(Last Updated On: May 7, 2019)
Since I began traveling, Budapest is a city that I’ve heard about time and time again. I commonly get asked, “Where have you been?” or “Have you been to X?” Well Budapest was one of those cities that people always ask me about or tell me about, but until recently I had never had the chance to visit for myself. I had finally decided that the time had come after I just spent an EXORBANT amount of money in Finland in just four days. Budapest, after all, is supposed to be cheap. So I packed my bags, hopped on a plane. Then hopped on another plane. And found myself in the heart of Eastern Europe – Budapest, Hungary.
I was prepared for all the great things I have heard about Budapest in the past. “It’s so cheap.” “Omgsh it’s so much fun.” “It’s still an uncovered gem.” “GO TO THE BATHS.” “You HAVE to go to the Ruin Bars. Like HAVE to.” What I wasn’t prepared for was the amazing food – both Hungarian and Mediterranean. The over the top friendly locals, quite a nice treat when traveling solo. The incredibly central and very cheap Airbnb I snagged. The Hungarian wine that I had never before tried, but now that I have, I wish so badly that they shipped to the US. And the beautiful unique architecture built within the city.
I took my time and really slowed down in Budapest. I spent seven days in the capital, many of them sleeping and catching up on life. To really get a good feel for the city, I would recommend spending four days to see Budapest at your leisure. Without rushing through.
If you’re arriving via plane, the airport (BUD) is quite easy to navigate. There are ATMs that you can get the local currency out, but beware; they will charge you a fee of about $3.
Taxi: Once you’re out the door there’s a small taxi station where you will queue. You’ll tell them where you’re going and they will be responsible to wave down your taxi and give them directions. Don’t wave down your own taxi. The drive in to the main city centre should be approximately 40 minutes and cost approximately $35.
Note: Uber doesn’t currently operate in Hungary
Bus: Bus 100E will take about an hour and can drop you close to the city centre.
Metro: If you’d like to take the metro it will be about an hour journey. You’ll need to take bus 200E, get off, and get on the M3 metro towards city centre.
I stayed in an Airbnb and would highly recommend it. Budapest is cheap, and you can get a nice size Airbnb in the heart of town for a reasonable price. (If you’re new to Airbnb, use my referral code for a $55 credit).
Important to Know
Hungarian (sister language is Finnish)
Most people speak English and every restaurant I went to had menus translated into English
Hungarian Forints (some places allow you to pay with Euros, however, your exchange rate won’t be as good and you’ll end up spending more money)
At time of writing 1 USD = 286 Hungarian Forint
Budapest is pronounced Budapescht
Buda and Pest are two separate sides of the city, originally connected by the Szechenyi Chain Bridge around 1840
Read more about Buda vs Pest
Begin your first day with the original free walking tour of Budapest. The best free tour I’ve participated in in Europe and definitely worth the few hours out of your day. The city tour runs twice a day at 1030 and 1430. You can also participate in the communism walk (1000 and 1530) or the Jewish District walk (1000 and 1530).
The original walk starts on the Pest side, meeting at Vörösmarty square and ends in the Castle District on the Buda side of town. This tour will give you an overview of the history of Budapest plus many recommendations on where to eat out and where you can find local food.
After completing the three-hour walk, covering two miles of the city, sit down for lunch at Baltazar, located near your stopping point in the Castle District.
After lunch get a taste of the Hungarian wine country. Also on the Buda side and near Baltazar, there’s an underground wine cellar – Faust Wine Cellar – with knowledgeable staff to walk you through Hungarian wine. Faust creates an intimate experience; a small and cozy space lit by candlelight with only five tables. Make sure to book reservations ahead of time.
Note: Thurs-Mon 2pm-8pm; closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Wake up early to head back to the Buda side to explore the Castle District without all of the tourists around. If you get to Fisherman’s Bastion around 0800 it’s unlikely there will be a crowd. It gets more crowded around 0830 when the tour buses begin to roll in, and at 0900 when Matthias Church opens.
While on the Buda side don’t miss the views from atop Gellért Hill, the tallest point in Budapest. Hike up for sweeping views of the Danube, Buda, and Pest. There are carts with snacks and refreshments available at the top.
While Buda is my favorite side of the city in terms of history and architecture, Pest is my favorite side of the city when I want to feel immersed in the culture! Spend your day walking the streets and getting the sense for what it really feels like to live in Budapest. Stroll through the Jewish Quarter or walk along the Danube.
Start your day off by visiting Parliament. Whether you plan to take a tour or admire the architecture from the outside, get there upon opening when there will be less crowds.
Note: I would highly recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time to avoid long lines. Tickets cost approx $20.
Upon leaving Parliament make your way towards the Danube River. Here you’ll find a memorial, Shoes on the Danube, dedicated to the Hungarian Jews who were murdered by the Arrow Cross party in WWII. If you continue down the Danube, a thirty-minute walk will bring you to Great Market Hall. Great Market Hall is Budapest’s produce and souvenir market.
Spend the rest of your day in the Jewish Quarter. Here you’ll find everything from restaurants, to coffee shops, to the infamous Budapest Ruin Bars. Make sure to stop in the most famous Ruin Bar, Szimpla Kert open seven days/week from 1200-0400; and on Friday and Saturday 0900-0400.
If you plan to spend your night in the Ruin Bars make sure to fill up first. If you’re looking to sit down, my choice in the area is Mazel Tov. A Mediterranean restaurant with great food and a garden like atmosphere. Or for an on the go, cheaper choice, check out Street Food Karavan. A Street full of food trucks located near Szimpla Kert.
On your last day in Budapest experience the Hungarian Bath Culture. Bath culture originated with the Romans, who believed that cleansing in water that came from the ground, had healing powers.
The three most popular baths in Budapest are Széchenyi thermal bath, Rudas Baths, and Gellért Baths. You can’t go wrong with any option.
Széchenyi – Open seven days/week 0600-2200; Day ticket with locker ~ $18
Rudas – Open seven days/week 0600-2200; Day ticket with locker ~ $18-22 (depending weekday or weekend)
Gellért – Open seven days/week 0600-2000; Day ticket with locker ~ $20
Visiting Budapest truly has been one of the best solo trips I’ve taken. I left with my heart full and wallet empty. With so much to see and do, there’s no way you could be bored of Hungarian’s capital. Budapest has so much to offer, I didn’t even scratch the surface. And for that reason, I will be back to visit again.
*Of all the things that I did in Budapest, I would not recommend visiting the House of Terror. While impactful, I found the museum to be poorly run and had poor explanations of what occurred with the Arrow Cross party in that time.*
For more on Budapest make sure to read 10 Things to See and Do in Budapest
Check out my Instagram story highlights from my time in Budapest