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So i’ll be totally honest, Budapest was never on my bucket list of places to visit. It’s not that I didn’t want to go. It just never got me excited. But my boyfriend suggested visiting and it turns out that once I got there, it quickly became one of my favourite cities i’ve ever visited! I love to read up on everything I can find when visiting somewhere new, so let this be your ultimate first timers guide to Budapest!
Where to start:
Budapest is actually 2 cities joined together, funnily enough called Buda and Pest. Buda is much quieter and has a local feel, Pest is where you head if you’re looking for a big night out or a bit more action during the day. This isn’t to say that Buda is boring, in the contrary it’s beautiful and I loved that side! The two cities are joined by a number of bridges over the River Danube. The most famous being the Chain Bridge.
There are a ton of tourist attractions throughout Budapest. They’re relatively close together but the city is so easy to navigate that it doesn’t particularly matter if you have to travel.
What to see in Pest:
The majority of the tourist attractions are in Pest. This side is where you’ll also find most of the restaurants and pubs/bars. I kind of had an idea of where I wanted to visit thanks to my obsessive research beforehand and Pest is where we started since we were also staying on that side of the River. We stayed in an Airbnb which was lovely but there seemed to be a mass of hotels in the area to choose from as well.
1. New York Cafe
The New York Cafe is known as ‘The most beautiful cafe in the world’. I can confirm this is true, its bloody stunning inside. Intricate detailing on the ceiling, marble columns by the doors and an orchestra playing whilst we were in there. I don’t know whether i’ve ever been anywhere more posh but considering I went there on my birthday, it felt like a good day to go! There is a full food menu available or you can choose to stop off and have a quick coffee like we did. It was one of the most costly places we visited whilst there. My coffee was HUF 2100 equal to around £6.
2. The Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter is full of architecture and attractions celebrating the Jewish faith. The largest being the Great Synagogue located in Dohany Street. We didn’t go in here as it was packed at the time. There is a fee to go in it’s around £15 for entry and a tour of the synagogue. Men have to cover their head whilst inside, but these are provided after you pay the entrance fee.
There are a number of paid and free walking tours around the Jewish Quarter. Free tours are led by locals and you are able to tip what you feel the tour is worth at the end. We saw a number of these and heard the guides giving a ton of information so if you like a guided tours it’s well worth looking into.
From the back of the Synagogue you could see the Holocaust memorial inscribed with the names of Hungarian Jews that were killed.
Budapest’s first ever ruin bar Szimpla Kert is also located in the Jewish Quarter and well worth a visit. It’s filled with what most people would call ‘old crap’ but fits perfectly here! It’s also great for an insta shot.
3. Heroes Square
Heroes Square is located at the end of Andrassy Avenue. There’s a ton of designer shops along here and its well worth a stroll down as the buildings are beautiful. There are also tons of little foodie places my fave of which i’ll come to later!
Heroes Square showcases important figures in Hungarian history and also statues of the 7 Chieftains of the Magyars. I think it said they were the leaders of the 7 Hungarian tribes at the time when they arrived in Europe. Don’t quote me on that though i’m not 100% on my Hungarian history!
Just behind Heroes Square is City Park. We didn’t notice this the first time we were there but stumbled upon it when we noticed a lot of people heading that way! It’s what it says on the tin, a park. But it did have a little corner where there was a gorgeous church and the Museum of Agriculture apparently. I’ll be honest neither of us could care less about the history of Hungarian agriculture so we gave that one a miss. It’s nice to wander round the park though particularly when the weather is good.
4. Great Market Hall
Great Market Hall is filled with every kind of food or ornament you can imagine. We visited there to get some proper Hungarian paprika but ended up spending 2 hours wandering round all the stalls. There is so much choice and every kind of meat, fruit, cheese and wine available. I was in heaven as most of the stalls had little dishes to try the bits they had for sale. All of the food is located on the first floor, the second floor has clothes, bags and trinkets but also the food court where you can stop and grab something to eat. We went for the traditional Hungarian food stall here, I had chicken paprikash and my boyfriend had goulash. Both were delicious and so cheap for the amount of food we got.
If you want to visit i’d recommend going later in the day. Early morning the locals are there to pick up their food and we made the mistake of getting there at midday when it was packed with tourists. It’s open until 6 most days so you can afford to go a bit later.
The Hungarian Parliament building is striking. It’s the largest building in Budapest and stands right on the river so you can’t miss it whatever side you’re on. We arrived just as the changing of the guards was happening which was fun to watch. A lot of drumming and sword waving involved in that one. You can pay to have a tour inside the building which is HUF 2400, around £6.50. This includes a guided tour in your language. You can also go to the visitors centre which has a cafe and some artefacts from inside Parliament.
Make sure you see Parliament from the Buda side at night. It’s beautiful when it’s lit up.
What to see in Buda
As I mentioned earlier Buda is the more quiet, laid back side of Budapest. Equally as interesting as Pest but in a much calmer way! It had the feel of a quaint town outside a big city. There were more winding cobbled streets and pretty houses on this side. The main tourist attractions on this side are up on Castle Hill all of which are clearly signposted.
1. Matthias Church
Located at the top of Castle Hill, Matthias Church is hard to miss. It was named after King Matthias who remodelled it in the 15th Century. That’s as far as the history lesson goes though i’m afraid. I was too busy taking a million pictures of the inside which was stunning with beautiful intricate detailing in a gothic style.
Adults can see inside the church for HUF 1500 each, around £4. Children under 6 are allowed in for free. It’s well worth a look inside and there is a ton of stuff to look at, with explanations written in Hungarian and English so you know what you’re looking at!
2) Fishermans Bastion
Situated right by Matthias Church and known as Halaszbastya by the locals, it gives the best panoramic views of Budapest which are especially gorgeous at night.
It’s free to walk up onto the balcony although you do need to pay a fee to get into the top turrets. There is also a cafe situated on the terrace overlooking the Danube. We didn’t go in as there was a massive queue, so it’s probably worth seeing whether you can book in advance if you want to sit down. If you’re impatient like us, there’s a Starbucks next door so you can take your own coffee up there!
Although we didn’t do a river cruise, I was told that Fisherman’s Bastion looks gorgeous at night if you do one of the dinner cruises. It’s lit up and it really looks like the Disney logo.
3) Buda Castle
Buda Castle is a huge building that covers the majority of the top of Castle Hill. The grounds and courtyard of the Castle are open daily. The Castle itself is open on certain days and times depending on the time of year as it currently houses the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.
There are a number of restaurants and bars in the Castle district that stay open until later and you can wander the courtyards until around 6pm. We were there at 6ish and the Castle grounds were starting to close. We also managed to catch the Changing of the Guards again which was more of a display than the one we saw at Parliament. The Guards were on horses and they walked all the way down the hill from the Castle onto the streets.
Buda was gorgeous and the main attractions are close enough together that you could easily see all 3 in a day. The main square is also worth visiting and if you have time to wander the little streets and have a drink and a meal, do so as there was tons of amazing looking restaurants that we passed!
Where to Eat
As we stayed in an Airbnb, we ate at home quite a bit. But there were a few places that we really liked that were perfect for a quick bite while sightseeing.
I want to call Karavan a ‘street food corner’. Basically it had a ton of different street food trucks offering every type of delicacy you could think of! There was pasta & pizza, burgers, sausages and hot dogs, Hungarian langos and traditional goulash. I’m sure i’ve missed some out but you could definitely go there every day of the week and have something different.
I had the goulash which was served in a large bread roll. Goulash is one of my favourites and I was kinda gutted that it wasn’t as great as I hoped it would be. It was so salty and the bread was a bit dry. We did go late in the day though so maybe we should have gone earlier. My boyfriend had pasta and said it was lovely so we’d definitely go back, i’d just try something else!
Situated right in the centre of Pest, this little pizza and pasta place became one of our firm faves! It’s basically an Italian takeaway. You place your order of either pizza or pasta, it’s cooked fresh in front of you and you take out or there’s a small seating area at the back. The food was dirt cheap but tasted so good and was the perfect place to stop in between all the walking. I heard other people saying the portions were small, but I always had a small and thought it was pretty generous. If you go there, just check out the sizes before you order in case you’ve worked up a bigger appetite than you thought!
You can’t leave Budapest without trying a chimney cake. They’re AMAZING. I have a sweet tooth and these hit the spot. Street Cakes was one of the foodie places on Andrassy Avenue I mentioned earlier. Chimney cakes are very much like a doughnut although they taste less fried. Their shape resembles a chimney hence the name and they have a hollowed out centre which you can fill with whatever you fancy. Ice cream or whipped cream are your base filling choices and you can then top with any kind of sweets, fruits, sauces or sprinkles.
As you can see I was a basic bitch and went simple with vanilla ice cream, the boyf had strawberry. Seriously though. SO GOOD. I don’t care what else you do while you’re in Budapest but don’t leave without trying one of these.
Hard Rock Cafe Budapest
Who doesn’t love a Hard Rock Cafe. I like their burgers and there’s about a million in the world so it gives me a ton of places to visit. Budapest ✓. The food was good as per and we also had some really nice cocktails. They had a massive choice and weren’t shy with the alcohol.
I had the Atomic Burger cause it had all the jalapenos and chilli is the dream.
The restaurant is in a good spot right in the city centre and there was a load of bars around if you wanted to carry on the night until late.
Stay with me now guys i’m nearly at the end. I have one more section for all you first timers in Budapest, cause you wanna know the best way to get around right?!
I’ve never been anywhere as easy to navigate as Budapest. Their public transport system is amazing and so effective. The buses were always on time, literally to the minute. Not something you can say about London. So basically you have a choice between buses, the metro and the tram for public transport. This can be easily navigated by downloading the ‘BKK Futar’ app. You type in where you want to go and it brings up a list of ways you can get there using all from quickest to slowest.
Click on list and it’ll give you the full details on how to get there. So easy to use and takes away that wandering round aimlessly you do when you’re in a new city!
In terms of transport tickets. You can buy a 7 day travellers ticket which allows you unlimited access on all public transport for the entirety of your ticket. This was HUF 4950, which is around £13.50. A bargain for a weeks worth of unlimited travel and it worked out to be the most cost effective even if you’re only there for a few days.
There’s also a very good taxi app called Taxify. Basically Uber but it’s good to have in case you don’t feel like navigating public transport late at night.
So there you have it, the ultimate first timers guide to Budapest. Let me know if you’re planning to go, or if you have been before what did I miss seeing?!