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top five guide: budapest, hungary

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

I was thrilled to finally make it to Budapest (pronounced like "BOO-DUH-PESHT," if you want to be kind of annoying but accurate). Often described as the gateway to Eastern Europe, this historic and cosmopolitan city was the former co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, along with Vienna.

Due to general stereotypes about Eastern Europe, I expected Budapest to have a somewhat hip, young, and edgy scene. What I encountered, however, was surprisingly much more calm, picturesque, and downright elegant. With stunning architectural sights, delicious local food, and deeply affordable prices, Budapest is definitely worth a visit.

here are my top five tips for a trip to BUDAPEST:

Pest Side of Budapest Architecture

1: where to stay

Budapest was once in fact two entirely separate cities separated by the Danube River: Buda and Pest (go figure). Today, Buda is the hilly, quieter, more wealthy side of the city located on the west bank of the river. Pest is its busier, more modern counterpart on the east, home to the energetic Jewish Quarter. I recommend staying in Pest, either inside or nearby the Jewish Quarter, where you can be close to the action and the most lively restaurants, bars, and cafés. We used rewards points to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn, which was a comfortable and very well-located hotel option.

Szechenyi Baths Thermal Outdoor Pool Budapest Hungary

2: bath time

No trip to Budapest is complete without a visit to one of its famous thermal baths. Hungary is teeming with therapeutic springs, and you can relax in the soothing hot water at several different places across town. While the different options range in size and grandeur, we had a great experience spending half a day at the largest bath: Széchenyi (pictured). Your entrance ticket gives you access to an impressive 21 pools, both indoors and outdoors. Another popular and beautiful option that we did not have time to visit is Gellert. I don't think you can go wrong with either option!

Buda Castle Grounds at Sunset Budapest Hungary

3: buda castle

While you may be staying in Pest, that doesn't mean you should neglect the Buda side of town! The best thing to do in Buda is to spend an afternoon exploring Castle Hill, a sprawling elevated area with many historic buildings to explore and panoramic views of the Danube and Pest side of town. While you wander, be sure to visit the cathedral, castle, and famous Fishermans Bastion. Tip: avoid paying the bastion entrance fee and get the same stunning views by grabbing a (cheap!) drink at the little cafe on the leftmost spire, above Halaszbastya Etterem (could not find this on Google Maps but it's there!).

Chicken Paprikash and Hungarian White Wine at Getto Gulyas in Budapest Hungary

4: eats & drinks

Hungarian cuisine is cheap and comforting - an excellent combination. My favorite restaurant was Getto Gulyas (pictured), a charming spot in the Jewish Quarter with Hungarian classics like goulash, paprikas, and Hungarian pancakes along as well as delicious (and cheap!) local wine. We also loved the Middle Eastern food and vibes at Mazel Tov, as well as the cozy atmosphere at Dobrumba. Drinks in the Jewish Quarter are a must, with many options to choose from, whether you want a cozy wine night or an all out rager. Budapest is particularly known for its ruins bars, a unique experience that shouldn't be missed.

Japanese Garden during Autumn at Margaret Island Park in Budapest Hungary

5: parks & architecture

Budapest is known as one of the greatest architecture cities in the world, so be sure to look around as you wander the streets! Particularly impressive is the neo-Gothic Parliament Building. This city is also home to some natural delights, with beautiful parks like City Park and Margaret Island (pictured), the former of which also includes some impressive architecture, both historic and modern. We were lucky to visit in early November, when the trees were really showing off with vibrant orange, yellow, and red hues. Regardless of the season, it’s worth taking a morning stroll in these peaceful parks.

You can't always do it all, so one thing we didn’t do but wish we had:

Take a night cruise on the Danube. One of Budapest's most iconic buildings, the Parliament Building, is a neo-Gothic behemoth that literally (and figuratively) shines at night. A classic Budapest activity is taking a night cruise on the river to view the city along with that stunning building lit up in all its glory (often with unlimited drinks). I wish we had the time to do that and would recommend you consider it!

Have a great trip! Feel free to leave a comment with your own favorites. You can also find these recommendations (and more!) in map format by following me on the Out of Office app.


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