What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

Basic Budapest: Know Before You Go

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When we decided to take our 2016 Luna family vacation on an AmaWaterways river ship, we were more than a little excited that the week-long itinerary started in Budapest. SVV and I spent our first Christmas together in 2005 traipsing through Hungary and Transylvania, and this would be our first time back in the region—and during summer months, rather than the harsh chill of winter, at that.

What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

Since there were eight of us traveling, I never even considered a hotel; we knew we’d be booking an Airbnb so we could all stay together, and I was pleased to find a number of affordable four-bedroom options.

What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

Which begs the question….

Buda vs. Pest?

The Hungarian capital has only been one unit since 1873, and the famed Chain Bridge—built in 1849—connects the two banks.

What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

We stayed on the more hotel-populated Pest side of the river in a very old sun-filled apartment with lots of period details and plenty of charm.

Originally, we were set up in a place beside the waterfront along Párisi Udvar, but the accommodation company moved us to an apartment on Király Utca instead due to the first being under construction.
What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

I think either area is a great one to stay in: The first is more ideal for those looking to do tourist attractions along the river, while the latter offers a more East Village-type of stay, which this former New Yorker really dug.

What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

Buda is the hilly side of the Danube whose most popular residents are the castle, Matthias Church and Citadella fortress. It offers the best sweeping views of the entire city, but is better for, say, a day visit—save it for a sunny afternoon—than to use as a base for your entire trip.

What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

The Pest side is the more commercial district, peppered with shopping centers, boutiques, government buildings, restaurants and ruins bars galore.

What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

Personally, for the sake of covering a lot of ground and taking minimal public transit, I’d recommend staying on the Pest (east) side of the Danube in District V, VI, VII or VIII to be within easy walking distance to Budapest’s vibrant food and nightlife scene.

Where to Stay in Budapest

Budapest is a very safe-feeling city, one I’d feel comfortable exploring solo, but one that’s also perfect for families or couples.

What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

Some distinctly Budapest things to check off your list:

The Thermal Baths

For $15, you can soak in the city’s many public thermal baths (or spas), many of which have been around for centuries. The Széchenyi Thermal Bath is one of the most well-known of all, while Király Bath is the oldest (Rudas and Gellért Bath also date back to the 16th century).

 What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

The Bakeries

Pastry and bread fumes waft through the streets of Budapest, and you’ll find yourself wanting to try a little of everything. The good news is that they’re so cheap (30 cents or less) that you totally can sample a bit of everything. After all, cake (and dessert as a whole) is a way of life in Hungary, so why not embrace it and do as the locals do? I think this is what they call having your cake and eating it, too. 😉

What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

The Ruins Pubs

You can’t say you’ve done Budapest without visiting one of its famed ruins bars in the Jewish Quarter, but let’s just say I’ve never felt so like I was back in college again. We did one loop inside Szimpla Kert, and then immediately went back out again. So crowded, so rowdy, so not us. Still, cool to have seen nonetheless.

 What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

Buda Castle

You can ride the funicular up to the top of the Castle District or you can walk the 20 minutes or so of stairs, as we did, to reach this World Heritage site, which is now also a museum.

What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

Matthias Church

Up the road from the castle a mile or so, this behemoth Roman Catholic Church is triple the age of my entire country, one of the oldest buildings in Budapest, and the site of many a historic coronation.

 What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

Fisherman’s Bastion

Just in front of the church, Fisherman’s Bastion (Halaszbastya) is the best spot for panoramic viewings. You can choose to pay to go up top or you can steal away beneath the arches and have nearly as good a view as free.

 What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

The Hungarian Parliament

We didn’t go inside this striking structure and were told that was a big mistake (huge). Still, whether you tour it or not, you simply must stop by the Gothic-Revival icon by day and by night.

 What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

The Mighty Danube

The riverfront along the Pest side is dotted with river boats and bars to sit down and have a drink as you admire the Danube, Europe’s second longest river, in all her glory.

 What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

Possibly the biggest selling point of Budapest isn’t just the culture or the architecture, however; it’s the price. That’s to say, it feels like Western Europe—but without the hefty price tag.

What It Costs

  • 4BR accommodation: $279/night
  • Taxi ride from the airport: $30
  • Taxi ride from the center to the cruise ports: $10
  • Bus ride: $1.60
  • Cappuccino and a pastry: $2
  • A nice dinner with two rounds of drinks: $20
  • Brunch and coffee: $10
  • Fancy lunch with a drink: $15

Have I convinced you yet that you need to make a trip to Budapest happen?

What to Do and Where to Stay in Budapest

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COMMENTS
  • August 28, 2016

    I haven’t been anywhere in Eastern Europe, something my hubby and I want to remedy, Budapest is definitely on our list! Great highlights!

    • August 29, 2016

      That surprises me! Budapest has Andi and Mr. Misadventures written all over it!

  • August 28, 2016

    When you said it was great for solo travellers, that was all the convincing I needed 😉 thanks for the awesome post!

    • August 29, 2016

      Indeed, it is. So many affordable accommodation options, friendly locals, plenty of fellow travelers—great place to check into a hostel, meet new friends and explore a new city.

  • August 28, 2016

    Budapest looks like a beautiful city!

    • September 9, 2016

      So interesting, pretty but gritty, and most importantly, CHEAP =)

  • August 28, 2016

    I’ve never read such an awesome post about Budapest! Thanks for the great ideas!

    • August 29, 2016

      No problem! Plenty more Budapest recaps to come =)

  • August 28, 2016

    I didn’t need any convincing to go to Budapest previously but this definitely moves it higher up on the list! I’ve wanted to visit on of the thermal baths for years!

    • August 29, 2016

      I must admit the thermal baths are MUCH more refreshing in the winter! We went in the morning so it wasn’t that hot out just yet (maybe 68 degrees) but by mid-afternoon in August, it was easily 85 daily—it was much cooler (literally, figuratively) to visit the baths in the height of winter!

  • August 29, 2016

    You know, we live in Romania and drive across Hungary to London pretty regularly. We’re about to do it again in a couple of weeks. We’ve never stopped in Budapest! We’ve stopped in a couple of other places in Hungary, but Budapest…maybe one day. Your accommodation price seems extremely hefty for our part of the world Romania/Hungary have the cheapest hotel prices I’ve ever seen, we normally pay under $50 for the 4 of us. Must have been something special.

    • August 29, 2016

      You DRIVE all the way to London?! How long does that take? Seems like the equivalent of driving across the US! We’re actually in Romania at the moment for the first time in 2005, so if you have any recs in Brasov or Poiana Brasov other the the citadel and castle, I’m all ears =)

      We found the BEST 4BR Airbnb right by the Brasov square for a total steal!

      And P.S. YES make Budapest a must on a recent road trip!

      • August 29, 2016

        Oh, we take a few days over it. It’s not really all that far, it’s about the same distance as we’d drive from our house in Australia ( Port Douglas, far north QLD) down to Brisbane for the airport. Which is in the SAME STATE! And took 24 hours exactly, door to door. But driving across Europe on all those autobahns isn’t much fun, only really Belgium and parts of Hungary and of course Romania, that are pretty. Yes, we’ve got a whole website on Romania, http://simpleliferomania.com We live in Maramures, far north, it’s the most beautiful place on earth. Enjoy, try and get to Maramures if at all possible, everything changes up there, but Transylvania can be pretty lovely too. We rent a 2 bedroom apartment in the old town of Brasov sometimes at around $30/ night usually. And Sighisoara and the Turda Salt Mine aren’t to be missed. Cheers!

        • September 9, 2016

          Can’t wait to dive into your Romania site, Alyson! We’re already gone from there and really wanted to visit Maramures but stayed around Brasov as we had my whole family (8 of us) in tow. Plus, it was nice to be in the mountains in the summer as opposed to our last visit in winter!

  • August 29, 2016

    I’ve been to Budapest before – Gellért Bath was heavenly! – but I think you have convinced me to revisit. Even though the Ruin Bar are probably not my style, I feel I should pay them a visit! It feels like something new and trendy as I see quite a few bloggers writing posts about them. I feel like I’m being left out 😉

    • September 9, 2016

      I wish I’d been to Gellert! Now we’ve done Kiraly twice, but next time I’ll branch out. We literally did a five-minute walk through of the ruin bar and then peaced out. Even my 28-year-old sister felt too old to be there 😉

  • August 29, 2016
    Vivian Sun

    I’m an American who married a Hungarian and have been to Budapest a few times over the past few years. I love the city and am happy whenever it gets love from other travelers. It’s so affordable and the people there are super nice. Last time I was there I had 2 small kids with me and I never lacked for help getting the stroller on and off the bus or up the steps of the subway. Also helpful to point out that English is widely spoken (not necessarily fluently, but enough so you can get by). Can’t wait to read more of your Budapest recaps!

    • September 9, 2016

      That’s so nice to hear, Vivian! I also love how affordable it is. Spending a week in Germany and Austria after our time in Budapest was total culture shock on our credit cards.

  • August 30, 2016

    Went on a work trip to Budapest. Spent most of time nursing a hangover. Would love to go back as very interesting city.

    • September 9, 2016

      HA! I can see how that would easily happen in this town.

  • August 30, 2016

    I’m in love with Budapest. I’ve been a couple times, and cannot do enough to direct each and every person who asks (and some who don’t!) that way. I also found the ruin bars painfully hip for my taste (I went mid-day, which helped). I also don’t think I knew that you could actually go into the Parliament building…it’s just so pretty on the outside I didn’t think to go in! Oops???? Looking forward to more of your vacay!

    • September 9, 2016

      I didn’t realize you could go in either until we met several (older) folks on our cruise who said they did and that we were missing out! Oops for us, as well.

  • September 2, 2016

    Swooooon!!! Oh goodness, this sounds completely dreamy!

    xox

    • September 3, 2016

      You would LOVE all the architecture there. Five-year wedding anniversary trip? 😉

  • September 2, 2016

    Was so bummed I didn’t make it to Budapest this summer. Your trip looks awesome! 🙂

    • September 3, 2016

      I’d definitely recommend it in the summer! But maybe not St. Stephen’s Day (when we were there) as so much of the city was closed down for the holiday!

  • September 5, 2016

    Gorgeous! I’m starting to think about Spring 2017 – one last trip before I quit my job and become poor…this is definitely a contender, along with Croatia…so many options!

    • September 9, 2016

      Ha! Or maybe you do this trip after you’re poor since it’s more affordable than most of Europe (Croatia, on the other hand…not so much!).

  • September 6, 2016
    Marie

    Yes you have convinced me and I am so happy you guys are doing a family trip! 🙂

  • October 4, 2016

    Budapest really looks like a dream world.and in this blog it proved.Thanks To share this post with us.

  • November 9, 2016

    Show loved the story, the architecture.
    You are to be congratulated

  • November 13, 2016

    I love the public transport system, it is excellent and love the historic part of the city. one of my favorite trips was a visit to Castle Hill

    • November 13, 2016

      It really does have a great public transit system! We mainly walked this time around, but I remember taking the train everywhere the first time we visited in winter.

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