The capital city of Hungary is a European metropolis that is becoming a huge tourist attraction over the years. Budapest simply has it all, from rich cultural and historical background, incredible architectural beauty, unique and recognizable Hungarian cuisine, and probably the best nightlife in this part of Europe.
The city is divided by the River Danube in two once autonomous cities, Buda and Pest. It is the most populous city of Hungary with around 3.3 million inhabitants. The official language spoken in Budapest is Hungarian and the official currency is Hungarian forint.
Budapest weather is typical for the Eastern and Central Europe with the oceanic climate bordering the humid subtropical one. Winters are cold and cloudy while summers are warm with plenty of sunshine, like in most Mediterranean countries. The average temperatures are above 0°C in the coldest period and above 22°C in the warmest. Therefore, the best time to visit Budapest is from March to November, as the winter months can get pretty cold with high levels of precipitation.
If planning holidays in Budapest, here is a guide that will give you all the necessary information and help you organize your trip.
Table of Contents
Getting to Budapest
Budapest is a continental city situated in Central Europe, therefore, it is very well connected to most European countries and cities by nearly all means of transport.
Budapest Airport (BUD) is the airport serving Budapest city, also the best option if arriving by plane. It is situated 16 km southeast of the city center and it can be reached by several means of transport including airport shuttle and public bus. It hosts both domestic and international flights and serves as a hub for LOT Polish Airlines, Wizz Air, Smartwings Hungary and as a focus city for Ryanair.
Being a Central European country, Budapest is well-connected to cities such as Zagreb, Ljubljana, Krakow, Vienna or Bratislava. Budapest main bus station Nepliget is located almost 8 km from the city center.
Budapest has a good railway connection with the rest of Europe and cities such as Bratislava or Vienna. The main railway station Keleti is located in the eastern part of the city. Other two train stations in the city are Nyugati on the West and Deli on the South.
Getting to Budapest by car is easy from several directions. Hungary has 5 motorways and 4 roads with almost each of them starting from Budapest. If arriving from the direction of Vienna or Bratislava, you can connect to M1 to get to Budapest. If arriving from the direction of Zagreb and Ljubljana, connect to E71 all the way to the city. For those arriving from the southeastern countries such as Romania or Serbia, connect to E75.
Parking in Budapest
Parking your car in Budapest can be challenging but not impossible. The narrow area around the Danube river, between the Erzsebet Bridge and Chain Bridge is restricted for cars. Parking spots in other areas are divided into 3 zones. Zone 1 includes the central parts from both sides of the Danube river, parking is allowed for 3 hours max. from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm on weekdays. Zone 2 includes the most of Buda and the area of Pest outside the Grand Boulevard. Parking is allowed for 3 hours, on weekdays between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. Zone 3 is the least expensive zone but it is also the furthest one from the city center and includes all the other parts of the city. Parking is also allowed for 3 hours max. on weekdays, in the period from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Parking is free on weekends and in the night hours.
You can also park your car in some of the multiple 24-hour garages in the center of Budapest.
Hungary Visa Requirements
Hungary is a member of the Schengen Area, meaning that all EU visitors can enter the country without applying for a visa. If you’re a citizen of a country which is not a member of the Schengen Area, you will need to apply for a visa regarding the purpose of your travel. If travelling as a tourist you can apply for a short-term visa (Schengen visa) up to 90 days. For all other travelling purposes for non-Schengen Area citizens read the visa requirements.
Public transportation in Budapest
Exploring Budapest city center can be done by foot since most of the main sights on both sides of the river are close to each other. Anyway, Budapest public transport is a well developed system consisting of buses, trolley buses, trams, metro and boats. Here is how to get around in Budapest.
People in Budapest use buses in order to cross a bigger distance in the city. With over 200 routes, buses in Budapest cover all parts of the city and suburban area. You can choose between the regular buses and express buses which operate the same route but make less stops along the way. Also, there are night lines operating the main routes marked with ‘E’.
Trams, also known as yellow streetcars, have a vast net covering whole Budapest. There are over 30 lines (1-69) operated by Budapest Transit Center (BKK).
Trolley buses are available on 13 routes, in Pesta only, and they start from the number 70.
Metro or Subway in Budapest consists of 4 lines: M1, M2, M3 and M4.
- M1/Yellow Line: Vörösmarty tér – Mexikói út.
- M2/Red Line: Déli pályaudvar – Örs vezér tere
- M3/Blue Line: Újpest Központ – Kőbánya-Kispest
- M4/Green Line: Kelenföld pályaudvar – Keleti pályaudvar
In Budapest, the train is used mainly in suburban areas in order to connect the city with smaller places around. The train service is called HEV.
Riverboats across the Danube are also part of the public transportation system in Budapest. There are four lines on offer: D2 (river-crossing service), D11, D12 and D14. The boat service is the least frequent during the late fall and winter months. See map
Check all timetables here
Tickets are valid for all means of public transport. You can buy tickets on every station from the ticket machines or at newsstands all over the city. It is important that you always have a valid ticket with you because the controllers are very often asking you to show your ticket. Also, if you need to change the means of public transport you’re on, you will need to buy and validate a new ticket, unless you travel with metro and decide to change it in the same direction without leaving the metro area.
Therefore, depending on how long you stay in Budapest, you can choose between the regular single tickets, a travelcard or a travel pass.
Budapest travelcard can be valid for 24 h, 72 h or 7 days for an unlimited number of rides. These types of tickets don’t have to be validated. Also, Budapest card gives you all kinds of other benefits such as discounts on sightseeing, tours and museums, as well as several free options.
Budapest pass is a great option if staying in Budapest for a longer period of time. Briefly, there are monthly, quarterly and annual passes with so many options for every travel need. You can check all tickets and prices here.
Sights in Budapest
Budapest is historically and culturally so rich that every corner offers something to see. Narrowing the list of things to see in Budapest to only those ‘must see’ attractions will still take you a few days to entirely explore them. Here is what to visit while staying in Budapest.
Buda Castle and Castle Hill – Exploring the Buda side of the river Danube first comes naturally, as all the main sights are situated together on a hill, also known as Castle Hill. The most recognizable landmark that stands like a crown over the Danube is Buda Castle, a magnificent complex of the Hungarian kings. Take a stroll around the hill to discover other remarkable buildings such as Matthias Church, Sandor Palace, Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum. Go underground and discover the labyrinth under the castle. Don’t forget to take a look at these sights once the night falls, from the other side of the river. The sight is spectacular!
Fisherman’s Bastion – Although situated on a Castle Hill as well, Fisherman’s Bastion stands out as one of the most recognizable landmarks in Budapest and a huge tourist attraction. The look you get from its Neo-Romanesque terraces is breathtaking. If you’re lucky enough, you will get to hear the street musicians playing the haunting melodies (until they get pursued by the police) right next to the St. Stephen’s Statue and make a truly unforgettable moment.
Citadella – One more place worth seeing while on the Buda side of the river is Citadella, a 19th century massive fortification protected by UNESCO. The sight is situated in the beautiful natural surroundings, with a Liberty Statue on the top of a hill, together with a cafe and a restaurant. The view you get from the top is stunning!
The Chain Bridge – If not short with time, take a walk across the bridges, especially the Chain Bridge. It is a worthy experience as you get to see the entire city at once while admiring this massive construction. We suggest you do this at night when all the main sights are illuminated in golden lights.
The Danube Promenade – The famous promenade is extending from the Chain Bridge to Elizabeth Bridge and it is a favorite pedestrian zone among both locals and tourists. Take a stroll to discover its known sculptures such as Little Princess and Shakespeares’s Carvings. Take a stop to see the most touching part of the promenade, a row of iron shoes, a memorial to Jewish victims of WWII.
Parliament Building – This site appears on every postcard or a souvenir, and it is the ultimate landmark of Budapest. Seeing the magnificent Budapest Parliament building is as impressive from afar as it is up close. Its stunning exterior is a mix of Neo-Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, and if you want to explore its interior, you can book a guided tour.
St. Stephen’s Basilica – In the heart of Pesta lies an impressive piece of architecture with outstanding exterior and interior. Apparently, it is among the most photographed sights in the world. The basilica is dedicated to the first Hungarian king, St. Stephen (Szent Istvan), the founder of the Hungarian state.
Budapest Opera House – Hungarian State Opera House is located in the middle of the city center, in the Andrassy Street. It is one of the most beautiful Neo-Renaissance buildings in Europe. If interested, book a world-class performance for the ultimate cultural experience in Budapest.
Museum of Fine Art – Art lovers definitely shouldn’t miss the extensive Museum of Fine Arts overlooking the famous Hero’s Square. Szepmuveszeti Museum hosts a collection spreading on 5 floors, from the art of ancient civilizations to the Baroque art. Here you get to see the exhibits of ancient Egypt and works from Leonardo da Vinci, El Greco, Raphael and others.
Hero’s Square – Hosok tere, as Hungarians call it, is one of the main and most impressive squares in Budapest that is known for its statue of seven chieftains of Magyar with an archangel Gabriel on top, as well as colonnades with statues of kings and other famous figures of Hungarian history. Moreover, the square is the central position surrounded by some of the most important locations and buildings such as Szepmuveszeti Museum, Andrassy Street and City Park.
Varosliget – City Park or Varosliget is the main park in Budapest, also the first public park in the city constructed in 1751. It starts next to the Hero’s Square and consists of beautiful green area with an artificial lake and several interesting sights of which the most famous one is Vajdahunyad Castle, a replica of a Transylvanian castle. The idyllic lake is great for a boat ride in summer months, and in the winter, it turns into an ice skating rink.
House of Terror – Step into one of the most overwhelming places in Budapest located in the main Andrassy Street. The building is hard to miss thanks to its exterior pointing out the word ‘terror’ clearly. Once used by Arrow Cross Party and AVH, today is a memorial to the victims of Nazist and Communist regimes with extensive exhibitions containing a lot of interactive elements. On four floors you get to see authentic uniforms, cars, a tank and many clips with actual victims’ confessions. The tour ends in the basement with disturbing actual prison cells. The overall exhibition accompanied by the musical background by Akos Kovacs won’t leave you indifferent!
Margaret Island – Right in the middle of the River Danube lies a beautiful green recreational area. On Margitsziget you can find many things such as swimming pool, water park, running track, zoo, music fountain, open-air cinema and theater and much more. Getting to Margaret Island is easy on foot or by public transport of which the best option might be a boat.
Budapest Synagogue – Dohany Street Synagogue is also known as Great Synagogue and it is the largest synagogue in Europe. The building is built in Moorish Revival style which is why it looks very oriental. Along with a synagogue itself, visit a Hungarian Jewish Museum, Jewish Cemetery and Holocaust Memorial.
Budapest Eye – To get the best view on the entire city and all of its sights take a ride on a Budapest Ferris Wheel. The view is spectacular during the day as it is at night, and this can be a great round up of your visit to take a look at all of the sights once more.
Activities in Budapest
Besides the extensive list of places and monuments for sightseeing, Budapest can keep you busy in so many other ways. Here are some of the things to do in Budapest.
Budapest baths – One of the many nicknames for Budapest is also – City of Spas. Budapest has many natural warm springs which is why the tradition of bathing dates back to the Roman periods. Don’t miss a chance to enjoy the thermal baths all over the city for the ultimate relaxation. The largest bath is Szechenyi, but it might be the most crowded one. Others you can check are Gellert, Rudas, Veli Bej or Kiraly. Have in mind that some baths are still Turkish bath style meaning that men and women don’t bathe together.
Beaches in Budapest – Yes, you read that right – one of the most continental cities offers beaches as well. So, if you’re arriving in summer months, besides baths, hitting a Budapest beach, which is actually a pool, is another way to spend the hot summer day. But if you want to swim by the real shores, than Lake Balaton is a great day trip option, 1.5 hour ride from Budapest.
Budapest Zoo – Animal lovers can spend a day with animals in nature. Besides the already mentioned zoo and other things on offer on Margaret Island, you can also visit the most famous zoo in Budapest located in the middle of the city, in Varosliget, the city park. This is one of the oldest zoos in the world, being a home to more than 1000 species. The area is also a natural reserve with some valuable buildings around.
Budapest Marathon – If you want to be a part of a really big sports event, then be in Budapest at the end of September and the beginning of October. Since 1961, the annual marathon takes place in the city, usually starting from the Hero’s Square with a different route every year. When the race ends, competitors head to Szechenyi baths to bathe their feet. But there is more than one running event in Budapest, and they take place in different parts of the year with all of them being open for amateurs.
Budapest Chairlift – Zugliget Chairlift is an alternative way of transportation in Buda Hill. It is a fun way to explore the sights and get the most beautiful panorama of the city and the surrounding nature.
Events in Budapest
Budapest is a city with a rich cultural and art program, so no matter when you decide to visit Budapest, there is always something going on in the city. Here are just a few annual events if you find yourself in Budapest while they’re taking place. If looking for a music concert, check the schedule prior to your arrival since Budapest often hosts some of the biggest names in the music industry.
Movie lovers can enjoy several Budapest film festivals throughout the year. Budapest Independent Film Festivals celebrates an independent cinema 2 days in December, presenting a wide variety of genres. A little earlier, by the end of August and the beginning of September, Budapest Short Film Festival takes place giving young filmmakers a chance to present their works. Those interested in documentary movies can attend Budapest International Documentary Festival that invites all creators to compete for the best documentary.
When it comes to music festivals, the schedule is full and there is something for every taste. Sziget Festival is among the biggest music festivals in Hungary offering the most popular names in the music industry of all genres. The festival takes place every summer in August. One of the biggest electronic festivals is situated 90 minutes away from Budapest, on Lake Balaton – Balaton Sound takes place every July and offers great lineups of different electronic styles. Similar festival takes place on the same location in August but offers more psychedelic sounds – Samsara Festival celebrates love, free spirit, unity and peace.
If looking for cultural events that will introduce you with Hungarian traditions and customs, Budapest has several festivals that might draw your attention. Budapest Festival of Folk Arts celebrates the local folk talent through various performances and workshops, every year in August. Wine lovers have a great opportunity to try the best of Hungarian wines on Budapest Wine Festival taking place every September. But wine isn’t the only beverage Hungarians love which is why they made their own version of the famous beer fest – Budapest Oktoberfest. Enjoy more than 100 domestic and international beer types on one of the biggest celebrations in Budapest taking place every October. We shouldn’t fail to mention one of the most attractive events held 20 km from Budapest – Hungarian Grand Prix, a motor race which is a round of the Formula One World Championship.
If staying in Budapest during the ‘most wonderful time of the year’, then don’t miss the Budapest Christmas Market. There are several locations in the city with two central locations – Christmas fair at Vorosmarty Square and Christmas market by St. Stephen’s Basilica.
Nightlife in Budapest
If you’re looking for a night out to remember, with endless options and possibilities, then Budapest is exactly what you’ve been looking for. We can say freely that Budapest has one of the best nightlife scenes in Europe! Check out these places if staying in Budapest!
If you read at least one guide related to places to go in Budapest, then you must have heard of Szimpla Kert or the famous Ruin Bars. Located in the Jewish Quarter, in the city center, it is a complex of bars and rooms used for cinema, gallery, etc. which are literally placed – in the ruins. The place has a unique atmosphere which is why it got extremely popular. As soon as you arrive, you get to see the old, ruined building with torn walls filled with graffiti, random things around such as street signs, unmatching furniture and more. It all started as a place where people would come for a cheap drink, but soon it became a symbol of Budapest nightlife. During the Sunday morning, an open air market takes place.
Budapest is also special for spa parties! Yes, you can enjoy the thermal baths such as those in Szechenyi Baths while drinking your favorite cocktails and dancing the night away on some psychedelic tunes accompanied with laser visual effects.
And then there are boat parties! Get on a boat and cruise the Danube River while dancing on some of the best DJ sets, sipping your favorite drink and overlooking the entire Budapest with all its main sights bathing in golden lights!
Like this hasn’t been enough yet, there are tons more Budapest bars and nightclubs which guarantee a great time! We can only try to do our best and suggest you a few places. Have a glass of fine wine in Doblo Wine bar, visit Doboz, Okert, Corvin or Akvarium for the most amazing dance floors and music to which you can dance till the morning hours. If you want to make a night (not) to remember, try heading to one of the Budapest pub crawls before the clubs.
Food in Budapest
Hungarian cuisine is very distinctive although typical for continental Central Europe. It contains the elements of East as well of Slavic cuisine and it is primarily based on meat, fresh vegetables, fruits, dairy products and bread. However, Hungary won’t let you stay hungry for too long as there is a wide offer of the most delicious traditional Hungarian food in every corner.
What to eat
One of the essential dishes in Budapest is goulash or gulyas, of course. It is a meat stew with noodles and vegetables seasoned with different spices, including paprika. Another iconic dish is paprikas, it can be fish or chicken, but also some other type of meat covered in sour cream sauce with plenty of paprika. Toltott kaposzta or stuffed cabbage with meat is a popular meal in Slavic and East countries, but don’t miss to try the Hungarian version. The same goes for the toltott paprika or stuffed paprika. Often served with paprikash, nokedli or egg noodle dumplings are a famous side dish but they are as amazing alone, too. Another soothing dish, perfect for the winter cold, is lecso or a vegetable soup with a lot of peppers, paprika and other vegetables and spices.
For a quick snack you can try langos, fried dough topped with sour cream, cheese, potatoes or even sausages. Moreover, Hungary is famous for its high quality sausages or kolbasz with all sorts of them being a part of many dishes.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, try the very best of Hungarian sweets and cakes. Kurtoskalacs or chimney cake is a cone-shaped spit cake with melted butter, sugar, caramel, cinnamon and, in some cases, nuts. Another delight is Dobos torte or Dobosh cake, a sponge cake with layers of chocolate buttercream, topped with caramel. Finally, a cake invented in Budapest is Esterhazy torte, a layered cake with the main ingredients being the almond meringue and buttercream spiced with cognac or vanilla.
If you want to try an authentic Hungarian drink, then try some of the famous Hungarian wines of which the best known is Tokaji. Those brave ones can ask for palinka, a fruit brandy Hungarians like to call ‘a medicine’. Discover yourself why.
Where to eat
There are endless options to eat in a city such as Budapest, but one place is obligatory. Central Market Hall or Nagy Vasarcsarnok is an inevitable stop for so many reasons. This indoor market is divided into three floors offering all sorts of things, from fresh fruits and vegetables, all kinds of souvenirs to clothes. On the second floor you will find a line of restaurants and food stands offering great Hungarian cuisine.
If you’re up for a fine dining, Onyx offers a classic experience. It holds not one, but two Michelin stars with Hungarian flavors on the menu, prepared in a modern way. Borkonyha Winekitchen is another Michelin-starred restaurant with more than 200 wines on offer and most delicious five-course meals. Another place with an extensive selection of wines is Bock Bisztro with a traditional offer of Hungarian delicacies.
Traditional Hungarian food can also be found in Paprika, a small restaurant offering the best value for money. Belvárosi Disznótoros serves all kinds of meat and is among favorite places for workers. Drum Cafe Langosh and Goulash bar is another place offering big portions of the best Hungarian dishes, ideal value for money.
If you want to try something else besides the traditional Hungarian cuisine, there are plenty of restaurants serving the best of international cuisine. Dobrumba combines the Eastern cuisine with Mediterranean one, Szeraj offers amazing Turkish dishes, Divin Porcello serves the best of Italian cuisine and Mazel Tov also combines Middle East with the Mediterranean cuisine in a new way.
While in Budapest, you will surely look for something authentic to bring home with you. The most perfect place to find any kind of souvenir is Central Market Hall. On three floors you can find anything from paprika spices, finest chocolates and Tokaji wine to clothes, accessories, and more.
If looking for fashion stores, then main shopping street is Vaci Street beginning at the Vorosmarty Square. For the most glamorous brands head to the main Andrassy Street.
For the infinite number of stores at one place head to WestEnd City Center, the largest shopping mall in Central Europe. Along with this one, there are several more shopping centers such as Corvin Plaza or Arena Plaza.
- What kind of plug is used in Budapest?
Hungary uses type C and F plugs. Type C is a European-style plug with two metal pins, and type F has two pins and two earth clips on the sides.
- How expensive is Budapest?
Budapest will often find its place on the list of ‘low-budget’ destinations, although many locals would disagree with that. The fact still is that Budapest is cheaper than many other metropolitan cities in Europe.
- How safe is Budapest?
Budapest is a very safe city according to SafeAround, with an index of 75/100 ranking as the 27th safest city in the world. Pickpocketing and bag snatching are the main crimes in Budapest.
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