Budapest (pronounced Buda-peSHt) is fast becoming the place to be. Fancy a life of luxury without spending a fortune? Head to Hungary and you won’t be disappointed. Whether your after a relaxing weekend at the spa, a weekend of shopping and fine dining, or a weekend of exploration and discovery – Budapest has all this to offer and more. In the high season prepare for sweltering temperatures and glorious sunshine whereas in the cooler months prepare for minus degrees and lots of snow. Budapest is beautiful to visit all year round so today I thought I would share with you my ultimate guide to visiting this breathtaking city.
How to get Around
Once you arrive at the airport you have a couple of options. You can book a transfer in advance, grab a taxi or hop on the 200E airport bus which takes you to the nearest Metro station Kobanya Kispet. From there hop on the M3 (blue line) which takes you right into the centre of Budapest where you can change to the M1 (yellow line) or M2 (red line) if needed. A single use tickets costs 350 Forint which is about a £1 and you can pick these up from ticket vending machines at the airport and every metro station. Make sure you remember to validate each ticket you buy or you could face a fine if caught. Depending how much you intend to use public transport you can buy a 24 hour travel card for just under £5, a 72 hour travel card for around £15 or a block of ten single use tickets for about £10 and these can be used on all buses, trams and trains operating within the City centre.
It is possible to walk in between everything it, just depends on your personal preference. The last time we visited we only used the tram a handful of times so we opted for the block of ten single use tickets. We ended up walking all over the city so make sure you pack comfortable shoes and stay hydrated. If you`re time in Budapest is limited and you`re new to the city one of the best options may be a hop-on hop-off tour ticket. On our first trip we opted for a 48 hour ticket which offered two bus routes, a night tour, a boat line and a walking tour for around £22 pp. This was a quick and easy way to see everything we wanted to see in the short space of time we had. If you`re on a budget opt for the cheapest option of all – walking! Just make sure you pack those shoes as we ended up walking over 10 miles everyday!
Where to sleep
Budapest is full of affordable, cheap hotels and it also hosts a wide range of hostels which offer both dorm rooms or private en-suite rooms if sharing isn’t your thing. The first time we visited we had no idea about areas or the best place to stay so we just picked one of the cheapest options we found which turned out to be ok, if quite far out from the centre. If you plan to spend the weekend partying away with friends then check out the Full Moon Design Hostel which offers free entry into the Morrisons 2 Club located in the same building throughout your stay. If you`re looking for somewhere more central try Lavender Circus which is beautifully decorated by hand and offers a quiet, more relaxed base for your trip. If you prefer something more luxurious I’ve heard amazing things about the Four Seasons Gresham Palace or Corinthia Hotel which both offer incredible views of the city of Budapest.
Where to eat
When it comes to food there are hundreds of incredible restaurants to try as with most cities. Head to Ráday Utca which is filled with indoor and outdoor cafes, bars, restaurants and galleries. There’s something for every price range and every taste, its here we managed to pick up a two course meal and a bottle of wine for under £35. You’ll also find Budapest’s first restaurant to receive a Michelin star Costes on Ráday Utca so there’s a whole host of places to suit all. If you`re after more casual dining head to the Great Market Hall where upstairs you’ll find an array of different food stands and eateries.
If street food is more your style head to Kazinczy Street where you’ll find the first street food court Karaván Budapest. You’ll find a little bit of everything including unusual pizzas and burgers to typical Hungarian treats such as lagos, goulash and Kürtóskalács (chimney cake). You can pick up a hearty meal for two here but make sure you check out all the stands before you decide otherwise you’ll be left with a serious case of food envy. If you`re meeting up with a group of friends then Gozsdu Udvar is where you need to head. Described as Budapest’s entertainment district, this series of inner courtyards is filled with restaurants, pubs, and bars. This place comes alive every evening filled with edgy nightlife and international cuisine.
Where to drink
If you`re heading to Budapest theres a high chance you’ve already heard of their famous romkocsma (ruin bars). Shaping the city’s nightlife, you can’t visit this city without experiencing a ruin bar for yourself. Szimpla Kert was one of the first and has now become one of the most well known between locals and tourists alike. Offering a whole programme of unique events including live music, exhibitions, workshops, an open air cinema, live DJ sets and even a farmer’s market every Sunday. Another favourite is Fogosház which has recently merged with Impact creating an underground, techno lovers dream. There are plenty of tours you can go on around the Jewish Quarter which visit several different ruin bars but I think the best way to explore them is wander on your own and see what you stumble upon.
If you`re after a pitstop during the daytime be sure to check out one of Hungary’s many coffee houses and try one of the yummy cakes. In Buda you’ll find the oldest family-run cake shop in the city Ruszwurm which has been operating since 1827. During the warmer months its a fight to grab a seat outside but during Winter its a lot easier to find a table in the snug inner room. On the Pest side you’ll find possibly the most beautiful coffee house to ever exist the New York Cafe. Offering a fine range of coffees, treats and Hungarian specialities, this is a must see for any coffee lover.
Where to shop
If shopping is your vice head to Váci Utca which is Budapest’s alternative to Oxford Street. This pedestrian precinct is filled with all the usual high street suspects and many many more. If you`re feeling extravagant head to Andrássy Avenue where you’ll find all the designer brands and upmarket boutiques including the likes of Burberruy, Guicci and Louis Vuitton. Budapest is also home to Central Europe’s largest shopping mall, WestEnd City Center. This houses over 400 shops! Make sure you pop into the roof garden for a pitstop along the way.
Shopping is usually quite far down on our list when we go away but I always like to pick up a couple of souvenirs along the way. In the Great Market Hall you’ll fid an array of leather goods, lace and embroidery alongside the usual touristy tat. If you`re after something more authentic head to one of Budapest’s flea markets like Ecseri Market where you can scout out a whole host of trinkets and treasures or try your hand at antiquing on Falk Milksa Street.
What to see
On the West side of the ride you’ll find the narrow, hilly streets of Buda which wind themselves up into the hills. Full of beautiful churches, monuments and old buildings, Buda also houses the Castle District which was the former Royal Palace of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Must see sites on this side of the Danube include the Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and the views from Citadella.
On the east side of the River you’ll find the urban centre of the city Pest which is broken down into several districts. Home to the world’s third largest Parliament Building, this neo-gothic spectacular should be at the top of everyone’s list. Breathtaking both at night and day, you simply cannot visit Budapest and not see this gorgeous building. Other must see sites include the Jewish Quarter, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Chain Bridge, Hero’s Square and Szechenyi Thermal Baths.