Looking back on my travels in Europe, Budapest is very high on the list of my favorite cities. Budapest is one of the most underrated cities in all of Europe. Stretching across the banks of the Danube River, the Hungarian capital is a must see. I asked my Hungarian friend, Viktor, for some tips and advice on navigating this city!
First of all, it’s important to get an understanding of how the city is laid out. The Danube River runs through the city. In 1849, the Chain Bridge linking Buda and Pest was opened as the first permanent bridge across the Danube. One side of the river is Buda and the other side of the river is Pest. Buda is known for its green hills, sweeping panoramas, and historical monuments. Pest is lively, cultural, and frankly where everything happens (check out the nightlife in VII. district). Most visitors to Budapest are given the advice: “Visit Buda, but stay in Pest.” Not to say one is superior to the other, they are simply distinct parts that unite the Hungarian capital.
What to See in Buda
Fisherman’s Bastion: You’ll feel like you are in a fairy tale while visiting this terrace with some of the best panoramic views in Budapest. The 7 towers of the bastion represent the 7 Hungarian chieftains who led their tribes to present-day Hungary in 895 to settle down. The bastion is in the Castle District of Buda, which includes the famous Buda castle.
Matthias Church: The colorful and bright tiles of the roof of this Catholic Church in the Castle District is sure to catch anyone’s eye. Matthias Church is located directly next to the Fisherman’s Bastion, so it’s two trips in one! I didn’t pay to go inside the church, but the outside is so amazing! The contract of the white stone and the colored tiles made for excellent pictures.
Gellert Hill: Gellert Hill is a 235 m high hill in the Buda district overlooking the Danube River and Pest. The hill provides amazing panoramic views of the city. Liberty Monument (originally Liberation Monument) was built on top of the hill in 1947 to pay homage to the Soviet soldiers who liberated the city from the Nazi’s in WW2. After the fall of communism in 1989, most Communist statues were removed from the city, with this being an exception. It was simply renamed from Liberation to Liberty Monument.
What to see in Pest
Parliament: Modeled off the Palace of Westminster, the Hungarian Parliament sits majestically on the banks of the Danube River. Visitors can view the building when Parliament is not in session, there are certain times of days where tours are offered in English. Check out the schedule here. If you have time, I would make sure you have time to see the interior of this gorgeous building!
St. Stephen’s Cathedral: In the middle of the hustle and bustle of the Pest district, you’ll find one of the most important churches in all of Hungary. The cross-floor plan is housed under a dome that you can climb to see views of Pest. The church also has several concerts that are often open to the public.
Scezchenyi Thermal Bath and Spa: Budapest can rightfully be called the city of the spas. Scezchenyi was the first thermal bath on the Pest side and one of the most popular in the city. There are a total of 15 pools with thermal water that is said to have healing powers for people with arthritis and injuries. The pools are open from 6 am to 10pm every day, even during the winter! There are typically men playing chess in the chess tables inside the pools.
Great Market Hall: This is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest. This is a great stop for a lunch break. On the main floor, there are several stalls with produce, pastries, meats, and spices. The second floor offers many food stalls, eateries, and souvenir stands. While here, I would recommend finding the langos stand. Rick Steves’ considers it the best place to eat in the market. After lunch, wander around the market, get some souvenirs and take some pictures of all the colorful stands.
Hungarian State Opera: If you are a fan of music and want to see in opera in Europe, Budapest might be the place to do it without breaking the bank. You can get a good quality ticket for around $10. If you simply want to see the building itself, there are guided tours offered (in English) everyday at 3 pm and 4 pm. Tickets for tours are about 1900 HUF for students (approx. $8.50).
Margaret Island: In the middle of the Danube River, you will find Margaret Island. It’s only 1.6 miles long and is completely covered in parks and other recreation areas. Check out the “Music Fountain”, where music is played and light shows are performed during the summer. Also on Margaret’s Island, there is a water park, tennis complex, and a water tower. Stroll over Margaret Bridge and relax and take in nature on Margaret’s Island.
What to Eat
I asked my Hungarian friend what foods he would recommend trying while in Hungary. His response: “All of them”. Check out this Buzzfeed article about Hungarian foods!
Goulash: Hungarian Goulash is the most famous and most often Hungarian dish cooked outside of the country’s borders. There are many different ways to prepare this dish, so it might vary from place to place. In it’s most common form, goulash is a beef dish cooked with onions, paprika, tomatoes, and carrots. It’s somewhere in between a stew and a soup. It’s served almost anywhere, so you can’t miss it! Viktor actually taught me how to make this!
Langos: This is a typical street food found in Hungary (you can find a great stall at the Great Market Hall). It’s a deep fried flat bread eaten fresh and warm and often topped with sour cream, cheese, ham, vegetables, and more. Some places will even offer dessert offerings (Nutella anyone?). It’s a popular summer dish. You can even try to make them from home! Try with this recipe!
Paprika: Paprika is the spice of Hungary. It is a commonplace in many Hungarian dishes. It is used in goulash and in the preparation of many meat dishes. While at restaurants, look for dishes that have paprika in them and give them a try! The Hungarian’s know paprika the best after all!
How to get Around
Most of Budapest’s city center and historic districts are suitable for walking. Budapest is very much a pedestrian friendly city. However, Budapest also has an excellent public transportation system. Look up and you will see a network of cables for streetcars and trolley buses. Budapest also has a clean, fast and efficient subway system (Metro).
Where to Stay
Budapest is laid out into districts. I asked my Hungarian friend where tourists should stay. He recommended districts VI, VII, or VIII (which are all in Pest). He said there are plenty of hostels. His picks were: