My one regret I had after visiting Budapest: I totally forgot to play that George Ezra song while I was there.
Darn. Guess I’ll have to go back.
My mood during my four-day trip to Budapest went from completely overwhelmed (as in this city is too big and scary, I want to go home and see my dog) to completely overwhelmed (as in this city is incredible, there’s so much to see and I’m never leaving).
Budapest is absolutely stuffed with history and culture. It’s the perfect place to go if you’re looking for the European “road less traveled” but you don’t want to go completely off the beaten path. There is enough wonder in Budapest to keep you fascinated for days, but just enough familiarity to keep you comfortable.
The city is one of those strange places I would suggest to both my grandma and my party-going friends. Every city has a voice, but Budapest has a chorus. Every street told a different story, each district left visitors with a different feeling. You can literally see history in the walls, on the edge of the Danube River. You can visit monuments immortalizing heroes of the past during the day and feel like you’ll never grow old in the ruin pubs at night. Budapest is elegance and class with a nightlife to rival the best of them. If you are looking for a European city to visit that will not only blow you away but is also ridiculously affordable, Budapest is for you.
Know before you go
- For US citizens, no visa is required to visit Budapest.
- There’s Buda (the classy side) and Pest (the party side). The two sides are separated by the Danube River.
- Every sight/attraction/restaurant we visited had English speakers. Sticking to the top sights in Budapest, you should have no issues finding English speakers.
- If you can spare it, I would suggest spending a week in the city. At the very minimum, give yourself four days.
- Budapest uses Hungarian Forint. One US dollar equals about 265 Hungarian Forints.
- Budapest has plenty of public transportation as well as transportation specifically for tourists that take you to all the top tourist destinations. We walked everywhere, which was certainly manageable (with the occasional glance at a map) and allowed us the chance to notice a lot more.
- Budapest is easy to get to either by bus, train, or air. We took a FlixBus from Ljubljana with no issues. We also left for the states from the Budapest airport. We used miniBud, an airport shuttle service. They picked us up right in front of the apartment we were staying in at 4 AM and dropped us off at the right terminal. Would definitely recommend.
Where to stay
Airbnb! Do yourself a favor and do a quick search of Budapest Airbnbs. Can you believe how cheap some are?? We stayed in a studio apartment for less than $35 a night. There is no end to the places you could stay in Budapest, but I recommend (as do many others) staying in the Jewish Quarter (AKA district VII. Don’t worry, this isn’t the Hunger Games). The Jewish Quarter was the Budapest Ghetto during the end World War II. It’s now home to beautiful synagogues, fantastic restaurants, and ruin pubs. It’s filled with both traditional Jewish culture and a whole lot of hipsters. Rumbling buildings have been turned into ridiculously cool bars where customers can sit in old hairdresser seats, old cars, and cut-out bathtubs. The walls are covered in colorful graffiti, string lights, and in the room, we hung out in- old computer monitors. The Jewish quarter is the perfect blend of unique and tradition.
What to see
Heroes’ Square: I literally had no idea who was supposed to be depicted in any of the
sculptures and I still thought it was cool. You can certainly tell they are heroes, creates such a powerful mix of honor and respect throughout the square. It was created in 1896 to celebrate Hungary’s 1000th anniversary. Can I just say, 1000 years? Coolest anniversary ever. Way to go, Hungary. This is certainly somewhere I would suggest including in a guided tour (if you’re a “guided tour” sort of person)
Chain Bridge: An incredible bridge that like all bridges, is kind of scary to walk across when windy. There’s a pedestrian path on either side of the road and it offers great views (or so I assume, Jackson was dragging me across pretty quickly, terrified for our lives).
Matthias Church: Stunning. We didn’t go inside because there was an entrance fee (which felt pretty lame for a church), but it is certainly worth seeing. The outside is a work of art itself.
Fishermen’s Bastion: Right next to Matthias Church on the Buda side. There was a fee for going up to the second story, so we just stayed below with all the common folk. It offered great views as well as impressive architecture and sculptures. Very touristy, though. This isn’t a good place to be if you want to “soak in the view of the city.” You will most likely be pushed out of the way so someone can take a picture. It ruins the magic behind it a little. I suggest giving up the magic altogether and going here in a tour group. That way you learn all the fascinating history and the tourist mobs are less of a pain.
Parliament: Another classic example of Budapest architecture. Times 100000. This place is incredible, each side completely identical. It’s so big that your best view of it might be on the Buda side, across the river. When you take it all in, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found yourself shaking your head and muttering, “they just don’t make stuff like this anymore.”
Shoes on the Danube Bank: This was the part of Budapest that stuck with me the most. It’s a simple memorial – metal shoes on the Pest side of the Danube River. The shoes memorialize the 3,500 people (800 of them Jews) shot into the Danube River during WWII. Before being killed, they were told to take off their shoes. Incredibly powerful and 100% worth a visit. Just remember to be respectful while taking pictures.
Buda Castle: Cool architecture and great, relatively uncrowded views of the city. You can also snag an impressive view of the Buda Hills. The castle contains the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Tickets are around $7.50 a person and the art museum offers even better views of the city from the castle’s dome.
What to Do
Thermal Baths: An absolute must! We went on a weekday where there were mostly old people and not too many tourists. Plus, the rates are cheaper during the week. The baths, some indoor and some outdoor, are different temperatures. They range from freezing to hot tub temperatures and even though you’re just sitting in water, it’s awesome. My knee was hurting pretty badly before we went and afterward the pain was gone. It was probably witchcraft. Most also have steam rooms and saunas. We went to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths and as a tourist to another tourist, this place is your best bet. It’s huge, coed, and they kind of expect you to be an idiot who doesn’t know the rules here. The whole process may seem intimidating, but you are far from the first tourist to walk through the doors
Ruin Pubs: So cool, so hipster. There is too much going on in these places to fully
describe them, which just adds to the coolness. So these buildings were semi-destroyed awhile back and instead of fixing them up, someone with an art degree he had yet to use said, “hold up, I have a vision for this place.” So a bunch of weird thrift shop stuff was brought in along with lots of alcohol and the Budapest youth and the ruin pub was born. That story was not entirely based on fact, but it gives you the general idea. You’ll never run out of conversation because there is simply so much to look at. Jackson and I sat in a room covered in multicolored Christmas lights and 80s computer monitors strung along the ceiling. I sat in a salon chair and a person in a room next to us sat in an old car. The crowds these places draw are almost as unique as the buildings themselves. Check out the ruin pub that put all other ruin pubs on the map: Szimpla Kert.
Run a race: Yes!! Do it!! I firmly believe running is the best way to see a city. This way, you get to do it with thousands of strangers! Jackson and I were irrationally terrified of Budapest before we ran the Budapest Half Marathon. Afterwards, we were like, “A city the size of Chicago?? No problem!” If you want more information on the Budapest Half Marathon, check out my recap on The Flexitarian Runner.
St Stephen’s Basilica: This church is like an old school megachurch. Meaning it’s gigantic. They ask for a small donation at the door, and more if you want to see St Stephen’s Holy Hand. What’s that, you ask? The Holy Hand? It’s super holy and super mummified. The inside of the church is guaranteed to make you stare around opened mouth like an idiot.
River Cruise: I didn’t personally take a River Cruise, but I’ve heard good things. You get to see the city all sparkly at night, possibly hear some bad karaoke and have a good meal. If you have a free evening, I’d say go for it. If you’re not one for boats, just take in the views by strolling by the river’s edge. Romantic, indeed.
Museums: There are SO many museums. I guess that makes sense in a country that’s over 1000 years old. We went to one: The House of Terror. It was interesting and the basement where they used to keep prisoners was memorable. However, not much was in English. Each new room had a new word document to pick up with information, taking you through the story they were trying to tell. It certainly had its impactful parts, I just wish there had been more English and more “artifacts” to see.
Central Market: Downstairs, you can find rows and rows of stalls selling vegetables, fruits, meats (so much meat), and dried foods. Upstairs calls to the tourist. Magnets, t-shirts, keychains, postcards, beer steins… You can find it all up there. There was no air conditioning when we visited. That mixed with the crowds and the meat cooking nearby was nearly too much for us at times. But we left victorious with bags of dearly-loved, tacky knick-knacks.
Love you, Budapest. I’ll be seeing you again.