If you have read any of my posts before you will know that I normally like to structure a post so it starts with a light-hearted introduction and ends with an informed conclusion. On this occasion, I felt the need to open with my concluding statement; “Budapest is just awesome and you should visit now”!!!
You see this was supposed to be a post about visiting Budapest in Hungary but once I had started writing it I soon realised that I loved the city so much both times I visited that I wasn’t just writing a guide of what I did or what to see and do but rather a reasoned argument why everyone should go. Budapest rivals Rome and Dubrovnik in its beauty and easily has as many sights to see.
I can think of no downside to visiting Budapest. It has something for everyone during every season of the year. The city is stunningly beautiful and is perfect for relaxing or romantic breaks, historical sightseeing, culinary and photography tours and even party weekends.
The winter months bring snowy, dark nights and the historic buildings and bridges are aglow with lights. Temperatures can get very cold as you would expect but that’s a great excuse to wrap up warm and stroll along the riverside and seek refuge in the warm local pubs where you can fill your bellies with delicious and hearty Hungarian dishes. During the day, you can keep warm and relaxed in one of the city’s many thermal baths.
The summer months bring their own delights and the outdoor thermal baths in the city’s parks are busy with locals and travellers alike. Many of Budapest’s best bars are located in outdoor courtyards so are best enjoyed during the warmer months.
Hungary is incredibly cheap. As a rule, expect the price of most goods and services to be around 40% cheaper than in the UK. At less than 2 ½ hours from London by plane Budapest is ideal for a weekend getaway and companies like RyanAir fly there for as little as £35.
4 & 5-star hotels in Hungary will cost you the same as a cheap 3* in the UK whilst choosing to stay in an Airbnb can make things even cheaper. A centrally located apartment with two or more bedrooms ranges from as little as £10 – £35 a night.
A good quality local meal with wine can be found for as little as £5 per person whilst a meal at a Michelin Starred restaurant can cost as little as £15 each.
A pint of beer will only set you back £1 in a bar and half that if you were to purchase it from a supermarket. Wine is of a good standard and bottle that costs between £8 & £10 at home can be found for half that.
Taxi’s & buses are affordable and reliable but you can walk almost anywhere. The underground system is also easy to use and just as cheap.
Budpaest is a city divided by the Danube River. Unsurprisingly the city is named after the two Towns situated on either side, the hillier side of the river is Buda and its impressive castles and monuments tower above the parliamentary buildings across the water in Pest.
Both sides of the river have amazing feats of architecture and even the bridges that span across the Danube are decorated with magnificent statues and cast a magical glow across the water when lit up at night.
There is a tourist bus that runs a loop around the sites of both Buda & Pest which is worthwhile if your short on time but it’s quite nice just to wander between the sites especially on the Pest side. The steep hills of Buda pose more of a problem if your less mobile but buses and trams are frequent and there is even a funicular railway that can ferry you right to the stop in no time at all.
Keep an eye on the tourist bus timetables as they often stop running very early in the afternoon. There were two different companies running hop on hop off services when I was there so it’s worth checking prices.
- Sitting atop the Gelert hill and lit up majestically at night is the Liberty Statue which commemorates the liberation of Hungary from the Nazi forces. Lady Liberty can be seen from anywhere in the City proudly holding aloft a Palm leaf in both hands.
- Further along the hill you will find the Citadel, a series of palaces housing the National Gallery & some impressive statues and great views over the city. If you love photography you can get some amazing shots of the statues against the skyline.
- Wikipedia describes the Fisherman’s Bastion as a terraced structure in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style. Personally, I think it looks like a fairy-tale castle and it’s a great place to take a romantic stroll and get some beautiful shots of your loved ones.
- Behind the Bastion is the impressive Roman Catholic Matthias Church.
- Also on Castle Hill is the Castle Labyrinth which are also known as Dracula’s resting place. It sounds cheesy but it’s a great experience with a pitch-black maze and a history tour telling the story of Dracula which culminates in tomb to the one and only that is suitably Creepy. I’ve included the address as it can be tricky to find. The entrance just looks like one of the shops. Úri utca 9, Castle Hill.
- Along the riverside there are two Thermal Baths. The Rudas Baths are located near the Erzsebet Bridge whilst the impressive Gelert Baths & Hotel are found next to the Szabadság (Liberty) Bridge.
- St Stephen’s Basilica Along with the House of Parliament are the most visited sights in Budapest. there are also the most accessible being in the main tourist area and only a short work from one another.
- National Opera House Although the building itself is impressive the real beauty lies within. Don’t miss out on the guided tours that run daily at 3 pm and 4 pm. This is one of the most spectacular Opera houses in the world.
- Perhaps the quirkiest sight in Budapest is the aptly entitled Shoes on the Danube. Although the shoes make for great photographs they do represent a darker past as they are meant to represent the people killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away leaving only their shoes on the bank.
- Heroes Square – Further out of the city but easily reached by bus or the underground. This huge park is the place to ice skating during the winter when the lake freezes over. It’s also home the outdoor Szechenyi Baths.
As with most things, there is a wide variety of eating options in the city. The old adages hold strong here, the restaurants and bars near the main squares and tourist spots are the most expensive. You don’t have to go far off the beaten track to find cheaper and better-quality meals. For my money, I would head into the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter. You will find some of the city’s best restaurants there but there is also a great selection of small eateries covering almost every conceivable cuisine. I’ve listed a couple of my favourite places below;
- Spinoza Restaurant Hungarian/Jewish cuisine with a great ambience and live traditional music. Definitely my number one pick in Budapest, you won’t be disappointed.
- For Sale Pub Great, little pub near the indoor Market on the Pest side of the Liberty Bridge. Widely renowned to serve the tastiest and biggest portions of Goulash soup with freshly baked bread. It’s also one of the cheapest places to try this classic dish which goes well with beer or wine.
- Prime Steak & Wine Etterem the best steak restaurant in the City also serves an amazing Wagyu beef burger that is to die for. Prices are more than reasonable and if you’re a boxing fan ask them to show you their memorabilia as the building has hosted some major stars and events.
- Karavan Street Food Market All travellers love a street market, right? This place is great, nestled amongst the Ruin bars there are a multitude of stalls selling good quality snacks from around the world at great prices.
- New York Cafe Located in the grand Boscolo Hotel, this bustling restaurant is very much a tourist destination but its worth waiting in line even if its just to try one of the amazing desserts. This is one of the most elegant restaurants you will ever dine but be warned it’s not cheap!
I could write for hours about the myriad of different bars in Budapest, they all have so much character and are packed every night of the week. What I will say is that the best bars are the Ruin bars and they can take a bit of finding. I would recommend joining one of the many organised pub crawls to figure out where they all are.
In essence Ruin bars are just pubs that have sprung up in dilapidated buildings, alleyways and hidden courtyards. As such they often aren’t obvious or even visible from the main roads so a little bit of research helps. Mark a few on google maps and when you find yourself in a side street with no sign of a bar listen out for music and hang around until a group of people turn up and disappear through a non-descript entranceway. The bars are often brightly decorated and have been become an outlet for the thriving local art community. Many feature works of art and salvaged or repurposed furniture that bring a vibrancy to the scene that would be hard to find anywhere else in the world.
As a rule, you will find all the best ruin bars in the Jewish quarter. There are some private clubs which are amazing so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for special events where you can get a glimpse of artistry and celebrity nightlife blending together. Probably the best of its kind is ‘Brody Studios’ which was described to me by a local guide as looking like an 18th Century Vampires boudoir.
My favourites are Szimpla Kert, Ankert & Red Ruin. I’ve included links to their websites, just click on the name of the bar and with luck and the magic of the internet you should be able to find your way there.
I think I’ve made my love for Budapest clear enough and since there is no need for me to end this post by summing up my experiences; I feel obliged to sign off with a quote that sums up the City. To do so, I chose the following thoughts of renowned American Chef Anthony Bourdain.
“It’s beautiful here. They said that of course, that Budapest is beautiful.
But it is in fact almost ludicrously beautiful.”