by: Jason Young, Annika Nkosi
Budapest, the ninth-largest city in the European Union, is the capital and most populous city in Hungary. The city, shaped by both Celtic and Roman culture, is notable for its classic architecture and structures.
As a city that delicately combines the old and the new, Budapest is a frequently visited tourist destination attracting millions of tourists every year, little wonder it is often thought to be one of the most photogenic cities in Europe.
In this Budapest travel guide, we’ll guide you to get the most out of your visit to the city that often regarded as “Paris of Eastern Europe”.
Things to Do in Budapest
As a city steeped in a lot of cultures, there are a lot of places and notable places to visit in this beautiful city. If you happen to plan a holiday or vacation in Budapest this year, then you are in luck. Here are 12 things to include in your bucket list.
Explore the Rich Cultural Hungarian History at the National Museum
Talk about classicism at its peak, the Hungarian National Museum built in 1847 by Austrian-born, Hungarian architect, Mihály Pollack is the oldest of its kind in Hungary and is a collection of Hungary’s rich history ranging from earliest times.
This building is also an important symbol of Hungary’s national identity due to the fact the Hungarian revolution of 1848 began after reading on the museum’s front steps.
Not only is the national museum an important aspect of Hungarian national identity, but it also houses some world-renowned archaeological artefacts like the Seuso Treasure, which is one of the most valuable hoards of the late Roman era.
If you are a lover of collectible and memorabilia be sure to explore the museum’s huge stack of collections including, a Broadwood piano used by both Beethoven and Liszt, a huge 2nd-century Roman mosaic, a wide array of medieval and early modern stone carvings, King St Stephen’s crimson silk coronation mantle, and even century worth of information from the Carpathian basin’s millennial history. You would not want to miss the medieval Hungarian Coronation mantle displayed on the first floor.
Go Caving Under Budapest
When in Budapest it is easy to get lost drinking in the magnificent architecture and the panoramic view of the city that we miss out on an adventure of our lifetime.
If you are looking to escape the hubbub of the city and take a quiet reflection without the commotion of the city, or love adventures, then you should definitely go caving under Budapest.
Going beyond what the eyes can see into something deeper, something more hidden from the average human usually opens your eyes to a whole new world.
There are several concealed worlds of caves to explore in Budapest, beneath the magnificent Buda hills. Some of these caves include the Gellért Hill, Pálvölgyi Cave and Szemlőhegyi Cave networks.
Most caving experiences usually involve teams or guided adventures, so be sure to join a team or book a guide online for a more enjoyable experience.
Caving underground is an unmissable experience for adrenaline junkies, however, if you are extremely claustrophobic and not ready to face your fears yet, then you should avoid caving underground.
However, if you are ready to face your fears and explore something deeper and beyond you, then you can try caving under Gellért Hill as it is not too deep, and then see how things go. As a reward for facing your fears, you get to discover one of Budapest best-kept secrets-a chapel housed in a network of caves. Be sure to ask your guide for a quick story on this.
Go Hiking with Great Scenic Views in Buda Hills
If you are a lover of nature or forest’s mysticism., then do not miss out on hiking in Buda hill. Buda Hills is a collective name given to a low mountain range of numerous hills with the most famous ones including; Gellért Hill, Castle Hill, Rózsadomb, Sváb Hill, János Hill, Széchenyi Hill, and Eagle Hill.
Famous for its exquisite vistas, Buda hills offer a great option for hikes while providing you with fresh air and panoramic scenery.
The highest elevation in Buda hill, János Hill, not only provides you with a shorter distance to trek but also has a great view at the top, with a view of Romanesque Erzsébet-kilátó (Elizabeth Lookout) tower. Consider this option if you are looking to cover a short distance.
Get Amazed at the Unique Structure of the Famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Most times when we get to a new city for vacation, it is not simply for the activities or adventure, we simply want to get lost in the wonder of that city. The famous Széchenyi bridge gives you that opportunity to be totally amazed by the structure.
What makes this 181-year-old bridge even more amazing is its story. The bridge whose construction started in 1840 was the idea of a man named Széchenyi. Although Széchenyi died before the completion of the bridge, the bridge went on to contribute to Budapest’s boom in 1873 through its facilitation of the union of Buda, Pest, and Obuda. So, when we take a vacation in the great city of Budapest, we should be grateful for this bridge that contributed to the amalgamation of these great cities into one.
The story gets even more interesting, in 1845, during the siege of Budapest, the Germans succeeded in destroying the bridge. In 1947, reconstruction of the bridge began, but it wasn’t until 1949 that the chain bridge was restored to its former glory.
So next time you take a walk at the beautifully lit up bridge at night or stop to get wonderful photos of the unique structure of the chain bridge or to simply bask in the stunning views with the mighty Danube flowing below you, take some time to relish the past of this historic landmark and be amazed at the power of time.
Take A Tour to the Darkside at the Terror Haza
The terror háza or ‘House of Terror’ takes the exploration of the museum to a whole new level. This museum is both thought-provoking and informative. It is an unusual museum dedicated to the memory of those tortured and killed during both the Nazi and Soviet regimes.
This museum documents the dictatorial oppression Hungarians faced under fascist and communist regimes. It also recreates chilling realistic replicas of the prison cells and the non-human cruelty dealt to political activists and dissidents
If you can bear the gruesome and heartwrenching torture that is a sheer crime against humanity, then you should visit this museum on your next trip to Budapest. A quick caveat though, it might scar you for life, so brace yourself. While at it, do not forget to check out the photography gallery honouring the war victims.
Entry ticket costs HUF 3,000 ($9.24) for adult between 25-62. For those below 25 years old and above 62 years old, there is 50% reduced rate.
Enjoy the River Cruise at Danube
When visiting Budapest a cruise down the River Danube is a must. A Danube River cruise is a highlight of many Budapest sightseeing tours because the river gives a feeling that is both picturesque and magical and not many rivers in Europe would elicit such magical feelings.
If you are a new couple looking for a romantic getaway, nothing would scream romantic more than a river cruise along the Danube river. You are sure to feel like a character of a feel-good romantic movie
To heighten this romantic feel, try river cruising after dark, as the illuminated bridges and banks transform the river into one of the most romantic cruises you could ever get. For a more holistic experience, start the cruise right before sunsets and enjoy the ride through the scenery becoming dark.
Book your Danube cruise here.
Explore the Labyrinth of Buda Castle
If you are intrigued by the idea of exploring underground cellars, then you should check out the labyrinth of Buda castle. As one of Budapest’s subterranean historical treasures, the Buda castle has important historic values.
The labyrinth served several purposes in the past, from its use as a wine cellular to serving as a torture chamber. However, in 1980, the labyrinth was renovated to give it a more cultural feel.
The exploration of the labyrinth needs a ticket which you can get at the reception desk. The tickets guarantee you access to the hidden parts of the castle. If you prefer guided tour you can book one here.
If you and your partner are into the dark arts then you can visit the labyrinth of love, which usually houses two people, rather than the personal labyrinth that takes only one at a time.
To get a heightened feeling of adrenaline rush and get that prehistoric caveman feel, it is best to visit the Buda castle labyrinth castle from 6pm because that’s when the labyrinth’s light goes off and you can explore the cave with oil lamps.
Take a Memorable Stroll Through Memento Park
No holiday or vacation is complete without forming new memories. Create these new and knowledgeable memories while on holiday by walking through the open-air Memento Park.
The Memento park established in 1993 is home to monumental statues and sculpted plaques that show Hungarian history, dictatorship and democracy.
A visit to this park presents any voyager with the opportunity to see the likeness of former world leaders like Stalin; notable figures like Karl Marx, Frederich Engels as well as several Hungarian past leaders.
This park which came to be when the Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Hungary, upon the collapse of the Iron Curtain, is a delight to visit if one wants to learn about the political history of this marvellous city, especially tourists with interests in politics and history.
Although this unique historical theme park serves as a place where all of Hungary’s detestable pasts were laid to rest, it is still a must-see due to the vast knowledge and stories hidden behind the cold eyes of every statue there.
You can either buy the entry ticket on the spot or online here.
Spark Up Your Fairy Tale Romance at the Vajdahunyad Castle
A visit to the Vajdahunyad castle would let you see why Budapest is called the “Paris of the East”. Vajdahunyad Castle is one of the romantic castles in Budapest. You can find the castle by a boating lake, so add a boat cruise to your to-do list when visiting the Vajdahunyad Castle.
The castle built in 1896 is a pastiche of different parts of the Kingdom of Hungary, most notably the Transylvanian Hunyad Castle. It showcases the architectural evolution of both times and styles in Hungary, amalgamating some of the finest buildings in the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque age of Hungarian history into an eclectic piece that is bound to leave you spellbound.
There are several other attractions like festivals, concerts and the exhibitions of the Hungarian Agricultural Museum that makes a visit to the Vajdahunyad Castle very memorable.
Take a Walk and Learn About Hungarian Heroism at Heroes’ Square
Notable for its 36-metre high pillar, topped by a golden likeness of Archangel Gabriel holding St. Stephen’s Crown, the iconic Millenary Monument is a sight to behold and a major indicator that one is standing within viewing range of the Heroes’ Square, the largest and most symbolic square in Budapest, Hungary.
Designed in 1896, it marked the 100th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian Basin, a tribute to the beginnings and defining sections of Hungary’s rich history as a country.
The Square, now a UNESCO prestigious World Heritage site is home to several important historical figures as statues such as the seven equestrian statues of the Magyar tribe chieftains who were the actual pioneers that scouted the area as far back as 890 AD. The area is not only pivotal in telling the story of early Hungary but also chronicles the city’s humble beginnings.
Being one of the most photographed and visited sights in Budapest, it is a perfect place to walk, have fun and learn as it is also home to other attractions like the Museum of Fine Arts, the Hall of Art (Műcsarnok), the City Park (Városliget) and so on.
Visit the Szimpla Farmer Market on Sunday
Spend your Sunday eating your favourite food, listening to live music and connecting with people at the Szimpla Farmers’ Market.
The Szimpla Farmers’ Market, which has been organized every Sunday since 2012, offers us not only a great meal but also a community, as there are approximately 1,500-2,000 locals and interns.
From dairy products to baked products and everything in between this market is a chance to get all the things you a one-time choice
Take a Relaxing Széchenyi Thermal Baths
Baths are one of the most relaxing, fun, therapeutic and even sometimes romantic things to do. The Széchenyi Thermal baths offer more than that, they are medicinal and very affordable for the average traveller. The Széchenyi Thermal Baths are one-of-a-kind thermal baths covering a whooping 67,000 sq ft (6,224 sq meters) of space and containing 18 pools is the largest bath in Europe.
Located in the northeastern part of Budapest, it was built in 1913 to further consolidate Hungary’s position as the country of bat hs and Budapest as the city of baths, the baths have become the most visited and highly praised attraction sites in Budapest.
The baths built and modelled in Neo-Baroque style are located in the City Park and have their water supplied by two thermal springs, and are composed of different units and pools of varying temperatures. The outdoor area is breathtaking and includes the swimming, adventure and thermal sitting pools. This area, although prone to being crowded often, is worth visiting as there are a lot of things one can do depending on the season such as sunbathing in the summer and swimming in the winter. The outdoor area is best when visited in the early mornings before the number of visitors increases.
The indoor pools, comprising 15 pools, are the best part of the baths. It promises to be both relaxing and medicinal. So next time you visit the Széchenyi, do not forget your bath suits because you are about to be dipped in goodness.
Book a full day spa ticket here.
Take a Day Trip
Great experiences are not available only within the city limit, there are a bunch of unique destinations you can visit with a day trip. From wine tasting in Etyek, touring the summer residence of Queen Elisabeth at Gödöllő (Gödöllő Palace), to visiting the artist village at Szentendre – all can be done within a day trip. You can check many memorable destinations here.
How to Get Around in Budapest
Most of the city centre are walkable and it’s recommended that you do so. However for farther destination there are several options available.
Public Transport (Metro, Tram, Bus, Boat, Train)
- Metro: has 3 lines available and all three meet at Deák Ferenc tér on the city center.
- Tram/Street Car: has large coverage and offers beautiful view along the way.
- Bus: serves over 200 routes and used most by tourists and locals alike. The ones with red number are express (less stops) while the ones with black number are regular (more stops).
- Trolley Bus (electric bus powered by overhead wires): only available on the PEST side – the eastern part of the city – at 13 routes.
- Danube River Ferry: this service only run between May to September.
- Train (Budapesti Helyiérdekű Vasút / BHÉV): train service covering the outer districts.
On average public transport services ended between 11:00 PM – 00:00 AM. If you need to go around after that hour, night buses are available. Look for the one marked with “É”.
Public Transport Cost
You can buy ticket and passes at metro stations, street stands, or ticket machines in any tram or metro stops.
- 1 ticket: HUF 350 ($1.12). You can only use this for 1 trip, you need another ticket if you transfer to other line or method.
- 10 tickets: HUF 3,000 ($9.7)
- 24 hours Travel Card: HUF 1,650 ($5.30).
- 72 hours Travel Card: HUF 4,150 ($13.32).
- 7 days Travel Card: HUF 4,950 ($15.89)
- 15 days Budapest Pass: HUF 6,300 ($20.23)
- 1 month Pass: HUF 9,500 ($30.50)
- 1 ferry ticket: HUF 170 ($0.55)
Please remember that the cards/passes allow you to use many metro, bus, and tram lines (and some boat services) but not all of them so pay attention of what you can and can’t ride. More information can be found here.
Use Budapest City Card
Budapest City Card combines public transport use with entry to selected museums, free luggage storage, and discounts at various sights, baths, restaurants, boat trips, concerts, and more. They are available in 24h up to 120h options, check the details here.
Rent a Bicycle
Budapest MOL BuBi has extensive bike stations throughout the city and you can rent a bike (or two) easily via their app. Registration fee is HUF 100 ($0.32) then it’s HUF 20 ($0.064) per minute. You can pick up to 2 bikes with one registration, they’re charged separately of course. For more info, check MOL BuBi.
Taxi in Budapest is fairly cheap and quite fast, just make sure to always use the licensed one. You can identify them by these traits:
- Yellow painted body.
- Show the company and telephone number on the car’s body.
- Some also have their rate printed on the car’s body.
The base fare is HUF 700 ($2.25) then they charge HUF 300 ($0.96) per kilometer. You can hail them on the street, call a taxi company for a ride, or order via Bolt.
What about Ride Hailing/Ride Sharing?
Unfortunately there are no Uber or any other ride hailing/ride sharing brands operating in Budapest as they face strong opposition from local taxi drivers. This has been going for a few years now and unless Uber can negotiate something out, most likely the situation will remain the same.
Explore the City on Hop On Hop Off Bus
You can also use the Hop On Hop Off Bus to explore the city’s best landmarks and attractions. The bus routes are designed to pass most of them and you can hop on and hop off the bus as many times as you like. Tickets are available in 24h, 48h, and 72h. Check it out here.
Where to Stay in Budapest
Where you stay will depend on your budget, necessities, and whether you’re traveling solo or with companion(s).
Hostels are pretty common in Europe and you can easily find a well-maintained and comfortable one. They offer a bed + locker space for cheap accommodation or a private room at more expensive rate. A night in a dorm cost about $10-$15 while a private room will cost you $35-$70.
HostelWorld is highly recommended if you want to find one easily. Their list have many great hostels with hundreds or thousands of reviews from their previous satisfied guests. Here are some of the recommended ones:
An Entire Apartment
Rent an entire apartment for privacy, cheaper cost (if you travel with companion), and option to cook your own food. Expect to pay between $30 – $60 for 2-4 people accommodation. Check out Airbnb for great options with reviews from previous satisfied guests.
Hotels are professionally managed with expected cleanliness and service standard. If you expect someone to make up your room every day, along with morning buffet and maybe a fitness center, booking a hotel room would be a perfect choice for you. Our recommendation is to find the best offer at Booking.com, their advanced filtering feature is particularly good to help you find the one you need.
A 3 stars hotel room will cost you $55-$90 while a 5 stars costs $200 and above. Some of the best recommendations:
Where to Eat in Budapest
You can’t visit Budapest without at least tasting their local delicacies or finding out new gems from various popular restaurants around. Some of the must try:
Low Price ($2-$10)
- Halkakas Halbisztró / Fish Bistro (Hungarian)
- Local Korner (European, Pizza)
- Bors Gastro Bar (street food, desserts)
Mid Price ($10-$20)
- Byblos – Fine Lebanese and Levantine Cuisine (Lebanese)
- Input Kitchen & Bar (European)
- Retek Bistro (Hungarian)
Fine Dining ($20-$140)
Best Time To Visit Budapest
The best time to visit Budapest are between March – early June (spring) and between September to early November (fall). Both periods have similar characteristics: cheaper, less crowded, and acceptable temperature. Bring your umbrella though, just in case.
March – early June (Best Time)
Spring is one of the best times to visit Budapest. Winter has just ended and the temperature starts to rise, expect between 10°C – 21°C (50°F – 75°F) with early March can reach down to 2°C (35°F). It might be raining here and there so make sure to have your umbrella ready.
Prices are still on manageable level and you won’t see much crowd so you won’t have to spend a lot of your time standing in lines. Some of the events during this period that might interest you:
- Gourmet Festival (May): as the name indicated, the event showcase the finest gastronomy in Budapest while also involve numerous top international chefs.
- Budapest Spring Festival (March – April): various events take place across Budapest, including concerts, dance, cinema, and arts.
- Budapest Beer Week (May): craft beer festival where you do unlimited beer tasting accompanied by live music and other events.
September – early November (Best Time)
Autumn is another great time to visit Budapest. The summer is entering its final leg as tourists dispersed and long holidays ended. The temperature will drop but still on acceptable level at 7°C – 22°C (57°F- 59°F). As the visitors number decline so will the prices of accommodation and other things. Some events that might interest you:
- Budapest Wine Festival (September): wine festival in Buda Castle involving many famous wineries from various regions.
- Oktoberfest Budapest (October): Oktoberfest festival held at City Park Ice Rink with a good numbers of breweries involved. Expect tons of beers, Oktoberfest-style barmaids, amazing culinary experience, and concerts by local musicians.
- Sweet Days – Chocolate and Candy Festival (September): chocolate craft-men, producers, and multinational companies alike join hands to satisfy your sweet cravings. Expect fruits, honey, wines, and other drinks be available to accompany your gourmet chocolate experience.
June – August (Peak Season)
Summer is coming along with long holidays as throngs of tourists, foreign and local alike, flood the capital. Hotels and other form accommodation will be booked solid and prices start to hike everywhere. You will start to see crowds and lines everywhere so be prepared to spend some extra time.
On the other hand, temperature is on it’s peak at 14°C – 26°C (44°F – 71°F) and the sun shines bright all day, a perfect weather to go out and exploring. Leave your umbrella at home as you won’t need it.
- Sziget Festival (August): one of the biggest music and cultural festival in Europe. Expect more than 1,000 performances on stage.
- Rosalia Festival (July): a festival of wine, food, concerts, and various events held in Budapest Park. You will need a ticket to enter.
- Budapest Summer Festival (June-August): multiple events held at Water Tower & open air theater at Margaret Island and at open air theater at Városmajor. Events held including concerts, musical, dance shows, theaters, and others.
- Danube Carnival (June): events of music, dance shows (contemporary and traditional alike), and concerts held at several venues throughout the city.
November – early March (off Season)
As autumn ended and winter comes, the number of visitors dwindled even more. Temperature drops even further between -2°C – 4.5°C (28°F – 40°F), making traveling around a bit uncomfortable. However this would be the cheapest time to visit as prices dropped everywhere and almost no tourist visible in town.
Budapest Christmas Market (November – December) would be the event you should expect. Huge Christmas market held at Vörösmarty Square where you can find everything from handmade craft-goods to local foods specialties accompanied by continuous music from local bands.
Budapest Trip Cost
Although Euro is accepted everywhere in Budapest, the rate can be ridiculous. Thus remember to have your Hungarian Forint in hand before you leave for Budapest.
As most of the costs already discussed above, here are the summary:
- Hostel: a bed in a dorm room cost $10-$15 while a private room cost $35-$70.
- Entire apartment: expect to pay $30-$60 for 2-4 people accommodation.
- Hotel: $55-$90 for a 3 stars hotel room, $200 and above for 5 stars ones.
You can keep it to $2-$10 per meal by sticking to street food and diners. A decent sit-in restaurant will cost $10-$20 and expect to pay $20-$140 per meal in a fine dining establishment.
Utilizing public transport is an easy recommendation to make. Grab a 24h Travel Card for $5.30 or a 72h one for $13.32 to ride all public transport’s main lines. Another option would be to buy a Budapest City Card which allow you to ride in public transports, enter selected attractions, and get discount on various services throughout the city. The 24h version will cost you $25.60.
Many attractions do not require ticket for you to enjoy, here are some that do:
- Budapest History Museum: HUF 2,000 ($6.5)
- River Cruise: $10 – $40
- Buda Castle entry ticket: HUF 1,400 ($4.53); Guided Tour: $23.36
- Széchenyi Spa Full Day: $28
The covid situation is fluid and always changes. To check if you can travel to Hungary and what the requirements are, check Re-Open EU.
How to Stay Safe
Generally Budapest is a safe city but you still need to use common sense and aware of your surrounding. Some points to aware of:
- Unlicensed taxi might scam you to pay more than you should. To avoid this experience, keep it to licensed taxi. They are yellow painted with overhead sign and company logo & telephone number printed on the body.
- Pickpocket is common in crowded public places such as in tram, metro station, tourist attractions. Keep your eye on your belonging at all times.
- Have a copy of your passport and keep it separately from the original. This way if you lose the original, you still have the copy to report and resolve the problem.
- Carry just enough cash for the day and leave the rest at your hotel room. This will reduce the possibility of losing your entire cash.
- If you’re a man be careful of women being flirty and ask to drink together at nearby bar. In some cases, this is the beginning of a scam where you would end up paying hundreds of dollar for the drinks, with or without your consent.
- Some districts might be less safe than the others. Generally you can’t know where you’re walking to in a foreign city, but stay aware of your surrounding. If you walk among homeless people and rundown buildings in what feels like a seedy neighborhood, do a 180 and go back to where you came from.
Regardless of how much we’re prepared and being careful, sometimes shit just happen. This can be losing your cash and important documents, being involved in an accident, or requiring a specific medical attention. When this unavoidably happen, it is best to have a good travel insurance to back you up. World Nomad would be our first recommendation for this as they’ve been serving travelers for years and years. Check their site to find a plan that suit your need.