How had I never been to Budapest before this trip?! The intriguing capital of Hungary, beautiful Budapest blew me away. After four wonderful days exploring, I already know that Budapest is a city I’ll visit again. There is so much going on in this city, it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s my guide to visiting Budapest for a first-time beginner!
The Basics: Budapest is a city of 1.73 million, and is divided by the Danube River—with one side being ‘Buda’ and the other side being ‘Pest.’ For currency, Hungary uses the Hungarian Forint (HUF or Ft). Euros are widely accepted, but at a horrible exchange rate. Budapest is a very cheap city, and even my “treat yo-self” activities were affordable as a budget traveler. Budapest has an airport, which is well connected across Europe (and served by budget airlines like Ryanair and WizzAir). It is an excellent gateway city, with both train and coach bus connections to Western Europe and Eastern Europe.
There is so much to see and do in Budapest, you should really give yourself several days to explore thoroughly! Here are 14 places you can’t miss in Budapest:
Szechenyi Thermal Bath: I loved my experience here so much, I wrote a full blog post on it! Check it out here.
Chain Bridge: The most popular (and photogenic) of the bridges in central Budapest crossing the Danube, the Chain Bridge was built in the 19th century. It connects the two sides of Buda and Pest. Some of the best views of the bridge are at night!
Buda Castle/Royal Palace: It’s often called by both names, but they both mean the same thing—the castle complex on the Buda side of the river. Today, it houses the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum, and the National Library. I visited the Budapest History Museum, which was interesting but nothing spectacular.
Matthias Church: This stunning church is located close to Buda Castle and next to the Fisherman’s Bastion. The interior is painted in beautiful, bold colors. One of the best parts is the balcony over the altar that you can visit as part of the church’s ecclesiastical museum.
Fisherman’s Bastion: This terrace is located next to Matthias Church and is characterized by its intriguing towers. Some of the best views of Budapest (especially the Hungarian Parliament and the Pest side of the city) are here. There’s no need to pay for a ticket (it only gives you access to an upper level section of the wall)—making it completely free!
St. Stephen’s Basilica: I went to Mass here on Easter Sunday, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. The Basilica is simply stunning and well worth a visit for the elaborate interior!
Terror House: This is potentially one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. It gives a fascinating insight into the Nazi and Communist terror regimes—if you go to one museum in Budapest, this should be it.
Heroes Square: Located at the end of Andrassy Avenue near City Park, you can’t miss this huge monument.
Dohany Street Great Synagogue/Jewish Museum: This synagogue is the largest in Europe and one of the largest in the world. The Jewish Museum is adjacent to the synagogue and combined entry tickets are available.
Liberty Statue: Located on Gellert Hill in Buda, this statue commemorates those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Hungary. The Citadel is not open to the public but the views from this area are incredible!
Hungarian Parliament Building: The Parliament building in Budapest is the largest building in Hungary and is architecturally stunning. It looks even better lit up at night! Guided tours (in English) are available—book online in advance.
Opera House: Located on the main drag of Andrassy Avenue, the Hungarian Opera House has a richly decorated interior. Guided tours are available (in English) if you don’t want to throw down the money to see a performance.
Shoes on the Danube Bank: This moving memorial is located on the Pest side of the Danube, close to the Parliament building. It honors the Jews who were killed by the Arrow Cross (Nazi terror regime) between 1944-1945.
Memento Park: Located outside of the city center, this quirky attraction houses many communist statues and plaques from Budapest’s Soviet era. Most of the statues are of Hungarian communists, memorials to workers, or of Vladimir Lenin. As a person who loves Soviet history, this was one of the best things I did in Budapest! There is a phonebox where you can listen to recorded speeches of communist leaders around the world, as well as a trabant car (and yes, you can get in the car and take pictures). There is an exhibition in the barracks building about communism (post-WWII) in Hungary—my favorite part of this was the ‘training’ film for secret police officers during the 1950s. Take Metro 4 to “Kelenfold vasutallomas,” and then take bus 101 or 150 in the direction “Budateteny vasutallomas (Campona)” to the Memento Park stop.
Ruin bars: If there’s one thing I want to make sure I do next time I’m in Budapest, it’s checking out the ruin bar scene! These old buildings apparently host great parties but the best locations change around—so I’d recommend checking at your accommodation with a local for the best bets.
Thinking about a daytrip from Budapest? I visited Esztergom and Visegrad (both towns on the Danube Bend) on a daytrip from Budapest. Read my post for more information!
Getting Around: Budapest has a large tram and bus system, as well as a Metro with four lines. Single journey tickets are 350 HUF (about ~USD$1.30), a 24-hour daypass is 1650 HUF (~$6). A single journey is only one ride—taking the Metro and then taking the bus to your final destination will be two journeys. You need to buy tickets before boarding (bus tickets from the driver are more expensive at 450 HUF) and before entering the Metro—there are officers waiting to make sure you bought a ticket and validate it before going through.
Where I Stayed: I stayed at Unity Hostel in a dorm for my 4 nights in Budapest. The location is excellent—about 2 minutes to Andrassy Avenue, and within walking distance to both Nyugati and Keleti train stations. I wasn’t totally comfortable with the security in the hostel—I was in the second apartment, with two dorm rooms. The second dorm was inside my dorm, so those people had to walk through my room every time. This wasn’t too annoying, but 7 out of 8 lockers were broken and made me nervous. Some of the staff were super helpful, some weren’t. Overall, I would stay here again if I had to but would try to find another hostel with better security.
The kebab game is strong in Budapest. I had some of the best kebabs EVER in Budapest at a bakery/kebab place on Andrassy Avenue at the Oktagon intersection. I highly recommend Budapest kebabs!
I absolutely loved exploring Budapest—it has loads of beautiful buildings and fun things to do, but is still very affordable for a budget traveler. I already can’t wait to go back!
Have you ever been to Budapest? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!