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Budapest, Hungary is one of the most exciting cities in central Europe! Located on either side of the Danube River, Budapest is a vibrant place filled with tourist attractions, delicious Hungarian food, and plenty of free walking tours. It also has plenty of fascinating history, from Hungarian kings to World War II and ancient churches.
But before you visit Budapest, it’s best to have a plan in place. Not only will you need to build your travel itinerary, but you should know about public transportation, what paid tours are worth your time, and what the difference is between Buda and Pest!
Keep reading to see our Budapest travel tips so you can explore Budapest like a pro!
When to Visit Budapest
The best time to visit Budapest is between April and October. The weather stays fairly nice with average temperatures of 60s to 70s, and the summer peak season is rarely overwhelming.
If you’re looking for a winter getaway, Budapest is also a great option! The city is beautifully decorated for Christmas, and the temperatures are chilly but manageable (usually in the 30s and 40s). Plus, hotel rates are significantly cheaper in the winter.
No matter what time of year you visit, we recommend avoiding Hungarian national holidays. These include Easter weekend, Memorial Day (May 1),Whit Monday (the day after Pentecost Sunday), and Constitution Day (August 20). Many Hungarians take these days off to travel, so attractions will be more crowded and hotels will be more expensive.
How to Get to Budapest
The best way to get to Budapest is by flying into Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD). The airport is located about 10 miles outside of the city center, so you’ll need to take a taxi, bus, or train into town.
If you’re coming from another European city, you may also be able to take a direct train or bus into Budapest. For example, there are direct trains from Vienna and Prague. You can check schedules and prices on Omio or Trainline.
Getting Around Budapest
The cheapest method to get around Budapest is on foot, and if you’re looking for a cheap way to visit the city, one of the city’s free walking tours is definitely worth taking.
The city also has an extensive network of trams, buses, and metro trains that can take you anywhere you need to go without breaking the bank
But you can take advantage of the public transportation systems without breaking the bank.
If you’re planning to use public transportation often, we recommend getting a Budapest Card. This card gives you unlimited rides on all public transportation for a certain number of days (1-7), and it also includes discounts on many attractions.
Daily Budget for Budapest
Thanks to the many hostels and affordable public transport, you can easily visit Budapest on a small budget and only spend about $40 per day. But if you’d like to enjoy a few of the nicer amenities the city has to offer, expect to pay more like $90 to $140 per day for food, accommodations, and transportation.
Where to Stay in Budapest
There are many great places to stay in Budapest, but the best areas for tourists are generally in District V (the city center on the Pest side) and District VI (close to the Jewish Quarter).
If you’re looking for a more affordable option, hostels are also widely available in Budapest. We recommend Wombats City Hostel and Instant Hostel, both of which are centrally located and perfect for budget-minded travelers.
What to Pack for Budapest
Budapest is a fairly casual city, so you don’t need to overthink your packing. In the summer, shorts and t-shirts are fine for most activities, and in the winter, jeans and a light jacket should suffice.
If you’re planning to visit any of the baths (which we highly recommend), you’ll need to bring a swimsuit. Most baths provide towels for a small fee, but you can also bring your travel towel.
Other than that, just make sure to pack any essentials like your passport, medications, and travel insurance policy.
What To Eat In Budapest
The food in Budapest is hearty and filling, and it won’t cost you a fortune to eat like a king here. Start your day with a delicious breakfast of kürtőskalács (a type of chimney cake), then enjoy some goulash or paprika chicken for lunch. Finish off your meal with some Dobos cake or strudel for dessert.
If you want to eat like a local, be sure to check out the Great Market Hall. This is one of the best places in the city to try traditional Hungarian dishes like lángos (a type of deep-fried bread) and chimney cakes.
For something a bit more modern, head to Karaván Street Food. This food court is located in an old building and has a variety of different street food vendors serving up global cuisine – definitely worth trying when you visit Budapest.
What’s the difference between Buda and Pest?
Once upon a time (aka prior to 1873), Buda and Pest were two different cities, divided by the Danube River. Now, they’re one city, but they do have significant differences in vibes.
Buda, located on the west side of the river, is significantly smaller than Pest and is very hilly. It’s fairly quiet and upscale, especially in the Castle Hill area.
Pest, on the other hand, is where most of the action happens! Pest makes up 2/3 of Budapest and has lots of activities from ruin bars and a zoo to the Opera House and delicious culinary experiences.
Best Places to Visit in Budapest
One of the top questions a Budapest travel guide should answer is “What should I see in Budapest?” Here are some of the best places to visit during your time in the city:
As you plan your day trips, keep in mind which activities are on either side of the Danube river, so you don’t have to cross it several times per day.
Castle Hill is a stunning historical district located on the Buda side of the Danube. Many of the buildings here date back to the 14th and 15th centuries, and the entire Buda Castle district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The most popular attraction on Castle Hill is Buda Castle. This royal palace is where the Hungarian royalty used to reside. Now, it houses the Budapest History Museum and Hungarian National Gallery. We recommend a visit to see not only a beautiful collection of artworks but also the eclectic architectural styles of the royal palace.
While you’re there, don’t miss the stunning Matthias Fountain and Statue of the Horseherd in the west courtyard of the royal palace.
Another stunning site on Castle Hill is the ancient Matthias church. It was built in the 13th century and has hosted many coronations and royal weddings in its time! We recommend booking one of the daily tours to dive into the architecture and history.
Check out the intricate neo-Romanesque architecture of the Fisherman’s Bastion before you leave the area. This gorgeous series of white turrets and arches provide incredible views of the Danube River and the Hungarian Parliament building over in Pest.
Our Budapest travel guide wouldn’t be complete without an insider tip on the best ancient thermal baths in town!
Lucaks Baths, located just a few minutes away from castle hill has centuries-old thermal baths that were once used by monks for their healing properties. Today, these are the thermal springs of choice for most local residents and few tourists.
Here’s an extra tip: visit at night between October and April for a unique spa party with music, light shows, and laser beams! It’s the kind of nightlife most people have never seen!
If you want to see some communist-era statues, Memento Park is the place for you! This outdoor sculpture museum is dedicated to preserving the history of Hungary’s Communist regime.
The park has over 40 different statues, all of which were once located throughout Hungary before the fall of communism in 1989. Today, they stand as a reminder of the country’s tumultuous past. Many tourists find Memento Park to be a fascinating glimpse into Hungarian history as it is great way to get a better understanding of the country’s complicated past.
In the middle of the Danube River, you’ll find the quiet retreat of Margaret Island. This royal hunting reserve turned city park is perfect for a relaxing afternoon. It’s fairly small, but it is free to enter and has lots of interesting activities to enjoy.
Palatinus Strand Baths
The island has a series of thermal baths that you can enjoy at the Palatinus Strand. In addition to the thermal pools, guests can enjoy the connected water park with slides, adventure pools, and a wave pool.
Japanese and Rose Gardens
There are also two beautiful gardens you can walk through for free; they are must-visits in spring and summer.
Margaret Island Water Tower
The island’s picturesque water tower was built in 1911 with way more style than you’d expect. Visitors can climb the tower for panoramic views of the Island and beyond.
Pest – The Eastern Side Of The Danube
On the eastern side of the Danube River, you’ll find Pest and the majority of Budapest’s tourist attractions. It’s also the main destination for partiers and food connoisseurs.
One of Pest’s top destinations is the imposing Hungarian Parliament Building. It’s the third-largest parliament building in the world and the largest building in Budapest! Its positioned majestically on the banks of the Danube River and is open to visitors when parliament is not in session. If you’re interested in visiting, you can book a slot for one of the 45-minute guided tours.
If you like hole-in-the-wall bars, Budapest literally has them in abundance. Ruin pubs are party spots set up in abandoned buildings. Lights, music, and plenty of creativity go into transforming these dismal spaces into hot nightlife locations.
Great Market Hall
The Central Market Hall, or Great Market Hall, built in 1894, is another must-see. This giant indoor market features Neo-Gothic architecture that’s worth a look, even if you don’t like shopping. Prices on wares are a bit expensive compared to Buda, but it also offers cultural events, rare spices, and some delicious local food.
Dohany Street Great Synagogue
In Budapest’s Jewish district, you can see the Great Synagogue, which is the largest synagogue in Europe. It has distinctly Moorish architecture compared to the rest of the city and also features several areas dedicated to the Jews who suffered in the Holocaust.
House of Terror
The House of Terror is not a fun stop but an important one. This museum details Hungary’s Fascist history and serves as a memorial to the victims of Nazi and Soviet rule. It has an iron curtain monument outside and is actually operated inside the building that both dictatorial parties once used as headquarters.
The Danube Memorial, also known as Shoes on the Danube, is another sobering reminder of Budapest’s sad history during World War II. Not far from the Hungarian Parliament building, you’ll find 60 pairs of iron shoes scattered along the bank. These is a sobering memorial of the thousands of Hungarian Jews who were murdered by the fascist Arrow Cross party and discarded into the Danube River.
Hungarian State Opera House
Whether or not you like opera, swing by the impressive Hungarian State Opera House. In addition to hosting operas at surprisingly affordable prices, it’s also open for tours during the day.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s has several exciting highlights, including a gorgeous facade, St. Stephen’s mummified hand, numerous artworks inside, and 360-degree views of the city from the cupola. You can take part in daily tours to view the church or attend one of several musical concerts throughout the year.
Budapest City Center
A final place to check out is the Budapest City Center. Here, you’ll find easy access to the picturesque Danube Promenade, with lovely views of Buda across the water and lots of fancy hotels lining the way.
The City Center is also a great spot to find some cheap eats if you’re interested in traditional Hungarian food and a prime shopping location for tourists and locals. During the holiday season, this is also where you’ll find the famed Christmas markets.
Things To Know About Visiting Budapest
Now that you know some of the best places to visit in Budapest, here are a few things to keep in mind before planning your trip:
- Budapest is a large city, so be prepared to do a lot of walking. If you don’t like walking, consider taking public transportation or taxis to get around.
- Many of the attractions in Budapest are free or very affordable, so you can save money by planning your trip accordingly.
- Budapest is a safe city, but like any large city, it’s always wise to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions when traveling at night.
- If you’re interested in learning about Hungary’s history, consider visiting the House of Terror or the Shoes on the Danube memorial. Both are sobering but important places to see.
- The weather in Budapest can be unpredictable, so be sure to pack for both warm and cold weather.
- Hungary is a member of the European Union, so citizens of EU countries do not need a visa to enter the country. US citizens can stay for up to 90 days without a visa.
- Budapest has two main airports: Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD) and Budapest Ferihegy International Airport (BMA). BUD is the larger of the two and is located about 10 miles from the city center, while BMA is smaller and located about 20 miles from the city center.
- There are many affordable hotels in Budapest, so you should have no trouble finding a place to stay. Many of the hotels are located in the city center, so you’ll be close to all the action.
Whether you’re interested in history, culture, food, or simply taking in the sights, you’ll find plenty to do on your trip. With a little planning, you can make the most of your time in Budapest and create lasting memories.