There is something about Budapest that makes it truly special, with its romantic charm and fairytale-like castle. This complete travel guide to Budapest, Hungary will touch on all the top things to do in Budapest, where to stay, what to eat and more. Whether it is the fact that it’s still underrated when it comes to tourism or that it’s a romantic city at heart, one thing is certain about Budapest and that is, that it’s a city you will not regret visiting. Coined the “Paris of the East” for its lavish architecture, Budapest is an inexpensive option for those that do not want to compromise style, history and culture from their trip. Without further ado, let’s see what Budapest has to offer!
How to get from Budapest Airport to City Center
To get to Budapest city center from Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD) you can take a bus, taxi or private transfer. The airport express bus 100E is the cheapest way to reach the city. It departs from the airport every 10-20 minutes and the ride is about 35 minutes and goes all the way to Deák Ferenc Tér metro station. You will need to buy a special ticket for the 100E bus line that costs 900HUF (2.7€/$3) from the airport. Other types of tickets or passes are not accepted. You can also take the 200E bus line from the airport that goes to Nagyvárad tér metro station to take the connecting M3 metro line into the city. You can also take a taxi from the Budapest Airport to the city center, although it’s not recommended, because taxi drivers tend to overprice and rip tourists off. Lastly, for privacy and convenience, you can take a private transfer from the airport to the city using Welcome Pickups, an international private transfer company found in over 100 cities worldwide.
Public Transportation in Budapest
Budapest is well equipped when it comes to public transportation. There are several buses, trams and metro lines that run all throughout the city. Tickets can be bought at metro stations or at electronic kiosks by most stops. BKK is the official company that runs all public transportation. You can find all routes along with a timetable here. Google Maps is also another very useful tool to find routes and how to get around the city. On the other hand, you could also choose to go by foot from site to site as the city is easily walkable.
Budapest Card vs. Budapest Travel Card
If you are planning on staying in Budapest for a few days than its worthwhile to look into buying either the Budapest Card or the Budapest Travel Card. Although they sound very similar there are a few differences between the two. If you are interested in visiting many museums, having discounts to thermal baths and restaurants than the Budapest Card is for you. To buy your card or learn more about the discounts check out their official website here. If you are only interested in a discount on public transportation (buses, metros, trams) than the Budapest Travel Card is the right choice for you. You can buy either a 24 hour pass, a 72 hour, or a one week pass. For more information on tickets and prices click here.
Where to Stay in Budapest
The city of Budapest is split into two halves, the Buda side and the Pest side, with the Danube River lying right between the two. On the Buda side you’ll find the Budapest Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church and old restaurants and cafes dating back to the royal times. The Pest side is where St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Parliament, the Szechenyi Baths, and many more monuments and attractions are found. In addition, the nightlife scene, restaurants that stay open till late and the shopping district are also found on the Pest side. To enjoy Budapest restaurant and nightlife scene as well as to be able to walk to most attractions, it’s best to stay on the Pest side.
Things to do in Budapest, Hungary
Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica
Located on the Pest side of Budapest, St. Stephen’s Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica named after Stephen, the first King of Hungary (c 975-1038), whose right hand is still housed inside. Interestingly enough, St. Stephen’s Basilica stands tall at 96 meters high, just like the Parliament of Budapest to signify that the church and state are equal. The number 96 refers to the nation’s millennium, 1896 and the conquest of the later Kingdom of Hungary in 896.
Price: A minimum donation of 200 HUF (0.60€/ $0.67) to enter the Church and another 500 HUF (1.5€) to reach the tower
Hours: Monday-Friday: 9am-5pm, Saturday: 9am-1pm, Sunday: 1pm-5pm
Visit the Budapest Parliament
This 100-year-old parliament is both impressive in size as it’s the third largest Parliament building in the world but also in beauty. This grand building combines elements of Neo-Gothic architecture, Renaissance and Baroque characteristics. As mentioned, above the Parliament is 96 meters tall and can be seen by almost every angle in the city. To enter you must join a guided tour that is offered in many languages, such as English, Italian, Spanish and more, but it is highly recommended to save your spot in advance as it is one of the most popular tourist spot in the city.
Price: EE citizens: 3500 HUF (10.6€/ $11.7) for non EE its 6700 HUF (20.3€/ $22.4)
Hours: Monday-Sunday: 8am-6pm
Visit the Shoes on the Danube Bank
Just a short walk from the Parliament, you’ll notice the Shoes on the Danube. These abandoned shoes honor the Jews that were killed during World War II. The victims were ordered to take off their shoes, right before they were shot at the edge of the Danube, so that the bodies could be carried away by the river, leaving the only“valuable” thing – the shoes – behind on the bank. A rather tragic story, the Shoes on the Danube Bank is one of the many memorials throughout Europe to honor the lives of millions that died during World War II.
Visit the Central Market Hall
The Central Market Hall is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest, home to endless vendors of fruits and vegetables, along with street food, and other restaurants to try from. Although most vendors will overcharge to tourists, it is still worth visiting to observe such a grand and impressive building. The Central Market Hall is especially majestic during the golden hour where the light shines through its big windows.
Hours: Mondays: 6am-5pm, Tuesday-Friday: 6am-6pm, Saturday: 6am-3pm, Sunday: closed
Visit the House of Terror
It’s unbelievable how many hardships the people of Hungary went through during the fascist and communist regimes in the 20-century. Visit the House of Terror to learn about the nation’s relationships to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and how local Hungarians had to live and survive under these distressful times. The exhibition found in the basement is especially daunting as it showcases how victims used to be jailed and executed.
Price: 3000 HUF (9€/$10)
Hours: Everyday except Monday, 10am-6pm
Relax at the Szechenyi Baths
The Szechenyi Thermal Baths are one of the largest baths in Europe, and a favorite among locals and tourists. Due to the earth’s crust being at its thinnest in Hungary, water rich in minerals reaches the surface at an easier and faster rate. After a day of sightseeing, reward yourself with a relaxing dip in the Szechenyi Baths. I personally recommend visiting the Baths in the evening after 7 pm to avoid the large waves of tourists during the morning and afternoon hours. After 7 pm there is also a slight discount.
Price: Depends on the time and day. Check prices here
Hours: everyday 6am to 10pm
Visit Heroes’ Square & City Park
Heroes’ Square is one of the biggest squares in Budapest known for its iconic statue complex featuring the Seven chieftains of the Magyars and other important national leaders, as well as the Memorial Stone of Heroes. Heroes’ Square is located at the end of Andrássy Avenue and at the beginning of City Park. After admiring the square and admiring the Hungarian leaders stroll through the park where you’ll find a castle, an ice-skating rink, a zoo, the Szechenyi Baths and more.
Visit the Vajdahunyad Castle
A hidden gem found in the City Park, Vajdahunyad Castle seems like it was taken right out of Hogwarts. It was built in 1896 to celebrate the thousand years of Hungary since the Hungarian Conquest in 895.
Hours: Opened daily from 10am-5pm
Visit the Budapest Zoo
The Budapest Zoo is the oldest zoo in Hungary, and one of the oldest in Europe. With over a thousand animal species, the Budapest Zoo is a fun visit for both kids and adults. Make sure to dedicate a few hours here as there are so many animals to see!
Price: 3,300HUF (10€)
Hours: Depends on the season. For updated hours check here
Visit the Zoo Café
Continuing with our love for animals, the Zoo Café, is an amusing and interactive café for all ages to enjoy. Sit and enjoy a cup of coffee as the animal handler brings out a new animal, such as bunnies, lizards, turtles, snakes and more, at your table ever 10-15 minutes. You are only allowed to stay at the café for 90 minutes but that is more than plenty of time to enjoy the friendly creatures. Make sure to reserve a table in advance, as the café is always fully booked.
Explore the Buda Castle
Heading over to the Buda side of the city, the Buda Castle is home to the Budapest History Museum and the National Gallery. If you are on a tight budget you can also just walk around the castle’s premises since it covers such a big piece of the Buda.
Budapest History museum
Price: 2400 HUF (7.3€/$8)
Hours: Tues- Sunday: 10am – 6pm
Price: 3200 HUF (9.7€/$10.7)
Hours: Tues- Sunday: 10am – 6pm
Explore Fisherman’s Bastion
A personal favorite, Fisherman’s Bastion is perhaps one of the most astonishing and remarkable landmarks in Budapest. Featuring 7 towers, the Fisherman’s Bastion is free to wander through any day between October 16thand March 15th, while the upper towers requires a small fee during the peak tourist season. To fully enjoy the views and impressive architecture of the Fisherman’s Bastion come visit it during the sunrise hours where you’ll have the whole structure to yourselves.
Visit Matthias Church
Right next to the Fisherman’s Bastion is Mattias Church one of the finest and most unique churches in the country. There is an entrance to enter, so if you’re on a short budget you can opt to visit St. Stephen’s Basilica instead.
Price: HUF 1800 (5.45€/$6)
Hours: Monday- Friday: 9am-5pm, Saturday: 9am-1pm; Sunday 1pm-5pm
Go up to Gellert Hill for breathtaking views of the city
A 30-minute walk from the Buda Castle is Gellert Hill, an enormous hill made up of several paths leading up to the summit. The walk up is quite steep, but the panoramic views of Budapest from above are breathtaking.
Hop on a cruise along the Danube River
Cruise along the Danube for a different perspective of both sides of the city as you drink a glass of wine along the way. For more information on how to book and which cruise to join click here.
Visit the Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library
A beautiful library found inside an old palace – this place is a book lover’s heaven! There is a small entrance for tourists but the visit is totally worth it.
Price: 1000 HUF (3€/$3.3)
Hours: Mon-Fri: 10am-8pm, Saturdays 10am-8pm, Sundays closed
Other noteworthy things to do and see in Budapest:
- Visit Vorosmarty Ter Square and Vaci Utca Street
- Stroll through Andrássy Avenue
- Visit Hungarian State Opera
- Visit Budapest University Library
- Enter the Budapest Cave Church
- Take the M1 metro line (oldest metro line in Budapest, third in the world)
- Walk over the Szechenyi Chain bridge
- Visit the Garden of Philosophy
- Wander through the Jewish Quarter
Other useful information to know before visiting Budapest:
- Official language is Hungarian but most people speak English.
- Avoid taxis at all costs as the drivers tend to rip off tourists. Stick to public transportation or book a private transfer.
- Tipping in Budapest: Unless the service is included in the total bill, the standard tip is 10% of the bill for a good service, and 15% for exceptional service.
Weather in Budapest:
The weather in Budapest tends to be pleasant during the spring and the fall. The temperature begins to drastically fall beginning of November, which begins the cold season. Winter in Budapest can get cold with January being the coldest month (temperature ranging from -5°C (23°F) to 0°C (32°F). On the plus side, you can visit Christmas markets and the ice skating rink during the winter. Summers in Budapest are the busiest season in terms of tourism as the days are the longest – with over 14 hours of sunlight. Temperatures range from 25°C (78°F) to over 30°C (86°F).
Currency in Budapest:
The official currency in Budapest is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). One euro is equivalent to 331 HUF (likewise one dollar is equivalent to 335 HUF). Although some places accept Euros such as shopping malls and souvenir shops its recommended to convert into the local currency upon arriving to Hungary. Most places accept credit cards, however there are still many places such as bars, cafes and restaurants that only accept cash. To avoid high commission or transaction fees avoid converting any money at the airport. You can also withdraw HUF immediately from a trustworthy ATM.
The best currency exchange bureaus in Budapest are:
- Correct Change
- Joker Valuta Váltó
- Exclusive Change
- Ibla Change Pénzváltó
Where to Eat in Budapest:
Café Kör – Traditional Hungarian tavern in the city center
Hungarikum Bisztró – Cozy traditional tavern; get there early or book a table because it tends to get packed
Két Szerecsen – Brunch spot near the Jewish Qt.
TöLTő– sausage place; street food
Street Food Karavan – Street food market in the Gewish quarter near the ruin bars full of food trucks
Bors GasztroBár– Delicious soups and paninis ranging from 2-4€ each
Meatology – Burger place right across St. Stephen’s Basilica
Home of Franziska – Breakfast and brunch spot on the Buda side; opens 7:30 am
Pozsonyi Kisvendéglő – A personal favorite, this restaurant is as local as it gets
Bars in Budapest:
Szimpla Kert – most famous ruin bar in Budapest; if you only have time for one bar, than this is the one!
For Sale Pub – Cozy pub with live music; try their goulash soup and thank us later!
360 Bar – Igloo style bar on a rooftop
Mika Tivador Mulato – Ruin bar with garden and indoor bar
Csendes Vintage Bar –Laidback and retro ruin bar
Mazel Tov – Bar/restaurant in the Jewish Qt. with a garden
Coffee Shops in Budapest:
New York Café – Elegant, Parisian style cafe; there is usually a long wait
Ruszwurm Bakery – Oldest café in Budapest; famous for their traditional Hungarian cake called Dobos Torte
Kontakt Coffee – Coined as one of the best cafes in Budapest; their coffee doesn’t disappoint
My Little Melbourne – Simple yet cozy coffee shop in the Jewish quarter
Artizán Bakery – Perfect for breakfast or lunch, this bakery/cafe has it all
Espresso Embassy – Right in the center of the city, their coffee and desserts are phenomenon
9BAR – A hidden gem, their fresh croissants are like no other and the service is exceptional