The Ultimate Guide to Budapest



It’s easy to fall in love with Budapest’s stunning architecture, unique cuisine, and historic culture. This magnificent city is missed by most travelers who have their eyes on the more famous European locations. Make no mistake, Budapest will win your heart with all its beauty.
Made up of two cities, Buda and Pest are divided by the majestic River Danube. Connected by spectacular bridges, each city has its own extraordinary charm and elegance. We spent 4 days exploring this European hidden gem and found it to be the perfect amount of time to take in the sights, culture, and cuisine.


TOP ATTRACTIONS IN BUDAPEST


Hungarian Parliament Building

The Hungarian Parliament, also known as the Budapest Parliament is one of the city’s most iconic buildings, Don't miss the stunning interior architecture with a guided tour. The Grand Staircase is the crown jewel of Budapest, with its extravagant gold details, regal red carpets, and soaring vaulted ceilings emblazoned with stunning frescoes. It’s said that 97 pounds of gold and approximately 500,000 precious gems were used to decorate the building’s 691 rooms and 29 staircases for a dazzling effect.


TIP: Purchase tickets in HERE for HUF 3500 (approx $12) and be sure to bring your printed ticket with you. Mobile tickets are not accepted and you will be directed to the customer service line to print your tickets. Lines tend to be long and slow-moving, as there are only a limited number of tickets available each day, so purchase in advance.





Fisherman's Bastion

With its seemingly-medieval lookout towers, fairy tale staircases and balconies, Fisherman’s Bastion is a must-visit, with its stunning panoramic views of the city.

TIP: Arrive at dawn to achieve optimal photos. This magnificent structure is open to the public 24 hours a day. For free entrance, arrive before or after opening hours 9 am - 11 pm. During hours of operation, the cost is 1000 forint (approx $3.40)



Matthias Church

The spectacular Matthias Church, known as “The Church of Our Lady" is located in the heart of the Castle district in Budapest, Hungary. Admire its imposing architecture, take in its historical symbolism and spend some time studying its impressive artwork.

You can visit the church from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Church services are free to attend, but non-worshippers will need a ticket to enter. Passes cost 1,500 forints (about $6) for adults and 1,000 forints (roughly $4) for seniors and students.



Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library

The incredible Szabo Ervin Library in Budapest is a hidden treasure, left out of guidebooks, tucked into a busy section of the city. But for those in the know, the Szabo Ervin Library is a stunning step back to a time when libraries were like mansions - perhaps that’s because it’s in one. Built by Count Frigyes Wenckheim (1842-1912), a well-known Hungarian aristocrat at the end of the 19th century, the Central Library is easy to miss - today a modern library surrounds it, secreting away the beautifully preserved Wenckheim Palace. The City Council purchased the building and converted the beautiful palace rooms into reading rooms for their new library in 1931

TIP: To see these stunning historic rooms, take an elevator up to the 4th floor. You will gain free entry with a visitor’s pass.


St Stephen's Basilica

St. Stephen's Basilica is Budapest's largest church, dedicated to Hungary’s first king, St. Stephen. It’s known for its magnificent beauty and size, as it seats 8,500 people. The acoustics are simply unparalleled. If you enjoy classical music, attend a concert and enjoy this elegant background. The frequent celebration of sacred music and its organ recitals are famous throughout Europe. Vivaldi, Bach, and Mozart were regulars in this magnificent cathedral. A must-visit while in Budapest!

Open to the public: Mon – Fri: 9.00am– 5:00pm | Sat: 9.00am-1:00pm | Sun: 1:00pm- 5:00pm

Note: Religious ceremonies might alter the general opening hours.

Admission: Free, although it’s customary to pay 200 HUF, or 1 EUR donation


Buda Castle

The imposing Buda Castle overlooks the city from its elevated position atop Castle Hill, rising above the beautiful Danube River. Today the castle, often referred to as the Royal Palace, is home to a number of cultural institutions, including two museums, the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Note: There is no interior “castle” to view. You can choose to admire the exterior only.


Gresham Palace

Budapest's Gresham Palace is a magnificent art nouveau building facing the famous Danube River. This former palace was designed with gold tiles, mosaics, and gorgeous wrought-iron Peacock Gates, constructed in 1907. Currently, it houses the luxury Four Season Gresham Palace Hotel, but tourists can stroll inside to view the first-floor lobby of this lavish palace.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀


Thermal Baths in Budapest

Known as the "City of Baths," Budapest sits on a fault line, and its thermal baths are naturally fed by 120 hot springs. The city is home to an impressive selection of thermal baths, many of which date to the 16th century. Click here to read about the top 6 Baths in Budapest.

Note: Swimsuit required, so don't forget to pack your bathing suit with flip flops!


Hungarian State Opera House

Although the Opera House is under restoration and partially closed until the estimated completion date of 2021, you can take a guided tour of the Opera House to view the magnificent interior. Guided tours include a short opera performance at the end, which was amazing! If you haven’t attended an opera, you will sample the artistic after your tour, with a 15-minute performance. The guided tour takes visitors to the Foyer, the Main Staircase, the Feszty Bar, The Red Salon, and the Royal Staircase. 

Languages and times for tours:

English and Spanish: 2 p.m., 3 p.m. & 4 p.m. (daily)

Italian and French: 3 p.m. & 4 p.m. (daily)

Hungarian: 2 p.m. (on Sundays)

German OR Russian: 2 p.m. (on Wednesdays and Saturdays)

Tickets are available at the information desk inside the Opera House between 10 am - 5 pm. You will need to purchase tickets in person, no online booking is available.


New York Cafe

Budapest's luxurious cafe was once a Palace, constructed with this coffeehouse on the ground floor. At the end of the 19th century, cafes became exceptionally popular in Budapest; The New York Café was undoubtedly the most gorgeous of all the coffeehouses in Budapest. Its lavish interior is adorned with stunning chandeliers, golden accents, and spiral columns. It's so opulent that it is compared to some of the most famous Baroque churches in Rome. Everywhere you look are marble columns, gilded ornaments, and chandeliers that are richly decorated with sculptures and paintings.

Insider's Tip: Arrive early to avoid lines, as this is a well-known cafe and becomes crowded quickly.



Christmas Markets | Mid November Until Jan 1


The Hungarian capital twinkles during the holiday season with Christmas market stalls and majestic architecture. Enjoy a cup of mulled wine, a bite of sweet chimney cake and a dash of festive cheer. 

The most beautiful, oldest and internationally acclaimed Budapest Christmas fair is the Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square in the heart of the city. You will find beautiful quality handcrafts and special Hungarian Delicacies at the Christmas market on St Stephen’s Square.



BEST PLACES TO EAT IN BUDAPEST


Retek Bistro

Our Favorite Restaurant in Budapest (ate here two nights in a row!) Traditional Hungarian food from Grandma's pantry. Retek Bistro prepares meals using the highest quality ingredients from their local farmers market.

Make sure to reserve a table, as they have limited tables and were turning down walk-in’s each night. Make your reservation HERE



Comme Chez Soi

Award-winning Restaurant- Voted "Best of Budapest" for 12 years. Serving traditional Italian and Hungarian dishes following their family's recipes. Email for reservations: commechezsoi@gmail.hu

Note: CASH ONLY (USD Accepted)


Hungarikum Bisztro

Traditional Hungarian Food, highly recommended by locals. Reserve your table HERE


Chef Café Budapest

Family-owned restaurant using local ingredients and wines. The owner takes pride, preparing each dish with artistic flavors and Hungarian elements, nicely paired with the native wines. High-quality taste! Recommend trying the venison.

Make a reservation through Facebook Messenger: https://www.facebook.com/chefcafebudapest/


Cirkusz

Cirkusz is a modern, bohemian café and will become a memorable breakfast spot. Features specialty coffee! *Highly recommend their Recovery Breakfast, French Toast, and Flat White Coffee


Molnár's kürtőskalács

For a local sweet treat, stop by this historic cafe for their famous chimney cake, a Hungarian dessert.


Ruszwurm Confectionery

Legendary family confectionery, one of the oldest bakeries of Budapest, founded in 1827.

*Highly recommend their Famous Ruszwurm Cream Pastry

Near Fisherman’s Bastion & Matthias Church- perfect for a snack break after visiting nearby sites!



CLASSIC HUNGARIAN DISHES


Lángos- a deep-fried doughy flatbread that's eaten warm and slathered with sour cream, grated cheese, and garlicky butter

Kürtőskalács (Chimney Cake)- sweet treats made from strips of sugary dough wrapped around cone-shaped spits, brushed with butter and roasted over charcoal. The sugar caramelizes to form a crispy coating.


Töltött káposzta (Stuffed Cabbage)- features cooked cabbage leaves stuffed with ground pork and beef, rice, tomatoes, and sauerkraut. Surprisingly delicious!


Gulyás (Goulash)- a thin broth made from chunks of beef cooked with onions, paprika, tomatoes, and pepper.


Dobos Torta (Drummer Cake)

This cake consists of 5-7 delicate sponge layers, each spread with chocolate buttercream and topped with a thick layer of caramelized sugar (for a satisfying crack when tapped with a fork). The sides of the cake are usually coated in ground nuts like hazelnuts, walnuts, or almonds.


Kolbász (Sausage)- comes in many different varieties, served cooked, boiled, cured or smoked. Csabai kolbász is a spicy sausage flavored with paprika.



LODGING IN BUDAPEST


Intercontinental Budapest

Using our IHG Rewards Club Points and Annual Free Nights, we stayed in a beautiful river view room 4 nights for free! This stunning hotel is located on the most amazing riverbank walkway in the city called the Danube Promenade. Free upgrades to a superior room landed us a view of the architectural gems, the Chain Bridge and Buda Castle.

Photo credit | Intercontinental Budapest

TIP: The IHG Rewards Club Card hosts a sign-on bonus for spending a minimum of $2000 in the first 3 months. Once you meet this requirement, have your significant other open a new IHG Rewards Club Card in their name, meet the required spending, and now you’ve doubled your points.

*An added bonus, you each receive a FREE annual night at any IHG hotel, at 35k points or below. Add both your free nights together, and you have 2 free nights per year, plus your accumulated points to spend on additional nights. Plus, you become automatic Platinum Status with the card, which gives free upgrades and complimentary drink vouchers with each stay! Click HERE to apply now. View the IHG website for more info.



TRANSPORTATION


Most of Budapest's city center and historic districts are suitable for walking. There is also an excellent public transportation system with trams, trolleybuses, trams, underground subways (Metro) and above-ground suburban trains (HÉV). Buses, trams, and trolleybuses run daily from 4.30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. Tickets and passes must be bought before boarding. You cannot buy them from the driver, except on the night bus network.


You can purchase single-ride tickets, 10-pack of tickets for slightly cheaper, or an unlimited pass.


Ticket prices in 2019

Single ticket- HUF 350

Ten-trip coupon book- HUF 3,000

One-day travel card - HUF 1,650

Three-day travel card - HUF 4,150

Seven-day travel card - HUF 4,950


There are passes available for longer periods (14 days - HUF 7,000, monthly - HUF 10,500, etc) but they do require photo ID. Having a ticket doesn't entitle you to ride public transportation. You must validate your ticket at a ticket-punching machine when starting your trip.


Taxis

It is important to always order cabs by phone in Budapest, or get at official taxi stands or in front of major hotels.  I always discourage hailing taxis on the street, as overcharging cab drivers are quite common quoting 3x the local amount.


TIP: Save yourself money and download the app Bolt (formerly Taxify), which is Budapest’s alternative to Uber. I suggest downloading the app before your trip and adding your credit card info to use immediately upon arrival.



BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT BUDAPEST


December-February

Winters in Budapest get pretty chilly (Highs 34°-40°F, Lows 24°-28°F), and snowfall is common. You'll find rooms at their cheapest and snap some awesome scenic photographs. The city also offers a plethora of Christmas markets and events in December and early January. What makes many of the Christmas markets really enticing and outstanding in Budapest is that there is a real focus on trying to preserve authentic Hungarian art, traditions and offer quality handcrafts rather than commercialized Christmas gifts. Enjoy strolling through the Christmas Markets, drinking mulled wines, nibbling on Hungarian pastries and traditional street foods, and listening to the caroling by local choirs.



March-May

Spring is pleasant in Budapest. (Highs-50°-70°F, Lows 35°-51)The crowds are minimal, and the room rates are affordable. Flights are more budget-friendly than in the summer months. If you plan on visiting in May when two of the city's best food, beer, and wine events – Rosalia Festival and OTP Bank Gourmet Festival – take place, remember to pack an umbrella. Rain showers become more prevalent as the season progresses.


June-August

Reserving accommodations in the summer can be difficult, so book early. Keep in mind that some hotels & Airbnb’s don’t have air conditioning (Highs 75°-80°, Lows 57°-60°F), so make sure to double-check your lodging's amenities before making final plans. If you go in the heart of summer, expect crowds, rain and skyrocketed room rates.


September-November

Budapest is an appealing destination to visit in the fall. Summer crowds are gone, and you’ll find deals on accommodations. Autumn offers an array of popular events for festival-goers, including the Jewish Cultural Festival and the Budapest Wine Festival. (Sept Highs 71°, Lows 52°F | Oct Highs 61°, Lows 44°F | Nov Highs 46°, Lows 35°F)



DRESS / ATTIRE


Budapest, and Hungary at large, aren’t as stuffy as their Western European counterparts in keeping up with the latest fashion trends. You can certainly get away with a smart casual look and blend in easily. Men usually wear dark business suits with a white shirt and tie. Women wear either business suits or elegant dresses, complemented with good quality accessories. Jeans are standard casual wear. Shorts are uncommon in the city. Business wear is appropriate for all formal occasions.


Depending on the season, you may need a raincoat or winter coat, and definitely comfortable shoes with the cobblestone streets. In Budapest, a pair of well-polished ankle or shin-length leather boots will do the trick and help you fit right in. In terms of what to wear, dark and muted colors are the most commonly seen amongst locals. Avoid bright neon colors and running sneakers. For the cold months, pack scarfs, gloves, winter hats, and thermals to keep warm and lotion/chapstick to battle dry skin.


Collectively, Hungary and Budapest have 450 thermal baths. If you are inclined to go to one of the mixed-gender or single-gender spas or saunas, you should bring your own swimwear, towel, and flip flops. At most thermal baths, towels, flip flops and bathrobes can be rented.



CULTURE | ETIQUETTE


Language

Hungarian is the national language. English is somewhat spoken in Budapest, and many menus are in English.  You can get around the city just fine without knowing any Hungarian.


Useful Words and Phrases


Hello – Hello

Good day! – Jó napot (yoh nu-pot)

Goodbye – Szia (see-yah)

Thank you – Köszönöm (khoe-se-noem)

How are you?  Hogy vagy? (haw-j-vah-j)

Nice to meet you – Örülök, hogy megismertem (errel-oek hodge megh-ish-merh-them)

Please – légyszi (ledge-see)

I’d like a beer – Kérek egy sört (Keh-rack a-j chert)

Cheers – Egészségedre! (Ag-esh-sheg-ad-reh)


Meeting Etiquette

Both men and women greet by shaking hands, although a man should usually wait for the women to extend her hand. The older generation may still bow to women. Close friends kiss one another lightly on both cheeks, starting with the left cheek.


When entering or leaving a small shop, greet the shopkeeper. shopkeepers will greet you as you enter and leave their establishment. It’s only polite, then, to respond in kind. If it’s daytime, saying “Jó napot kívánok” (“I wish you good day”) will suffice for a greeting. Upon leaving, “Viszontlátásra” or its less formal (but easier to say) version “Viszlát” will work. Note: Many Hungarian shops employ a few extra people to follow you around the store. They’re not being rude, they’re just watching. Give them a smile and keep shopping.


Transport

Stand to the right side of the escalator. Without exception, escalators in Budapest have traffic lanes: The left side is for walkers, and the right side is for standers.


Give up your seat on public transportation to the elderly or those with children.


On weekends and holidays, board the bus through the front door, and have your pass or ticket in hand. In the downtown core on weekdays, you can board the bus through any door you want.


Dining

When eating, keep your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right. Nobody will complain if you hold the fork in your right hand, but if you want to look like you know what you’re doing, copy how the Hungarians eat.


Cash

When in Hungary, carry coins (and use them whenever possible). When paying with cash, use the smallest possible denominations. Most of the smaller shops in Budapest don’t take credit or debit cards, so you’ll need to have bills and coins handy. Many Hungarians carry coin purses with them and try to pay close to the exact amount due. If you pop into a shop to buy a bottle of water for 99 forints, you’ll receive dirty looks if you try to pay with a 1 000-forint bill.

There is usually a fee for using public restrooms, HUF 100-200 (or 1-2 Euros). You will be required to place this amount in a coin machine to enter the toilets or hand amount to the attendant. Tip: Always carry a few hundred forints in your pocket in case you have the urge to go while touring the city.


Tipping


Many restaurants include a 12.5% “service charge” (“szervízdíj” in Hungarian) so make sure to check for this either on the bill itself or on the menu; there is no need to leave any extra tip in addition to this amount. If there is no service charge, it’s customary to add around 10% onto the bill. Tips are not to be left on the table but given to the waiter as you pay the bill.


When the waiter brings you the bill, he will wait until you let him know how much you are going to pay in total. If you say nothing, you will be charged the exact amount or receive the exact change. If you say "Thank you" when the waiter is giving you the change, he will understand that the remainder has been left as a tip.


When paying by credit card, you may also find that the waiter will bring the card reader to the table to complete the transaction.


If you decide not to tip for whatever reason it is usually considered to be a strong signal of your dissatisfaction, yet it's unlikely that the waiter will confront you.


For taxi cabs, it is ordinary to tip approximately 5-10% of the total fare or to round up by about 100-200 forints for a ride of ten minutes or less. For other services, like a massage or hairdresser, tipping is normally accepted at a 10% rate.



CURRENCY EXCHANGE IN BUDAPEST


You'll often find that Budapest is a bargain compared to other European cities because although Hungary is part of the European Union, it does not use the Euro as its currency. The Hungarian currency is the Forint (Also shown as Ft or HUF) and is about 277 HUF to $1 USD.



Credit Cards, such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, are widely accepted. You will be able to use them at most hotels, shops, and restaurants. You may find that most museums, smaller shops, and even some restaurants do not accept credit cards. If you plan on traveling to the countryside, be sure to take some cash with you to cover your trip, as most businesses there are still largely cash-based.


In main tourist areas and train stations, you will likely be approached by people offering to exchange money at a better rate. Always avoid changing your money on the street, as you will most likely be scammed either by being given counterfeit bills, or a stack of newspapers that have been bundled up in genuine bills at either end.


ATMs are easy to find in Budapest, and there are many options for exchanging cash. Most often, currency exchange kiosks located in tourist areas or shopping malls offer the best exchange rates. Currency exchange is also available at banks at a surcharge. ATMs dispense Hungarian currency at your bank's daily exchange rate; however, you may be charged a foreign fee on top of the service fees if you are using a regular debit card (see below for recommendation)


The Charles Schwab bank card is THE card to have in your wallet while traveling abroad. This card does not charge ATM fees in any country and does not have any foreign transaction fees. It’s my go-to card for travel. You can set up an online checking account through the Charles Schwab website by clicking here. It's quick and easy! There are no minimum deposits required and no monthly service fees. You’ll never pay a fee with this bank. Their ATM card can be used in any bank machine around the world. To deposit money into the account, set up a transfer online between your bank and your Charles Schwab checking account so you can transfer money through their mobile app anytime.

 

Budapest, the grand jewel of the Danube, will leave you in awe with its breathtaking architecture and rich history. The city will captivate you as you stroll through elegant Baroque buildings on every corner. No matter what season you visit, Budapest will be sure to impress.

STAY LOVELY, STAY CURIOUS - TRISH FRENCH

-A BLONDE'S WORLDLY WISDOM-


ASK ME QUESTIONS, LEAVE ME A COMMENT, OR TELL ME ABOUT YOUR TRAVELS TO BUDAPEST!


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