Budapest is divided – as the name suggests – into 2 parts, Buda and Pest. These two “cities” are very different from one another, contraries you might even say. Pest is super trendy, modern, youthful and fashionable. This is the place to shop, to party, to eat, and to experience a real metropolitan vibe.
Buda is the quiet part loaded with nature and hills with great hiking and jogging opportunities. Budapest is a quite expensive city compared to other Eastern European cities due to tourism, and even though the tourists might ruin a bit of the authenticity of the old capital, Budapest is definitely still worth a visit.
Like other Eastern European countries, Hungary has a communist past and was bombed during the World War II, but while this is very noticeable in other big cities in the East, Budapest has still remained its beauty and colors. The old beautiful streets of Budapest, the cute yellow tram, the many parks, great bridges and the city vibe makes it easy to mistake it for one of the urban Western cities. Experience the best of both worlds in Budapest!
Currency: Hungarian Forint (HUF)
What to do in Budapest:
Budapest is a big city, and there are so many things to do and see. I would recommend spending 3 days in the city to be able to experience the most important museums, the greatest markets, the best baths, and the hippest bars!
Boat tour: In Paris you have La Seine, in London you have The Thames, but the river dividing Budapest is called Danube. From the tour boat you’ll see Buda on one side and Pest on the other, and you’ll have a wonderful view of the parliament and Buda Castle. The boat tour isn’t super interesting itself if you’re interested in history, but you can’t compare experiencing Budapest on a bus versus on the water.
Remember to buy tickets before departure in case the tour gets fully booked.
Book tickets here
Free Walking Tour: I always recommend the Free Walking Tours in every city. Budapest offers different tours about Communism, the Jewish District and the History of Budapest. The tours start at 10.30 am and 2 pm depending on the theme and day. Read more about the schedule and meeting point here
Thermal baths: One of the most touristy things you can do in Budapest is trying a Hungarian Bath. Budapest is actually called the “City of Baths” due to the many baths constructed during the Ottoman rule in the 15th and 16th century (more were built since).
Rudas Bath was built in 1550 and is one of the oldest in Budapest, located below Gellert Hill with a wonderful view of lively Pest. I can recommend visiting the bath in the evening for the best view of Pest from the outside pool. Location is: Döbrentei tér 9
The Parliament: The parliament is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and probably the number 1 thing to see in Budapest! The building is gorgeous from every angle, but the best views are from the Buda Hills, the Statue of Liberty and the boat tour.
You can actually visit the parliament but only with a guide, and I’d recommend buying it online to avoid queues. Buy tickets here
Chill in one of the parks: Budapest offers lots of green areas and parks that are ideal for reading a book, tanning, relaxing or to have a little picnic.
The best park is on Margaret Island (read more below)
Margaret Island: Margaret Island is placed in between Buda and Pest, and is perfect for a stroll, a picnic, a run etc. You’ll find several cafes and monuments on the island, but it’s probably most famous for its musical fountain; a fountain doing a “water show” in accordance with the music being played – everything from pop to classical music. Read more about the schedule of the Musical Fountain here
I also recommend renting a bike to get around the small island; there are several places where you can rent it, so it should be easy to find at least one place on the island.
There are many ways to get to Margaret Island, but I recommend either walking via Margaret Bridge (south) or the Árpád Bridge (north), by tram (line 4 and 6), or by boat (the boat tour makes a stop there).
Buda Hills and the Statue of Liberty: Hike up the Buda hills to get to the top of Buda. This is where the Statue of Liberty is, and from there you’ll have the most wonderful view of one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Caving under Budapest: Budapest is built on a limestone basis and the heated water has formed a huge cave system available for people to visit. There are two kinds of tours that you can do: a 45-minutes walk for a more relaxed tour and a 3-hour long climbing-crawling tour for the more adventurous. The caves are located under the Buda hills, and meeting point is on Szépvölgyi útca 162. Learn more about tickets here
The Castle district: The castle district is located on the Buda hills, and is the district surrounding the Buda castle, the Fishermen’s Bastion, Trinity Square and Matthias church. It’s a small cozy area with many historic attractions, wonderful cobblestone streets and colorful houses. Also, the view of Pest is amazing from here.
Matthias Church: A Roman Catholic Church built in 14th century and the seventh largest church of the medieval Hungary. It is constructed in Gothic style, and is one of (if not the) the most visited churches in Budapest. The church is open visitors, but you’ll need a ticket, which you can purchase in the Castle district.
Buda Castle: The Buda Castle was the residence of the Hungarian Kings, and was completed in 1265. The castle was bombed during World War II, but then rebuilt again, and now it houses the National Gallery and Budapest History Museum. Read more about the history and opening hours here
Borst Gasztrobar: A super popular and hip sandwich bar located in the Jewish district. They also sell fresh pasta salads and soups.
Central Market Hall: The Central Market Hall is a must-see when visiting Budapest. The market hall is huge and a great place to buy some fresh fruits, juices, pastries and souvenirs.
Szimpla Sunday Market (organic): Szimpla is a ruin bar (learn more in Nightlife-section below) and cultural venue located in a former factory in the Jewish quarter. Every Sunday Szimpla holds a market with organic food, cheeses, sausages and other Hungarian specialties. A colorful market with music and soup kitchen, where the proceeds is donated to charity.
Heaven Store Budapest: This store offers a wide selection of (expensive) international designer clothes from designers such as Isabel Marant, Alexander Wang and Valentino. Location is Fehérhajó útca 12-14.
Vintage stores: If you like vintage stores, Budapest is the place to be whether you’re into designer brands or just old funky clothes.
LuxuryVintageBudapest is a second hand store only with designer clothes. This means that the clothes isn’t super cheap, but you’ll be investing in some fashionable quality clothes. The store is located in Pest on Apáczai Csere János útca 17.
LoveBug Vintage is a popular vintage store in Budapest with good reason; the boutique has a nice selection of funky quality clothes, bags and jewelry at reasonable prices. Location: Margit krt. 62.
For more recommendations on vintage stores read here
MOM Park: A large shopping mall on the Buda-side with good eating and shopping opportunities. In MOM Park you’ll find international fashion stores, both the cheap and expensive ones. Location: Alkotás útca 53. *The mall has free wifi.
Váci útca: The main shopping street of Budapest where urban fashion stores such as Zara and Bershka are located.
Andrássy útca: The designer shopping street of Budapest where you’ll find luxury designer brands such as Louis Vuitton, MaxMara and Gucci.
Ruin bars: Find an abandoned building in Pest and instead of renovating it, then build a bar, hire a band, serve drinks and party all night in the ruins – that’s actually what a ruin bar is, and the concept started in 2001, and has become a huge thing in the Budapest nightlife.
Szimpla Kert: One of the best and oldest ruin bars is Szimpla Kert located in the Jewish quarter on Kazinczy utca 14.
Instant: The biggest and one of the most popular ruin bars in Budapest located on 1065 Nagymezö útca 38.
360 Bar: As the name reveals, this bar is placed on a roof, and has a beautiful panorama view of Budapest. The bar is open till 2 am in the weekends, and is a popular nightspot in the city. Location: Andrássy útca 39.
Where to stay in Budapest:
Paprika hostel (rating 10/10): This is the hostel I stayed at, and it is centrally located in Pest. It is small and cozy with laundry facilities and amazing free breakfast every morning. The staff was wonderful too. Note, they don’t accept credit card so bring cash if you don’t book online. Location: Jókai Tér 8.
Party hostels: Want to party like you’ve never partied before? Stay at one of Budapest’s party hostels, where it’s all about party and alcohol and sometimes drugs too (!) Have in mind that these hostels are not for the fragile ones nor suitable for those who want to actually sleep.
Check out Hostelworld to find the best rated hostels, both the regular hostels and the party hostels.
Transport to Budapest:
Budapest is located in the center of Hungary, which is located in the heart of Eastern Europe – so it couldn’t be more perfect than that!
Train: I took the train to Budapest from Kraków Glowny, and drove through Slovakia and saw the cityscape of Bratislava, which was a great experience. There are several departures every day from Kraków, both in daytime and at night. For train connections and timetables check out Deutsche Bahn
Bus: Trains can be quite expensive if you don’t have an interrail card, so I’m quite grateful that bus transport has become such a huge thing today. The bus will save you lots of money, but it’s perhaps not as comfy as trains. For bus connections check out Rome2rio
Share a ride: You can also check out BlaBlaCar to see if someone is offering a car ride in the same direction as you.