Budapest was one of those cities that I left dazed and confused. Did I enjoy it? Was it beautiful? Did I leave feeling fulfilled? I can say both yes and no to all those questions. Like the city itself, there are two sides, telling two very different stories. Maybe my best advice to you is to just go see it yourself. Everyone’s experience will be different - but it is no doubt the perfect place to have an interesting, bizarre adventure that you’ll have stories to tell about.
Day 1 - Friday
Begin your day visiting Buda Castle
Buda Castle is now the holder of two famous Budapest museums - the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Check out what current exhibits are being shown to see whether you'd like to stop in. If not, simply appreciate the architecture and views of Pest from outside.
Head to the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church
This is probably the most beautiful place in all of Budapest. With fairytale-like architecture and breathtaking views of the city, there is a photo-op at every corner. The church lays directly behind the Bastion, just be sure to be dressed appropriately if you wish to enter.
For the easiest way up Castle Hill where the Buda Castle, Fisherman's Bastion, and Matthias Church reside, take up the funicular.
Stop by the Hungarian Parliament Building
Like the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, the Hungarian Parliament Building is the symbol of Budapest. You can either choose to tour the building (making sure to pre-purchase tickets at least a week or two in advance), or use it's exterior as a great photo op.
Enjoy a river cruise on the Danube at sunset
River cruises are the thing to do in Budapest, with many options to choose from. The boat cruise I decided on was a very laid back trip down the Danube with a few glasses of wine. It was perfect for picture taking and chatting between friends. However, there are a plethora of sit-down dinner cruise options, as well as wild booze cruises with a much younger crowd. If you’re looking for an up-beat booze cruise, I was recommended by a friend to attend the Shipwrecked Booze Cruise. If you’re in search of a relaxing night, you can choose from a variety of different companies that offer sightseeing cruises for as low $11. America may be the land of the free, but Budapest is surely the land of the extremely underpriced excursions.
Day 2 - Saturday
Paddle Board down the Danube
Make the most of your day by waking up early to take a refreshing sunrise paddle board tour down the Danube. This will give you the best morning views of places such as the Hungarian Parliament, Chain Bridge, Royal Palace, Citadel, and Margaret Island. If water sports aren't your thing, there are a variety of different Airbnb Experiences including hikes, bike ride tours, walking tours, and cooking classes.
Take a tour of the Central Market Hall
The Central Market Hall is three-story shopping hall where you can find everything from food, to wine, to clothes. You can even enjoy one of their many guided tours to get a more in-touch experience of Hungarian food and wine culture. This is a great place to stop if you're considering cooking while in Budapest.
Visit Budapest's famous ruin bars
Ruin bars in Budapest are essentially adult playgrounds. Colorful, eclectic, and mostly outdoors, ruin bar hopping in Budapest is a must.
Some of my favorite are:
Szimpla Kert This probably the most well known ruin bar in Budapest - with good reason. This place is littered with disco balls, graffiti, assorted plants, mismatching lights, and plastic chair strung from the ceiling.
Instant Instant is Budapest’s largest ruin bar, but also the most confusing. Is it a house? Is it a forest, a pizza shop, or a disco? Well, Instant is a little bit of everything. Once two houses converted into one arena, this giant ruin bar consists of 6 bars, 3 dance floors & 2 gardens.
Anker't They don’t serve drinks at Anker’t, they serve masterpieces. These craft cocktails were some of the best I had ever had, made with fresh fruit, juices, syrups, and garnishes. Try asking the bartender mixologist what their favorite cocktail is! You can’t go wrong here.
Kőleves kert This ruin bar in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest was one of those places we walked past and said “Okay, we have to go there!” Not only do they have cocktails sprinkled with lavender and an assortment of wine and beer options, they also have hammocks.
Edison Bar & Ink Although not a ruin bar, Edison Bar & Ink is probably the most interesting drinking establishment we visited while in Budapest. This bar/tattoo parlor combo allows its patrons to sip on one of their many craft beers or ciders while getting a tattoo.
Spend the night at a Sparty
Although the thermal bathhouses of Budapest are usually made for relaxing, every Saturday night from 10:30 pm to 3:00 am, in either the Lukacs or Szechenyi Baths, they throw a rave, or as they call it, a SPArty. Imagine a giant college frat party, except in a giant hot tub, with 600 of your closest foreign friends dancing along to a live DJ, light show, and fire dancers.
Wrighter tip: If you think you’re going to want your phone, bring a waterproof case that attaches to your neck. Going in and out of the lockers not only wastes time, but can become annoying as they don't always open without an attendant key.
Day 3 - Sunday
Head to Szimpla Kert for their Sunday Market
While Szimpla Kert is usually known as an international drinking hole, on Sundays from 9am - 2pm, it turns into a farmers market. This is a great place to pick up local Hungarian products to bring back home such as oils, cheeses, jams, and spices. I was able to find an amazing specialty truffle oil.
Enjoy the Thermal baths by day
Although the Sparty gives you an idea of what Budapest nightlife scene has to offer, leave the city bustle behind for a relaxing pool day at the Hotel Gellért in Buda. These thermal baths are offered both inside and out, and remain less touristy than the famous Szechenyi baths. They also offer a variety of spa treatments, including Thai massages and Hungarian Mud Treatments.
A farewell dinner with a view
End your trip by enjoying a relaxed outdoor dinner (weather depending). Looking to splurge? Head back to the Fisherman's Bastion for a five-star meal on the terrace at Halászbástya, overlooking some of the best sights in Budapest. Want something more casual? Café Vian offers a beautiful outdoor patio strung up with lights in an informal french-style setting.
Want one last party night in Budapest? Join a bar crawl! This is a great way to be introduced to local bars and international travelers.
When to visit
I visited Budapest in July and found the weather to be a bit too hot for city touring, so I would recommend booking a trip in early May or mid-late September to avoid hot weather and crowds.
Where to stay
Budapest is split by the Danube River into two sections - Buda and Pest. If you're an older traveler looking for a laid back trip to enjoy the history of Hungry, I recommend staying in Buda. If you're looking for a fun and eccentric part of town with outdoor ruin bars, shopping, and a dusk-till-dawn nightlife, head over to Pest.
I stayed at an Airbnb in the Jewish Quarter - a hip, young area with a diverse bar scene. Budapest is a budget-friendly city, giving me the ability to rent out a gorgeous apartment that slept six people for less than 70 USD a night.
Want to stay where I stayed? Check it out here!
Where to Eat
Café Vian Great food with a french vibe and outdoor seating
Food truck village offering different foods from all over the world.
Iguana is a two-story piece of Mexico in the middle of Hungary. Not only is the food great, their extensive cocktail menu is even better.
Great brunch in the middle of a Japanese garden replica, complete with cherry blossoms and chandeliers. I recommend the croque madame.
Szimpla Haztaji We enjoyed a quick breakfast here after going to Szimpla Kert’s Sunday Farmers Market, where all their food is locally sourced from. Their menu ranges from omelettes, sandwiches, pancakes, and great desserts.
Things to Know
Hungarian Forints (1 USD = 296.673 HUF as of 8/26/19)
Check current exchange rate here
In order to avoid expensive international surcharges and roaming fees, get an international sim card at Vodafone after arriving in Budapest. There are multiple stores around the city.
The easiest and cheapest way to travel in Budapest is probably by metro and street car. Although in some cases you may have to get off the metro, onto a streetcar, and back on the metro, it’s pretty simple if you download the BKK Futár app, which lets you map out trips and tells you the most efficient way to get there using public transit.
Taxis are another way to get around Budapest, but the drivers rarely speak english and have been found to overcharge unknowing travelers. Unless we had luggage, or drank too much alcohol to properly maneuver the subway system, we avoided calling cabs. If you’re headed to the airport, try Taxi2Airport. Similar to Uber or Lyft, you can schedule and pay for a ride right from their app or website, and often have coupon codes available. We scheduled our taxi the night before, and it came right on time with no problems.
Think you did it better? Let me know how in the comments below!