Our first destination this winter holiday was the capital of Hungary, the re-known Budapest (pronounced Budapesht). For me, it was the second time visiting the city and I still love it!
You can check out my top 10 reasons to visit Budapest if you are not yet convinced, but here I will give you a more detailed guide to make the most of your trip, as well as a blurb about why this city is worth visiting more than once!
STAY: Budapest has much to see and explore, so I don’t recommend anything less than a 3 day stay to get a good idea of the city, but you can easily stay a week! What’s more, you can hop on a bus or train and in less than two hours be in either Vienna or Bratislava. While late December and January tend to be a bit cold and humid, just about any time of the year is a good time to visit!
MONEY: While Hungary is part of the EU they have not been able to switch to the Euro, instead they use Hungarian Forints which currently converts to about 1 USD = 266 HUF, though check closer to your travel date for accuracy. So don’t freak out when a meal costs 2000 fl! But do be aware of the costs, since you did notice the price of dining go up between my first visit 5 years ago and our most recent visit.
TRANSPORT: Public transportation is pretty accessible, but for goodness sake, don’t forget to validate your ticket and do it correctly! We got busted for accidentally validating a receipt instead of a ticket (which very quickly looks very similar) and got a fine that we had to pay on the spot of 800o ft. I suppose you can say you don’t have the cash, in which case they will mail it to you. We got very frustrated since we didn’t mean to cheat the system and it seemed so unfair when we clearly had tickets. To avoid this unpleasant situation, don’t make our mistake!
LANGUAGE: Hungarian language isn’t easy to pick up, but the basics are not difficult. Szia (see-ya) is “hello” and koszonom (kosonom) is “thank you”. Igen is “yes” and nem is “no”.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
The city is divided by the famous Danube river that we all know the name of thanks to the popular classical song. The flat side is Pest (pesht) and the hilly side is Buda.
What to see in Pest: this is the side of the city that was, in more modern times, the richest part of the city so this is where a great deal of the tourist attractions are.
Budapest Parliament – this is the most beautiful Parliament building in the world, it is simply exquisite and worth visiting. You can get a very nice view of it on the bank from the Margaret bridge just to the north. The inside is quite beautiful too. You can go but only with a guided visit that you can to reserve but tickets are not pricey. The one downside is the tour is barely 30 mins and there is so much to take in!
Danube Shoes– if you go from the Parliament down to the river bank and make your way down, you will find one of the saddest and most powerful monuments of WW2. I will let you find out the story from a walking tour guide, it is worth hearing from in person.
St. Stephen Basilica – the only other building in Pest with the kind of presence and stature as the Parliament is this beautiful Basilica. It is richly decorated with fine materials and has one of the most beautifully painted domes I have ever seen. At Christmas time, is has one of the best markets. If you stay after dark, there is a light show on the facade every half hour!
Castle Hill – This is on the hilly side of Buda, and unfortunately there really isn’t a true castle, but more of a palace and some museums. It is,however, THE perfect place to take pictures of the opposite bank and where you can have a sweeping beautiful view of Pest. From here you can truly appreciate how dynamically different the two halves of this unique city is. It’s just another quality that adds to Budapest’s charm.
St. Matthias Church – After you make the climb to Castle Hill, to the right is Trinity Square, home one of the most photographed churches in Budapest. The St. Matthias Church has a very interesting history, as it had been turned into a mosque at one point, before returning to the Catholic church. The decorative pattern of the rooftop stands out from the white stone of the church, which makes it irresistible to the eye. Inside you will find the decoration style to be drastically different than that of St. Stephen.
Fisherman’s Bastion – Beautiful architectural piece that semi surrounds St. Matthias. These white turrets are some of the most iconic places of Budapest! This is a great place for a photo op and a very nice view of the Parliament from across the water.
Chain Bridge – The iconic bridge of Budapest. Not the original, sadly, but it was built using the exact same technology that the original used, so it still retained it’s original look. Just about every walking tour will take you across this bridge, from where you have a few options and paths to take to get up the hill.
Walking Tours – I highly recommend a general walking tour as well as at least either the Jewish walking tour or Communist walking tour. Because Budapest is quite large no tour can truly give you the whole picture or even take you to all the hotspots in the city. I personally recommend New Sandemans tours (not a sponsor!) they have rarely let me down!
Metro Line 1 – Chances are, you will end up using this metro line during your stay, but it is worthy to note that this is the oldest metro line on continental Europe! While it has been renovated and restored, you can tell there is a bit of old time glory in the architecture, and an hint of old charm that makes this line fairly different from the other lines.
National Art Gallery : As an art lover, I greatly enjoy late 19th century work and early impressionism. You can find these and many other pieces from a large range of historical periods. You can also take a peak out of the windows towards the Danube river and have a great view!
House of Terror : If you are not faint of heart, you can go into the House of Terror for a load down of what Communism did to Hungarians. It is not a happy or cheerful museum, but it has some important lessons of history that we should never forget.
Now, you can either do a guided tour of the Opera House, which is absolutely stunning and most definitely worth it, OR you can book a performance ahead of time! We were very unlucky in our timing with the Christmas season and popularity of the Nutcracker, but during my first visit I went to an opera performance and got to see the gorgeous interior that makes the Opera House a popular attraction.
You probably have heard the bath houses that the Turks brought to Budapest, the largest and most popular is the Szechenyi Baths, built by a wealthy aristocrat family. I love this bath and this time my husband treated me to an hour long message as well! It was the perfect way to relax after 3 non stop days of walking and climbing.
WHAT TO EAT/DRINK
Goulash – Everyone knows Goulash is a typical meal of Hungary and the region. It is basically a stew, but there are different variations to try out. Some have potato, some have gnocchi, some have large cubes of beef, others come inside a bread bowl!
Pork Knuckle– the best pork knuckle we ever had was in Budapest. This plate is eaten simply, with bread, horseradish and mustard. It was phenomenal…I can’t stop thinking about it!
Strudels – perhaps an Austrian influence, but the Hungarian strudel (also known as Rétes) here is quite different and the flavours are fairly particular. I personally love the cottage cheese ones, though poppy seed is very popular too.
Langos – This is a greasy snack that you can try a variety of. It is deep fried dough normally topped with sour cream and cheese. Very popular in the winter time, and other toppings include garlic, spring onions or even ketchup. I highly recommend you try with garlic!
Stuffed Cabbage Wraps – While I usually associate this dish to Ukrainian cuisine because of my grandmother, they make they yummy in Hungary as well! Imagine a burrito stuffed with rice, ground eaf, and possibly onions and carrots, and instead of tortilla it is boiled cabbage. Might not sound appetizing but it is actually pretty yummy, especially when its smothered in a semi-sweet tomato sauce and decorated with a dollop of sour cream!
Kürtőskalács (chimney cake) – This is the perfect sweet to-go treat! Imagine a cinnabon roll that has been rolled along the outside of a pole and baked by fire rather than in the oven, that is kind of what the chimney cake is like. There is no icing, but a dusting of brown sugar and cinnamon on the outside will satisfy any sweet tooth!
Hot Chocolate with Rum: this is probably strictly around Christmastime, but the first time we ever heard of this combination was in Budapest. It was surprisingly delicious!
Dobostorta (Dobos cake) – this is a sit-down dessert. I’m not a huge chocolate cake eater, but I do love chocolate. This particular cake we tried in the renown Gerbeaud Cafe, and it was yummy. The crystallized caramel at the top was hard to cut through with a utensil, so I sort of ate it separate from the cake. Unconventional, but a delicious combination of flavours and textures.
Flódni – By the time we made our rounds through a Christmas market, it wasn’t until toward the end that we came across this Jewish pastry. We all know Piecaken (pie inside a cake) but this is a dessert for those who just can’t decide what filling they want! Layers of poppyseed, apple, walnut and jam. Dig in.
Cottage Cheese Anything! – Cottage cheese pastry, cottage cheese strudel; whatever it is, if it has cottage cheese, try it! Maybe I am biased as a lover of cottage cheese, but there isn’t a more heavenly match than cottage cheese and red cherries…
WHERE TO EAT
Ket Szerecsen : We came to this breakfast place three times during out 5 day stay in Budapest! And we loved it each time. Very much home-cooked style breakfast that was very savoury, interesting Moroccan-like decor, and very decent prices! You can find this restaurant on Nagymezo St. close to the Opera House.
Marvelosa: If your fanciful grandmother opened a cafe, this would be it. Right on the main road along the Danube river, at the bottom of Castle Hill, is this adorable tea house. I popped in to hide from the cold, and it was a warm, cozy place. I was set at a small round table up against a piano! Please try the cottage cheese dumpling…it’s more cottage cheese than is legal, but outrageously satisfying. If it’s not your cup of tea, then help yourself to one of their gourmet teas!
Callas Cafe & Restaurant: This restaurant is stunning! Art-nouveau decor reminiscent of Great Gatsby fills the room from the golden detailing on the walls, to the lounge-like chairs of the dinning room. This place is a bit pricey, but serves delicious food and lovely hot chocolate! You can come here right after visiting the Opera House just a block away!
Gerbeaud: One of the best coffee houses in Budapest, you can find it Vorosmarty square. It is elegant, lovely and a tad pricey! But their cakes and sandwiches are delicious! Not to mention the decor is reminiscent of the “belle-epoque“. Definitely worth a treat to enjoy with a good cup of coffee while you sit beneath a magnificent chandelier.
WHERE TO STAY
As you know, we are budget travellers and because each trip I’ve done has been for 4-5 nights, hostels is what I explored in Budapest.
The Groove – this is where I stayed when I travelled solo. It is just a bit north from the Parliament so it isn’t central, but super close to the main tram line that goes along the river, as well as not too far from the metro. Budapest is extremely walkable, so that will hardly set you back. I had a great time in this hostel. It’s authentically rustic, comfortable beds, and I met some very cool people. A downside is the toilets and showers are shared, at least for the price I paid as a broke student!
Adagio Hostel 2.0 Basilica – Wayne and I really enjoyed this hostel. The rooms are modern and clean, the beds come with a curtain for privacy and to help sleep. There is a simple kitchen to prepare simple meals, and it features a pretty cool view of a central street. It is just behind the St. Stephen Basilica and right in front of a metro stop, so location-wise, I can’t think of a better place! (Especially since this made it very easy to pop over to the Christmas market in front of the Basilica for a bite to eat!) But do watch out for the restaurants on this main road, they are a bit pricey. However, the Jewish Quarter is not far either, so if you head in that direction, you will get reasonably priced options to dine. Highly recommend this hostel, one of the best we’ve ever stayed in!
I was so happy to visit Budapest again. Not going to lie, it’s a city I could see myself visiting yet again, and Wayne feels the same way. Are you planning a trip to Budapest soon? Did you find this guide helpful? Let me know if you have any questions or comments!
PS: What do you guys think of the NEW logo and look of the blog? I hope you love it as much as I do!