Budapest, home to 1.75 million people and one of Central Europe’s most popular tourist destinations isn’t short on interesting things to do and taste.
Whether you’re on the green and hilly Buda side or enjoying city adventures on the plains of Pest make sure you don’t rush things and spend at least a couple of days exploring different parts of the city.
This article outlines 15 things you shouldn’t miss when visiting Budapest.
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1. Have lunch at the Downtown Market (Belvárosi Piac) on Hold Street
An indoor market which has been opened in 1897 and renovated many times since. It has changed its name at least five times and currently, it’s called Belvárosi Piac in Hungarian or Downtown Market in English.
It’s rather small, especially when compared to the most popular Central Market Hall but still has much to offer over its two levels. The ground floor consists of restaurants and coffee shops mixed with produce stalls where you can stock up on local cheeses, meats and vegetables.
The upper floor wraps around the building, kind of like an internal balcony and that’s where you’ll find most restaurants. The tables are situated in front of the restaurants so you can watch the market action below while you eat.
The market opens early every day (except Sunday) and closes between 4 and 6 in the afternoon. From experience, I’d say it is best to come here for lunch – most restaurants and stalls are open then. We came after 3pm once and most were already closed for the day.
There are some events held at the market, it’s best to check their Facebook page before you visit. If you’re looking for toilets, they are on the upper floor and cost 100 HUF (A$0.50).
2. Ride on the oldest metro in Europe
Budapest Metro is the oldest metro in continental Europe. It’s easy to navigate but the multitude of tickets can be confusing at first.
Many of the stations are located rather deep below the ground level, with Széll Kálmán tér being the deepest at 38.4m. The escalator ride down there is also one of the fastest I’ve experienced.
3. Go on a food tour
On one of the first days of our stay, I joined Fat Boy Foodies Walk Budapest for a few hours of eating, drinking and learning about the foodie side of Budapest.
It’s a great idea to join one if you want to learn about places you most likely wouldn’t find by yourself or would be too scared to try. I returned to some of the places after the tour and then a couple of times again during the month we spent in Budapest.
4. Climb Gellért Hill
One of the Budapest classics that you can’t deny is worth the effort of climbing up there. It’s a short hike that ends with a fantastic reward in the form of some of the best views of the city and the Danube river.
There are many paths that lead to the top – some are steeper than others. I personally like to start on the Hotel Gellért side and walk down using stairs on the Elisabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd) side.
5. Drink Hungarian wine
Until this visit to Budapest, I didn’t know much about Hungarian wines nor tasted many of them. My record consisted of some cheap kadarka and tokaji I tried ages ago when I was still into sweet wines.
Turns out Hungary produces some great wines. We tried many different styles, from various regions (shopping mostly at In Vino Veritas which was located just a few minutes walk from our Airbnb apartment). Our budget was capped at 2200HUF/bottle which is around 10 Aussie dollars and we didn’t complain at the lack of choice. My favourite were vibrant reds from the Balaton.
Another part of our Hungarian wines research was a Saturday lunch-time tour the Etyek region (just outside Budapest). We visited two wineries and tasted a lot of wines in each. The first one we liked so much, we purchased a bottle as a souvenir and then were happy to find their wines at our local Tesco.
6. Shop in market halls
My favourite thing about Budapest are its fantastic market halls. They’re great for shopping as well for grabbing something to eat. The two we frequented the most were Rákóczi Market Hall and Klauzál Market Hall.
The first one was our go-to spot for cheap, local langos (see below) and for wine-cheaper-than-water sold by litres (2L bottle was the smallest) from big barrels. The other one had the best cheese and deli stalls (run by small-scale farmers and producers), where we found some beautiful pâtés and even got a loyalty card for local cheeses.
Definitely do your shopping there if you’re staying at a place with a kitchen. Otherwise, maybe get some goodies for a picnic?
7. Eat langos
Deep-fried goodness of a dough, crispy on the outside and soft inside, topped with garlic, cheese and cream (well, there are many different toppings options if that’s not appealing to you). Is there something more beautiful you could imagine? It makes for an ideal lunch, pre-drinking meal or hangover food. Locals eat it for breakfast, which may seem a bit heavy.
The best and the cheapest langos we’ve had was in the Rákóczi Market Hall. It’s a bit hidden and the location doesn’t seem too nice – it’s right by the entrance to the toilets. Don’t let that scare you – there are no bad smells at all. If you like cream and cheese combo go for sajtos-tejfölös. It’s just 480HUF (2.35 AUD = 1.47 EUR) and will easily fill you up for a few hours.
8. Admire the architecture on the Pest side
Walking through the streets of Pest, we couldn’t stop ourselves from constant oohs and ahs. The city is full of stunning buildings in various styles. You’ll find gothic, renaissance, baroque and classicism as well as art nouveau and romantic style. Some beautiful in their form, some decorated with sculptures or floral elements and some with unusual roofs. There are also areas where old and new are blended together perfectly.
9. See the parliament building from up close
Absolutely no building in Budapest can quite compare to the iconic Hungarian Parliament. It’s visible from many spots in the city as well as from the river. It dominates the banks of the Danube and is the one depicted on most souvenirs and postcards.
Not everyone comes to see it from up close though. And I think you should. When you look at all the ornamental details, it’s even more spectacular.
If the weather is nice you can sit on one of the many benches, relax and contemplate.
10. Walk around Margaret Island
Margaret Island is the green heart of Budapest. One afternoon of lazy walks around its gardens and you can easily forget you’re in a bustling city.
If walking isn’t your thing, there are bikes and other electric vehicles available for rent. The island is also home to a big water park and a small zoo as well as a musical fountain, bars and restaurants.
11. Try Hungarian craft beers
Looks like Hungarian craft beers are all the hype right now, at least in Budapest, where even some fast food places proudly display signs announcing that they sell craft beer.
Since Hubby stopped drinking beer a couple of months ago and I don’t like visiting bars by myself, I found myself shopping at Beerselection – a well-stocked craft beer shop, conveniently located around the corner from Rákóczi tér metro stop (and 5min walk from our Airbnb apartment).
From all the breweries and bars I had a chance to visit, I can recommend MONYO Tap House near the Great Market Hall. They have great beers with fun names (I personally loved their Bipolar Bear White IPA the most) and the service is friendly.
12. Hike to Árpád lookout tower
If you’re into light hikes in nature then this one is for you. A stone tower atop Látó Hill with views over Budapest, Danube and Gellért Hill. There are some benches and picnic facilities around as well as many hiking and cycling trails that go around the hills.
To get there just check Google Maps directions from your accommodation to Árpád lookout. If you want to go a much longer way like we did, catch tram 56 or 61 to Hűvösvölgy stop and follow signs for Árpád from there.
13. Visit a farmers’ market in a ruin bar
We’re not into partying and late-night outings so we didn’t plan on visiting any of the famous ruin bars until we learned that Szimpla (the original & most iconic of the ruin bars) hosts farmers’ markets every Sunday.
From 9am until 2pm there are about 30 stalls selling anything from bread through meats and cheeses to veggies, honey and seasonal products. The best thing is that they’re real farmers & producers, who bring their own products – things they grew and made.
14. Have an opulent brunch
The New York Café is a true Budapest institution. It was the most beautiful cafe and a popular place among writers at the turn of the 20th century. After World War II it fell into disrepair and it wasn’t until 2006 that the café was restored to its original grandeur.
Today, the New York Café is visited by many who want to admire its lavish Italian Renaissance-style interiors, taste the cuisine of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (with things like schnitzels, goulash and Sacher on the menu) and take photos in this extravagant setting. Cappuccinos with gold on top are a must!
15. Relax in the thermal baths
After all that walking, hiking and eating it’s good to slow down and relax. Budapest has a perfect solution for tired travellers – thermal baths. Over 100 springs flowing close to the surface produce 70 million litres of thermal water a day.
There are many places offering baths of various sizes and temperatures. We chose Gellert Spa located in the historic Hotel Gellert solely based on the looks of the baths and the multitude of options (inside, outside, saunas, massages etc) and felt rejuvenated after 4 hours of swimming and lazing around.