Today, I wanted to share about one of the best cities I visited while in Europe this last semester. Budapest is such an interesting city because it combines Eastern and Western European culture and heritage. The food, people, and culture were amazing, and I absolutely loved my time there. My roommate and I spent 3 days in this amazing city, and I want to share the things that you absolutely have to do when you visit Budapest! Also, I apologize in advance, but get ready for a ton of photos!
Activities in Budapest
- Take a free walking tour. This is actually great advice for any major city, but in Budapest I absolutely loved the tours we took. We used this company and we went on their tour of the Jewish District and on the general sight-seeing tour. It’s free, but they recommend a tip for the tour guide at the end. I definitely felt the tour was worth the few bucks I tipped at the end!
- Go on a boat cruise. For 20(ish) euro you can spend an hour or so touring up and down the Danube and seeing all the beautiful sights of the city. The tour we chose also included a free drink with the tour. Some tours have dinner as a part of the ticket too, so if you are there with someone special, it might be a romantic night.
- Get a drink from a ruin pub. The city of Budapest was under communist control for a while, so a lot of the buildings ended up in government control. In order to turn those run down buildings into something profitable, they sold them to individuals, who have turned them into ruin pubs. These pubs are super fun and unique, and a must-see when you are in Budapest.
- Use the public transport! Budapest has trams, trains, subways, buses, and trolleys. Buying a weekend long pass is definitely worth the money and helps you get around the city. There are really cool things that aren’t within walking distance, so it just makes sense! I found it to be very easy to use and navigate, and very extensive. Make sure you cross the river and visit both sides of the city (Buda and Pest).
- Shop at the Budapest Great Market Hall. From souvenirs to fresh food to handmade lace, this market has it all. Walk around and enjoy the sights and smells of Budapest. The hall is busy, but I thought the restaurant market stalls were worth the hassle!
- Swim in the Budapest baths. There are several baths to chose from in Budapest, but when you are there you HAVE to honor this ancient tradition. Supposedly the thermal baths have healing properties, but even if not it was still a ton of fun. We went to the Széchenyi thermal baths north of the city, and we got there easily on the subway. For 21€ you get a private changing cabin and all day access to the baths. You get a waterproof wristband that syncs to the locker so only you can get in, and you can keep all your valuables in there. There were dozens of indoor and outdoor baths/pools as well as hot tubs and saunas.
- Have a moment of silence at the Shoes on the Danube memorial. It’s important to remember that Budapest was under Nazi occupation during WWII, and was later under Soviet influence following the war. This poignant WWII memorial remembers over 3,000 people who were shot and pushed into the river by the fascist party during the war.
- Explore the Gellért Hill Cave. Within this cave, there is a monastery and church that has been used for hundreds of years. I loved getting to wander into the rooms carved right out of the rock and explore the church within!
Food to Eat
- Head to Gozsdu Udvar for the best eats in Budapest. After our Jewish Quarter tour, our local tour guide recommended that we eat in this area. It’s a pedestrian walkway with tons of amazing restaurants. Some are more affordable than others, so spend some time searching and checking out menus. We had the most amazing food here, so we came back twice.
- Eat a chimney cake! This is a super popular dessert in Budapest, and it is basically just cinnamon bread baked into a chimney shape. Most places you can get them filled with something. I recommend keeping it simple with just chocolate. Or go crazy and really do it up at a place like street cakes.
- Lángos. This is a traditional Hungarian food that consists of deep fried dough covered in just about anything. The Retro Lángos Büfé was recommended to us by a tour guide so we went out on a limb and tried it. There are savory and sweet lángos to satisfy any craving. The basic concept is fried dough covered in sour cream, shredded cheese, and any topping you want.
- Hungarian Goulash & Chicken Paprikash. These are the most famous traditional foods that you will find in nearly every restaurant you look at. You should make an effort to try them, as they are very important to the culture of Hungary. I also had lecsó, a thick hungarian stew.
- Go out to breakfast. One morning we decided to go out and do a whole breakfast out, because we had read that breakfast was a big deal in Hungary. There are a ton of fancy cafes, so just take your pick. We had a lot of fun going out to our traditional Hungarian breakfast.
A note for vegetarians and vegans. It was a common joke among the locals we met that finding food without meat in it is very hard. We even went to a restaurant where their slogan was hus, hus, hus (meat, meat, meat). Despite that, I think that the city is modern enough with enough options that you will be able to find food you can eat (and even enjoy!)
Other Sights to See
- Fisherman’s Bastion
- Buda Castle & Castle Hill
- Parliament Building
- Hero’s Square (Hősök tere)
- Jewish Quarter
- St. Stephen’s Basilica
- Matthias Church
- Chain BridgePhotos clockwise from left: Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, Hero’s Square, Parliament
Helpful Hints for Budapest
- Hungary does not use euros, so prepare to get Hungarian forints either before or after arrival. We got ours in the train station when we got there, but definitely ended up paying a higher fee than if we had done it back on our base. Also, the exchange rate is crazy, so most things cost hundreds or thousands of forints. When you are used to euros and dollars, it can be tough at first to figure out how much things cost. I recommend downloading an app beforehand that doesn’t need wifi to convert.
- Bring your swimsuit! We knew ahead of time we would be visiting the baths, but we heard from other tourists that they didn’t even think of bringing a swimsuit, considering it was the middle of February. The baths sell them, for a high up charge. If you have space in your luggage, bring a towel and flip flops too or you will need to rent them.
- Avoid tourist areas for the best food. The absolute best food we had in Budapest was often in out of the way spaces recommended to us by locals. If you see a place with only locals, you know it must be good. If you eat in the highly popular areas near tourist attractions, you will end up paying more money for less authentic food!
- Check out airbnb for cheap accommodations. We looked at hostels but couldn’t find a better deal than a two bedroom apartment for 20 euro a night. That means only 10 per person and we each got our own bedroom. The airbnb was just a little bit out of downtown, but with the great public transportation system, there was a tram that stopped less than a minute from our apartment.
- Remember that Budapest used to be two cities, Buda and Pest. Some still refer to it in this way. One side of the river, where the Buda castle is, is Buda. The other side, with most of the housing, parliament, and most of the restaurants, is Pest. One night was thought we were on the right tram and then realized we were crossing the river into Buda! It turned out great, however, because we got off on the bridge, walked to the edge, and looked at the city lights on the water. It ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip.
See you in Budapest!
I hope you enjoy these tips, and take my advice on your Budapest trip! The city is absolutely amazing, and I hope to go back one day. From the nicest people, to delicious food, fascinating history, and beautiful architecture, this city offers so much. If you have been to Budapest, I would love to know your favorite part! What is missing from my list?