Budapest: A First-timer’s Guide!
December 7, 2018|In Budapest, Europe, Europe Guide, Hungary|By paraphernalia.coShare This
Budapest, Hungary’s capital, beckons with stunning architecture, thermal hot springs, and eclectic venues.
Table of Contents hide #explore #eat #drink #shop #stay Getting around. Getting there. When to go. Finally…. Pin it for later.
Dividing Buda and Pest, the Danube is an attraction in itself flowing for almost 50 kilometres and snuggling several islands along its path.
Castles & ruins, bars & restaurants, markets & monuments, the offer is a perfect mix of contemporary and traditional.
Join us for a first-timer’s guide to Budapest. We’ll get you started with where to #eat #drink #explore #shop and #stay so you can tailor your Budapest adventure to your needs. Are you ready? Let’s go!
Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Budapest, Széchenyi Lánchíd, 1051 Hungary.)
Széchenyi Chain Bridge, commonly referred to simply as Chain Bridge, opened in 1849. It was the first permanent span connecting Buda and Pest. The elegant chain suspension bridge was regarded as a world engineering wonder at the time of its construction.
In need of a little care and attention, the bridge closed to pedestrians in September this year. It’s due to reopen in 2021 after extensive maintenance, repairs and improvements.
In addition to renovations on Chain Bridge, Buda Castle Tunnel and Clark Adam Square at the Funicular will also receive some TLC. Getting to Buda Castle from Pest will require some detours but the castle and district opening times won’t be affected.
Crossing from Pest is possible from the southern Erzsébet or Elizabeth Bridge, named for Empress Elizabeth of Austria.
Buda Castle and District. (Budapest, Szent György tér 2, 1014 Hungary. Ph: +36 1 458 3000)
A day spent at Buda Castle and the surrounding district is a must. Both sunrise and the glow of sunset are glorious from Fisherman’s Bastion.
The beautifully decorated Matthias Church deserves your time and, of course, Buda Castle itself. Royal apartments, grand throne, ball and dining rooms, cultural monuments and cellars abound in this U-shaped museum.
Discover monuments, sculptures and fountains in the castle gardens and wander Hungary’s National Gallery and Budapest History Museum.
Visit the Prime Minister’s office, Hospital in the Rock, City Hall, and the Museum of Military History before taking the stairs into the Labyrinth to see what’s going on underground.
Hungarian Parliament Building (Budapest, Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3, 1055 Hungary. Ph: +36 1 441 4000)
The Hungarian Parliament Building (also known as Parliament of Budapest) is hard to miss. Built in Gothic Revival style with two symmetrical interior halls, you can explore one hall’s interior via guided tours while the other is left for politicking.
The exterior detail is extraordinary, requiring year-round maintenance while the interior oozes elegance.
Danube Cruise (Piers between Chain & Elizabeth Bridges, Pest)
It may be one of Budapest’s most popular tourist attractions, but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided. Out on the river sipping a glass of wine or a cold beer surrounded by nothing but Instagrammable photo ops is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.
Absorb Budapest’s beauty by day, and come back to see the stunning transformation by night with your 24-hour open ticket.
Your journey takes you under Elizabeth, Chain and Margaret Bridges past the Castle district and Parliament. Drop off points at Margaret Island and Buda Castle district allow you to use the tour as a ferry service.
Touts selling tickets are easy to spot on Pest’s river bank between Chain and Elizabeth Bridges. Cruise tickets come in a variety of options; with food and beverage; beverage only, or simply the cruise. Shop around and don’t be afraid to barter, it’s a competitive market.
The Jewish Quarter. (District Vll, Pest.)
In 1944, Budapest’s District Vll became a ghetto populated by 200,000 people. All of them Jewish. This area, less than 2.5 kilometres square, contained 2,000 houses painted with the yellow star. Deportation and worse were imminent.
Today, District Vll still has the highest population density of any district in Budapest but it’s now flavoured by street art, ruin bars, design shops and outdoor markets.
Wander Király Utca where derelict buildings have been converted into pop-up dining, outdoor bars and galleries. Close to Gozsdu Udvar, a memorial commemorating the old ghetto walls has been built using the original stones from the area.
Dohány Street Synagogue, Europe’s largest seating 3,000, belongs to a uniquely Hungarian branch of Judaism, Neolog Jews. A group wanting to modernise the religion with the intention of integrating into Hungarian society.
Check this link to find out about private and group tours through the Jewish quarter and synagogue.
Széchenyi Thermal Baths (Budapest, Állatkerti Krt. 9-11, 1146 Hungary. Ph: +36 1 363 3210)
Budapest is situated above more than 120 thermal springs, joining Reykjavík (Iceland) as the only two capital cities in the world to claim this fame.
Seventy million litres of thermal water are produced under Budapest a day. The alleged healing properties of the springs haven’t been medically proven, although reading the paper or playing chess in natural springs with temperatures reaching 58°C must be good for you.
Széchenyi Thermal Baths in Pest is the largest, offering three outdoor and fifteen indoor pools. Referred to as the Times Square of thermal baths, the almost 3,000 square kilometres of water surface sees more than 1.6 million visitors per year.
Ticket purchase along with reservations for spa treatments, massage, and other therapies can be made here. A café onsite offers hot and cold refreshments, including adult beverages.
From the city centre take the Millennium Underground Railway (M1) to Széchenyi Fürdo or trolleybus 72.
The Central Market Hall (Budapest, Vámház Krt. 1-3, 1093 Hungary. Ph: +36 1 366 3300)
At Fővám square, the junction at Liberty Bridge and Váci Utca pedestrian street, the Central Market Hall stands. Completed in 1897, ten thousand square metres of trading space offer some of Hungary’s finest produce.
Paprika, salami, caviar, cheese, fresh fruit & veg, and wine on the ground floor. Up one level find leather goods, Hungarian embroidery and souvenirs.
On the top floor, you’ll discover foodie gold. Forget “food court”, this is Budapest’s answer to a one-stop-shop for experiencing Hungary’s traditional dishes, with beer!
Varieties of sausage are grilled, served with cabbage, smeared with mustard and sprinkled with paprika. Healthy portions of warming goulash are accompanied by fluffy rice soaking up the delicious juices. Hungary’s ubiquitous cabbage rolls, (minced pork, rice and secret ingredients) swim in a flavoursome rich sauce.
Leave your diet at the door and sink your teeth into Langos. Savoury or sweet versions of deep-fried dough topped with sour cream, shredded cheese and crispy bacon bits OR the same deep-fried goodness covered in cottage cheese and sprinkled with icing sugar.
Mák (1051 Budapest, Vigyázó Ferenc Utca 4. Ph: +36 30 723 9383)
In contrast to The Central Market Hall’s wonderfully traditional fare, at Mák, Chef Janos Mizsei creates contemporary dishes utilising Hungary’s finest seasonal ingredients.
Extracting intense flavours from simple produce, creating texture variations, and pairing surprising plate partners have delighted Chef Mizsei’s diners since opening in 2011.
At age 24, Chef Mizsei received the Young Chef of the Year award (2014). Hungary’s Sommelier of the year award went to Mák’s Máté Horváth (2018) and from 2011 – 2018 Michelin have placed Mák as highly recommended in each year’s guide.
Culinary training in Denmark and Sweden culminated in Chef Mizsei’s love of Nordic cuisine. This extends to the simply laid tables sans cloth and sparse decoration in the arched ceiling dining room.
Dine á la carte or select from two tasting menus, the six-course Short Line or the eight-course Long Line. Wine pairing by Hungary’s sommelier of the year takes you down less travelled Hungarian wine paths. Small producers focusing on perfecting their chosen varietals.
Expect to part with 18,000 Hungarian Forint (US$ 63.00 at today’s rate) for the Short Line. Add wine pairing for 10,000 HUF (US$ 34.00) or add the extra courses in the Long Line with wine pairing, 23,000 HUF (US$ 80.00) 35,000 HUF (US$ 122.00) respectively.
For those of you curious to try the flavours from Mák without the added extras, pop in for lunch and enjoy two courses (4,200 HUF/ US$ 15.00) or three courses (2,800 HUF/ US$ 17.00) from the Business Lunch menu.
Mák offers an experience for foodies from all walks of life in a relaxed atmosphere. Dedicated to sharing the best of Hungarian produce accompanied by a stellar wine selection, be sure to add Mák to your itinerary.
Post WW2, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and the end of communism in 1989, Budapest was in need of some repairs. Government funding was allocated to rebuilding roads, bridges and iconic architecture.
District Vll, the Jewish Quarter, saw little if any. While restoration and investment occurred, many abandoned, derelict buildings remained.
Enterprising Hungarians in search of a well-priced beer saw this as an opportunity and the ‘ruin bar’ was born. With a clean-up crew (a bunch of friends), courtyards appointed with mismatched second-hand furniture, a keg and a boombox, ruin bars became go-to drinking holes for locals and expats.
The word spread, as did ruin bars spilling out across the city. While wandering Budapest be sure to keep an eye out for deserted factories, warehouses, apartment buildings and offices, there’s likely a ruin bar in the courtyard.
Szimpla Ker’t (Budapest, Kazinczy u. 14, 1075 Hungary. Ph: +36 20 261 8669)
The first of its kind, Szimpla Ker’t had a few locations before settling in its current District Vll position. As investors bought up their favoured buildings, Szimpla Ker’t simply moved on to another site.
On entering the current locale, a feeling of permanency emanates. With a stage, cinema, design shop and Sunday market, Szimpla Ker’t have expanded the simple ruin bar concept to include local talent, international DJs, handmade products and antiques.
Anker’t (Budapest, 1061, Paulay Ede u. 33, 1061 Hungary. Ph: +36 30 360 3389)
Recognised from the street with its scaffold covered entrance, this crumbling 200-year-old building is likely the largest ruin bar in the city.
The courtyard, with its obligatory mismatched furniture, is the centrepiece with a bar, vegan pizza truck, ice-cream stand and more. Spend a few minutes viewing Anker’t’s restoration video for an idea of what goes into starting a ruin bar.
Wander around, the place is huge, inside you’ll find three other bars, a cavernous party hall and there’s a burger truck too.
Follow Anker’t on Facebook for events, parties and market days.
Citygraph (Budapest, Falk Miksa u. 6, 1055 Hungary. Ph: +36 30 967 5100)
Hungarian artist and graphic designer, Béla Magyar has an eye for detail. His love of Budapest and its buildings is portrayed in his intricately detailed ink line drawings.
Designs comprise of aerial views and cityscapes combining Hungary’s history. His gallery and shop, just a short walk from Budapest Parliament, displays Magyar’s work from postcards, museum quality prints, notebooks to printed T-shirts.
Áeron (Budapest, Zrínyi u. 4, 1051 Hungary. Ph: +36 70 709 8804)
The elegant, simplicity of Eszter Aron’s designs attracts fashionistas globally. Born into a Hungarian fashion and textiles lineage, Eszter’s pedigree is evident in the Áeron collections.
From luxurious textiles to streamlined city-chic silhouettes, the beauty is found in the superb quality and innovative craftsmanship.
Find Áeron collections a short walk from Chain Bridge in District V.
Cydonia Tea Room & Vintage (Budapest, Akácfa u. 39, 1072 Hungary. Ph: +36 70 381 4849)
This exquisite vintage boutique/ tea room celebrating bygone eras is run by mother and daughter. Apparel collections dominated by lace, embroidery and corsetry sit alongside antique tea sets and to-die-for men’s accessories.
Couture footwear, silk scarves, tapestry handbags and Bakelite accessories will delight, as will sweet & savoury tarts, decadent chocolate cake and organic salads in the tea room.
Pop in while exploring the Jewish Quarter (District Vll)
From 5-star luxury to budget-friendly apartments, Budapest has a host of accommodation options.
To take advantage of walking the city, I recommend basing yourselves in District V. A popular district for its convenience to the rest of the city, District V is also a transport hub for boats, trams and trains for any day-tripping you may plan.
Peruse Booking.com’s offer from our sidebar. paraphernalia.co is now affiliated with Booking.com which means if you make a booking, you’ll still receive their favourable prices, but we’ll receive a small commission to keep this site alive.
Nothing beats walking while exploring a new city, especially one as beautiful as Budapest. Pest is particularly easy to wander on foot. It’s flat, footpaths are well maintained, there’s gorgeous architecture around every corner and parks are scattered through the streets to take a breather.
Trams and trains are well priced. Use the river cruises for hop-on-hop-off access to Margaret Island and Buda Castle District. Taxis are prevalent and inexpensive.
If having your own transport is important, Budapest has excellent share-portation. Whether you pick up a car, cycle the river bank or even buzz around on an electric scooter, there’s an app for it.
Green Go and MOL Limo have you covered for car sharing. You’ll see MOL Bubi bike share racks all over town. Recently, blinkee.city have introduced electric scooters.
All you need to do to get going is download the app from your particular app store, register, find the nearest of your preferred share-portation locations and you’re away.
Tourists visiting Budapest receive free maps and information from the nonprofit Budapest Festival and Tourism Center at its info-points. The info centres also offer the Budapest Card which allows free public transit and discounts for several museums, restaurants and other places of interest. Cards are available for 24, 48 or 72-hour durations.
Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt International Airport is a 30-minute taxi ride from the city centre.
Emirates Airline departs Dubai daily at a comfortable 08:40 am, arriving in Budapest at 11:45 am local. A perfect time to get straight into an afternoon of sightseeing, to book your evening Danube cruise or find an outdoor café to enjoy Hungarian hospitality.
Taxi alternatives from the airport include miniBud, the airport’s shuttle bus service. At the time of publishing single passenger fares were €17.50 with prices reducing the more people in your group.
Bookings can be made online along with your Budapest Card to be collected at the airport on arrival and Fast Track cards for ease of security clearance.
You can also take bus 200E (04:00 – 23:00) Bus 900 (23:00 – 04:00) from Terminal 2 to the nearest Metro station (Kőbánya-Kispest) and hop on the M3 train to the city centre.
If you’re not only a first-timer to Budapest but a first-time international traveller then let me introduce you to my friends at Foreign Lemonade. They’ve put together these 17 Tips for an Easy Travel Experience and isn’t that what we all want?
When to go.
The average temperature in Budapest starts to hit double digits in April, low double digits. In fact, Budapest’s average temperature in the summer months doesn’t get much higher than the mid-20s. Of course, there are warm days, but the pleasant average makes visiting Budapest from late April through to early October ideal.
June to August will be the busiest time for tourists, naturally, however, our visit was early July and although there were plenty of other visitors, this wasn’t an issue gaining access to all Budapest has to offer.
Unsurprisingly, the winter months see shutters down on rooftop bars, outdoor cafes and riverside activities, but braving the chill won’t prevent you enjoying other pursuits.
Budapest’s scenic river, magnificent architecture, and picturesque views lure you in on arrival. A turbulent past with a creative approach to the future will have you taking the bait and the warm hospitality and quirky personalities will ensure you’re hooked. Exploring Budapest: it’s a thing we love….
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