Do you ever find yourself in a city that just seems to connect to your soul? That makes you feel at home? Budapest is one of those cities for me. Here’s your go-to guide to Budapest for first time visitors to the Hungarian capital!
This post was inspired by my mom, headed to Budapest this week for a city break with her girlfriends. She wanted to know what to see and do…so I thought I’d make a post that could help you too!
And if you’re looking to find awesome vegan food in the city, check out The Ultimate Vegan Guide To Budapest.
One of the factors that makes Budapest such an appealing destination is the low cost of, well, pretty much everything! And that includes accommodation, an expense that often burns a big hole in your travel budget.
Airbnb is a hugely popular option for those visiting Budapest. It’s inexpensive, easy to organize, and you can find some adorable apartments all over the city.
Due to booking last minute, I decided to split my 10-day stay over two different Airbnb’s, which averaged out to £17 a night for my own apartment with a kitchen, and one even had a washing machine.
The prices vary quite a bit between the location, facilities and when you stay, but there are some beautiful apartments right in the centre for £20-£40 a night. If you’re splitting the cost between friends or family, then Airbnbs are a fantastic option. I stayed a little further out of the city to save some cash and see how the locals lived. And honestly, it was still super easy to get to the centre via the metro.
Weirdly, hostels in Budapest cost a little more than I’d have expected.
Speaking to fellow backpackers in Europe last year, the rule is generally don’t go below an 8 rating on Hostel World, and the place is likely to be good. In Budapest, they have tons of highly rated hostels but most are between £10-£20 a night with the odd one £8-£9. This doesn’t sound like much but compared to renting a whole apartment I know which I’d rather!
But hostels aren’t just about being an inexpensive way to travel. They are super social and a great place to meet people from around the world. So definitely keep this option in mind.
Getting around the city
Budapest isn’t a huge city, and you can walk to most places quite easily. However, the public transport is awesome and an affordable option to get around. You can buy tickets at most subway stations that cover transport like buses, metro and streetcars.
(Make sure you validate your ticket when you get on board using one of the ticket punching machines.)
Ticket prices are very affordable, but I do have some advice: Not all bus and streetcar stops have ticket machines. So, if you know you’ll be using the public transport system a lot during your trip, I would recommend choosing a travel card (full details on tickets can be found here). It will save you some hassle for sure!
Public Transport From The Airport
From Budapest International Airport into the city, take the 100E bus right into the city centre (Deák Ferenc tér stop). This is the easiest way, but you can also hop on the 200E to the Kőbánya-Kispest Metro station and take the M3 line into the city.
Getting on the 100E bus, you’ll need to get a specific airport transfer ticket. You’ll find this on the regular ticket machines and it will be 900 HUF (£2.50 ish).
The journey time is around 30-40 minutes.
What to See & Do
Szimpla Sunday Market
The first thing I experienced in Budapest was the Szimpla Sunday Market and it was a great first impression!
On a Sunday, this ruins bar is a treasure trove of fresh produce, artisan foods and live music. The bars are open and there’s a cute cafe/ restaurant upstairs that seemed really popular. Here’s their website with a little more info.
And next door to Szimpla (if you’re still hungry!) is KARAVÁN, a street food market with something for everyone, including us veggies out there! Las Vegans is found here, a food truck featured in my vegan guide to Budapest.
So that’s your Sunday morning and probably lunch all covered!
(Whilst I didn’t head to the ruins bars at night, I feel it’s only right to mention them here! Bars like Szimpla are the perfect, quirky places to go for a drink with friends in the evening. I found this great article by Nomadic Matt if you want to learn more about these unique hang-out spots!)
Buda Castle & Fishermans Bastion
I’ve put these two attractions together as they’re pretty much in the same place.
Over on the Buda side of the city (west on the map), you’ll find the Buda Castle. It’s super touristy and busy, but so worth it for the views!
To get up to the castle, you have a few options: The most popular way is to take the funicular, a short cable car ride up to the top of the hill. It’s 1800 HUF for a return adult ticket (so about £5).
Bear in mind that the queue gets quite busy for the funicular, hence I chose this next option…
…walking up the hill.
Honestly, the climb to the top really isn’t that bad if you’re reasonably fit.
The Buda Castle website offers two different routes, a gentler but longer walk and the steeper hill I took with a bridge over the cable cars. You just follow the winding path and get amazing views of the city on the way up.
And another option is to take the bus. The website info says to take bus no. 16 or 116 from Szell Kalman Square, but you’re best to check this out as I don’t have first-hand experience here.
Within the castle district, you can visit the Budapest History Museum, Hungarian National Art Gallery, and many more random ones like the museum of telephones!
There’s plenty to explore around the grounds and of course a lot of selfie opportunities!
You can then wander down into the historic streets of Castle Hill, lined with restaurants and souvenir shops.
Next to the beautiful Matthias Church, you’ll find the Fisherman’s Bastion, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Budapest. This monument makes you feel like a fairytale princess in a tower, with stunning views across the city. Perfect for an Instagram photo I must say!
Advice for visiting the Buda Castle & Grounds: If possible, don’t visit here at peak times as it is swarming with tourists. The district itself is of course always open, but if you plan on visiting any museums or taking a tour you’ll want to research the opening hours. Fisherman’s Bastion especially was super busy during the day, but I’m sure it would be incredible to see it at sunrise or on a romantic evening exploring.
Another super-Budapest thing to do is visit one of the thermal baths.
These natural, thermal spas are dotted around the city, and often I see people online ask the question “Which bath should I go to?”.
A friend of mine, plus many folk online, recommended the Szechenyi Baths in the City Park. This was also the closest to my Airbnb. So early one morning I set out to tick this off my Budapest bucket list.
There are all different ticket types for the baths- with spa treatments, just locker hire, towels and a private cabin, group tickets, etc, etc. Definitely worth looking into this before you arrive!
Watching the sunrise in a hot bath on a chilly November morning really was one of those magical moments. The baths were pretty quiet in the morning, just the locals who, I imagine, are regulars.
At Szechenyi, the main outdoor area consists of a large pool (which you need a swimming cap for) and two hot pools either side, perfect for relaxing. Inside you’ll find a series of rooms with different pools and saunas. I didn’t get a spa treatment but why not treat yourself whilst you’re here?!
If you have the time, I would recommend exploring more of these beautiful and unique baths. You’ll be so relaxed by the end of your trip!
Parliament Building & the Shoes on the Danube
One of the landmarks you simply can’t miss in this historic city is the Parliament building along the Danube river.
Whilst you can take guided tours of the inside of this beautiful parliament building, just seeing the architecture from the outside is pretty darn impressive!
And of course, another important sight not to miss is The Shoes on the Danube. This rather moving monument honours the Jewish victims shot into the Danube during WW2.
St. Stephan’s Basilica
Walk a little further into the city centre from the river, and you’ll come to St. Stephan’s Basilica. This striking Roman Catholic church is in a super cosmopolitan area and kind of feels like London to me!
It’s a gorgeous building and you can take a guided tour, or head up to the Capola (the cathedral tower) and take in the panoramic views of the city.
I think I’ve saved the best until last. Margeret Island was perhaps my favourite part of Budapest!
In some ways, it reminded me of Central Park; an oasis of calm in the middle of a bustling city.
Literally, an Island on the Danube river, the best way to get here is via the entrance halfway along the Margeret Bridge. It’s walkable, or you can take the 4/6 tram.
With large gardens, fountains, a running track, ruins, water park and picturesque tree-lined paths, Margeret is so much more than your average park. In the summer you could spend the whole day relaxing, and in winter, wrap up warm and get some fresh air exploring.
You also get a fabulous view of the city in the distance!
Well, I don’t think you need any more convincing reasons to visit Budapest!
It really is an awesome city.
Depending on the type of trip you’re after, be it a weekend or a longer stay, I hope this guide has given you some inspiration for what this beautiful European city has to offer a first time visitor.
And, If you’re wondering where you should eat in Budapest, go check out my Ultimate Vegan Guide To Budapest- 10 Places You Need To Try. I’ve got you looked after on the veggie front!
If you’ve been to Budapest, what were your favourite places? Share them in the comments below!
And don’t forget to come & say hi on Instagram @therosyroute. It would be great to connect, share travel tips and awesome destinations!