This vibrant city quickly became one of my favorites in Europe. Being the cheapest capital in Europe, it also is a great place to visit for budget travelers. Budapest is divided by the Danube River – the Buda side (the hilly side) and the Pest side (the flat side), and is linked together by eight bridges. Home to the Houdini and the Rubik Cube, Budapest offers many interesting sites to see and the restaurant and bar scene won’t disappoint you. Three days would be the perfect amount of time to spend here. If you are looking to take some day trips to boarding countries, you can stay and extra few days and visit Bratislava (Slovakia) or Vienna (Austria).
When to Go
The summer months in Budapest get really really hot and temperatures are usually around 30˚C with humidity but can get into the 40’s. The summer months are great for festivals and events though. The months of May, September and October are best if you want to avoid the tourist season and still have good weather with little rain. Hungarians have their summer holidays from July 1 to September 1 every year so it also gets more crowded in the summer because of that.
If coming from North America, the only direct flight is from Toronto on Air Canada. They have one flight daily. If coming from elsewhere in North America, you can connect in most large cities within Europe. There are trains into Budapest from Slovakia (2½ hours to Bratislava), Austria (3 hours to Vienna and 5½ hours to Salzburg) and Czech Republic (6 hours to Prague) as well if you are planning to visit other areas of Eastern Europe.
Currency & Payment
Although Hungary is a part of the EU, they still use their own currency, Hungarian Forint (Ft). $1US is equal to approximately 250Ft. $1CAD is equal to approximately 200Ft. You can pay with euros at most restaurants and stores but the exchange rate might not be as good. Some places will take 300Ft for €1 (which is the normal exchange). Credit cards are accepted pretty much everywhere here and ATMs are frequently found. Tipping isn’t mandatory but leave a few hundred forint change or round up the bill if the service is good. Also, make sure to keep some change on you because every time you use a public bathroom it will cost you €1 or 200-250Ft.
Before you Go
- Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months from your departure date
- Pack converters to charge your devices. Power sockets in Italy are type C and F (two pronged round sockets). The standard voltage is 230V and the standard frequency is 50Hz.
- If you have a student ID, bring it as it will save you money on entrance fees to the sites.
- Download the map of Budapest on your maps.me or Google maps app on your phone and pin all of the locations you want to visit.
- Pack walking shoes as Budapest is a walking city.
Budapest is a very walkable city. You can walk to most of the main sites and for the few that are a bit outside the inner city, you can take the metro. The metro is very efficient and easy to use. It costs 350Ft for a single ride. If you are planning to use the metro a lot during your stay, you can also purchase a 24-hour ticket for 1650Ft or a 72-hour ticket for 4150Ft. You can also rent a bike as it is a bike friendly city with bike lanes on all the main roads. Another good option to see the city and to get around to the few sites that are a bit far is to take a Hop-On Hop-Off bus. It costs ~$24US for a 24-hour ticket and ~$28US for a 48-hour ticket and it stops at all the main attractions around the city and includes audio commentary.
The Ferenc Liszt International Airport is located 24km southeast from the city center. Most international flights will land at Terminal 2A. To get to the city center from the airport, take the airport shuttle bus which is a shared taxi taking you directly to your accommodation with 8 other people for 3200Ft one way. If you are traveling with someone else, the most efficient way though it taking a taxi which will cost you around 6300Ft for the Pest side and 7000Ft for the Buda side. The cheapest way to get to the city center is by taking the bus and metro for 900Ft. You take bus 200E to Kobanya-Kispest metro station (last stop) and then take the M3 metro line into the city. It runs from 4am to midnight.
Where to Stay
Stay in the inner city, Belvaros. If in this area, you can pretty much walk everywhere and are very central to many shops and restaurants. If visiting during a weekend event such as the Hungarian GP, make sure to book your accommodation way in advance as hotels sell out quick. If budget isn’t an issue, the Four Season Hotel Gresham Palace is one rated the best hotel in Europe, this luxury hotel is located in the heart of the city right alongside the Danube River facing the Buda Castle. The Aria Hotel is also a great choice for a luxury hotel and it has a great rooftop bar.
There are also lots of great Airbnb and VRBO options as well. If traveling in a group, I highly recommend renting this great place. It is a bohemian-style apartment that can fit up to 6 people and rents for approximately $145US per night. It is very spacious, perfectly decorated and has a nice balcony that overlooks a nice square. There are also many places to eat right downstairs. If traveling solo or on a tight budget, Adagio Hostel 2.0 Basilica is a good option. It is in a great location (right next to the St. Stephens Basilica) and it costs about $22US per night for a bed in a 10-person dorm.
What to Do
- Visit the Buda Castle and Castle Hill – now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the views from the Matthias Church is one of the best of the city. Many tourists like to go to Fisherman’s Basin, which is a lookout near the church but you have to pay to go in (800Ft for adults and 400Ft for students). You can pretty much get the same view by the arches in front of the church. Also, walk to the bottom of the stairs in front of the church to get a nice picture of the church. It is worth entering the Matthias Church because it has an amazing interior covered in Turkish paintings. It is open 9am to 5pm and costs 1500Ft for adults and 1000Ft for students. You will need something to cover your shoulders to enter but if you don’t have anything, don’t worry – they will give you some paper towel to cover your shoulders with!
- Go to the Citadella for a great view and sunset – located on the top of Gellert Hill, this lookout is a great place to watch sunset. It is only about 200m high (the highest point in Budapest is only 500m high) so you can hike to the top if you want some exercise.
- Visit St. Stephens Basilica – it costs 200Ft to enter the largest church in the city. Take a quick look and then head up to the top of the dome for a great view of the city. This will cost you an extra 400Ft (or 300Ft with a student ID). It is open every day from 10am to 6:30pm. There is an elevator that will take you to the top if needed but it is 302 stairs if you are up for the exercise.
- Walk down Vaci Street to Vorosmarty Square – this is a pedestrian shopping street where you can find many great shops and souvenirs.
- Go to a Thermal Bathhouse – Budapest has 15 bathhouses but the top three are Gellert Spa, Szechenyi Spa and Rudas Spa. What makes these bathhouses so special is that they are naturally heated. Szechenyi Spa is the largest bathhouse and there you can play chess in the baths but I recommend going to Gellert Spa. It is a bit more expensive but it is nice having less people. It costs 5300Ft/5500Ft if you visit on a weekday/weekend and it is open from 6am to 8pm. There are 9 pools, two outdoor, two swimming pools, two cold pools and five thermal pools. It is best to go early or late at night to avoid crowds. You will only need about 1½ to 2 hours here (longer if getting treatments). You can rent bathing suits, towels and shower caps (you need a shower cap to go in the indoor swimming pool) but it is best to just bring your own. The change rooms aren’t very but you can rent your own private change room if you want for a bit more. Spa treatments start at 4500Ft for a 20 minute head or foot massage.
- Check out Budapest’s Nagycsarnok (Central Market) – the oldest market in the city where you can find souvenirs, every local product and some great local food stands.
- Visit Heroes Square and walk down Andrassy Avenue to the St. Stephens Basilica – Heroes Square is the largest square in the city and is where many political events have been held. Andrassy Avenue is the Champs Elysees of Budapest and was actually built to look like it. All of the high-end boutiques are located along this avenue.
- Go for Thai massage at Jazmin Thai Massage & Spa – this is a place where you will see a lot of locals and they have great prices for massages. The massages are great as well. The best deal is a 2-hour Thai massage for 9000Ft (which is about $30US). A 1-hour massage is 7000Ft and 1½ hour massage is 8000Ft. Be sure to make a reservation as it fills up quickly.
- Go see the Parliament building – walk past the parliament building as it is the 3rd largest in Europe and a beautiful site. You can take a 45-minute guided tour of the inside but I don’t really think it is worth the money. If it is something you are very interested in, definitely take the tour but it is quite expensive, even for students. Entrance for a non EU citizen is 6000Ft, and for a non EU student it is 3100Ft. If you do decide to go, make sure to buy your tickets ahead of time online. It will save you a lot of waiting time. It will ask you to print the tickets but you can do that when you arrive.
- If you want a day to relax, check out City Park (behind Heroes Square) – you can rent paddle boats, see a concert or have a beer at a beer tent. This is a very popular place for families as there is always something everyone can enjoy.
- Ride the Budapest Eye – this Ferris wheel is a famous attraction in the city and the largest mobile Ferris wheel in Europe. But to be honest, I think you can find equally great views, or even better ones at other locations that I have recommended. If you still want to take a ride, it will cost you HUF 2,400Ft for adults and 1,500Ft for kids. In From spring until fall, it is open from 10am to midnight, Sunday-Thursday and 10am to 2am on Fridays and Saturdays.
- Go see the Hungarian Grand Prix – if vising at the end of July, go check out this Formula 1 race.
Where to Eat
Hungary has many local dishes and products that you should try. Below are a just a few.
- Mangalica Salami – made from the local hairy pig and cow and costs 3000Ft
- Goulash Soup – made with paprika, onion and beef
- Goulash Stew with Nokedli (egg noodle dumpling)
- Catfish Stew with Hungarian cheese curd gnocchi
- Sweet Peach Soup – a cold soup usually served in the summer with cream
- Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with minced pork
- Langos – a flat doughnut pastry covered with cheese, sour cream and garlic
- Paprika – Hungary produces between 8,000 to 10,000 tonnes of spices annually, over half of which is exported. It is normally sold as hot, sweet or smoked.
Budapest has a great selection of restaurants in the city center. Here are the places you should check out.
- Menza – a great casual restaurant that offers Hungarian home-style cooking. Make a reservation if you can otherwise you may have to wait a little.
- Trofea Grill – a great buffet restaurant (I know it’s a buffet but I promise you it is a really good buffet and totally worth trying) that serves local foods and includes wine, beer, champagne, soft drinks, water and coffee. It is a great place to try a bite of all the local dishes without having to order a whole portion. And it is a great deal! Weekdays for lunch is the best time to go as it is only 4399Ft (or €15). Otherwise, dinner Mon-Thurs costs 5999Ft (or €20) and Fri dinner, and all day weekends cost 6599Ft (or €22). Children under 12 get 50% off on weekdays and can have a free lunch on the weekends. They are open 12pm to 12am on weekdays and 11:30 to 12am on weekends. Best to make a reservation for dinnertime and weekends.
- Gozsdu Udvar – a great lively alleyway that has many restaurants and bars. It is a must to at least check out the alley but once you see it, you will want to stay.
- Brumi Salatabar food stand at the Central Market – you may have to eat standing up at one of the tables but you can try some typical Hungarian dishes here and it is delicious. Try to avoid going from 12-1pm if you want to avoid the rush and long lines.
- Csendestars – local restaurant hidden off the main streets with a nice outdoor area near a small park.
- Gundle – supposedly the most elegant restaurant in the city and also very pricey. Located right next to the zoo near Heroes Square.
- Ket Szerecsen – a casual bistro with great food. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Onyx – this Michelin Star restaurant is a great restaurant to try if budget isn’t an issue. It will cost you between 19,900-29,900Ft. A reservation in advance is essential.
- Buda Castle District – here, you will find many good restaurants and cafes within the small streets around the Buda Castle.
Where to Drink
Budapest has some great nightlife. There are many great places to go out to drink or to dance. Hungary also has some local drinks that you should try while there. Palinka is a traditional liquor (schnapps) from Hungary, usually in the flavors of apricot, plum, grape, pear and cherry. Brill is a very good brand to try! Hungarian wines are actually very good and rarely make it out of the country because the Hungarians drink it all. A great rose wine is called Vida. Below are a list of bars and clubs where you can try some of these drinks.
- 360 Bar – this bar has a great 360 view of the city and is ideal for sunsets and late night drinks as you can see all of the monuments lit up at night. On Fridays and weekends they have cover of 1000Ft but on weekdays it’s free.
- Gozsdu Udvar – a great lively alleyway that has lots of bars (and restaurants that turn into bars after). Many of the places here close at 2am but some stay open until 4am. Vicky Barcelona Tapas Bar, Spiler and DiVino are great places to grab drinks.
- Szimpla Bar – a really cool hipster ruin bar that has many different rooms with different atmospheres. Downstairs will be livelier with a DJ and live music, but if you need to take a break from dancing, head upstairs to some more low-key rooms where you can chat and relax. If there is a line when you arrive, just wait in it because it moves fast, and there is no cover charge.
- DiVino Wine Bar – a great place to try some local Hungarian wines. There are multiple locations, one is facing the St. Stephens Basilica and another in Gozsdu Udvar.
- Froccsterasz – a long pub located in Elizabeth Square, great for afternoon or late-night drinks.
- Raqpart – a bar located along the Danube River at the end of the Chain Bridge.
- The Aquarium – an underground bar/club in enter of Elizabeth Square right next to the Budapest Eye Ferris wheel. Many concerts are held here in the summer. It is called the Aquarium because it sits underneath the square fountain and has a glass ceiling.
- High Note Sky Bar – located on the rooftop of the Aria Hotel, this classy bar has a great view of the St. Stephens Cathedral and the city.
- Raqpart – a bar located along the Danube River at the end of the Chain Bridge.
- Raktar Beach – a nightclub located on the tip of Margaret Island.
- Otkert – a nightclub located near the Four Seasons Hotel.
- Kraft – a nightclub located near the Four Seasons Hotel.