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After our recent visit to Budapest, we realised it has quickly become one of our favourite European cities with heaps of things to do. It is a place you cannot help falling in love with – the beautiful architecture surrounding the River Danube makes it such a romantic location and the perfect destination for a city break. It is also great for the budget traveller with many affordable things to do and an abundance of cheap bars and restaurants and beautiful spas.
Here is our ultimate Budapest travel guide of our personal recommendations for things to do and where to stay when visiting this city:
Table of Contents
St Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion
Then spectacular buildings of Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion are located at the top of Buda Castle hill and have incredible views of the River Danube and the Pest side of the city.
To get here you can hop onto the fully restored historic Castle Funicular Railway (which departs from the Buda end of the Chain Bridge) or take a short walk up the hill (free!).
This is a very popular area with tourists so my tip would be to arrive before 8.30am for an almost empty area – perfect for photography.
Take a dip in one of Budapest’s thermal baths
Budapest in Hungary sits on top of over 100 natural thermal springs and is officially known as the ‘city of spas’. The waters are known for their therapeutic effects, so many locals use them to ease their aches and pains. Visiting one of these spas during a city break to Budapest is an absolute must do!
There are several baths located in the city but the two most popular ones with both locals and tourists are Gellért – decorated in art nouveau style, and Széchenyi – a large and stunning Neo-baroque building with several outdoor and indoor pools. Check out our visit to Gellért and Széchenyi thermal baths blog post.
Visit Budapest Parliament
Parliament is located by the river on the Pest side of the city and is Budapest’s most recognisable building. It is also the most expensive building ever built in Hungary, with 691 rooms, 10 courtyards, 27 gates and 29 staircases! It is best viewed at night from across the river as it looks absolutely stunning all lit up.
Eat your way around Central Market Hall
This large and spectacular indoor market was recently named ‘Europe’s best Market’ by CNN. Spanning over 3 floors, you’ll find several stalls selling local produce such as fruit and veg, cured meats, paprika, Tokaj wines, crafts and souvenirs and Hungarian street food snacks such as Goulash and Langos.
During peak hours it can get pretty crowded around the popular food stalls so aim to arrive a bit earlier or mid afternoon for a more relaxed experience. Open Monday – Saturday. Click here for opening times.
Explore Budapest’s Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter was once a run down neighbourhood that was damaged and neglected after World War II. However in recent years since the emergence of the ruin bar scene in the early 00’s, the area has become a fun and lively place to visit.
These days you will find many quirky, hipster hangouts and loads of creative street art. It is the perfect district to stay in if you are planning on enjoying a lot of Budapest’s amazing nightlife.
Have a drink at a ruin bar
At the start of the millennium, ramshackle bars started to pop up in old abandoned buildings in the Jewish Quarter. The owners of the bars usually didn’t have enough money to furnish and decorate them properly so they were filled with lots of old furniture found at flea markets – hence the name ‘Ruin Bar’ was born!
Ruin bars are now a firm part of Budapest’s nightlife and drinking scene, with Szimpla Kert being the original and still the best. A visit to one of these bars is an essential part of any Budapest itinerary. Check out our visit to Szimpla Kert ruin bar blog post.
Dine at Mazel Tov
This very pretty restaurant in the Jewish Quarter serves up some mean middle eastern cuisine (think hummus, falafel, couscous, kebabs on seekers etc) and delicious flavoured lemonades. Mazel Tov is a very popular place so you may find a long line of hungry people waiting to get in at dinner time. You can reserve a table online here. Address: Budapest, Akácfa u. 47, 1072 Hungary.
Go on a food and wine tour
If you fancy a few hours indulging in local and hearty Hungarian cuisine then the Culinary Walk by Taste Hungary is the perfect food tour for you.
This was one of the highlights of our 48 hours in Budapest and starts off in the famous Central Food Hall. The tour takes you to some yummy street food stalls, followed by a visit to a butchers, a classic coffee house and an award-winning chocolatier. The tour ends with a wine and cheese tasting session at the tour company’s own wine tasting room and shop.
You can book the Culinary Walk online here, or browse their other food and drink tours. The 4 hour Culinary Walk costs $90USD per person and runs everyday at 10am. Check out our Culinary Walk food tour blog post.
Visit St Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest and decorated in a Neo-classicist style. Many classical music concerts are held inside and you can take the elevator up to the roof for a great view of the city. Admission is free but it’s customary to pay 200 HUF (€1) donation.
Walk along the River Danube
The River Danube cuts through the heart of Budapest (Buda on one side, Pest on the other). The hills all around offer fantastic views of the river and the city – with the best view being from the top of Gellért Hill.
Look out for the The Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial on the east bank of the river. The memorial was conceived by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer to honour the people who were killed by in Budapest during World War II. The sculpture represents their shoes left behind on the bank after they were ordered to take off them off before being shot.
Take a stroll through Margaret Island
In the River Danube, between Buda and Pest, lies Margaret Island – a large green and tranquil park that includes a huge water park/ thermal baths, a Japanese garden, jogging tracks, a musical fountain, an open air stage, a handful of pop up bars and a pretty art nouveau water tower. You can navigate the island by foot or by hiring a four wheel bike.
Have a coffee at the stunning New York Café
The iconic New York Café used to serve as a local hangout for Hungarian writers, newspaper editors, poets and artists at the turn of the 20th century, but since it’s restoration in 2006 it has become a luxury coffee house and bar. The café is part of the elegant New York Palace hotel and showcases exquisite Italian Renaissance-style architecture and was elected the “Most Beautiful Café in the World” in 2011.
The food is renowned for its excellence and the menu serves classic local dishes like Fishermen Soup, Chicken Leg Paprikash-style, Wiener Schnitzel, and famous desserts such as Dobos, Sacher and Eszterházy cakes. This café is very popular so book ahead or expect a long queue. Address: Budapest, Erzsébet krt. 9-11, 1073 Hungary, Opening hours: 8am – 12am.
Here are some highly rated accommodation places to stay in Budapest for all types of budget in Budapest.
Hostel accommodations that come highly rated include:
This hostel offers comfortable private rooms and spacious apartments with beautiful views across the road to Szent Istvan’s Basilica. Check out prices and availability for Pal’s Hostel.
Hostel One Basilica
Party hostel with free dinner, drinking games and bar crawls around the ruin bars. Dorms and private rooms. Check out prices and availability for Hostel One Basilica.
Wombats City Hostel
Located in the heart of downtown and part of an award winning hostel chain. Spacious dorm rooms with ensuite bathroom and private rooms. Check out prices and availability for Wombats City Hostel.
If you are looking for something mid range then these hotels are in excellent locations with great reviews:
Mamaison Hotel Andrassy
Located 5 minutes away from Széchenyi Thermal Baths – spacious rooms with buffet breakfast. Check out prices and availability for Mamaison Hotel Andrassy.
Bo18 Hotel Superior
Hotel with Finnish and infrared sauna, hot tub and fitness facilities, a 24 hour bar and a buffet breakfast including champagne! Check out prices and availability for Bo18 Hotel Superior.
Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then treat yourself to a stay at one of these beautiful hotels in Budapest:
Luxury hotel offering a rooftop bar with panoramic views of downtown Budapest, a spa centre with a pool, saunas and a hammam. Free wine and cheese reception is available every afternoon from 4pm-6pm. Check out prices and availability for Aria Hotel.
Hotel Moments Budapest
Stylish hotel with wellness facilities and an on-site restaurant located on the iconic Andrássy Avenue – a few minutes walk from St. Stephen’s Basilica. Check out prices and availability for Hotel Moments Budapest.
Set in a renovated historic building in the city centre, this 4-star hotel is just 200 yards from the Danube River. Check out prices and availability for Prestige Hotel.
Other Europe blog posts you might like
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- Things to do in Kiev, Ukraine
- Things to do in Berlin, Germany
- Things to do in Madrid, Spain
- Things to do in Budapest, Hungary
- Things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria
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