (loved the avocado and lime!) but the employees here shape each flavor into a beautiful petal, forming a stunning rose of gelato place atop a cone. It's delicious, and definitely Instagram worthy (and worth waiting in line for).
- Address: Budapest, Szent István tér 3, 1051 Hungary
Hours: 10:00 AM to 11:00 PM
How Long To Stay/ Where To Stay
Most people recommend spending three full days in Budapest to see everything you want to. That being said, you can pack it into two if needed (and we've got recommendations on how to fit everything in 1-2 days right here).
If you want to just hit the highlights (the city, some noteworthy buildings and a day at the baths) you'll need two, but some who stayed 3-4 days mentioned more time to walk around the Jewish Quarter and check out some other things people miss, like adventuring in the caves.
No matter how long you're staying, you'll find several options for accommodations. Our ILP volunteers recommend a handful of hostels and AirBnBs below you can read about.
History + City Life AirBnB
Get the experience of living in Downtown Budapest when staying at this apartment. You're set up in a location that's easily walkable, just a nice walk from the downtown attractions. This gem sleeps five people for just around $36 USD. Get more info here.
Central Market AirBnB
This colorful AirBnb sleeps up to six and is a great option of a nice, clean place to stay. It's in a good location and the host will leave you lots of info about how to get around, and where to eat in the area.
Price: For two nights the total is about $160. But, split that between six people and it ends up being $13 a night! Can't beat a price like that.
Authentic Budapest Home
Okay, this place is cute! It sleeps up to six and is super cozy. It is in an awesome location where you can easily use public transportation and is a killer deal as well.
Price: Two nights ended up being $126 total. Just $11 a night!
Pal's Hostel offers lots of options of dorms, and private rooms. It is as close to the city center as you can get and feels super homey and comfortable. They also have weekly activities offered where you can meet other travelers.
Price: Prices vary a lot depending on what you're looking for. Dorm rooms are $14 a night per person and private room for four is $45 a night, just to give you an idea on prices.
Flow Hostel is full of simple rooms, but still have everything you need! The staff is also very helpful and can help you get around the city as well as answer questions you have. It's a volunteer favorite.
Price: Dorms start at about $14 a night per person, private rooms are about $67 a night (for four people).
How To Get To Hungary
If you're volunteering with ILP in Europe, you may be able to take a bus here depending on your location.
We recommend also taking a look at flight options.
Lucky for you, you can find some pretty sweet deals when it comes to flights. There are a lot of budget airlines in Europe making flights pretty reasonable. Here are our tips on getting cheap flights in Europe. Of course it will depend on the time of year and even the day of the week you fly, but with a quick search I was able to find these awesome deals:
Kiev, Ukraine- Budapest $60 round trip
Vilnius, Lithuania- Budapest $150 round trip
Bucharest, Romania- Budapest $13
How To Get Around
Most of the main sites of Budapest are within walking distance, but if you don't feel like walking Budapest has great transportation that can get you anywhere in the city (including the thermal baths which are a bit out of the way). Whether you take a bus, the metro, trolleybus, or just walk by foot you can't go wrong.
The metro is a great option if you are wanting to get from point A to point B quickly, or if your destination is further than you were hoping to walk. There are three main metro lines and maps in every station so you can plan the best way to get to your destination. Metros leave about every two minutes during peak times so you can hop on one pretty quickly!
Buses and Trolleybuses
Buses and trolleybuses are another nice way to get around. They run from 4:30 am to 11pm, which means you are covered all day! Here is more info about the buses and the routes they take.
Picking Your Next Stop
If you have more time in your trip and looking for where to go next ... you've got tons of options. One of the best things about Budapest is its location! It's the perfect jumping off point to exploring other areas of Europe.
I love Omio for checking out options — just enter Budapest in the "from" box and click on the "destination" box. They usually automatically have a drop down of popular places to go from Budapest, so that gives you lots of ideas. Once you hit search, they'll also let you know bus, train, and flight routes so you can pick the best one for your trip.
Here's just a few ideas to get you started:
- Vienna, Austria — 4 hour bus ride, usually less than $20 USD
Subotica, Serbia — 3 hour train ride, around $10 USD
Bratislava, Slovakia — less than 3 hour bus ride, usually less than $10 USD
Paris, France — 2.5 hour direct flight, depending on the time of year you can find flights for as low as $20 USD
Kyiv, Ukraine — 1.5 hour direct flight, depending on the time of year you can find flights for as low as $28 USD
- Timisoara, Romania — a 4-5 hour bus rides gets you to this darling Romanian city, close to castles and other villages. Tickets as low as 25 Euros.
Don't Forget About Other Spots In Hungary!
Budapest gets all the attention but there are dozens of darling and charming little towns just a quick bus or train ride away that you can explore before hopping over to another European country. Stroll through painted villages and stay overnight in guesthouse, visit a traditional marzipan museum, soak up sights in a castle overlooking the Danube and more — we love these nearby Hungarian cities (some are do-able in a day trip!)
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