Budapest

Budapest

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Budapest is a city divided, but don’t let that deter you. Buda and Pest are two unique and equally amazing places, separated by the Danube river. Budapest is still inexpensive compared to many other European metropolitan areas, but it combines the grandeur of Vienna and the old world appeal of a place like Prague. It has the influence of the Turks, who occupied for 150 years, so it’s a little more exotic than almost any other European city. The locals are really embracing what the city offers and their pride is palpable. Because of that, you get all the great traditions and culture, but there are also a lot of progressive, modern ideas. Here we offer some of our favorite sights and sounds of this ancient city. Many thanks to FeaturingDave for providing much of the helpful guidance and history that follows.

First, the basics.

Currency. Budapest uses the Forint. For more info, see our post on currency exchange.

Plugs and Adapters. Budapest uses Type F adapters, with the older Type C still in use in many areas, like on trains, in some buildings and apartments. See our tips on which adapters and converters you will need.

Getting Around. We found the Deutsch Bahn train system site and app to be a necessity. It includes up-to-date schedules and station info for much of Europe, even outside Germany where DB lines do not run. You can purchase tickets using one of the most reliable and trusted train sites in all of Europe. We relied on the DB for much of our train scheduling and ticket purchases.

Hot tip: We highly recommend downloading the DB’s smartphone app “DB Navigator” to make your train-travel life even easier while traveling abroad.

We also found it handy to have a paper map to supplement using our phones to navigate, as cell service can be spotty and wi-fi not always handy. Luckily with an international travel plan, using our cell phones in Budpest was very easy. Find out more about using your cell phone overseas in our post

Some History

The Pest side of the Danube River is the newer part of the city. Much of what’s there now was built at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century when Austria-Hungary was a great world power. The subway on that side of the river makes getting around a bit easier, although the buses on the Buda side are very reliable.

The Budapest subway line that runs under Andrássy út is one of the oldest running lines in the world. There were other subways built before it, but they’ve been decommissioned. This one just keeps going. You can still see wooden escalators and very old subway cars made mostly of wood and iron still in use and in excellent working condition. It’s an adventure in and of itself!

Things to See and Do

Castle District. This is one of the most popular destinations in Budapest. Most travel guides would recommend staying inside Buda castle in Budapest. That is definitely a safe bet and there is plenty to see and do within the walls. Because of its elevation above the rest of Buda and Pest, this is a great place for good views and photos. And lots of landmarks. 

The medieval castle was mostly built-over in the 19th century, so the conventional idea of “castle walls” are only visible in certain areas.

The Funicular train is a great way to travel from the Danube to the top of the castle. The Buda Castle Funicular is an old pulley-system trolley car up the hill to the castle. At the top of the hill, when you get off the Funicular, you’ll see a huge bird statue. That’s the mythological Turul bird.

The story goes that a Magyar woman, Emese, married a descendant of Attila the Hun. She had a dream that the bird impregnated her and out of her womb flowed a great river, which led the nomadic tribes to settle along the Danube. That settlement became Hungary.

Within Buda castle, which is like a mini town inside the city, there are tons of hotels, restaurants, shops, and other one-of-a-kind experiences. Fisherman’s Bastion and St. Mathias Church are among the top must-see sites. The Budapest History Museum also has some interesting stuff. Walking around the free parts of the History Museum gives you some gorgeous views of Hapsburg-era architecture. The changing of the guard is worth catching if you’re close by.

For something unusual, there is a catacombs tour under the castle. The story goes that Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) was imprisoned there unjustly for three years and that’s what led to his blood-lust.

Parliament Building. This building is gorgeous and houses the 1000-year-old royal jewels. If you do want to see the inside, you have to pay for a tour to get in. And they sell out early, often times a week or more in advance! So if you want to do that, look into it well before your trip!

 

House of Terror. This is a powerful museum documenting the Nazi and Communist occupations of Budapest. A definite must-see for some amazing and sobering history.

Thermal Baths. Budapest has tons of thermal spring baths! The largest, Szechenyi Baths, has outdoor and indoor pools. It is the most crowded, often has a line to get in, but is definitely worth the wait. We also recommend  Kiraly Baths, which has smaller, more local feel, with several separate temperature baths and some original 1500s Turkish architecture.

We recommend stopping by Kiraly Baths at dusk to grab some amazing photos of the Parliament Building which is directly across the Danube.

 

The Citadel. It’s a walk up, but the landing next to it is where you get the best view of Buda and Pest and the Danube for great photo ops.

Central Market Hall on Vámház körút. The Market gives a good taste (pun intended!) of the folk vibe and food of Budapest. This market is three floors of local vendors with some amazing food on the Pest side. We recommend Langos for a sweet breakfast. You can find all kinds of unusual things as well, like horse sausage and rooster testicles(!). The basement is worth stopping in, too. The middle level is full of produce, all different kinds of Hungarian paprika and cured meats. You can find spicy Hungarian paprika that’s much, much spicier than anything available in the States. The top level is mostly food stalls, with many souvenirs and gifts stands.

Hot Tip: It would be really easy to stop by the Market Hall almost every day just for a snack, which is why it’s nice to headquarter close by.

 

Other unique things include the ruin bars. Szimpla Kert is in the Jewish Quarter and has a really neat feel. Váci ut is one of the top shopping streets in Budapest, and it’s basically all local vendors. The Museum of Hungarian Agriculture is a beautiful castle in the center of a wonderful park. Just walking past is plenty, there’s not much to see inside. St. Stephen’s Basilica is also very cool. It’s the world’s smallest basilica and it has the 1000-year-old, preserved hand(!) of the first Christian King of Hungary. It is near Eerzsébet tér, which has some open-air bars and nightlife, and a youth hostel nearby.

The Amazing Food

For formal dining, we recommend the Black Raven, which is within the castle walls not too far from St Matthias Church. It’s great and easy to find.

A favorite restaurant in Budapest is off the beaten path a bit. It’s north of Buda in Óbuda, which has some Roman ruins you can visit if you head that direction. It’s called Kéhli Vendéglő.

A third option is a little more touristy, but it’s well known for good reason. Hotel Gellert was built at the end of Austria-Hungary’s height of extravagance. The food is great, it’s at the bottom of a small mountain that has wonderful walking paths and sculptures (Gellert Hill), the architecture is rich, and they claim to have some of the best Turkish Baths in the city! Gellert has the largest nightly band of the three restaurants, including a cimbalom player which is really fun to watch.

All three of these options have live music most nights. There are tons of great restaurants throughout the city.

Another favorite is Pesti Disznö, which is about a block north of the Opera House and half a block off Andrássy út. It’s a great, casual place.

Guided Tours

The hop-on-hop-off bus tours are plentiful, give you a great overview of the city, and have great pamphlet maps available. There are some decent Budapest guides easily available from hotel front desks, buses, which are nice to have in your back pocket for some self-guided walking. These will hit the highlights and major attractions. Many of the off-the-beaten-path sites are close to major ones, though, so be sure to take a look before you leave and plan your route, as it’s easy to walk nearly everywhere in the city. With a little planning, you can efficiently walk to see several city highlights in just a single day!

 

We have presented information here that compiles tidbits from several different sites and from our own experience. Our hope is that our work will save others countless hours of searching to find the answers they need. Please remember that we cannot make any guarantees or promises regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information. This website is for informational purposes only, and not a substitute for professional advice. Travel safely!

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