KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
LANGUAGE: Hungarian is the official language.
CURRENCY: Hungary is not officially on the euro and still uses its own currency. However, the euro is accepted almost everywhere. Just make sure you are getting a favorable exchange rate. We found it useful to have cash available for the markets and public restrooms.
WHEN TO GO: Peak tourism season is considered to be the summer months (June through August), a high traffic time for the river boat cruises that depart from Budapest. We thought October was a great time to visit: cooler temperatures and fewer crowds.
RESTAURANTS: Mazel Tov, Spoon, New York Cafe, Halaszbastya, 21 Hugarian Kitchen, Pest-Buda Bistro
RESERVATIONS: You will need reservations in advance for almost everything in Budapest, especially restaurants. We had not made any advance reservations and quickly realized our mistake trying to find a place to eat the first night. The concierge at our hotel was a great resource to book the remaining meals.
SERVICE: Expect service to be slowish. On multiple occasions, we had to ask for someone to come take our order as no one had come to our table when we sat down. A service charge is automatically added to your bill meaning tipping is not discretionary based on service received.
BATHROOMS: Most public bathrooms require payment to use. Make sure you have a few euros handy. Normally, the fee is less than one euro.
AIRPORT TRANSPORTATION: Buy a ticket for the hotel shuttle at the airport. You may have a stop or two for other passengers along the way but the price is hard to beat. We paid $35 for a round trip ticket for two people, and we were the only people on our transfer back to the airport in departure. A cab will cost you around $30 one way.
TRANSPORTATION WITHIN THE CITY: Budapest is huge and the main attractions are spread out. Each day we would organize our destinations based on their location to one another and attempt to walk. However, our legs were beat after one day of climbing Gellért Hill and walking the many flights of stairs to our hotel. We started using lime scooters to get from one stop to another in the city. The scooters were also helpful in getting back to our hotel each evening but even they needed help on some of the hills! If scooters don’t sound like your cup of tea, then I would suggest hiring a driver or joining a tour group for the day. Traffic in the city can get pretty congested. We tried to take a taxi to dinner one night and it took longer than it would have to just walk there.
CITY LAYOUT: Budapest is divided into 2 parts: the Buda side and Pest side. Our hotel was located on the Buda side right behind Fisherman’s Bastion. The Buda side is more quaint, quiet and hilly, expect to climb multiple flights of stairs to reach any destination. Main attractions on the Buda side: Gellert Hill and Liberty Statue, Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion. Cross the famous chain bridge over the Danube River to the Pest side, the more bustling city center. Main attractions on the Pest side: Hungarian Parliament Building, Central Market, Jewish Quarter and ruin bars, Heroes’ Square and Szechenyi Thermal Baths.
POINTS OF INTEREST: Fisherman’s Bastion, Hungarian Parliament Building, Buda Castle, Gellert Hill, Szechenyi Thermal Bath, Jewish Quarter, Ruin Bars, Central Market, Szechenyi Chain Bridge, Heroes’ Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial
WHAT WE DID
Budapest was the first city stop on our whirlwind ten year wedding anniversary trip to Europe. We arrived in Budapest around 10am, and by noon, we were headed to our hotel for check in. Budapest is divided into two sides: Buda and Pest separated by the Danube River. Drawn to the panoramic views the Buda side offers, we choose to stay at the Hilton located just steps from Fisherman’s Bastion.
We choose to stay close to our hotel that afternoon and visit the main attractions on the Buda side: Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle and Gellért Hill.
First stop after hotel check-in was Fisherman’s Bastion, one of the most iconic attractions in Budapest and our personal favorite stop. Set high on the hill, the site offers goregous city views especially that of the Hungarian Parliament Building. We patiently waited for a spot to clear to take a few pictures along the wall overlooking the Danube River. The columns perfectly frame the Parliament Building in the background.
We continued on to Buda Castle located right next door. The castle is now a museum (personally, I was slightly disappointed there were not staged palace rooms to tour). We did not go inside the castle, but instead walked the grounds and garden.
Then on to Gellért Hill to hike to the top. And a hike it was, a constant incline and many flights of stairs! The leaves were changing and the trees were beautiful along our climb. It took around 30 minutes to reach the top. After snapping a few pictures of the view, we enjoyed a beverage atop the hill. There were several food trucks with beer and home made lemonade as well as light snacks. Souvenir stands also lined the street at the top.
Tired from our flight, we had dinner at a restaurant down the street from our hotel: 21 Hungarian Kitchen. We enjoyed a meal of traditional Hungarian food: Goulash (tomato based soup with beef and potatoes), Chicken Paprikash and spaetzle before crashing for the evening.
Given Fisherman’s Bastion’s picturesque views and popularity, there are always crowds. The next morning, I woke before sunrise and was pleasantly surprised to see that tour buses had not yet arrived. I was finally able to snap a few pictures of a peaceful Fisherman’s Bastion devoid of the hordes of tourists.
Before headed out on our packed sightseeing day, we enjoyed breakfast with a view. The Hilton has an amazing view of the Danube River and the Parliament Building from almost every table in the restaurant. We carb loaded for our packed agenda of walking over the Szechenyi Chain Bridge to the Central Market Hall and then on to explore the Jewish Quarter.
The Szechenyi Chain Bridge opened in 1849 and was the first permanent structure across the Danube in Hungary. At the time of its construction, it was regarded as one of the modern world’s engineering wonders and became a symbol of advancement for the East. It is truly a unique experience to cross the bridge and take in the city views.
The Central Market Hall features two floors with the top floor containing souvenir stands and the bottom floor housing food stands. Come here to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and cheese or sample local dishes from the prepared food stands or buy a souvenir from your trip.
After touring the Hall, we walked to the Jewish Quarter for lunch at Mazel Tov followed by drinks at Szimpla Kert, the most famous ruin bar in Budapest. After WWII, the Jewish population drastically decreased and buildings in the quarter fell into disrepair. In the early 2000s, an idea was born to turn a crumbling building into a bar where people could socialize and have a cheap drink in a relaxed environment. Szimpla Kert was the first bar of its kind with an eclectic design and open bar space. Since it’s opening, a revitalization has occurred in the quarter with more ruin bars and restaurants opening.
After a quick stop at our hotel, we grabbed a taxi to head to High Note Sky Bar at the Aria Hotel before dinner. Unfortunately for us, traffic was terrible and the cab ride took longer than it would have to walk to the rooftop bar. Running short on time at the rooftop bar, we simply took in the views and snapped a few pictures in order to make our dinner reservations.
We enjoyed dinner that evening at Spoon, a docked boat along the Danube river. As previously mentioned, service isn’t the best in the city and this dinner was one of those occasions. However, the views helped make the evening pleasant and enjoyable.
The next day was another packed day. We rented scooters and drove them down to Heroes’ Square. Having constantly read about the popular thermal baths, we wanted to check out Szechenyi Thermal Baths, one of the oldest and largest in the city. Unfortunately for us, it was a holiday and very crowded, and visitor passes and tours were not being offered. We were able to catch a glimpse of the inside but would have loved a tour.
As we were walking to the baths, we noticed a castle across the street. Since there were no tours available at the baths, we had time to explore. Vajdahunyad Castle was built in 1896 to celebrate 1,000 year of Hungary and Hungarian architecture. Each section of the castle was built to honor a different style of architecture and now serves as a natural history museum to the public.
Nearing lunch time, we headed towards New York Cafe. Having read and heard so much about the beauty of the restaurant, we should have anticipated a line out the door. Fortunately, the line went quickly and we were soon seated.
Even though both our meals were delicious, it was expensive. We would recommend going just for dessert or afternoon tea. The dessert menu was quite extensive: cheesecake, apple pie, hot chocolate, tiramisu, sponge cake, ice cream sundaes, strudels, tarts, macarons.
Our last city stop in Budapest was the Parliament Building. Although we did not book a tour of the inside of the building, we wanted to get a closer look at the architecture.
Located along the Danube Promenade near the Parliament Building are the Shoes on the Danube Bank. The memorial stands to commemorate the Jewish people who were executed along the Danube River by the Arrow Cross militiamen.
To celebrate our last night in Budapest and our anniversary, we booked dinner reservations at Halaszbastya Restaurant (Fisherman’s Bastion). We had a 4 course meal in the upstairs of the Knight Hall overlooking the Danube and Parliament Building. The couple seated next to us even got engaged during their meal! It was a great way to wrap up our stay in Budapest. Make sure to order the campfire for a truly unique dessert experience.