Budapest is a gem of a city in the North-central region of Hungary. It is painfully photogenic, so this post is extra full of ivy-laced doors and windows, elaborate castles and sweeping views. What ever brings you to Budapest there is something for everyone to enjoy including history, architecture, nightlife and gastronomy. My personal favorite aspect of Budapest was how it could feel so historic, but be relatively modern at the same time. Despite how old the façade of a building may have been, everything was very well maintained and cared for. Also, just walking the street you will notice how the myriad of different architecture styles from Roman to Gothic, Renaissance, Ottoman, Baroque, Classicist and Art Nouveau blend so nicely together and force you to pay attention because you’re never quite sure what you are going to see next.
Views not to miss:
Hungarian Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest is the most iconic building in the city. From the first moment you see it, its gothic architecture and pure size makes it hard to look away. Almost too large to take in all at once when right near it, we suggest viewing from the Buda side where you can take it in all at once. There is a platform where lots of people gather to take pictures from across the Danube; however, if you walk a little further down the promenade towards the Novotel Hotel, you will find less crowds and benches to sit and enjoy the view.
Top of St Stephan’s Basilica
We didn’t know what to expect from the viewing platform at the top of the basilica, but we were pleasantly surprised. You get a 360 degree view of the city inclusive of the parliament building and the Gellert hill. This only takes about 30 minutes and can be done if you have a few extra minutes while passing by. We stopped on our way to the Buda side around 11am and there was no line, but when we left around 11:30 a line out to the stairs started to form.
Buda Castle by night
The Buda Castle sits a top a hill on the Buda side and in the present day has been turned into a history museum. The grounds of the castle are complete free to enter and the walk up is free unless you want to take the incline. One of the most spectacular things about the Buda Castle is the view of the Pest side of the city and the parliament building. We especially enjoyed this view at night when everything was lit up.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
What a beautiful bridge connecting the two cities divided by the Danube River. As this is one of few ways to get from one side to the other, prepare to be walking this bridge with many others during the peak of the day. If you want to admire the architecture, come early in the morning and enjoy a leisurely walk across, or stake out at the Buda Castle at sunset and watch the bridge come alive with lights as the sun goes down. This will light up all the details of the bridge and leave you in awe.
The view from the Fisherman’s Bastion is one of my favorites; however, judging by the crowd, I am not alone. We casually stopped by one day while on the Buda side and were so overwhelmed by the number of people that we left without enjoying it much. Instead, we set our alarms early for the last day we were in Budapest, to get to the bastion in the morning and explore the grounds before most of the tourist arrived up the hill. We got there just before 8am and were one of only a few other tourists walking around. We basically had the bastion to ourselves and could enjoy the view without worrying about being hit with a selfie stick. One of the perks of getting there early is that typically the upper levels of the platform are only allowed with a paid ticket, however if you get there before the ticket office opens, they are all free! Get here early to enjoy the view with some peace and quiet. The sweet spot is 7am to 9am, and the morning light is a nice added touch.
Things to do:
Take a ride on the metro
The underground and above ground metro lines in Budapest are the oldest in the mainland Europe (London was the first in Europe). Stepping into the underground system is like you have transported yourself back in time. To be exact, the metros lines were built in 1896 during the 1,000 years celebration of the independence of Budapest and it still feels like the late 19th century down there. Either for functional purposes or just for the experience, take a ride on the second oldest metro system still operating today in all of Europe!
Wine cruise down the Danube
Combing wine with a view of the city of Budapest via the Danube is a picture perfect scenario. Unfortunately for us, we chose an afternoon with sideways rain, but despite this our view was still spectacular and we enjoyed the trip.
Faust Cellar Wine Tasting
This is our second wine suggestion in Budapest, but definitely not second to our other suggestion. The Faust Wine Cellars are located within the tunnels found underneath the Buda Castle District and host 2 wine tastings a day with your choice of either a 5 or 8 tasting menu. Faust Cellars was extremely friendly and willing to accommodate us with whatever we needed before we arrived and during the event. The 5 tasting lasts about an hour and a half and the 8 tasting takes about 2 hours. Since there is always time for wine, we highly suggest booking the 8 Hungarian wine tasting (nice mix of reds and whites) served with cheesy scones and a knowledgeable sommelier.
Budapest Thermal Baths
Two of the most famous baths in town are the Széchenyi Thermal Baths and the Gellért Thermal Baths. We read such good reviews about both for different reasons that we had to try them out for ourselves. The Gellért baths are closer if you are staying in town and are much smaller but the most ornate. Here we also found some of the hottest thermal pools reaching 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). However our favorite had to be the Széchenyi Baths which we a little further out but easily reached by the metro system and conveniently located right next to the Vajdahunyad Castle. The Széchenyi Baths had a large heated outdoor pool which was even enjoyable on a cold March morning and a labyrinth of indoor spas including a hibiscus pool and steam room. Come early in the morning to avoid the Spring Break feel. If you are leisurely hoping from bath to bath (we noticed some people have a ritual) you can easily spend roughly 2 hours here. For couples (or singles) that are making this a stop on their busy day, you can rent cabins in either of the baths that allow you to change and store your valuables safety!
New York Café
Cake and coffee is everywhere in Budapest. One of the most famous cafes in Budapest is actually the New York Café, known for their elaborate ceilings and connected to the beautiful New York Palace Hotel. They are also one of the only cafes that we went to that you could order a trio of small cakes (instead of over-ordering 3 large pieces to try all the different flavors).
Try one of the many Hungarian originals:
Dobos – pastries and chocolate butter crème
Rigó Jancsi – chocolate sponge filled with chocolate mousse
Eszterházy – almond and cognac notable by the zebra marble icing
Krémes – vanilla crème between two puff pastries
The Vajdahunyad Castle is a blend of various architectural styles combined into one making this castle look like a pleasant mismatch between function and extravagance. This is a one stop shop to cover architecture styles spanning 8 centuries. The oldest part of the Vajdahunyad Castle is the Romanesque style from the 11th – 13th century. Then comes the Gothic style from the 14th -15th century characterized by the turrets and wooden beams. Most contradictory are the 16th – 18th century Renaissance and Baroque buildings merging the elements of rich palaces in royal Hungary and Austrian-Hungary. Little had I heard about this castle before our visit to Budapest, but now one of my favorite suggestions due to its uniqueness. Originally the castle was a temporary structure made from cardboard and wood in 1896 to celebrate 1,000 years of Hungary, but it became so popular it was rebuilt in its current form in 1904. Also notable, the 15-th century Transylvanian prince, Vlad III Dracul of Walchia, who is thought to be the inspiration behind Count Dracula, was imprisoned in this castle for many years!
The tiles on the roof of this church are everything. The orange and teal blue colors arranged to form intricate patterns left me starring (and drooling) over my camera. If you get to the Fisherman’s Bastion early in the morning, take advantage of the free access to the top level, and the absence of any other people just to sit and enjoy the handiwork. Not only gorgeous, the church has a colorful past as a coronation church by Hungarian kings for centuries, also a mosque for over 150 years by the Ottoman Turks
House of Terror Museum
If you came to Budapest looking for some history, here it is! Built in the same building and address used by the fascist and communist regimes during their reign in Hungary, 60 Andrássy Avenue, the House of Terror museum takes you through multiple exhibitions of life during the double occupation. Not for the faint of heart, the last stop on the museum tour is on a slow moving elevator with an ominous preview to the the basement cells where Hungarian prisoners were held in multiple different types of torture cells.
Hospital in the Rock
If you haven’t had enough history yet, plan a visit to the Hospital in the Rock the same day you are exploring the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side. Located just over the hill from the Fisherman’s Bastion, in part of the interconnected caves beneath the Buda Castle, is a museum dedicated to the secret emergency hospital and nuclear bunker. The hospital was actively used by the Red Cross in WWII providing medical attention the wounded and then in 1958 was expanded into a shelter from potential chemical or nuclear attacks during the Cold War. There is an hour long tour in English and Hungarian every hour on the hour. No need to book in advance!
There are a few ruins bars in Budapest, but the most famous is the Szimpla Kert located in the Jewish Quarter neighborhood. These bars are collectively called ruins bars because they were built inside and between abandoned buildings creating a large beer garden with multiple rooms decorated with random mismatched items. The Szimpla Kert gets pretty crowded, so we recommend going for a drink before dinner to avoid waiting in the lines that form after dinner hours.
Places to Eat:
Karavan Street Food, Kazinczy utca 18. 1075 Budapest, Hungary
If after your visit to the Ruin Bars (mentioned above), you have a hankering for a late night or afternoon snack, right next door you can find the Karavan Street Food trucks. Situated in a small alleyway between buildings sits a small food truck market. We stopped by here before dinner planning to just check out what they had to offer, but we would up ordering a “pre-dinner” quesadilla (is that a thing?) from the Mexkitchen truck since they smelled so good. Offerings found at other trucks along the alleyway include sausage wraps, Hungarian fried dough, burgers, sushi fusion, vegan, pizza, ice cream, and of course some cold beer and wine. We would definitely suggest stopping by to see if anything peaks your fancy.
Mazel Tov, Akacfa utca 47. 1073 Budapest, Hungary
I would say that Mozel Tov easily had the most unique atmosphere of all of the restaurants on this list. Located in the Jewish Quarter this restaurants goal is to celebrate their heritage with its culinary offerings and does so in an open air garden with string lights overhead. As mentioned above we already took part in an appetizer before dinner, so we went a little bit lighter at dinner and chose from a few appetizers including the hummus and pita plate, which was a must. We would recommend a visit to Mozel Tov if possible, though, fair warning, you may want to make a reservation ahead of time as we arrived to a very long line of people waiting for a table.
Déryne Bistro, Krisztina tér 3. 1013 Budapest, Hungary
If you happen to find yourself on the other side of the Buda Castle hill in the morning, we suggest a stop by Deryne Bistro, a “Michelin Suggested” restaurant, for their brunch. We had an eggs Florentine as well as an eggs benedict with salmon, both of which were very good. The breakfast and brunch items are a bit pricey, and I have read that lunch and dinner can be even more so. But if you feel like treating yourself one morning and possibly catching some live music, this may be just the spot.
Spoon, Vigado Ter, Pier 3. 1052 Budapest, Hungary
Spoon is located on a boat on the Danube with a great view of the Buda Castle. On a nice night they do have outdoor tables available for seating. In our experience at Spoon the food was pretty good, we had an appetizer of seared scallops, which were very tasty and tender, some shrimp risotto which was very nice, and my husband had some deer filets. While everything was good we found the price to food ratio to be a bit on the high side, perhaps a premium for being on a boat with a nice view. Nonetheless if you feel like enjoying the fancier side of meals while floating on a boat enjoying some wine, go for it!
Hungarikum Bistro, Steindl Imre ut. 13. 1054 Budapest, Hungary
Cannot praise this place enough. We originally got this suggestion from a friend who stumbled upon this little hole-in-the-wall, traditional Hungarian restaurant. The staff were extremely warm and welcoming, and very helpful guiding us through the menu. We tried a handful of traditional Hungarian dishes including Hungarian fired dough (dough fried then brushed with garlic and topped with sour cream and cheese), goulash soup, roasted pork and potatoes, potato dumplings. and some complimentary house made bacon bread. Also if you enjoy some spice in your life don’t sleep on the little dish of chili paste they provide with the bread. Easily our biggest and best meal of our trip to Budapest, on top of the fact that everything was very reasonably priced. If you only can visit one place on this list make it here, though we would suggest making a reservation due to the cozy size of the restaurant.
Muvesz Kavehaz, Andrassy ut 29. 1061 Budapest, Hungary
Initially only came to Muvesz Kavehaz because it was included in our Airbnb stay, however we came to find out that it served up quite the selection of coffee and breakfast options, none of which disappointed. In addition, while we didn’t get to try any of the cakes, all that passed by us looked very delicious, and come to find out this place shows up in most “best cakes of Budapest” Google searches, so our eyes we seemingly not deceiving us. If you are ever near the Opera house in Budapest this place is right next door.