With east-meets-west cultural influences on display in both the majestic Austrian-Hungarian Empire architecture and crumbling statues of one-time Soviet heroes, Budapest offers a hedonistic hybrid of elegance and gritty grunge.
The Hungarian capital is two cities in one, with Buda (west) and Pest (east) separated by the iconic Danube River. Hilly Buda is full of graceful architecture, such as the Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion, and looks down on to bustling Pest, the city’s commercial hub.
Together, they make Budapest an enticing destination with breathtaking old-world grandeur and a thriving contemporary edge.
Budapest is home to an abundance of attractions and a walk along the Danube will allow you to catch a glimpse of many of them. The Danube Promenade is crossed by the iconic Chain Bridge that, depending on which side of the city you are on, will take you to the historic Castle Hill.
Back in Pest, visit Hungary’s Parliament Building, Budapest Opera House, The Great Synagogue and Matthias Church before warming up - or cooling off - at one of Budapest’s famous thermal baths.
There are plenty of baths to choose from. Gellert Spa with its beautiful Art Nouveau architecture dating back to 1918 may be the nicest, but the Szechenyi Bath is the most expansive.
Take a dip in a thermal bath at ...
- Szechenyi - home to 18 pools
- Gallert - the most photo-worthy
- Lukacs - a local favourite
Meats, rich sauces, and creamy desserts dominate the menu in Budapest. The smell of paprika and goulash is nowhere more present than at the magnificent Market Hall.
Hungarian eateries are often decidedly no-fuss and local cafeterias, diners and even train station takeaways can offer some seriously tasty selections. A walk along Raday Street will give you many options to choose from.
Upmarket restaurants are housed in heritage buildings around town, and are where Budapest’s rich and famous come to wine and dine. Vineyards are very much having a resurgence in Hungary. Keep an eye out for local winemakers Villany, Somlo and Tokaj.
Visit these Budapest eat streets...
- Vaci Street - centrally located
- Kazincy Street - also good for nightlife
- Raday Street - great for people watching
Where to Stay
Keeping to your budget in Budapest definitely won’t be a problem with many excellent lodgings for all types of visitors. The only catch is an increase in popularity over recent years, meaning early reservations are recommended.
Luxury and business travellers are particularly in for a treat with numerous historic Habsburg-era hotels to choose from, many of which have their own thermal spas. Budget travellers can enjoy a bit of Magyar regality too, since the lower end of the market is very competitive and thus very well priced.
A city divided into sometimes confusing districts, when booking your accommodation keep in mind that districts 2, 5, 6 or 7 are the most central and closest to major attractions.
Consider these historic Hungarian hotels...
- Hotel Palazzo Zichy - one of the city's best
- The Cotton House - located close to the Opera
- Buda Castle Fashion Hotel - situated atop the Buda fort
Shopping options in Budapest are never limited. A growing Hungarian middle-class has seen many international luxury stores open in Budapest, mostly in the city centre and on Andrassy Avenue.
The appeal for most visiting shoppers in Budapest is to seek out the unique Hungarian finds in the city's myriad of vintage and antique shops. Ecseri Market is one place to spend a day trawling Soviet-era relics and you can find many shops in Falk Miksa Street selling world-famous Hungarian porcelain.
Central Market Hall has numerous individual vendors and is great for souvenirs and food items, while Dohany Street is where you’ll find trendy locals shopping for that night's outfit.
Budapest's best markets include...
- Central Market Hall - for food and souvenirs
- Jozsefvaros - great on Sundays
- Ecseri - one of the largest in Central Europe
Budapest Like a Local
If you’ve heard anything about Budapest in recent years it’s probably been about ‘rubble’ or ‘ruin bars’. The basic concept is to transform derelict buildings into wonderfully atmospheric bars.
Ruin bars don’t have signs directing the entrance; you won’t hear any loud noise from the street and there’s unlikely to be a line of people waiting to get in. In fact, from the outside, most of these bars look just like normal homes or office buildings.
Once you do meet your ruin bar of choice, you’ll no doubt find yourself in the middle of a bustling crowd talking, dancing, and enjoying a quintessential Budapest experience.
Try to find these ruin bars...
- Kertem - like a 1980s socialist beer-garden
- Szimpla Kert - the classic Budapest ruin bar
- Durer Kert - sometimes holds concerts