Budapest really is one of those places for everyone. If you want a chilled-out weekend away with sightseeing, art, culture, architecture, and great food, you’ll find everything you’re after. Or if you’re after a city where you can party ’til dawn without breaking the bank, sleep all morning, have a cheap-as-hell recovery brunch, then do it all again, then Budapest is the place for you. And if like me, you’re somewhere in the middle, then you’ll be in heaven.
Budapest is made up of two former town – Buda and Pest – that decided to join together to make one big city. The Danube River divides the Buda and Pest sides, and both have a pretty distinct feel. Buda is more chilled out, quiet, and feels quite residential. It has a lot of hills that give seriously great views of the city, and it’s where you’ll find Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion. The Pest side has the hustle-and-bustle you’d expect from a big city, with a lot of nightlife, cafes, and tourist attractions like Parliament, the Central Market, and museums.
Budapest is CHEAP, especially if you’re used to Western European prices. The local currency is Forints, and it’s one of those confusing ones with huge amounts. When I visited, 200 forints equalled one Aussie dollar, or about 330 to the Euro.
You can eat out for less than €6 ($10AUD), and find street food for around €3. Drinks are super cheap, in my favourite bar they were around a Euro. You can see why it’s so easy to party in this city! Some of the tourist attractions (like the thermal baths) can get pricey, but it’s not too extravagant. My hostel was around €8 ($13AUD) a night.
Where to stay
If you’re just there for a short time, I definitely recommend staying on the Pest side, close to the action. Look for accommodation around the Old Jewish Quarter, as that’s the area with a lot of the bars, cafes, and restaurants you’ll want to be visiting. Budapest can be a real party city, if you want it to be. I decided to lean into the nightlife, and stayed at a party hostel called Vitae. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared- they organised a lot of parties and pub crawls but most of the drinking was done off-premises which meant my sleep wasn’t compromised by all the 19-year-old binge drinkers that fill Budapest hostels. But I was able to meet so many people and ended up going along to a lot of the parties the hostel organised. If you want something a bit more modern and probably a bit tamer, I had a couple drinks at Wombats Hostel where a friend stayed and it seemed great.
What to do
Budapest is one of those cities you can just walk around for hours and you’ll be content. There are main tourist hotspots that everyone recommends. Fisherman’s Bastion has a great view, and you can get that iconic shot in the arches. Gellert Hill is a steep climb but worth it, as you can take in the whole city from the top.
I found the Central Market Hall to be overrated, it was suuuuper touristy and didn’t seem like somewhere locals would actually go. Maybe it’s because I was there on a Sunday?
Ervin Szabo Library is a hidden gem I definitely recommend. You go into what looks like a normal library, and make your way up a spiral staircase to the fourth floor. At this point, it still looks like a library, but if you meander through the stacks to the back, you’ll find a warren of amazing rooms with chandeliers and wood panelling. They’re usually filled with people studying, but you can walk through and check them out. I didn’t see any other tourists while I was here.
There’s an island in the middle of the river called Margaret Island, and it’s a great place to while away a sunny afternoon. Whether you wander around the endless trails that criss-cross the island, or sit in the sun on the grass with a picnic, or head into one of the courtyard restaurants or bars, it’s always a good time. You can rent a bike or scooter, then take it across the bridge and cycle down the riverbank on the Buda side to get great views of the architecture along the water.
Having a drink on the river is a pretty great experience in summer. I went to one called Pontoon which was overpriced for Budapest but still cheap by Aussie standards. Also, I’m pretty sure drinking in public is legal, so just grab a roadie and sit on the banks of the Danube for a cheap way to drink away an afternoon. If you get arrested, sorry. But I think its fine.
If you do anything in Budapest, visit the ruin bars. They’re basically crumbling old buildings, usually in the Jewish Quarter, that have been turned into bars and nightclubs. Everyone will tell you to visit the bar Szimpla, and I’m here to echo that. It’s a sprawling complex, with a bunch of different bars inside, and even a place to order burgers. You’ll find a wine bar, a cocktail bar, a craft beer bar. Small nooks have been turned into rooms with different themes, plants grow everywhere, and the decor is…eclectic. I visited in the afternoon, when the vibe was chill and relaxed, the best place to gear up for a big night. I went back on a Saturday night, and it was PACKED. We had to line up for about five minutes to get in, and the vibe inside was totally different but still cool. Szimpla is CHEAP, about $2AUD for a glass of wine.
A great ruin bar for daytime is Koleves – they have epic iced coffees if you need to recover from last night before you start drinking, and a super-cute courtyard with rainbow furniture.
Another top spot is Instant, which has a bunch of different nightclub rooms in the one building. Head down to the bottom floor to find comfy lounges and the longest foosball table I’ve ever played on.
It sounds like a cliche tourist trap, but I did a boat booze cruise on one of my first nights. Granted, I don’t remember much, as I definitely made the most of the cheap wine. But it was pretty cool to be floating down the Danube, past amazing buildings like Parliament. I don’t even remember taking this photo but here you go.
Vitae Hostel was great in terms of nightlife. They organised parties and pub craws, and I met a ton of people who were all keen to hang out. Their sister hostel, Retox, is where most of the partying took place. They had alcohol olympics, karaoke, and Jagerbomb competitions. It’s not my usual cup of tea when it comes to partying, but I usually went there for a few drinks before heading to a bar with a bit less vomiting and table-dancing.
Budapest is pretty well known for its thermal baths. I almost didn’t go, thinking it’d be an overrated tourist destination. There are a couple you can visit. Szechenyi is the most popular, and they’re stunning. Their outdoor bath is GIANT, surrounded by old buildings, and it’s pretty damn special. I visited Gellert, which are smaller and mainly inside. They opened in 1918, and the room decor and design remain from that time, and looks spectacular. Entry cost 6000HUF, around $30AUD. If you want something cheaper, a girl in my hostel went to Kiraly Baths, which were about half the price, though not as big or spectacular. She also spent 6000, but got a massage and private change room as well as entry.
What to eat
I could talk about the food in Budapest for hours. Here I’ll just talk about the food trucks – there are so many around the city. Visit Karavan, a small collection of food trucks right near Szimpla. You can choose from traditional Hungarian food like Langos (fried bread covered in cheese or sour cream) and chimney cake, or food truck staples like Mexican and burgers. There’s also a vegan food truck courtyard right near Koleves bar. If you’re a vegan, you’re in luck. On basically every street I found vegan cafes and restaurants, all of which looked pretty good.
I spent a few days just cafe-hopping in Budapest, and I found some great ones, all of which have fast free Wifi:
-Kotleves Kert, as I mentioned above, is a top spot for an iced coffee.
-My Little Melbourne has good coffee but is a little pricey and crowded. But you really can’t say no to good coffee in Europe.
-Dorado Cafe had really good batch brew coffee.
-Massolit is a super cute bookstore/cafe. The coffee was mediocre, but it’s a great vibe and they have a lot of homemade baked goods.
-10SixtySix doesn’t have much of a vibe, as it’s underground. But they do have unlimited brewed coffee which I can get on board with. Also good, cheap breakfast.
-The Goat Herder is a good espresso bar with a nice vibe.
-Espresso Embassy and Fecske Presszo I didn’t make it to, but supposedly have some of the best coffee in the city?
As always, I’ve linked all these on a Google map to make your lives easier. Enjoy!