Budapest may not be the first name that springs to mind when people look to travel in Europe. The picturesque and historic Hungarian capital city has a charm that’s left a lasting hold on me. I was fortunate enough to visit here to ring in 2020 and boy… talk about things going downhill from there!
My trip to Budapest came during a backpacking trip through 4 European countries starting in Vienna, Austria on December 26th and concluding in Prague, Czech Republic 3 weeks later. In this article I will let you in on my must do activities while in brilliant Budapest and everything you need to know from costs to transportation.
As I am sure you are aware by now, Budapest is the capital of Hungary and is landlocked between Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Ukraine Romania and Serbia. This Eastern-European capital is actually a merger of three cities; ‘Buda’, ‘Peste’ and ‘Óbuda’ and has been known as Budapest (pronounced Buda-Pesht) since 1873. The Danube river separates Buda and Peste and is linked by the gloriously impressive Széchenyi Bridge aka Chain Bridge.
The city is one of the most photogenic in Europe with a dramatic skyline of 19th-century architecture kissing the Danube River. One of the most famous buildings you may be familiar with is the impeccable parliament building as well as a number of incredible basilicas that scatter the city skyline.
So let’s delve into what you must do when visiting this incredible place. One would not be out of place in a fairy tale.
Transportation And Getting There
As I mentioned, visiting Budapest was part of a backpacking trip that took me through Eastern Europe. Having previously researched flights to the Hungarian capital and coming up short I found an easy alternative. Europe offers some of the best budget flights and transportation in the world. It is so easy to get around from place to place, country to country, whether it be by train, plane or automobile. The most productive way to get to Hungary for me was to fly direct from the UK to another country and city that had always been on my radar, Vienna, Austria. Flights can cost as little as £40 return to the Austrian capital so I just couldn’t resist. So if you have the time why not kill two birds with one stone and see more than one wonderful European destination on your trip?
From A to B
You can then get to Budapest quite easily and inexpensively via train or bus. I personally recommend using ‘Flixbus’. This is a bus company that operates all over Eastern Europe especially is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to hop from country to country. Fares start from as little as 5 Euros if you book far enough in advance. These do start to climb closer to the departure date and so I advise getting in early to get a real bargain!
Don’t have the time to backpack across countries? Budapest airport is situated on the outskirts of the city and is accessible via bus or metro. Bus 100E departs the airport every 30 minites and gets to central in approximatley 35 minutes and is the most cost effective and efficient way of getting from plane to city and visa versa.
Budapest does not have Uber, but it does have ‘Bolt’. This runs in basically the same way and is just the Uber of Budapest. You also have the metro, trams and even rent-able electric scooters that seem to be popping up all over Europe. For short distances to hop around the city, have a go on the fantastic ‘Lime’ scooters for a fun and cheap way to explore.
No visit to Budapest will be complete without visiting some of its world-famous ‘ruin bars’. No really, Szimpla Ruin Bar was actually voted #3 best bar in the WORLD and #1 in Budapest. This bar is an endless labyrinth of quirky rooms, crazy decor and bars tucked in every nook and cranny. You cannot imagine the random decor that plasters every wall and room and looks like a jumble sale on magic mushrooms!
From smoking hookah to incredible beer, this bar has everything and is a hotspot and a buzzing centre of the Old Jewish Quarter. Words cannot aptly describe this place so here is a sneak peek of what to expect. One of the most alternate nights out you will ever experience runs from 18:00- 04:00 weekends (pre-pandemic). One word of advice would be to get there before 10 as queues around the block and long wait times after this time show how popular this place is.
Something For Everyone
Ruin bars are not the only nightlife experience here in Budapest. The hot-spot for nightlife is around the Old Jewish Quarter but there is an abundance of nightlife throughout this incredible city, whatever your style. There is an abundance of bars situated all over the city. My honest advice would be to visit some of the well-known ruin bars but also get lost in the old town alleyways and just stumble across the many hidden gems of the city.
I personally spent 2019/2020 New Year at the ‘Liget Club’. The nightclub is approximately 10-15 minute taxi journey from the Old Jewish Quarter and boasts a capacity of 5,000 persons. If you are looking to hit Hungary for a New Year Celebration I highly recommend pre-booking tickets here! What’s more, I was travelling solo and met other’s doing likewise. With the prospect of having a New Year alone, this was really one of my favourite memories of any New Year. I will cherish the memories for a lifetime due to the amazing people I met on my travels. Never be afraid to travel solo…it will be the best thing you ever did!
Did you know that Budapest has an abundance of underground hot water sources? This gives life to one of the countries top tourist attractions, the Szechenyi Bath, which first opened its doors in 1913. The hot water of the spa contains minerals including sodium, calcium magnesium hydrogen carbonate, sulfates, fluoride and meta-boric acid. For this very reason, the Spa’s are considered extremely good for the body and are said to have healing properties.
Visit there in the summertime and take part in incredible parties equipped with laser shows and DJ sets to party like never before! So don’t forget your swimmers!
Must-See Magnificent Structures
St Stephens Basilica
Pride of place in the centre square of the city is the amazing St Stephen’s Basilica. The cathedral is not only an attraction for its overwhelming beauty. It is also famous for its beautiful organ concerts. It is the largest church in Budapest and can accommodate an incredible 8,500 people!
In winter months the square is the epicentre of the Christmas Markets and is bustling with the sounds and smells of mulled wines and cooked meats. Lit up at night, this really is an incredible place to watch the world go by.
Previously introduced, and an absolute must-do activity is to take a wander around the grounds of the world-famous structure. Huge pride is taken over the upkeep and condition of the political fortress and even has every single roof tile cleaned bi-annually to keep the building in incredible and impeccable condition.
The Szechenyi ‘Chain Bridge’ connects the cities Buda and Peste areas. The bridge was completed and opened in 1849 and became the first permanent bridge in the capital after the Hungarian Revolution ended in 1848. The two lions protecting the bridge were hand calved by sculptor János Marschalkó and were installed in 1852. One thing you may notice about the lions is that neither of them has a tongue. The reason for this… I’ll let you find that out yourself when you visit. Consider this your homework and add the answer in the comments below!
Fisherman’s Bastion & Matthias Church
The Fisherman’s Bastion is the crown on the hilltop of Buda. The spellbinding and enchanting walkway of the 19th-century fortress offers views of the incredible skyline of Peste. It is probably the best place to fully appreciate the wondrous beauty of the Parliament building in its entirety.
Walk around the magical walkways and take in the sounds of local buskers while you are swept away to a scene that would not be out of place in a Disney fantasy. If the Bastion is the crown, then the Matthias Church is the jewel that tops it all off. You can pay a small fee to enter and I highly recommend doing so. You can combine doing so with taking the free walking tour that ends here at the Matthias church. I’ll add some more information on the free walking tour later in the article.
However, none of these buildings completely dominate the skyline. There is a law that still resides today that no building can be over a certain height. The fascinating reason for this goes back to an argument regarding politics and religion (like every story in history, ever). An agreement was come to that no religious or political figure could overshadow the other and that neither can be seen as more important than its counterpart. For this reason, both the Parliament building and St Stephens Basilica come in at 96 metres tall. It is also said that the ’96’ has reference to the year in which the cities were merged back in 896.
There is an absolute abundance of places to stay while visiting this marvellous place. As a budget solo traveller, I always look to stay at hostels over hotels. See my article ‘Top 9 Tips To Travel On A Budget‘ to see why this could benefit you. As I was travelling solo and was also in the city for New Year I decided on staying in ‘Hive Party Hostel’. If you are a solo traveller and want to be in the epicentre of nightlife then this hostel is for you. If you require sleep and a more chilled out accommodation then this is NOT the place for you. With its own bar within the courtyard of the hostel open to all, with live bands and DJ sets, the hostel attracts travellers who aren’t even staying there. It really is somewhere to experience if you love the party scene.
Another top spot to stop is always in Wombats hostels. A couple of friends I met while travelling were at this hostel and it was great value, quiet, clean and had its own bar and pool table. It really depends on what you are looking for when travelling. Hostels will cost from as little as between £6-20 per night depending on the size dorm you are comfortable with.
For those looking to splash out a little more Airbnb have some great apartments in the city and at a very reasonable cost or a double room in a 4-5 star hotel will set you back anything between £40 and £115 generally speaking.
One thing I have come to love about visiting popular European Cities is the ‘Free Walking Tour’s’. I have taken them in Barcelona, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Brno, Brussels, Bratislava to name a few. I can honestly say there is no better way to absorb the culture and the history of these places without the knowledge of these amazing guides. There are a number of ‘Free Walking Tours‘ to choose from but I recommend the one that meets right under the Budapest eye.
For those of you not familiar with the concept of the ‘Free Walking Tour’, here is a lowdown. Some places require you to pre-book your spot as they do not like one group to be particularly overcrowded. It is unlikely that you will be turned away, but it did happen to a couple who just rocked up at the start of the tour I was on while in Vienna. Ask your hostel or hotel for information on meet times and places. Generally speaking, the tours begin in the town squares…as most things have for centuries.
The Fee For ‘Free’
The ‘Free’ part comes down to your discretion. The tour guides do this as a full-time job and are approved and verified guides who must pass a mountain of examinations and assessments to be able to call themselves ‘official guides of the city’. With this comes a wealth of knowledge and information about absolutely anything regarding the city you are visiting. There is no obligation to pay anything but tips are very much welcome. After all, the day tour here in Budapest lasted around 2.5-3 hours. So just tip what you feel you are happy with and what you can afford. Oh, and bring your walking boots!
The Hungarian capital is separated by the Danube river and offers riverboat tour trips at a small cost. Just another way to see this beautiful city. Budapest is a great option for a cheaper getaway destination and is helped by the fact it uses Hungarian Forint, rather than the Euro.
This goes a long way and is one of the main reasons eastern European destinations still offer such great value for money. The exchange rate definitely favours more powerful currencies such as the £ or $. 1 GBP will get you around 402 Hungarian Forint (Ft). 1 USD will get you around 295 Ft.
The general price of a beer will set you back around 200-500 Ft depending on whether it is bottled, draft, imported or local. Which ever you go for you are set to grab a bargain compared to beer prices in other European capital cities.
Even sitting down for a meal can be considerably affordable as long as you stay away from the riverfront. A traditional cooked local cooked meal with drinks will set you back around 1000 Ft including a beer which can’t be sniffed at!
Budapest has left a lasting hold on me and is a place I would love to return to once Covid restrictions are lifted. Whether it’s nightlife, a city escape or just the chance to explore an incredibly enchanting place, Budapest has it all!
My name is Ryan Cook and I am the founder of Travel With Cooky. I am a travel enthusiast sharing my top travel tips and destination reviews helping you to travel more for less.
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