I went to Hungary, Austria, and Germany with my BFF for 12 days during the summer 2014. We did lots of research, got many recommendations from friends, and covered a ton of ground! Our first stop was Budapest. If you’ve found this page of mine, I assume you don’t need convincing that it is an amazing city to visit! So, here are my tips about everything we did, and even things we didn’t!
- Don’t drop the cash on a long cab ride from the airport. There’s a bus, 200E, just outside Terminal 2 that goes to Kőbánya-Kispest metro terminal every few minutes. Tickets are 350 HUF (about $1.50) and are available at the airport from BKK at its customer service points, post office, the news stands (that’s we got ours inside nearby – they took credit cards), and ticket machines at the bus stop, or from bus drivers for 450 HUF.
- When the bus arrives at Kőbánya-Kispest metro terminal, follow signs for the metro (not into the shopping mall), validate your ticket in one of the machines, and take the M3 metro towards Újpest Központ to reach the city center. We exited at Deák Ferenc, but you can keep going/transfer metro lines to get to your destination.
- on the Pest side (east side of the river) at an AirBnb apartment. Highly recommended for its nice host, reasonable cost, and amazing location. The Pest side is more of a bustling city full of restaurants, bars, shopping and plenty of sites. The Buda side is hilly, elegant, but not as lively.
- St. Stephen’s Basilica – A gorgeous church in the heart of Pest. We happened to catch one of the Monday at 17:00 organ concerts. It was awesome (and a great way to keep ourselves awake the first day to fight jetlag). Also, there’s a great panoramic view of the city from the dome. Don’t worry, there’s an elevator!
- Hungarian Parliament Tour – at $16 per ticket, I was skeptical, but it was worth it. Enjoy opulent architecture and see the Hungarian crown jewels. Buy tickets in advance online (I used this site myself – it’s legit) since you can only buy day-of in person, and even if tours don’t book up, waiting times can be very long. You don’t have to print your own tickets. Just ignore the information from checkout about printing tickets at the Museum of Ethnography – as of July 1, 2014, you can go straight to the Parliament’s ticket office on the north side of the building down the steps, as we learned from signage at the Museum of Ethnography.
- Shoes on the Danube Bank – a poignant memorial to Jews killed during WWII.
- Free Budapest Walking Tour – a great way to see the city and cover a lot of ground, including crossing Chain Bridge from Pest to Buda and climb up to Castle Hill. We liked our tour guide, Orsi (pronounced “Or she”)! I recommend the morning tour so you can visit St. Mattias Church when the tour is over; it had already closed when our afternoon tour concluded.
- Walked Andrássy Avenue to Hero’s Square. Someone described it to me as “Budapest’s Champs-Élysées” due to all the shops, but there’s also beautiful archicture, including many abandoned mansions. We walked back on Városligeti fasor, a parallel avenue with even more interesting buildings, including a lot of embassies.
- Széchenyi Baths – (pronounced “Say Cheney”) plan at least half a day here to relax Hungarian style! I’d rate this a don’t miss. Play in the outdoor pools – one has a hilariously fun jetted round pool, and the other is heated! Then soak in the healing powers of the indoor baths at various temperatures. At the entrance, just watch out for friendly, attractive folks wearing white who show a price list much higher than the actual prices. They actually work for a spa within the building and get clueless-looking tourists to drastically overpay. (We eventually figured it out and graciously got a refund, and learned a good lesson in the process!) The surrounding City Park is nice for a stroll, too, and contains the quirky Vajdahunyad Castle.
- Fisherman’s Bastion – a beautiful terrace with a great view. We payed a few bucks to for access to the south part of it, and though that part had very few people besides us, it’s really no different than the side you can access for free. The highest tower seemed to be a restaurant we couldn’t access.
- Danube Cruise with the Hop On Hop Off company. You don’t need to do the bus option to do the cruise. It’s basically just an hour-long photo op, but the lights of the city are beautiful. We were happy with our chosen time of about 15 minutes after sunset. The price is 3000 HUF, but grab a pamphlet from Duna Yacht a stone’s throw south at Dock 10, then show it to Hop On Hop Off at Dock 8A to get an undercut price of 2000 HUF!
- Sasz-Chevra ortodox nagyzsinagóga – I got mixed up and thought this was Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe! So unfortunately we missed that one, but this one is a beautiful Orthodox synagogue.
- Central Market – As recommended by Rick Steves, find your way to the basement for the aromas and sites of fish and pickled items. Fruits, veggies, meats and spices are on the ground floor, and yummy desserts and souvenir items are on the top floor. We had fun purchasing raspberries despite lacking a firm grasp on the language, currency, or metric system!
Saw (from the outside)
- New York Palace – a “Grand Budapest Hotel”
- Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace – a “Grand Budapest Hotel”
- Hero’s Square at the end of Andrássy
- Buda Castle and the changing of the guard at Sandor Palace, the president’s office.
- St. Matthias Church – right behind Fisherman’s Bastion. We would have liked to go in, but it was closed for the day.
- National Archives – a beautiful building not far from Matthias Church
- Hungarian State Opera building
- Dohány Street Synagogue
- Goulash at Klassz, which was a pleasant restaurant on Andrássy
- Buffet at Roosevelt. Prices were reasonable, and we liked the wide selection.
- Langos – (pronounced “langohsh”) amazing Hungarian drunk food. Fried dough + sour cream + cheese + onion or garlic and lots of other toppings. Retro Büfé was recommended by our walking tour guide and did not disappoint.
- Ice cream at Ruszwurm close to Matthias church.
- Gyros – they’re all over the city, great, and cheap.
- Groceries – we initially had trouble spotting a grocery since they’re small and graphics cover the windows. But we finally found a Lidl, and about $11 worth of bread, meat, cheese, milk and cereal provided us many meals. So, we saved a lot of money on restaurants and experienced grocery shopping in Budapest!
- An amazing meal at Zeller Bistro. For being the top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor, it was so down to earth and welcoming. The food is great, prices reasonable, atmosphere cozy and comforting, and our waiter was so nice. Supposedly it books up for dinners, but we went at 1:30 pm for lunch on a weekday, and only a few tables were occupied. Try the mushroom soup, small fish appetizer, pork entree… you probably can’t go wrong!
- at the best ruin bar, Szimpla Kert. It’s jaw-droppingly awesome: cool without being pretentious and grungy without being dirty. Enjoy the atmosphere at night and go back by day for better photos and to explore all the rooms and crazy decorations without the crowds. Plus, play with the button panel for the ground-floor room with all the TV screens!
- Hungarian wine at Doblo Wine Bar, a gorgeous place. Hungarian wine is very good and better than its beer. Try the red wine called Bull’s Blood.
- Palinka, Hungarian fruit schnapps at Mika Tivadar Mulató, a bar with a lovely outdoor seating area.
- Unicum – the “healthful” Hungarian herbal liquor at Fogasház, another great ruin bar, as well as Fashion Pub, which is right across from Szimpla Kert and has a cool vibe and couture for sale.
- Hungary isn’t on the Euro. $1 equals about 228 HUF. Convert to dollars by moving the decimal 3 places to the left, and multiply by 5 to overestimate. So for 2500 HUF: 2.5 times 5 is $12.50, so you can feel better knowing you’re actually spending closer to $11!
- “S” in Hungarian is pronounced “sh.” Hence why “Budapest” is actually pronounced “Budapesht.” “Sz” in Hungarian is pronounced like a regular “s” in English.
- We visited the Parliament Library but advise skipping. We thought it would be a grand library since the sign about it on the south end of the Parliament building made it seem exclusive and fabulous. It wasn’t, and getting in – while free – was a hassle.
- More great recommendations on ruin bars here and here.
- We had intended to see the Budapest Citadel, but when we realized we’d have to hike 67 meters down from the castle hill and hike 235 meters back up, we passed.
- Another thing we didn’t do was the Salt Mine Tour. It sounded overly touristy (even we draw the line somewhere), but I did overhear an adult American raving to another about it. The House of Terror Museum was also highly recommended by many, but due to its sobering nature, wasn’t up our alley.
- We got a recommendation for the Hop On Hop Off Bus tour from some other American girls we met. It costs about $26 per person, and you can see all the main sites within about 2 hours, then use the transportation to get around the city. We opted for the walking tour though, partly because we had already walked from St. Stephen’s to Parliament and those girls thought it was “so far.” So, pick one or the other based on your travel pace. We liked the walking tour and saved money, but yes, our feet were killing us after walking miles and miles each day.
Restaurants/bars we researched but didn’t have the chance to visit (mostly recommended from various local AirBnB hosts):
- Central Kavehaz – old school cafe for lunch
- Hummus Bar – cheap, healthy Indian food
- Laci Konyha – new Hungarian food
- Menza Etterem – good value Hungarian food
- Lumen Kavezo – coffee shop
- Il Terzo Cerchio – Italian
- Kadar Etkezde – Jewish Cafe
- Hivatal Kavezo – ruin bar. We walked by but it looked really small.
- Ellato Kert – ruin bar. We walked by but it didn’t seem to compare to Szimpla Kert.
Overall, Budapest was friendly, navigable, inexpensive, safe, and fun! I hope to go back, maybe for an extended stay sometime. Feel free to ask me any questions!