What makes Budapest especially charming is the duality and diversity when it comes to its personality: the two halves already represent different values (Buda being the romantic enchanter while Pest the lively seducer), with the various activities, markets and festivals being the cherry on top. However, it is not easy to navigate your way through the numerous things to do in the Hungarian capital city.
British online newspaper Independent has put together a useful guide for your (first) trip to Budapest, including sights to check out, cultural learning points, restaurants, cafés and even hotels.
Before you head out, it is recommended to buy a Budapest Card, which covers public transport, 17 museums and two walking tours.
What to do
You should start discovering Budapest with the Castle District, either by hiking up the hill, riding the funicular or simply taking a bus. The cobbled streets and the colourful narrow streets are charming in and on themselves, and with the addition of the medieval monuments such as the Matthias Church, the Fisherman’s Bastion or the Buda Castle, you will feel like you have travelled a few centuries back in time. The castle today is the home of the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.
If you wish to learn more about Hungarian history, the Hungarian National Museum with a collection covering the Stone Age all the way to Communism might be a good place to continue your journey. You can learn a little more about 20th-century Hungary
at the House of Terror, which helps you get a sense of the Nazi and Soviet occupations with videos and artefacts.
Cruising along the Danube is a great opportunity to just sit back and relax while enjoying Budapest’s marvellous architecture, the Parliament and the Buda Castle (public transport in Budapest offers boat services too, or you can hop on a sightseeing cruise). If the weather fails you, just take tram 2, along the river bank on the Pest side.
We cannot emphasise enough how great Budapest spas are, even Vogue featured them: the mineral water will soothe both your soul and body, and it is purely up to you if you wish to soak yourself outside or indoors (many spas offer both options), or enjoy the elegance and in-pool chess at the Széchenyi Bath or the sparties on Saturdays.
Where to stay
It is recommended to try and find a hotel or hostel inside the city, along the main public transportation lines. If you are looking for a budget-friendly place, the Independent recommends Wombat’s City Hostel with dormitory bunks. If you want to feel like royalty, book a room at Corinthia Budapest, the once Grand Hotel Royal, opened in 1896 (it also has a spa and a pool built in Budapest’s most characteristic style – art nouveau), or at Hotel Clark, next to the Chain Bridge.
Where to eat and drink
It would be a huge mistake not to try Hungarian cuisine, but it does not have to be a full-course meal:
the downtown market halls are a great place to just sample Hungarian meats and spices.
However, if you are looking for a cooked Hungarian meal, the Independent’s recommendation is Stand 25 (try their goulash soup and stuffed cabbage), Barack és Szilva (try the veal with paprika and dumplings, and the wines).
Cafés, cafés, cafés… As the Independent says, the Ottomans brought coffee to Budapest, and the love for it has not died down ever since. For a classical experience, head to the New York Café, a historical landmark and one of the most beautiful cafés in the world, or Gerbeaud, where the cakes, too, are heavenly. Lately, Budapest has seen a boom in new-wave cafés, like My Little Melbourne or Hygge, which are not as illustrious and grand when it comes to interior design, but their laidback simplicity is what makes them so attractive.
Rooftop bars are trending right now in Budapest, and we are not surprised: sipping on a cocktail while enjoying the scenic view from above the city will surely make you feel like a star. Try High Note Skybar atop the award-winning Aria Hotel, behind St. Stephen’s Basilica.
And, of course, the ruin pubs. Ruin pubs are something everyone who has ever been to Budapest recommends to their friends, and they are very characteristic and a one-of-a-kind trend that is the Hungarian city’s very own. Most ruin pubs are a lot like Szimpla Kert: set in apartments in formerly rundown buildings, renovated to function safely but, at the same time, they look like they have been untouched, decorated with fairy lights and salvaged furniture.
(Tipping is usually 10 per cent in Hungary)
Where to shop
The Great Market Hall is worth checking out mostly because of the above mentioned tummy-related adventure and also because, upstairs, you will find souvenir shops where you can admire and buy items of clothing, décor or bags decorated with traditional embroidery.
Hungarian fashion designers should not be missed if you are interested in the fashion scene: the Independent recommends Rododendron, where you can meet the artworks and accessories of local Hungarian designers, or Printa.