Eager to see the beautiful European subcontinent? But the big budget requirement of European cities always lead to your plans to getting cancelled? Then look no further, Budapest is your answer!
Hungary’s capital city, Budapest, is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe and to top it off, is absolutely budget-friendly too. With Buda on the west bank of the Danube river and Pest on the east, it is a complete package – plenty of historical monuments, finger-licking good food, amazing cultural vibe and night life, architectural wonders, and most importantly, it is safe and budget-friendly.
While there are endless hidden gems in Budapest, we’ve put together our favorite things that you need to add to your Budapest itinerary.
1. Visit the Dohány Street Synagogue
Also known as the Great Synagogue, Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the whole world.
Not only is its exterior architecture beautiful, but its interiors and the outdoor garden are worth checking out as well. In the garden you can see a weeping willow memorial, that bears the names of some of those killed during the war.
TIP: Plan to spend 30 minutes to 1 hour there here.
2. Get a Taste of Hungary at the Central Market Hall
The oldest and the largest indoor market in all of Budapest, it has got everything you need to satisfy your Hungarian taste buds.
You’ll find many stalls selling locally grown fruits and vegetables on the lower floor, and also some selling locally sourced meats. But what caught our eye, really, was that one stall – no points for guessing – selling local sweet treats and pastries like Rákóczi Túrós (a baked curd cheesecake), Beigli (a poppy seed or walnut roll) etc. We could literally smell these delicacies from the moment we entered the market!
On the upper level, you’ll find plenty of food stalls serving a great variety of Hungarian dishes like Goulash, Langós etc. that are sure to fill you up! After you’re done satiating your stomach, it’s time to load up on gifts. You can buy some of the finest Hungarian souvenirs like lace, leather goods etc. at very reasonable prices from this market hall.
TIP: Keep aside at least 2 hours to leisurely explore this Great Market Hall.
3. Walk Across the Liberty Bridge
Most people visiting Budapest are drawn towards the famous Chain Bridge that spans the Danube connecting Buda and Pest, but down the river is yet another impressive bridge, the Liberty Bridge, which should not be missed.
It is the shortest bridge in Budapest and is a superb example of the Art Nouveau architecture.
You’ll see several locals and tourists, perched atop the main structure, enjoying the beautiful views. Walk across the bridge or just chill like everybody else, you are sure to have a good time!
TIP: Visit during sunset when the vibe is amazing and the views are magnificent!
4. See the Sun Go Down at Buda Castle
Buda Castle is at the top of Castle Hill and is very accessible despite its elevated location. It can be reached either by the Buda Castle Hill Funicular or on foot through the Castle Garden.
To fully explore the Castle, you can take their guided tours that usually run for 2 hours. But what we suggest is that you head straight to the top to get some amazing views of Pest along with the famous Chain Bridge and the Parliament.
TIP: Get there right before sunset to see the city gradually get covered in shades of orange. Make sure to wait till its completely dark to see the Chain Bridge all lit up. This makes for a great photo opportunity.
5. Indulge in Decadent Desserts at the World’s Most Beautiful Cafe
New York Cafe, located in the heart of Budapest, is indeed the most beautiful cafe in the world. The moment you step inside you are sure to be awestruck by its palatial decor. High ceiling interiors bearing a gold patina, embellished with frescoes and stuccoes, create the dreamy atmosphere of a bygone era, reminding us that this café used to be a favorite among the literary elites and artists of Budapest.
This cafe is known for its desserts and everything you see on their menu is so beautiful that you’d want to order it all! They make sure you leave with a sugar high.
We ordered their New York Cake selection and a few other desserts along with some of their coffee specialties (the Irish coffee was too good!) and enjoyed all of them while admiring the cafe’s unmatched beauty.
Open daily until midnight, this cafe is the answer to all your ‘midnight dessert cravings’ prayers!
TIP: Go during later hours of the day to find this cafe quiet and to yourself. Don’t forget to click loads of photos.
6. Take an Early Morning Trip to Fisherman’s Bastion
Want to be transported to a Disney fairy tale? Then Fisherman’s Bastion is what you’ve been looking for!
Built in a Neo-Romanesque style, it is definitely one of the most beautiful architectural marvels of Budapest. It has numerous viewpoints that provide some of the best panoramic views of the city. It consists of seven towers, most of which are free to enter, but some of the upper towers have a small entrance fees.
The best part is that it is open all day everyday, so head there whenever you feel like traveling to a magical world.
TIP: Reach there early morning at dawn to see one of the most spectacular sunrises of your life. Also, to top it all you’ll get to have the spellbinding Bastion all to yourself!
7. Adore the Beauty of Matthias Church
Located in the heart of Castle district, right in front of Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church is a gothic style church made up of delicate turrets and colored tile roof making it a spectacular sight to behold!
No doubt that the beauty of its architecture will blow your mind, but upon entering the church you will experience one of the most welcoming combinations of warm lights, shadows and colors with orange, brown, golden hewed frescos reaching from floor to ceiling, beautiful stain glass windows, far reaching arches, century old wooden pews, and medieval remnants.
TIP: Head there straight after Fisherman’s Bastion and spend some peaceful time at the church.
8. Have Some Local Favorite Desserts at Gerbeaud Cafe
You absolutely need to try two of Budapest’s most famous desserts, the Dobos Cake (Hungarian sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel) and the Gerbeaud pastry and cream cake (layered cake with walnut and apricot jam filling, covered with chocolate). And in order to try those, head straight to the Gerbeaud Cafe.
It is yet another beautiful cafe with a high-end appeal so be sure to dress for the occasion! You’re going to have some delectable (and beautiful) desserts after all.
9. Amaze Yourself with Rose Shaped Gelato
Gelarto Rosa is not your typical gelato store, it’s a fun ice cream shop that serves some great gelato uniquely decorated in the form of a rose!
Located on the square near St. Stephen’s Basilica, Gelarto Rosa should definitely be your pit stop on a hot summer day.
Our recommendation – Why not make the rose the most colorful by choosing 3 different flavors like raspberry, mango and pistachio.
Now, we know that you can find a similar concept gelato shop (called Amorino) at various locations around the world, so if you have tried one of those, you can skip it here.
10. Head to the Top of St. Stephen’s Basilica
The square that’s home to St. Stephen’s Basilica is pretty beautiful in itself, but wait till you get to the top of this Basilica where you’ll be amazed to see some epic panoramic views of the whole of Budapest.
Entry to the Basilica is free, however going up to the observation deck will cost you 400 HUF (or $1.5 USD) by stairs or 600 HUF (or $2 USD) by elevator. We’d recommend using the stairs because the spiral staircase is gorgeous and photo worthy as well, but there are 365 stairs up to the top so suit yourself.
11. Check Out the Heroes’ Square and Vajdahunyad Castle
Heroes’ Square is home to an iconic monument which features depictions of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars, who are believed to have led the Hungarian people from central Asia to the Carpathian basin. It is the largest square in Budapest.
The beautiful area surrounding the Vajdahunyad Castle is also known as the City Park and is quite popular with the locals of Budapest. It includes swimming baths, a lake for boating and sports facilities. You can spend some leisurely time here either boating, having a picnic, or simply relaxing on the grass.
On the day we visited this area, there was a fun Thai food festival taking place, which made our visit even more fun!
12. Soak Up in Széchenyi Thermal Baths
Relaxing in one of Budapest’s thermal baths is a must, and out of the many thermal baths in the city, the most beautiful one is definitely the Széchenyi Thermal Baths.
It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind after all that walking around to see the famous attractions of the city! The Széchenyi Baths complex is the largest medicinal bath center in Europe. The waters are rich in sulphates, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate and fluoride, and are believed to help patients with degenerative joint illnesses and other medical issues.
For people who just want to relax (like us), the two outdoor pools are the perfect place. Oh and if you get a chance, attend Széchenyi baths pool party on Saturday nights between 10:30 p.m. and 3 a.m. for an unforgettable night experience.
TIP: For all the drone photography lovers, the outdoor pools are the perfect place to let your drones fly. They are sure to bring back some amazing photos!
13. Try Kürtőskalács from any Street Stand
This Hungarian treat called Kürtőskalács or the chimney cake should be a must on your list. Made from sweet, yeast dough, watching the way it is prepared is a fun sight as well. The dough is spun and wrapped around a truncated cone, then rolled in granulated sugar. After this it is roasted over charcoal while basting with melted butter until it’s golden brown on the outside.
Once the cake is ready, choose it with a topping of your liking; go with either a traditional cinnamon sugar topping or choose a modern nutella and whipped cream combination.
14. Head to the Best Viewpoint for the Hungarian Parliament Building at Sunset
Hungary’s most recognizable building, one that you will see from almost everywhere, is the Hungarian Parliament Building. Its astounding architecture will leave you awestruck every time you get a peek at it, but in order to get some amazing photos of this building, you’ll need to head to the Buda side (exact coordinates: 47°30’27.0″N 19°02’22.1″E).
The Hungarian Parliament is the third largest Parliament building in the world, so you should definitely not miss the Parliament Tours they offer. But since they are only limited in number, they tend to sell out fast. So make sure you make your reservations in advance (we didn’t).
TIP: Go there right before sunset so that you can see the sun do wonders with its colors. And once the night falls, get ready to be amazed by seeing the building all lit up in gold!
15. Walk On the Chain Bridge
Everything is pretty much centered around the Chain Bridge in Budapest; and why not, it is an icon of the city.
Easily the most photographed attraction of Budapest, it is worth seeing both in the morning and at night when the bridge and the city all light up making for a spectacular sight.
After you cross the bridge from Buda to Pest, walk a little towards the north to reach the Danube Promenade. Here you’ll see the Shoes on the Bank memorial, made to honor those who were killed during World War II by the Arrow Cross troopers.
It isn’t an as impressive sight as the rest of Budapest, to be honest, but we did visit it to pay our homage.
16. Get Crazy and Eat Everything at Street Food Karaván
Located in Budapest’s busy party street (Kazinczy utca), Street Food Karaván is an outdoor food court of sorts that is home to numerous food trucks and stalls serving mouth-watering delicacies from around the world.
There are a variety of options available from Mexican nachos, to Italian Pizzas, to American Burgers and more, but our absolute favorite was the lángos booth where we tried the divine lángos burgers as well as their cheese and harissa lángos. Lángos is an Hungarian food speciality of deep fried dough, where the dough is made up of milk, flour, yeast, and salt. It definitely makes for a melt-in-the-mouth soft dough.
Luckily for us, we were staying at an apart-hotel (Europest Luxury Suites) located on Kazinczy utca, right across from the Karaván, so we ended up going there almost every night during our trip!
Getting Around Budapest
Budapest is mostly a walkable city with only very few places requiring transportation.
There are pedestrian precincts in downtown Pest and traffic is restricted on Castle Hill, so walking is the best way to get around. But if you do need to then Budapest also has an excellent public transportation system such as trams, subway, and buses. Ticket prices are very economical, 350 HUF ($1.1 USD) if you buy in advance and 450 HUF ($1.5 USD) if you buy from the driver onboard the bus. Tickets can be bought in advance from street stands or newsstands, to avoid lines.
An local app-based taxi service (much like Uber) called “Fo Taxi” is also easily available all around Budapest and its prices are quite reasonable actually. Just download the app and request a cab. Payment needs to be made later either by cash or credit card.
We ended up walking through most part of Budapest and just used Fo Taxi for some of the longer distances.
TIP: Although US credit cards are accepted at most places in Budapest, even in taxis, there are some places that only take cash, so we definitely recommend you carry some local currency with you.
Sample 3-Day Budapest Itinerary
- 9 am – Land in Budapest. Drop off luggage at your accommodation.
- 11 am – Head to Dohány Street Synagogue. Plan to spend 30 minutes to 1 hour there.
- 12 pm – Walk to Central Market Hall. Keep aside at least 2 hours to leisurely explore it and have lunch.
- 3 pm – Walk to Liberty Bridge.
- 5 pm – Head to Buda Castle to watch the sunset from the top. Enjoy the views and the area till 8 pm.
- 8 pm – Take taxi to New York Cafe. Enjoy desserts and coffee.
- 10 pm – To experience Budapest’s nightlife, head to Kazinczy utca. (Some options: Szimpla Kert, Street Food Karavan).
- 6 am – Take taxi to Fisherman’s Bastion. Explore the Bastion and its surrounding areas.
- 8:15 am – Check out Matthias Church.
- 10 am – Take taxi to Gerbeaud Cafe for breakfast.
- 12 pm – Walk to St. Stephen’s Basilica. Keep aside 1-2 hours to go to the top and spend some time in the square.
- 1:30 pm – Have rose shaped gelato at Gelarto Rosa
- 2 pm – Take taxi to Heroes’ Square or Vajdahunyad Castle. Explore the castle area.
- 4 pm – Have kürtőskalács from any street stand. (One option – Vitéz Kürtős – Állatkerti üzlet)
- 5 pm – Walk to Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Soak up and relax.
- 6:15 pm – Take taxi to Buda (exact coordinates: 47°30’27.0″N 19°02’22.1″E) for Parliament’s sunset photography.
- 8 pm – Walk over Chain Bridge for night time views.
- 8:30 pm – Take taxi to dinner place (One option: Kőleves)
- 6:15 am – Reach St. Stephen’s Basilica to see the quiet and empty square. Great for photography.
- 7:30 am – Walk to Chain Bridge for some morning photography.
- 8:30 am – Walk to Danube Promenade to see Shoes on the Bank.
- 9:30 am – Check out the Hungarian Parliament from up close.
- 10:30 am – Walk or take taxi to Street Food Karavan for amazing street food options.
- 2 pm – Take taxi to your respective departure location – bus terminal, train station, or airport.
So, when are you visiting the cheap and hip Budapest? Time to make a booking!
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