Budapest City Guide
Budapest. The capital of Hungary, jewel of Central Europe, and quite frankly, overlooked for quite some time. But that’s changing quickly! I’ve spent the last year and a half in Budapest teaching English, and I’ve managed to pick up some favorite places along the way. Here’s my quick guide to spots around the city. Happy exploring!
Classic Tourist Spots
You’ll find these places in all of the Budapest guide books, and for good reason: they’re iconic. Don’t get caught up in thinking they’re all the city has to offer, but don’t overlook them either!
Városliget (City Park)
Getting there: Take the historic Metro 1 to Heroes Square (Hősök tere)
Heroes Square--You first stop at Varosliget will likely be the majestic pillared arc adorned with fantastically bearded statues of Hungarian heroes. While it’s a sight all in itself, the Heroes Square often hosts events, impromptu concerts, and has a museum on either side, so there’s plenty to keep busy with.
Széchenyi baths--One of Budapest’s greatest attractions is its wide network of thermal baths. You can find one of the most famous--the Széchenyi Baths--right in the middle of Városliget! Although there are cheaper and less touristy options for a spa day in Budapest, the iconic yellow arcade of Széchenyi are a good view for an afternoon soak. A day ticket with cabin usage is 6500 HUF ($22).
The Castle District: Cross the Danube river from Pest into Buda and you’ll find many picturesque sights. Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion are within a 10 minute walk of each other, and both will offer that postcard-perfect view of the city (I personally love strolling between the two with ice cream in one hand and my camera in the other). From here you can see all of Pest spread out before you--along with a great view of the Budapest landmark of Parliament. If you don’t feel like trekking up the hill to the castle, you can always take the historic Castle Hill funicular (tickets cost 1200 HUF/$4 one way). On the other hand--if you’re looking for more exercise, hike up Gellért Hill and see Budapest’s Statue of Liberty up close!
Szimpla Kert—You can’t look up Budapest without hearing about ruin bars, and Szimpla is the one that started it all. The drinks are overpriced (as one might expect from a tourist hotspot), but at least you’ll be drinking them in a unique setting (think, eclectic decorations, crumbling walls, and random graffiti)! Although Szimpla is a party any night of the week (trust me), the weekend has some extra events. Head to the back room on a Friday for open mic, and hear live music talents from all over the world! Swing by on a Sunday morning (or maybe just stay until then) and see things in a different light--Szimpla hosts a local farmers’ market, as well as a brunch upstairs.
Csendes--One of the reasons I love this place is because it has all of the quirky decoration and tasteful decay of a ruin bar, but it’s still tame enough to be able to have a conversation. Do it over a late lunch (the veggie burger’s pretty tasty!), or one of their DJ nights.
Rengeteg--The cheap beer flows in Budapest, but if you’re into drinking something sweeter, then Rengeteg is a good place for you. Budapest gets a lot of press for ruin bars, but ruin cafe Rengeteg is just as quirky. Every time I go there, I swear I notice something new. The decorations seem to cater to the kids at heart, with board games and vintage toys sprinkled around the basement tables. And on the tables? Rengeteg’s artisan hot chocolate. There’s a ridiculous amount of flavor combinations to try, so it’s best to get creative! (My favorite? White chocolate with rum and lemon.) Rengeteg is part of a larger complex, Elesztohaz, which houses a craft beer bar and a tapas place, among other things. So come prepared!
I’ll admit, I haven’t had a wild night out in awhile, but my first few months in Budapest, you couldn’t peel me away from these places.
Fogas Haz/Instant--the free entry and ruin bar decor makes this a crowd favorite--but be sure to get there ahead of it (the line can get pretty brutal).
Doboz--Perhaps the most memorable image from this club is the giant sculpture of gorilla that greets you right as you enter. You’ll likely spend a lot of time in this central courtyard throughout the night, catching your breath after laying down some moves on either of the two dance floors. Also, Doboz is a perfect place for a girls’ night, as ladies get in free! (Otherwise it’s a 1000 HUF entry fee.)
Papitos: It took a long time to find decent Mexican food in Budapest, but now, Papitos is the only place I’ll go. If you’re looking for a casual late night snack, you’ll find Papitos next to other street food stands at the Arany Janos metro station. Tacos, burritos, quesadillas...you can enjoy it all. The stand only provides outdoor seating, but if you’d like, you can walk five minutes and eat in front of St. Peter’s Basilica for dinner with a view.
Hachapuri: Hachapuri brings Georgian cuisine to Budapest. (Don’t know what that looks like? Just picture a lot of bread and cheese, mmmm). The restaurant has recently relocated, but their food is just as good as ever (trust me, I’ve done my research ;) ). Try ordering the restaurant’s namesake--a bread boat filled with egg and cheese--and a glass of the sweet strawberry Georgian wine.
Drum Cafe: Come to Drum to get a taste of traditional Hungarian food, even if in a touristy setting. Here you can try csirke paprikás (paprika chicken with Hungarian noodles), lángos (fried dough with cheese and sour cream), and of course, gulyás. As I mentioned, the restaurant is pretty touristy, but if you’d like an inexpensive incarnation of Hungarian food in a central location (Drum Cafe is right in the Jewish Quarter, after all), then stop on by!
Jelen Bisztro: This is one of my favorites, and it’s tucked around a corner close to the Blaha Lujza Ter station. This place is full of color and candlelight--not to mention a little bit of quirky decor. Although it’s a local favorite to stop by for a beer, Jelen also has a wide lunch and dinner menu, with pan-Asian as well as Hungarian classics. If you enjoy live music, time your visit for a Monday night--there’s an open mic hosted in the back room (not to mention open mic food + drink specials).
Irani Cukraszda: When you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, head to this treasure chest of an Iranian bakery. It’s small and easy to miss, but once you find it, you’ll be glad you did! Most treats cost around 300 HUF ($1.05), so you can sample plenty! Baklava, anyone?
Head to the nearest purple kiosk at any transport station and pick up your transportation pass. You can buy a book of 10 single tickets (you MUST validate them in the orange boxes in front of the metro or on the buses/teams), but I suggest going for a 24 hr./72 hr./week long pass (priced $5.80/$15/$17.30). They give you unlimited travel across Budapest’s trams, trolleys, buses, metros, and water taxis, and don’t need to be validated--only flashed to controllers at checkpoints.
Take the #2 tram–it runs parallel to the Danube and gives you the most scenic ride. Get on at Jaszai Mari ter and see Parliament, the Chain Bridge, Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion from your window seat!
Don’t miss a ride on Metro Line 1--it holds the title of oldest subway in Continental Europe. While other lines are run down or modernized, M1 purposely maintains its Belle Époque charm.
Boat tours down the Danube can cost a pretty penny, but if you take the H5 public water taxi, you can get a boat tour for a steal! Rides are free with a transportation pass, or 750 HUF ($2.60) without. The taxi does not run on weekends.
Jó napot (yo nah-poht): good morning/good day. Greet everyone whenever you come into a shop.
Köszönöm (kuh-suh-num): Thank you!
Bocsánat (boh-cha-naht): Excuse me.
Kerek szépen egy (kair-ek say-pen edj)...:I would like a…
Written by: Denae McGaha
Denae always wanted to move abroad...so one TEFL certificate later she got a job teaching English to adorable kindergartners in Budapest, Hungary.
Now, she chronicles her travels in Budapest and beyond on her website, denaemcgaha.com and Instagram @denaeaway. Her goal is to help others find methods to move, travel, or work abroad. She's always available for questions about life abroad, so ask away!
In her free time you can find Denae researching travel options to review for her website, sipping fröccs in her favorite Budapest ruin cafe, or daydreaming on Skyscanner.
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