BUDAPEST TRAVEL GUIDE: The Top Things to See and Do in Budapest
During my master’s exchange in Vienna I, of course, took all the opportunities to travel that I could get. One of the places that had been on my list for a long time, and that can be reached easily by bus from Vienna, was Budapest. Having heard many things about this beautiful city, it certainly did live up to its expectations.
What makes Budapest so unique is the communist influence it had, giving it a mix of both Eastern and Western European styles. It is also an extremely affordable destination, so if you’re looking to travel on a budget, this city is a must. Below you will find some of the highlights from my trip, some recommendations and a preview of the beautiful architecture.
When to go
I only managed to go to Budapest in November, and it can get quite cold. So if you have the option to choose I would say that spring and early autumn are probably best to visit, especially if you want to do a lot of sightseeing on foot. Summer here is also really nice; however, it can get quite hot and it is the busiest time for tourism. Additionally, if you want to enjoy the baths to the fullest, personally I think that they are nicest if the temperature outside is still relatively low.
What to see
I visited Budapest for three days and I think that I definitely got to see the most important parts and also got time to spend a few hours at the thermal baths.
The Danube Promenade
The promenade is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, so you should really not miss out on seeing it! You’ll be able to see many of the best sights of Budapest from here, beautiful both by day and by night.
This is one of the most diverse neighbourhoods of the city, with lots of architecture and many of Budapest’s top attractions. Some of the buildings in this area date back to as far as the 14th and 15th century. Some of my favourite sights were: Matthias Church, the Fisherman’s Bastion, Trinity Square and the Buda Castle.
This is one of the most iconic buildings in Budapest and also the third largest parliament in the world. It has some of the most impressive architecture in Budapest and can both be admired from across the river, as well as visited inside. I would recommend to go see it both during the day and at night from the opposite side of the river, as it is and extremely beautiful building.
Great Market Hall
This market hall is a massive indoor market with all types of things ranging from pastries, to fruits and vegetables. It is a really nice place to visit and see on the inside but beware of the prices! Since it is a major tourist attraction, the prices here tend to be much higher than on the streets.
The Great Synagogue
This is the world’s second largest synagogue and is located close to the Jewish quarter, which also has some amazing food, the famous ruin bars and super cute streets.
This is the biggest park in the city, located at the end of Andrássy Avenue. I would recommend combining visiting the park with Andrássy Avenue and the thermal baths, Széchenyi Thermal Baths, one of the best and most famous in Budapest. The park also hosts a zoo, as well as two museums and a beautiful lake. It is definitely worth spending some time here!
This is one of Budapest’s most famous streets and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It connects the Opera House with City Park and runs by some of the city’s most expensive real estate, as well as all of the designer shops in town.
St Stephen’s Basilica
Last but not least, is St. Stephen’s Basilica. It is located close to the shopping area in the city, and when I was there this is also the area with one of the nicest Christmas markets. The basilica is free to visit and definitely worth it.
What to do
Go to the Thermal Baths
Budapest is known for its baths and the city offers many alternatives. Whilst there are many options, I would recommend going to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths as they are the biggest, most famous and are located in the City Park, so perfect to combine with your visit there! The entry fee is not cheap; however it is really worth it. I would recommend spending 3-4 hours here and trying all the different baths they have inside.
Take a free walking tour
Budapest has many free walking tours. They are “free” meaning that you can decide how much you want to tip your guide at the end. I would really recommend taking a tour if you have little time, or if you want to get to know more about the history and heritage of the city.
Budapest also offers a wide range of cuisines of great quality, and most of them for an amazing price. Below are some of my favourites. My experience in Budapest is that all well-known restaurants can get booked up quite quickly, so make sure that wherever you go, if you can make a reservation, do it well in advance!
- Börze – this is for sure my favourite restaurant in Budapest. The interior is breath-taking, almost as if you were taken back to the 20s. It is super stylish and the best of it all is that the food is of great quality, and for below-average European prices. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and also have a wide selection of amazing cakes.
- Hilda – I went here for breakfast on the weekend and really loved the place. During the week, however, they do not serve breakfast but you can also go here for lunch or dinner. It has a very unique interior with mozaic walls, a lively atmosphere and some art deco elements. Again, this one is also not a low budget place but coming from Western Europe, the price-quality relationship is well below what I am used to. Their (non-breakfast) menu changes on a bi-weekly basis, based on seasonally available ingredients.
- À la Maison Grand – this place is one of the best known for brunch in Budapest. When I went here I really did not know what to choose as they have so many options on their menu! They serve anything from eggs to pancakes and waffles, acai bowls and avocado toast. So you will for sure find something you enjoy.
- Mazel Tov – this is the place to be in Budapest. It is one of the well-known ruin bars, yet a bit more upscale, located in the middle of the Jewish Quarter. The atmosphere is informal and casual, yet almost fairy-tale like. The food is all Middle Eastern and extremely delicious. They also serve amazing cocktails. Definitely do not miss out on this restaurant when you’re in Budapest! Make sure you make your reservation well in advance and be prepared to wait in line for a while when you get there.
- Dobrumba – with a chic crowd, cool design, and a Middle Eastern menu, Dobrumba is a wildly popular restaurant located in Budapest’s buzzing Jewish Quarter. The food is not as good as at Mazel Tov, and some dishes can disappoint, but overall it’s a good place, in a great location and with a nice atmosphere. It is wildly popular in Budapest and I would recommend making a reservation a few days in advance.
- Street Food Karavan – this little street market is also located in the Jewish Quarter, right next to one of the most famous ruin bars Szimpla Kert. What I really like about this little place is that the food is cheap, the quality is great and you have a lot of options. The food ranges from an all-vegan burger place to an Asian food truck, to chimney cakes. It is also a great place to go to with a group of friends, as you can all get the food you most feel like and sit together at the end of the garden at communal picnic tables.
- Pizza me – this is by no means a fancy restaurant, but I still thought it deserved a place on this list. This place sells pizza by the slice as well as whole pizzas, all over the city. It is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up, late-night snack, or even dinner if you feel like having no-fuss quality pizza. Their pizzas are all made on the spot and super fresh. If you end up going here one type you must try, which was my favourite is the Tartufo.
Go to the Ruin Bars – Szimpla Kert
The underground bar scene developed in Budapest in parts of the city where buildings were left abandoned. These were the perfect place to build these edgy and fascinating bars. Szimpla Kert was the first one, founded in 2001, and in my opinion also one of the best. From the outside they look just like normal houses but once you walk in there is a hidden hip, artsy, and funky bar bustling with crowds talking, dancing, and enjoying the chilled atmosphere. Whilst the ruin bar scene has become less “underground” and more mainstream, it is still something you must see when you go to Budapest.
Local food you must try
- Chimney cakes (also called Kürtös Kalács) – a sweet spiral cylinder of dough baked over charcoal and typically coated in sugar or other flavours like cinnamon, chocolate or vanilla. It was one of my favourite typical foods!
- Lángos – circular deep-fried dough that is typically topped with sour cream and cheese (there is also a wide variety of other alternative toppings).
- Rétes – a type of strudel, especially popular filled with poppy seeds or walnuts.
- Goulash – by far the most famous Hungarian dish, a stew made in a kettle on an open fire, usually with beef, potatoes and some other types of vegetables.
- Fisherman’s soup – a typical Hungarian soup prepared with mixed river fish and a lot of hot paprika, giving its bright orange colour.
- Somlói Galuska – a super famous Hungarian dessert consisting of sponge cake topped with chocolate cream, walnuts, rum and whipped cream.
- Paprikás – a stew with a lot of sweet paprika and some type of meat, typically served with egg noodle dumplings.
- Dobos Torte – a very famous Hungarian sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel.