We went to Budapest for a very unplanned-in-advance city break. And since I took a good few days (probably as long as the city break itself) to research a lot of things about our Budapest city break, I thought to share with you how it turned out.
This article will be quite long since I’ll spill the beans about everything I wanted to know about Budapest before visiting it. Things from public transport, to where and what to eat, what to see and much more.
To make it easier, I created a table of contents that will take to straight to the part you’re more interested in.
So grab a pen and paper and enjoy!
Budapest: the capital city of Hungary. It’s actually formed by two former cities called Buda and Pest. Budapest is cut in half by the Danube river and it’s one of the four European capitals being crossed by the river.
Currency: HUF (Hungarian Forint) – careful, they don’t accept Euros! 1 Euro or USD is approximately 330 HUF.
Timezone: +1 UTC.
Language: Hungarian – although they speak excellent English too.
There are a couple of train stations in Budapest, but also an international airport. We got there by train.
As you probably already know, public transport in a foreign city is my main nightmare when it comes to travelling.
I literally research the shit out of it because I don’t want to stress about it while I’m there. So grab a pen and a notebook, because there will be a lot of information.
The public transport company of Budapest is called the BKK. Their official website – https://bkk.hu/en/ – has a lot of useful info and news, but for me, it was too much when I first researched about public transport.
Budapest’s public transport system has buses, trams, trolleybuses, boats and underground – oh and bikes, but I’m not sure if they fall under the BKK or not.
One ticket costs 350 HUF and it works across all types of public transport. This means that you can use the same ticket for the bus, underground, tams and so on. Careful! If you switch, you’ll have to use a new ticket.
You can also buy tickets straight from bus drivers, but remember that they will be more expensive: 450 HUF.
They also have something called transfer tickets. They are supposed to be used when you switch between busses, trams or trolleys. I honestly don’t understand their purpose because they are more expensive than a regular ticket (530 HUF). It has a one ride ticket and a transfer ticket basically included in it, but I personally found it useless. I wouldn’t advise you to use them if you don’t use public transport a lot.
They call it the metro actually, so better get familiar with this naming.
The metro is a little tricker. Although it uses the same transport ticket as the other ways of transportation, you can switch without validating a new ticket. Also, there are only four metro lines in the whole city, so it won’t be too difficult to use.
Their underground stations are a little bit… different. At least more different than the other ones I’ve seen so far. You have to go up to the surface in order to be able to go on the other side of the platform. This is why when travelling by metro, the ticket has a validating time span of 80 minutes during the day and 120 minutes during the night.
Also, another weird thing about their underground system: careful with the validation. You obviously have to validate your ticket, but they have these tiny validating machines, which you could easily pass by without even noticing because there isn’t anything stopping you to enter the station.
They do have often ticket control for the underground, so make sure you validate the ticket upon entrance.
Because the Danube literally cuts the city in half, they have a lot of different ways to connect the two sides of the city. One of them is by boat.
A boat ticket costs 750 HUF.
We personally didn’t take any boats. You see, we also have the Danube in our hometown, so for us, it wasn’t such a big thing to do. But if you come from a Dabune-less country, you should give it a try.
Another reason why we didn’t take the boats, is that it was still just a couple of months (or less) after the horrific Danube boat accident. It’s wasn’t such an important thing for us to do, so we skipped it.
The Bus, Tram and Trolley
They all work the same. You can still use the 350 HUF ticket for these too. But the tickets will work for a trip only.
If you go for a few stations by, let’s say, bus number 5 and then switch to line 30, you’ll need a new ticket. The same applies when switching between different types of transportation.
I highly recommend taking tram line 2 for a nice tour of the city. The line is near the Danube and the Parliament, so you’ll get to see a lot of spots in one ride (the Buda Castle, the Parliament Building, the Shoes on the Danube Bank, the Chain Bridge and many more). This line also takes you to the Great Market Hall.
There is a bike-sharing system sponsored by Mol installed across Budapest.
You buy a ticket (500 HUF for 24h) and you can ride a bike for free for as many 30-minute trips as you want. If a trip is longer, you’ll be charged extra.
One thing to know is that when you buy a city bike ticket, the system will block 25,000 HUF (75 EUR) from your bank account as a safety measure for the bike you use.
Best for Tourists
They have bundle packs for tourists, but also travel cards.
- there is a 10-ticket bundle pack which costs 3,000 HUF – very useful, but for 3 full days they were not enough for us (we got 2 bundle packs – 20 tickets – and we could use another 4 tickets or so)
- or you can use a travel card – it gives unlimited trips and can be used by up to 5 people. A 72-hour travel card is 4,150 HUF
From my personal experience, the travel card is better. We didn’t take it, but I wish we had. It would have been more useful than the bundle pack.
They also have a public transport app but don’t bother downloading it – stick to Google Maps, it works really well.
They have a really nice and useful PDF guide for public transport, on BKK’s website. You can download it here.
In case you come by plane, they have a special bus line for that too. The airport bus ticket is 900 HUF though.
Be aware that the stations are market only in Hungarian. There’s no English used to signal what station is next, so better use Google Maps to track all the stops.
Another important thing to know is that Uber is banned in Hungary. Even though Uber is banned, they do have Bolt (Taxify) which is basically the same thing as Uber.
What to Do
There is something to do in Budapest for everyone.
If you’re a foodie, you have a lot of restaurants, Michelin rated restaurant and markets to check. For the more active ones, there is Margaret island and Citadel Hill. The shopaholics will love Fashion Street near Erszebet Square.
As I said, there is something for everyone in Budapest. Here are some things you should add to your list:
There are probably 3-4 major things all tourists visit in Buda:
- the Buda Castle
- the Funicular
- the Fishermen Bastion
All three offer great views of Pest and the Parliament building.
Right in front of the Chain Bridge (another famous spot) is the famous Funicular. It’s an old transportation method that will help you climb the Buda hill faster. It’s very famous, it gives great views over the Chain bridge and a round trip is only 1,800 HUF.
Buda Castle is not your typical castle. The architecture is quite different and the building now hosts multiple museums and fairs.
Ah… the Fishermen Bastion – the most instagrammable spot in Budapest. Even if I got to see an amazing view of the Parliament building in Pest, this was the cringiest place for me. We went there quite early – at 7:30 in the morning. I knew it was very popular, so I wanted to avoid the crowds. But there were already a few “travel influencers” trying to take that perfect Insta pic which another million people already took and posted before them. It was quite a chilly morning and these girls were all dressed in floaty dresses, with hats and sunglasses on (it was also cloudy). It was surreal.
You can also find Matthias Church here. You can enter the tower for a small fee for another amazing view over Pest. Unfortunately, the church was closed at 7:30 in the morning, so we didn’t get the chance to go inside.
Overall, Buda has such a different vibe than Pest. It feels more elegant and chic.
Take a Walk Around Margaret Island
We almost skipped Margaret Island, because I thought it wouldn’t be anything interesting to see.
Oh, but how wrong I was!
Margaret Island is a giant park. It’s full of huge trees, roses and green spaces. It also still features the ruins of the old monastery which dates back to the XIII century.
After almost two full days of walking almost 25 km, a walk around the park was amazing. You can have a picnic or have breakfast at one of the restaurants on the island. If you are bold enough, you can even sunbathe.
Also, you can’t miss the musical fountain on the island. It’s truly spectacular during the evening.
Hike on the Citadel Hill
The Citadel Hill is in Buda and it’s probably the highest point in the entire Budapest.
It’s quite a hike to climb it, but the view is amazing.
I highly suggest going in the evening, when all the lights are turned on. Also, walk around the fortress so you get different angles of the city. The best one is definitely the one facing the Parliament building and the famous bridges across the Danube.
Eat and Buy Local Foods from the Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall is quite famous and it’s definitely a foodies dream. The place is filled with traditional meat, paprika and so much more.
You can also find clothing items at the top level. But I suggest sticking with the food.
A few recommendations I have for you:
- don’t buy from the first stand you find – especially if you’re buying souvenirs. Check the other stands as well; chances are you’ll find the same thing cheaper than at the stands closer to the main entrance.
- people here can be very rude – unfortunately, we didn’t meet one nice vendor while we were at the market. I guess they are sick and tired of tourists since the market is so famous.
- bring cash – you won’t be able to pay by card. There are a couple of stands accepting cards, but better bring cash with you.
Also, if you’re looking for souvenirs, I recommend buying one of those cute paprika porcelain jars – it doesn’t get more authentic than this.
Explore the City Park
This one was on my list when I researched what to see in Budapest. But it wasn’t on top of the list and I thought we wouldn’t go, since it seemed quite far from the city center.
Funnily enough, we got there without even realising.
It’s a nice place to explore and it’s packed with attractions to see. Here you can find:
- Hero’s square
- the famous Szechcheny thermal bath
- Museum of Fine Arts and the Transportation Museum
- the Palace of Art
- the Circus
- the Botanical Garden and the Zoo
- Vajdahunyad Castle
The list can be even longer, but I think you got the main point. There are quite a lot of things to see and do in the City Park. You could easily “waste” a whole day here.
Didn’t visit any museums though. I’m not a museum person, but if you’re into them, you’ll find a few in City Park.
Visit the Bath Houses
Budapest is famous for its thermal baths.
We didn’t plan any dip sessions, because I believe that thermal baths need a quick city break of their own. Also, they are more spectacular during the winter. If you don’t live close to Hungary as I do, then definitely check out the thermal houses too.
Keep in mind that they can get super crowded, especially during hot summer days.
Erszebet Square and Saint Stephen Basilica
Erszebet square hosts a huge fair wheel called the Budapest Eye – similar to the one in London. It does spin quite fast though, so I’m not sure how much time you get to see the beautiful view from the top.
After walking around Erszebet Square, you get to enter a different square-looking area. I can’t find its name, but to me it looked like a square. Here’s you’ll find Saint Stephen Basilica – another famous spot in Budapest. The building itself is impressive and you can’t miss it by the number of tourists taking photos in front of it.
If you’re into shopping, near Erszebet Square is The Fashion Street. It’s a chic street full of famous brands shops – including a big Lush store from where I stocked with solid shampoo. 🙂
Stroll on the Danube’s Bank
I suggest strolling around Danube’s Bank in Pest. Especially around the Parliament Building.
In the late afternoon it’s a really nice, relaxing walk. I especially enjoyed it because it reminded me of my hometown.
Check the Bridges
Because the Danube literally cuts Budapest in half, they have A LOT of bridges over the river. Not to mention that Budapest is famous for its Danube bridges.
There are 8 bridges over the Danube and each has its own history. Probably the most famous one – the Chain Bridge – was the longest bridge across the Danube when it first got built. It was later destroyed during WWII, rebuilt and re-open 100 years after it’s initial release.
The Margaret bridge offers a great view of both Buda and Pest.
Each bridge offers a different view across the Danube and the two former cities. Definitely worth crossing a few of them.
Stroll Around the Jewish District
The Jewish district is quite famous among tourists.
Here you can find The Great Synagogue – which is the largest Jewish church in Europe. The ruin bars and Karavan street food are also here. The ruin bars are the next level of pubs; they are build inside abandoned factory buildings and they look very… different. Definitely go check them – Szimpla Kert is by far the most famous one.
Where to Eat
I think it’s safe to say that the best places to eat are in Pest. We didn’t have one meal in Buda during the whole stay.
Hungarian cuisine is famous for it’s addiction to paprika, but you have to give them credit for it: it’s really good. Maybe you’ve heard already of paprikash, langos, gulyas, kurtos kalacs or bors (which is sour soup).
Funny thing – I always called kuros kalacs by their Hungarian name. We have a big community of Hungarians in Romania, so we’re quite used to the original name. But in Budapest, I discovered that in English they are called chimney cakes.
Gettó Gulyás for Traditional Food
We had an amazing chicken paprikash here. The food is really good and you can find traditional and international foods as well. Although, I suggest to stick with the traditional food.
TöLTő for a Quick Yet Filling Lunch
Tolto is a small hot dog place with a twist.
They don’t sell traditional hot dogs, but rather filling and versatile sausage sandwiches. You can choose for a different range of sausages, made out of different meats.
The place is really nice and the staff is super friendly. It’s perfect for a quick stop for lunch. Get a potatoes side dish and a local beer and you’ll all set for a filling lunch.
Édes Mackó for Traditional Chimney Cakes With a Twist
I did not want to visit Budapest without eating traditional kurtoskalacs straight from the source.
Oddly enough, you can’t find kurtos that easy. I expected to find them in every street – especially in the touristy places. But it was not the case.
We found Édes Mackó which is opposite the Szechenyi bath. They have creative ways of serving the classic kurtoskalacs. I personally recommend the cremsnit one.
Karavan Street Food
Karavan Street Food is located in the Jewish District. It’s a tiny alley full of karavans serving all types of foods: from Asian to Italian and local Hungarian food. You can find something for each taste here.
As always, I recommend giving the local food and beer here a try. The langos burgers are unbelievably delicious.
Make sure you have some cash with you, since not all stands accept card payments.
If you buy beer, they will give you a token with it. The glasses are reusable and you can return them with the token and will get 300 HUF (I think) back.
Try Some Vegan Ice Cream at Anjuna
You can find Anjuna ice cream shops or stands spread across Budapest.
They make vegan ice cream and I never had a better coconut ice cream in my life.
There is an Anjuna shop near Saint Stephen basilica, so on your way there, you can grab one of their amazing popsicles.
If you Feel Fancy…
Budapest has some famous, vintage cafes. They used to be the gathering place for writers and artists because they were cheap and well… artists weren’t rich back then either.
Of course, now they are very pricey.
There are also Michelin restaurants, if you’re into expensive dinners and tiny portions of food. You can find a list of Michelin restaurants in Budapest here.
One important thing to know about Hungarian restaurants is that they usually open after 11:30 or 12:00. So if you’re looking for a breakfast spot, make sure you check their opening hours first.
Where to Stay
I still believe that Airbnb is the best option for accommodation when travelling.
I’ve never been a big fan of hotels, so a cosy Airbnb is the best for me.
There are a lot of options for accommodation on the platform for sure. And you can choose whatever best suits you. The only piece of advice I can give you is to avoid district VIII. It’s one of the “bad rated” districts in Budapest and although it’s considered to be safer today, people who stayed there didn’t feel completely safe and comfortable. So as a tourist, better avoid it.
There are a few things you should be aware of as a tourist in Budapest:
- avoid taxis – this is probably an international tourist trap no matter where you go. Usually, everyone advises tourists to avoid taxis – especially those from the train stations or the airport. Better use Bolt.
- don’t use EuroNet ATMs – they have huge fees up to 45% even for HUF accounts. So stay away from them. I highly recommend to get a Revolut card instead; create a HUF account and you’re good to go. I don’t think Revolut is available outside Europe yet or if a non-EU citizen can create an account with them – but better check.
- avoid the homeless people – there are quite a lot of homeless people on Budapest’s streets that will beg for money. Avoid them politely by shaking your head. Otherwise, they might speak to you in English and harass you. Yes – everyone speaks great English in Budapest, including the beggars.
Best Spots for Photography
Since I’m passionate about photography, I wanted to make some amazing shots of the Hungarian capital.
The spots I’ll mention below are great for panoramic views, not for “instagrammable spots”. Sorry.
You can get the best views over Pest from Buda for sure since it has quite a lot of hills.
Make sure you check these spots if you want some amazing views:
- Buda Castle and the Funicular – great view over Chain Bridge and Pest.
- the Fishermen Bastion and Matthias Church tower – a perfect view of the Parliament Building from various areas of the bastion. Keep in mind though that this place is filled with “travel infleuncers”.
- the Citadel Hill – offers more of a 360 view of both Buda and Pest. It’s quite a hike to get on top, but it will be worth it. From one side, you’ll get a splendid view over Buda Castle, the Danube bridges and the Parliament House – definitely a postcard photo!
- tram line 2 – you can get a really nice view of Buda from tram line 2. The tram is not really fast and you can get beautiful shorts of the Buda Castle and the Chain Bridge.
- Budapest Eye – I personally didn’t try the giant spinning wheel, but it’s basically one of the highest points in Pest, so you’ll get a beautiful panoramic view for sure.
- Saint Stephen Basilica Tower – the highest point in Pest offers great views over the city.
Budapest is a great destination for a 3 or 4-day city break.
They speak excellent English, their public transport is on point and you can find something interesting to do no matter your taste.
I highly, highly encourage you to walk around the city to get its vibe. I walked approximately 45 km in 3 and a half days and I don’t regret it – my knees though do (take some anti-inflammatory gel with you if you plan to walk a lot).
Have you ever visited Budapest? What are your top recommendations?