Do you ever visit a city and honestly think, ‘I could live here.’? That’s me in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. Considering I barely speak a word of Hungarian, I feel so at home here and if life was different, I’m sure I would of tried living here during my twenties.
This month I visited this unique city for the third time and I’m so excited to share the best bits with you. Let’s pop the kettle on and dive into the perfect weekend escape!
Where to stay in Budapest
Honestly, your accommodation options here are never ending! My three recommendations are all budget friendly, centrally located in Pest and utterly charming- you really can’t go wrong!
The stylish hotel
In downtown Budapest you can find the boutique hidden gem, Casati. Tom and I stayed in one of their 25 uniquely designed rooms, back in March 2016, and it was the perfect spot for a romantic weekend. A stunning, adults only hotel, it’s located a stones throw from the lively ruin bars, the shopping haven Andrássy Avenue and all the main tourist spots. Plus you have a metro station on your doorstop if you wish to travel a little further afield.
The Tuk Tuk bar is a great addition and our welcome cocktail was the perfect way to start our trip! You’ll find more on the Tuk Tuk bar below.
A weekend in March would cost approximately £95 per room, per night.
The quirky hostel
Entering Lavender Circus Hostel was my first impression of Budapest, and this unique find sums up the Hungarian personality perfectly. I’ll use the term ‘hostel’ very loosely, and remove all thoughts of a sweaty, over-crowded dormitory and shared showers from your mind! Every room at Lavender Circus features a doubled bed, most have a private bathroom and some even have the addition of a kitchenette. I visited here with my best friend Sam in July 2014, and the quirky shared living space was the ideal place to escape the hot, summer sun.
The real charm to this home from home? The illustrations which grace the walls, ceilings and very other surface you can find. This hostel has been lovingly created and the passion the owners show is not only in it’s decor but in their hospitality too. If you are travelling alone, I can imagine this place would feel like walking into a great, big hug from your closest friend. Utter bliss.
A private room, staying over a weekend in July would be around £45 per room, per night
The cheap and cheerful hotel
Have you ever used Accor hotels? My guess is that you have without even realising, as that’s exactly what I found a few months back.
Accor partner with chain hotels such as Ibis, Mercure and Novotel and offer a fantastic loyalty membership programme, Le Club. The programme is free to join and you gain points each time you book through Accor and stay at one of their partner hotels. The more you book, the more points you receive and these points result in rewards! Rewards include discount off future trips and eventually swapping the points for that dream holiday or golden event ticket.
So imagine my delight when I log on, find I have already accumulated points and have a nice little discount waiting for me- which leads me to our the hotel I spent last weekend in, Ibis Centrum Budapest!
Nestled in amongst restaurants and bars, the Ibis is situated a short walk from Tram and Metro stops and still close enough to reach the main sights on foot. Yes, the rooms are a little basic but the whole hotel was spotlessly clean with staff on hand for anything you might need. For the price, you really can’t beat it! I loved the decorative tree painted onto the garden wall, which was visible from our room too!
A weekend in November costs approximately £35 per room, per night when you join Le Club Loyalty Programme.
How to get around Budapest
Transport in Budapest is relatively cheap and easy to use. On arrival at the airport, follow the black line to the FoTaxi office or the orange line to the shuttle bus. I have used both options, and whilst the shuttle is more cost-effective, you can wait up to 40 minutes for your ride.
FoTaxi are quick and reliable. Simply tell the booth operative where you are going and they print you a ticket with your taxi’s registration number and the exact price you will pay. Find your taxi from the adjacent line and hop in! Our taxi cost around 6500 HUF, which is approximately £18.50, with the journey taking between 20-45 minutes depending on traffic.
In the city you have buses, trams and an underground system to choose from! Tickets are valid on all transport modes, but must be purchased from the machines (Select English language mode and it’s super simple) and VALIDATED in one of the orange machines before boarding a train or tram, or as you board the bus.
For the best value, purchase 10 single tickets for 3000 HUF (around £8.50) and use one ticket per journey.
What to see in Budapest
There is lots to see and do, and you never know, maybe you’ll spend three weekends in three years soaking it all up too! If not, the following two jam-packed two days will get most things ticked off!
Day one- Explore Pest
- Central Market Hall
- Vaci Utca
- St Stephens Basilica
- Liberty Square
- Shoes on the Danube
- Hungarian Parliament
- Grand Synagogue
Did you know Budapest was originally two cities, separated by the Danube- Buda and Pest? It wasn’t until 1849 that the first bridge between them was built and another 24 years until they merged to become one. Crazy stuff. I’ve always stayed in the flatter and livelier Pest, and that’s where we’ll begin today.
At the Central Market Hall you’ll find a breakfast nibble from the three floors of fresh vegetables, meat and baked goods. Open from 6am-6pm, I’d recommend avoiding the very early mornings, when the locals like to shop and head there a little after 9am on route to starting your day.
From here you are a mere 2 minute walk from Vaci Utca, which leads on to Vörösmarty Square. The pedestrianised Vaci Street is popular with tourists and features a number of chain and independent stores. It’s a nice walk to take, but be aware. Locals wouldn’t tend to shop here, therefore the hiked prices reflect that.
Continue onto Erzsébet Square, and take a ride on the wheel for your first views over this gorgeous city for around £6 per person.
St Stephens Basilica is one of the most photographed buildings in Budapest, and once you see it for yourself, you’ll see why. The Neo-classical church was completed in 1905 and is named in honour of the first king of Hungary. Admission is free but there is a small fee to take a lift to the observation deck at the top. The views are spectacular and the church is breathtaking, so it’s worth investing time and money into both.
Make sure you have a 200 HUF coin spare too- you’ll find St Stephen’s mummified right hand not far from the entrance and the coin will ‘light it up’. I kid you not.
On route to the Parliament building, head past Liberty Square and take a moment to read the information left in protest of the controversial Memorial to the victims of the German Invasion
I won’t get too deep into it there has been a number of protests held against the fixture which was erected in the middle of the night. Read what the protesters have to say, before continuing to pay your respects down on the embankment at Shoes on the Danube.
If you are thinking ahead- book onto a tour of the Hungarian House of Parliament. For only 2200 HUF (currently around £6.20) you can have a peek inside one of the most beautiful parliament buildings in the world. Not that it counts for much, but it’s possibly my favourite building. I just adore it, and it gives me goosebumps every time I set eyes on it.
As breathtaking as the exterior is, the inside also has the wow factor. The Grand Stairway would blow even Cinderella’s mind and the Dome Hall, which houses the Crown jewels is simply spectacular.
Still got some energy left?! Take the metro down from Parliament to Deák Ferenc Square and after a short walk you’ll find yourself at the Grand Synagogue .
I would of loved to have visited the Synagogue and the Hungarian Jewish Museum, but not only were we short on time- in my opinion it’s a little pricey. 4000 HUF per person (currently just over £11.)
Take a walk around the Synagogue and you can still pay your respects at the weeping willow located at the rear.
Return to Deák Ferenc Square and take the iconic yellow Metro 1 up to Hősök Tere. This Metro line is the third oldest in the world, has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Status and is one of the nicest ways to travel through the city.
At Hősök Tere you’ll be greeted by Heroes Square, at the entrance to City Park.
The park where Hungarians enjoy some much needed downtime, is very popular in the summer months. A walk around Vajdahunyad Castle, a dip at Széchenyi Medicinal Baths or a skate around the ice rink are all wonderful ways to end your first day in Hungary.
Day two- Explore Buda
Time to visit the beautiful, hilly and the quieter half of the capital, Buda.
- Castle Hill
- Mátyás Church
- Fishermans Bastion.
- Uri Utca
- Royal Palace
- Castle Gardens
- Gellert Hill
Walking across the iconic Chain Bridge is the best way to travel from Pest to Buda. You’ll no doubt join me to stopping on numerous occasions to take in the views on both Buda and Pest plus the lush Margaret Island to your right.
Once you reach Buda, save your legs and jump on the Castle Hill Funicular just like the one I took in Lisbon. The 3 minute journey runs every 5 minutes between 7.30am and 10pm and costs 1800 HUF return (approximately £5).
First thing to do at the top? Admire that view!!! You can really appreciate the architecture over on Pest from the hills of Buda and it’s worth watching the daylight fade to see the city come alive at night below you.
You have two choices, turn left towards Gellert Hill and Buda Castle, or to your right Mátyás Church and Fishermans Bastion.
I favour the latter, so we’ll head there first. You’ll pass some pretty coloured buildings, and being the quieter part of the city, it feels almost fairy tale-esqe. You’ll recognise Mátyás Church from its decorative roof made of Zsolnay ceramic tiles, which reminds me of tapestry. The church was closed during our recent visit, but it is usually open to the public for a small fee.
Fishermans Bastion is one of the cities most popular spots, which is obvious from the hoards of tourists you’ll find surrounding the iconic arches.
Don’t let this put you off, enjoy the structure and take in the views before walking towards the Starbucks coffee shop and approaching the stand advertising the cafe terrace on your right. For a few pennies you can head up to the highest turrets.
They seem to be top secret as we had the whole turret to ourselves! Here you’ll gain the best views of Parliament, Mátyás Church and the rest of Fishermans Bastion, in peace and quiet!
Continue on to Vienna Gate and The Church of Mary Magdalene and walk back down the colourful and elegant Lords Street (Uri Utca).
If you spy a statue of Andras Hadik upon a horse on said walk, go over a rub the horses, ahem, balls. Yes you did read that right. Legend has it, rubbing the area brings luck, hence why they are now the only shiny part of the statue.
Hopefully you’ll arrive at Hungarian Presidential Palace on the hour, in time to watch changing of the guard!
Royal Palace / Buda Castle are also home to the National Gallery and Budapest History Museum. It’s a great spot to stop with a coffee and take in the beautiful surroundings.
Gellert Hill is worth the walk if you have the energy- with the Citadel, Statue of Liberty and Cave Church amongst the must see’s. Alternatively, stay closer the the Castle District and explore the Castle Garden before heading back to Pest.
Where to eat in Budapest
Hungarian food will not leave you hungry!! There is lots of highly regarded restaurants in Budapest, alongside some amazing street food and impressive cafes, so we are really only scratching the surface with my suggestions!
For a special dinner for two, book a table at Ruben. This small restaurant is on a side street off Muzeum Korut and wouldn’t be generally noticed, so it’s a real hidden gem! Excellent food, beautifully presented and extremely reasonable!! We enjoyed a main and dessert each, plus a bottle of wine and water, which came to 13000 HUF, around £37! I’ve eaten at Ruben on two occasions and have eaten two superb meals at similar prices, so it’s no fluke.
It does get very busy, so I’d suggested dropping them an email to book a table before hand. The staff speak very good English and have always been very accommodating!
For an ‘all you can eat’ like no other, Trofea Grill is a must. A stylish restaurant, with slick waiter service and a delicious buffet with every type of Hungarian delicacy. For between 5999 and 6999 HUF (Around £17-£20) per person you can eat AND DRINK as much as you can in a 2 hour period. Local beer, wine, champagne, soft drinks and coffee, as many and as often as you like! They also have a live cooking station where the chefs will prepare any meats or fish of your choice before you select your own accompaniments. It’s a great chance to try a wide range of Hungarian dishes such as goulash, venison stew, meaty pancakes and stuffed cabbage, all of which were tasty! There is three Trofea Grill’s in the city, we visited the one located on Kiraly Utca.
The only downside? The food was so good I forgot to take any pictures!!! Doh!
Street food vendors
Ever since our trip last March, I’ve thought about a meal I devoured on our last day. A stuffed Langos from Retro Langos Bufe, near St Stephens Basilica at Arany Janos Metro Station.
The Langos is almost like a doughnut, deep fried and then usually topped with cheese, sour cream and meats. A stuffed langos, however, has the filling deep fried inside the dough. Calorific and truly scrumptious. The best piece of street food I’ve ever tasted. If you want to try a langos- there is only one place you should go!!
At breakfast time I like food on the go, such as a coffee and a croissant. Princess Bakeries offer fresh pastries and hot drinks and are situated in most metro stations. You’ll find they charge much lower prices than we’d have at stations in the UK! I enjoyed a honey and poppy seed twist with a cappuccino, for a tasty way to start my day!
Gerbeaud in Vörösmarty Sqaure and New York Cafe within the luxury Boscolo Hotel, are the priciest coffee shops in the city but well worth a visit on your trip! On both occasions, our friendly waiters quickly served up the most delicious Latte’s and traditional Hungarian cakes.
At Gerbeaud we opted for the Salty peanut apricot slice, and the Strudel selection at New York Cafe. Portions are designed for one, but it was just enough to share as a mid morning treat!
Prices are pretty identical in both cafes, with two coffees and a cake to share totalling £18-£20
Booze can be super cheap in Budapest. Especially if you stick to local wines, beers and spirits. You just need to find the right place!!
Most cocktails cost between 1400-2000 HUF, approximately £3.50-£5.70. Much cheaper than our UK cocktail prices!!
Finally, we must mention Szimpla Kert!
Budapest’s first ruin bar, and still the main attraction on the tourist bar scene, the brand has gone from strength to strength. The graffiti covered, warrens which taper off from the main bar area, have to be seen to be believed. Main attractions include a bath tub couch, chairs hanging off the ceiling and the old Trabant car usually occupied by a loved up couple.
The garden area is also host to a giant cinema screen and if you get peckish you can even pop next door to the food market. Try the langos burger- it looked epic!
Off the eaten track
For another side to Budapest, the Zugligeti Libegő / János Hill Chairlift is the way forward. It truly is off the beaten track and it will take up a morning or afternoon. However, this could easily be slotted into your day exploring the Buda side.
The 291 bus from main train station, Nyugati Palyaudvar takes you directly up to the chairlift.
You’ll be taking the bus from the first to the last stop, so there is no need to worry about missing your stop! The bus arrives every 20 minutes and the 25 minute journey takes you through the beautiful suburbs of the Buda Hills.
A return journey on the chairlift costs 1400 HUF (approx £4) and is worth every penny. I’d recommend having the right money with you, as tickets can only be purchased from the yellow machines. You will then take your ticket out to the staff at the chairlift, who will send you on your way up!
On your journey up keep a look out for Erzsébet Lookout Tower and if you have the energy, head there on foot once you arrive at Janos Hill. Stood 526 metres high, the tower is a quiet, picturesque spot with incredible view over Budapest and beyond!
We decided to stop for a coffee and strudel in front of the roaring fire before enjoying the most amazing views on our 15 minute journey back down!
I hope you inspired to visit beautiful Budapest!
If so, why not add it to your Pinterest board to remind you of these amazing places when you book your trip?