Nesting in the heart of Europe, Budapest offers its visitors an unlimited treasury of experiences.
Welcome to Budapest! Home to world-famous artists, mouth-watering food, and above all — cheap beer! I personally favour Budapest over the other neighbouring capital towns of Ljubljana (in its west), and Prague and Vienna (in its north) for the value of money it offers.
When I visited Budapest, my initial plan was to stay for three nights, but the city had so much to offer and at such good price that I ended up staying for a week. But I understand that not everyone visiting Budapest will have a week to spare. So if you’re in town for only a few days, this travel guide will help you cover most of the highlights in Budapest on a fast track. But before anything, I’d suggest you to…
Invest In A City Card
Now, since you’re here for a short time and want to visit as many places, on a fast track, as possible, I’d suggest you to invest in a 48 or a 72 hour Budapest Card — which gives you free (or a discounted) entry to many attractions/museums, unlimited free travel on public transport, and even a couple of free guided walking tours. In short, it makes your travel much convenient, quicker and hassle-free.
You can buy your city card at the airport, at the tourist information center in the city-center in Pest, as well as on Budapest Tourism’s official website.
Where To Stay
It’s important to understand that Budapest is massive in size and depending on which part of the city you stay, you more or less shape your entire experience. The city is broadly divided into two equal halves — Buda and Pest, by the ever blissful Dunabe river running through the middle. Pest is comparatively more vibrant and backpacking friendly, whereas Buda, on the other side, is quieter and non-touristy.
I’d personally recommend making Pest as your base, for Pest has a better accommodation scene and a more backpacking friendly environment. Moreover, most of the tourist attractions — right from the City Opera House to the Parliament, and the many open markets — are situated in Pest. So if looking for a place to stay in Budapest, consider staying in Pest.
I can moreover recommend Avenue Hostel, located only a 10-minute walk (or 2 metro stations) away from the center, for its lively environment and a great value for money. I spent 7 nights in Avenue hostel and my stay couldn’t be any better.
Start With Guided Walking Tour(s)
Budapest and Hungary at large have a long history associated with it — right from the golden age of kings and queens to until this day. A guided walking tour can help you absorb Budapest and understand its rich history better. So before anything, start with a guided tour in Buda, and a guided tour in Pest, and get your bearings straight.
With your Budapest Card, you get two free English guided tours, on either side of the river — one tour to understand Buda, and one, to understand Pest. Walking tour in Pest starts at 10 in the morning, every day, and takes you through major places of interest, including the Inner City Parish Church, St Stephen’s Basilica, Old-street Market Hall, and the Parliament. You do not need to do any registration, but only show up at the meeting point in the city center with your City Card. The walking tour in Buda, on the other hand, starts at 2 in the afternoon and takes you through the highlights in Buda, including the Budapest castle. It is moreover possible to do both the tours in one day and is moreover convenient to do so, as after finishing your morning tour, you can leave with your morning tour-guide to the starting point of the Pest guided tour.
Please note that without your Budapest City Card, the tours cost 3000 HUF each.
With over twenty museums, across the city, choosing the best museum and the most worthy among all can be tough, especially when you’re bound with time. But out of all the museums I had visited, I can recommend the Hungarian National Museum (which is free of charge with your Budapest Card, or 2600 HUF without it).
Being Hungary’s first and most prominent museums, it takes you back in the time of the Carpathian Basin’s history — from prehistoric times until the regime change. The many exhibitions inside moreover showcase world-renowned archaeological artifacts, along with priceless treasures of Hungarian art and history. In less than three hours, you understand Hungary’s dramatic regime shifts, its role in European society, and a long continuous history it has been associated with.
Other than the National Museum, Hungarian National Gallery is also worth visiting, for it provides the largest collection of Hungarian art, documenting the transformation and the development of Hungarian art — from the foundation of the state to until today.
If time permits, visit the Underground Railway Museum too. Since Budapest is home to a UNESCO underground railway line, it’s fascinating to see a memorial and learn about how Budapest, and moreover Europe at large, got its first underground train system back in 1896. At an exhibit, in the Underground Railway Museum, you can explore the original tunnel section, three vintage compartments of the railway, artifacts, documents, photos, and models tracing the history of the underground, from its construction to until today.
What To Eat And Drink, And Where
Lángos At The Great Market Hall: A culinary Hungarian special, Lángos is a big pancake with different ingredients on top. And to get the best Lángos in town, head to the Great Market Hall situated in Pest, right next to river Danube. The Great Market Hall is also the best place to shop for some souvenirs. But be prepared to bargain for the price.
Ruin Bars of Szimpla Kert For Drinks: Budapest is famous for its rare experience of drinking in Ruin bars. Out of a total of five very unique ruin bars, my favorite turned out to be Szimpla Kert — the first and original ruin bar of Budapest opened in 2001. It’s one of the biggest ruin bars and still the most popular. Here you’ll find a large open courtyard, a top floor filled with eclectic furniture, cocktail bars, music, and even an old, stripped-down Trabant (a communist car) to have a drink in. You can also buy and smoke a Sheesha inside.
Gulyás At Trombitas: During my one week in Budapest, and among all the places where I’d eaten, Trombitas Kiralyi Sorozo turned out to be the most local restaurant in its appearance. Located in Buda, and away from any tourist activity, Trombitas can always be only found full of local Hungarians chowing down a grub, or sipping on your favorite Hungarian beer. If you’ll visit Trombitas, I’ll personally recommend trying the traditional Goulash soup.
Known to most as “goulash,” this popular soup is a Hungarian original, containing chunks of beef, potatoes, and vegetables, plus plenty of paprika and spices.
A Few Offbeat Experiences
Explore The Iconic UNESCO Heritage Budapest Metro: Among the other highlights, the city of Budapest is home to one of the ancient and most artistic metro systems in the world. And with its many perfectly symmetrical stations, and a UNESCO world line, one of the activities you should be planning when you’re here is: the METRO CRAWL. Two of my favorite stations that I’d definitely recommend you to visit at the M4 metro line are Szent Gellert Ter and Fovam Ter.
Walk Up The Gellert Hill And Drink A beer At Liberty Statue: At the 45-foot tall statue of a woman holding a palm leaf overhead, at Gellert Hill, may just be representing peace, but for tourists and the many photographers, the place has its own distinguished charm. As from the citadel, and the many viewpoints, around the Liberty Statue, one can get stunning views over the Danube and the city below.
While the Gellert Hill and the liberty statue can be visited throughout the day, and only takes a short 15-minute (but very steep) hike, from the nearest Szent Gellert Ter metro station, the best time to visit is after sunset, when the entire city glows with a sparkling yellow. Just carry a few beers from the nearest supermarket, find a perfect viewpoint and enjoy the most beautiful sights of the entire city, all for free.
[Also See: Budapest In Pictures]
The hike is moreover well paved, well lit, and is suitable for all ages and athletic abilities. During my stay in Budapest, I made it a daily ritual to walk up the hill after 9 in the night (when the place was most peaceful), have a few beers on the Gellert hill — sometimes with other friends and sometimes alone — and return before 11, to catch the last metro to my hostel.
Take A Ride On Tram No2: It may sound funny but this might just be a highlight of your trip, and even if not, it will surely prove to be an ideal way of exploring the city. Tram number 2 takes the entire river route from one side of Pest to the other — while taking you across sights like the Parliament, the chain bridge, and the market hall, among others. So buy a full day public transport pass (if you already don’t have the City Pass), hop-in the tram no 2, relax, and explore the city while on the go!
Disclaimer: I wrote this post in participation with BudapestTourism. Though my tour in the city was partly hosted, all the recommendations and ideas are solely personal. I only recommend what I personally experience and find worth appreciating.