Ah Budapest. The Hungarian capital seems to have become more and popular as a European city break destination over the last few years.
And it’s not difficult to see why. With cheap flights, low prices when you arrive and an abundance of amazing things to see and do, it’s the perfect place to spend a long weekend.
This guide isn’t completely exhaustive but it gives enough of the good stuff in the city to fill three days (or four at a slower pace). I feel like you could spend weeks in Budapest and still not see everything, so as with most cities, you’ll need to prioritise.
Here goes.. Budapest is split in to two parts, with the Danube river down the middle. Buda is to the west and Pest to the east, with Margaret Island in the middle of the river, accessed from both sides of the city.
The city is also split in to a number of different districts on either side, each offering a slightly different vibe, but all worth exploring.
When to visit
Budapest most definitely has seasons; it’s freezing cold in winter and can be sweltering in summer. I’ve visited during both, and loved the city each time. I’d say spring to summer is the best time to visit, as Budapest is a city that does outdoor living so well.
Still, prices are cheaper during the colder months, and it is the perfect time to visit the famous thermal baths in the city!
Getting there and around
Flights from the UK are pretty cheap, and costs when you arrive are so low compared to western Europe that it doesn’t matter too much if you have to pay a little more.
You can take the bus from the airport to the city for just a few Euros, or easily grab a taxi to travel much more quickly.
Once in the city, public transport is great, with a metro, trams and buses. Taxis are also cheap.
I’d recommend walking as much as possible, the city isn’t that huge, so it’s definitely doable. I believe that the best way to see a city is by foot, and Budapest is no different.
Where to stay
Pest is certainly the liveliest side of the city and where most tourists end up staying. It’s better connected by public transport, and has more going for it in terms of places to eat and drink.
You can find good value accommodation in the northern part of Buda if you’re on a budget. I stayed at Belvedere Hotel a few years back, it’s a nice hotel at a reasonable price, with great public transport links to the more central parts of the city.
If you’re looking to stay somewhere a little quieter or more upmarket, the Castle District is the place for you. With pretty cobbled streets and gorgeous hotels, it’s a good base from which to see the city if you don’t want to be in the heart of the action.I stayed here this time around, as I was with my boyfriend and his family. Whilst it wouldn’t be my first choice next time (everything closes super early), it was a charming place to stay and had a really relaxed feel.
Things to see and do
A panoramic terrace with fairytale spires, Fisherman’s Bastion offers amazing views over the city. You can pay extra to climb up to the highest viewing point but the views from the main terrace are good enough.
Head there during the day and at night if you can, both are incredible but there’s just something about the view over the Danube and Parliament building in the dark.
Right beside Fisherman’s Bastion, Mathias is a beautiful Roman Catholic church with the most incredible tiled roof.
You can visit the church year-round as a non-worshipper except for Holy Saturday (the Saturday before Easter).
Royal Palace (Buda Castle)
You can’t visit a European city without seeing it’s Royal Palace and Budapest is no different. It’s home to the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum too.
Wander the cobbled streets
The Castle District is so quaint, full of cobbled streets and old, colourful buildings. You can spend a couple of hours just wandering and taking it all in.
Places to eat and drink
Food and drink is more expensive in the Castle District than in the rest of the city; the vibe is definitely more upmarket. Most of the restaurants and bars seem to be owned by the same people but there are a couple of great places to check out.
A boutique hotel, Baltazar has a grill restaurant, serving delicious burgers and classic Hungarian dishes. The inside is cosy and there is plenty of outdoor seating for the warmer months.
Another boutique hotel, Pest Buda has a gorgeous outdoor bar, perfect for an alfresco drink or three. Right in the centre of the Castle District, it has views of the Mathias Church and is surrounded by beautiful historic buildings.
Also know as the Inner City, Leopold is what I’d refer to as central Budapest. Situated on the Pest side of the river, this is a lively and bustling places, with some of the main tourist attractions.
Things to see and do
You’ll no doubt have seen many pictures of the Parliament Building, it’s synonymous with the city and its landscape. Its the third largest parliament building in the world and really is a striking piece of architecture.
Guided tours are available but be sure to also spend some time admiring it from the outside.
Shoes on the Danube Bank
A touching tribute, the shoes are a memorial to honour the many Jews sadly killed in Budapest during WW2. The victims were ordered to take off their shoes and shot dead, falling in to the Danube river below. It’s an extremely moving monument.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Also know as Budapest Cathedral, it’s the largest church in Budapest and well worth a visit.
Grab a drink by the Basilica
Yes the area around the Basilica is a little touristy and probably a little overpriced but it is such a beautiful place to grab a beer or a coffee.
Find somewhere in or around the square where the Basilica is and just watch the world go by.
Leopold is home to both high street and designer shops, if you fancy doing some shopping on your trip.
Places to eat and drink
Budapest has so many Italian restaurants to chose from and La Fabbrica is a great option if you’re looking for tasty pizza or pasta.
Situated across from St. Peter’s Basilica, Fabbrica is a stylish restaurant with a wide menu. Although slightly expensive by Budapest standards, the prices are really reasonable for such great quality food.
Hedon Craft Brewery
We stumbled upon Hedon Craft Brewery when we needed somewhere to shelter from a heavy downpour but it ended up being such a good find!
Hedon is a brewery and bar with a unique twist. To drink at the bar, you top up a card with Forints, grab a glass and fill it using the card at the taps. The balance on the card goes down as you pour the beer.
It’s a really unique concept and means that you can try a selection of different craft beers or cider.They also offer bar snacks; the pizzas are pretty tasty!
Margaret Island (Margitsziget)
Margaret Island is not your usual city park for it’s located in the middle of the Danube river, between Buda and Pest. It can be accessed from both sides of the city, with a bridge connecting to the park.
As well as being a beautiful park to explore, there is so much to see and do in Margaret Island, including; medieval ruins, a small zoo, water fountains, swimming pools, sports facilities and playgrounds.I’d recommend renting an electric bike to explore the whole island and then grabbing a drink at one of the many bars in the park.
The Jewish Quarter is on the Pest side of the river and it’s what I’d describe as the trendy, hipster part of the city. It has so much character and such a great vibe, it’s definitely my favourite district.
The largest Synagogue in Europe, this beautiful piece of Moorish architecture is well worth checking out.
Check out the street art
There’s loads of really cool street art scattered around the district, just take a walk and be sure to get some photos as you go!
Visit a Ruin Bar
Ruin bars are a huge part of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter and you need to visit at least one whilst in the city.I wrote a whole post about Szimpla Kert, the original Ruin Bar, here.
Places to eat and drink
Karavan Street Food
Karavan is a small outdoor street food market, offering a number of different cuisines and drinks.It’s a really cool place day or night, with cute decorations and a large seating area at the back.Check out more info here.
This place was recommended to me by a colleague who lived in Budapest for a while and it is such a hidden gem. It was by far my favourite place we visited.
Filled with mainly locals, this stylish bistro offers amazing food at such reasonable prices. Don’t let the extensive menu put you off- we ordered a number of different types of food and all were absolutely delicious.
They offer a super cheap lunch time set menu too. I definitely want to go back here for brunch, I can imagine it’s amazing.
They have a h-uge terrace at the back, perfect for the warmer months!
Other things to see and do
City Park and Heroes Square- a sprawling green space, City Park is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. The entrance to the park is through Heroes Square, home to the impressive Millenary Monument.
Thermal Baths- a trip to Budapest isn’t complete without a trip to one of the famous thermal baths, especially in the colder months. There are many to choose from; Szechenyi and Gellert seem to be the most popular with tourists.
Take a river cruise on the Danube- I’d recommend taking one at night, when the city is lit up and looking its most beautiful!
- Use the local currency Forints, even though some places accept Euros. You’ll get a much better price/exchange rate.
- Tipping is expected in restaurants, around 10% for standard services and 15% for when its exceptional. In some places, you won’t be able to get a drink at the bar and it will be table service only, which you’ll be expected to tip for.
- Don’t expect overly friendly service; whilst local people are polite, I found that they weren’t particularly warm or chatty.
- Most people in the city can speak English but as always, it’s a good idea to take along a phrasebook or to learn a few phrases in Hungarian.
Have you been to Budapest? Do you have any other tips or recommendations?