Budapest – a comprehensive city guide
Budapest is the capital of Hungary and with 1.7 million inhabitants the largest city in the country. This western metropolis consists of two parts through which the Danube flows. Almost 20% of the Hungarian population lives in this huge city. Budapest was formed in 1873 by the merging of Buda and Obuda on the western bank of the Danube, and Pest on the east bank. Before 1873, people named the cities Pest-Buda together, but after 1873 it became the present Budapest. Characteristic of this beautiful city and sights that you absolutely must see during a city trip to Budapest are the 11 bridges over the Danube connecting Buda with Pest and the many fortresses and baths in Budapest.
How to get there?
Budapest it well connected with major cities all over Europe due to its central location. From the airport you can easily reach the center by bus. To get around the Hungarian capital, the extensive public transit system is the cheapest and fastest option.
Things to see
The labyrinth of Buda Castle / Budavár
The city of Budapest is actually divided into two parts. One part lies above the river Danube, Buda and on the other side of the water Pest. The castle (Budavár) of Buda lies in the hilly area of the city. Here you will find the old castle complex Budavári Palota. The palace is the symbol of the city and the largest building in Hungary. In the palace you will find the Hungarian National Gallery, the National Széchenyi Library and the Budapest Historical Museum. However, what few people know is that the castle has an underground labyrinth where Vlad Tepes was held captive and tortured for 14 years. Nowadays we know him as Vlad the Impaler or count Dracula.
Chain bridge / Széchenyi lánchíd
The oldest bridge in Budapest that crosses the Danube is the 330 meter long Chain Bridge. The bridge was placed in 1849 and has since been a frequently used crossing. The two lions that were placed in 1885 guard the bridge. In the evening when the bridge is illuminated, it gives a special look in the city.
Grand Boulevard / Andrássy út
The Elisabeth Square and the Heroes’ Square are connected together by the Andrássy út. With its length of about 3.5 km it is right to call a large boulevard. Here you will find, for example, the Hungarian opera house and the Drechsler palace.
One of the symbols of the city of Budapest is the Hungarian Parliament building. This building on the Pest side of the city is one of the most impressive buildings in the world. The building is built in Gothic style and is very large in size. It is unfortunately not possible to get very close, because it is very well guarded. However, guided tours are regularly given. For the interior the best artists have been invited such as Károly Lotz and György Kiss.
Budapest is a city with many museums to be visited. However instead of visiting the most famous ones, why not try one of the odd ones? The pinball museum is a heaven for arcade game lovers and is located in n the basement of one of the tenement houses of Újlipótváros district of Budapest. They have an impressive collection of more than a 100 pinball machines and 30 vintage arcade games. What makes it exceptional is that you can play on all machines and you are literally walking through the history of arcade games.
Heroes Square / Hősök tere
At the end of Andrássyboulevard lies the large Heroes Square. The Millennium monument in honor of the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary was also placed on this square. On this monument the national symbols ‘archangel Gabriel and the Stefans crown’ are put on the top in gold. Beyond this monument you will find two colonnades with statues of famous Hungarians from history, including Stefan I from Hungary, Andreas II from Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, Charles I Robert from Hungary and Lajos Kossuth. Behind this square is the beautiful city park ‘Városliget’.
Like almost every big city, Budapest also has a beautiful city park. This is the Városliget, which lies behind the Heroes’ Square. In this park you will find, among other things, the Széchenyi baths. This is a wonderful spa and also the largest medicinal spa in Europe. Near the Városliget park is the Szépművészeti Múzeum with fine art, the Vidámpark amusement park and the Vajdahunyad castle.
For Sale pub
If you are thirsty after exploring the Hungarian Capital, make sure to make a stop at the For Sale pub, located at Vamhaz Krt. This pub has an exceptional interior as it allows visitors to leave their mark by a writing a note that covers the surface of the pub. This way, their visit is marked on the ceiling, floor or walls.
Margaret Island / Margit-sziget
A beautiful park is located in the middle of the river Danube. This park is located on the Margaret Island and can be reached via a bridge. Nobody lives on the island and there is no traffic. In the park you will find many opportunities for jogging, walking and there is an open air theater, swimming pool, spa hotels, small zoo, beach, church and water tower.
Things to do
Enjoy the thermal baths
The thermal baths are among the most relaxing activities of what to do in Budapest. The many underground thermal springs have ensured that there are dozens of themed baths throughout the city. The Széchenyi bath is the largest medicinal spa in Europe and the impressive architecture makes it feel like you are swimming in a palace. That it is one of the most important sights in Budapest is easy to deduce from the large mass that is often present. Book your tickets online in advance and you can enter right away. A skip-the-line ticket costs € 18 per person.
Go on a Danube cruise
What to see in Budapest if you only stay in Budapest for a weekend? How about everything? With a Danube cruise you not only see the entire city in a day, but you do it again in a very nice way. A boat cruise on the river is an excellent way to explore the city during the day, but also in the evening when the lights turn the city into a magical place. Along the way you will not only see the most important sights of Budapest, but also the various bridges that connect Buda and Pest such as the Chain Bridge, Freedom Bridge and Elisabet Bridge. Tickets for a cruise on the Danube start at € 9 per person.
Where to eat?
The national kitchen of Hungary is actually a kitchen that crosses borders. Many dishes are inspired or almost entirely taken over from neighboring countries. There are many similarities with the Czech, Austrian, Balkan and Turkish cuisine. Hungarians are lovers of meat, stews, fish, cheese, soups, poultry, fruit, asparagus and potatoes. Meat is often seen in stews and delicious Hungarian sausages, but also fried on the grill. Not infrequently, they are hefty portions if you order meat. For vegetarians there are excellent dishes with all kinds of cheese. Goat cheese in particular is something that you see a lot on the menu cards. The dish that you see on almost every menu is goulash soup. In Hungary this is simply referred to as goulash (gulyás). The goulash as we know it as a stew in the Netherlands is called Pörkölt in Hungary. The local fish soup is also very tasteful: halászlé. There are several recipes for this dish that are mainly regional. If you are a fish and fish soup enthusiast, you should try this dish in several places.
Drinking coffee and sweets in the style of 1900. Konditorei Ruszwurm has existed for 200 years and the current owner has received an award from the Hungarian government ‘out of appreciation for the development of one of the best Hungarian traditions and successful entrepreneurial activities’. So for a real Hungarian experience you are baked here.
Nagycsarnok (Great Market Hall)
The largest, covered market hall in Budapest is a treat for the foodie and to taste things. In this old, historic building the locals buy their ingredients to cook at home. All kinds of Hungarian products, specialties and delicacies can be scored here. There are more than 200 stalls in this large hall that you can visit every day. On the first floor you will also find some restaurants and tents where you can have a bite to eat.
Where to stay?
Within the Budapest metropolis, there are plenty of overnight options available. The offer covers all possible price categories. Who loves luxury who can stay in excellent five star hotels. However, those who want to spend the night as cheaply as possible can go to various inns and youth hostels. The prices for hotel rooms can vary greatly. In general, the period October to March is cheaper because it is low season. This often does not apply to the luxury business hotels, which are often slightly more favorably priced during the summer months of July and August. During those two months, fewer business travelers come to Budapest, so these hotels have to see their rooms filled up with tourists. They are generally not willing to pay the sometimes very high prices that businessmen do pay.