Budapest

Budapest - a quick guide to the city

Budapest is a beautiful European city, pleasant streets, decorated buildings and various attractions for all ages.  It is an ideal destination for family travels and traveling with kids.  Also singles and couples will undoubtedly enjoy the numerous attractions of this city.

For a city map click below:

budapest map

The Danube river flows through the city, and cuts it in half:  Buda in the west and Pest in the east.  Most attractions and accommodations are located in Pest.  Crossing the Chains Bridge from Pest, will get you to Buda.  A few hours trip in Buda would be enough to enjoy and cover most of it. 

The island Margaret (Margit) resides in the Danube river, and exhibits a relaxing city park away from the busy streets of the city.  A fountain with lights and music will provide a spectacular show every hour, and at 9pm there is a longer show (lasts for a full hour). It is recommended to rent bikes for touring the island.

Buda

West of the Danube river, crossing over the Chain Bridge, resides Buda Castle, viewing over the whole city.  It is recommended to take the funicular uphill to the castle, or alternatively, take bus line 16 up to the top.  The way down, by the way, is much easier, and you certainly can save the money and walk down.  

North of the castle, you will enjoy walking in the Castle District streets  Make sure you don’t miss the Fisherman’s Bastion and its magnificent view of the city.  Matthias Church is just near by.

Near the Fisherman’s Bastion resides the cakes shop Ruszwurm, with a divine Cremeschnitte cake (i.e. mille-feuille cake).  You wouldn’t want to miss that.

South of the castle there is Gallert hill, which is reachable by bus or by foot.  Take into account a 30 minutes climb if you like walking.   The panoramic view of the city is amazing and worth the climb.

A good few hours walking trip would be to start from Gallert hill and walk all the way north until Fisherman’s Bastion.  The other way from north to south is also possible.

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Pest

Parliament Building

It took a thousand people 20 years and 40 million bricks to build this palace – and indeed, it shows.  A very impressive building, huge and yet full of small details.  Very impressive from the outside, and also as impressive from the inside.    There are guided tours inside, and tickets may be purchased on site or online in this link.

300 meters south of the Parliament, on the Danube river bank, you’ll find the shoes memorial.  Dozens of iron shows, to honor the people who were killed during world war II.

Heroes’ Square and City Park

On the east of Budapest you can find the City Park, with its impressive square at the entrance.  A simple way to get there, would be to take the yellow line of the metro until the last station.  The park has huge planes of grass, a castle, play grounds, circus (tickets should be booked in advance!), zoo, and several restaurants.

The famous Szechenyi spa is located at the park center. 

Vaci Street, the Jewish District, Goszdu and the area

Budapest offers a rich night life, exclusive shops and fancy restaurants – all in relatively cheap prices.

The Jewish district, somewhat a surprise, is the center of Budapest’s night life. Therefore, it is a recommended spot for accommodation. Goszdu courtyard is full of pubs and restaurants.  Szimpla pub is famous in all Europe, and should definitely be visited.  By the way, on Sunday mornings (starting from 10am) there is a great food market inside.  And if you are hungry at night, you can find booths of food just near by, at Street Food Karavan.

Kazinczy street is unique because of the wall paintings on the houses, which creates a unique experience.  

The Budapest Great Synagogue has an entrance fee, but it is worth a visit.  It is closed on Friday evening and Saturday, but Sunday is open.

Vaci Utca (Vaci street) is a mandatory attraction for shopping, restaurants and coffee shops.  The Central Market Hall is located at the street’s south end, and is a great place to buy the famous Hungarian paprika.  On the first floor you’ll find fruits, vegetables, meat, cakes etc. and on the second floor you’ll find souvenirs, cloths, handbags, and alike.

On the sound end of Vaci st. resides Vorosmarty square with the famous Gerbeaud Cafe.  The cakes and sweets are not necessarily the best in Budapest, but the antique renovated building and the fabulous rooms will provide the perfect atmosphere for a nice afternoon.  A recommended restaurant-pub near the Central Market Hall is called For Sale.  Their huge Goulash soup dish should not be missed (!).

Szent Istvan Bazilika (Saint Stephen Basilica) is the most famous church in Hungary.  A climb to the top would reveal a view of the city.  If you like ice cream, don’t miss the flower shaped ice cream at Gelarto Rosa near the Basilica. 

The Budapest Opera House is located 10 minutes walk from the Basilica. Prices for opera shows and concerts are relatively cheap. Tickets must be purchased long time in advance here, and the price is according to the seats place. 

Budapest Spa and Thermal Baths

There are 7 big thermal baths sites, and you can read about them in this link.  The famous Szechenyi spa is located at the park center.  It is a unique experience, even though less compelling to kids.  Szechenyi has many mineral thermal baths indoor, which are quite old and not attractive. But outside, it has three big outdoor pools, offering a great experience. Also in winter.  Towels can be rented, but they are quite expensive, so better bring your own.  You may also rent a locker or a small changing booth.   By the way, the water temperature is just warm, around 34 degrees Celsius.  So if you are usually cold in the winter, you should think twice before visiting the pools at this season.

Other big thermal spa pools are Gallert Thermal Bath in the south and  Lukacs Thermal Bath in the north, both are close to the Danube, on the Buda side.

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Tips and Information

Budapest with Children

The following attractions are recommended: Children’s train, chairlift, sailing on the Danube, circus and zoo in the city park, the underground tunnels “Labyrinth of Buda Castle” (entrance at Uri Utca 9 street), the 3D Gallery near the Basilica, and the giant Ferris Wheel.

Transportation

Budapest has great public transportation system of metro and buses, so car rental is absolutely the wrong way to travel in the city.

Metro regular tickets can be purchased at the metro stations automatic machines or booths. You must validate the ticket before the ride in one of the orange machines at the station.  Beware, there is a large fine for not validating the ticket before the ride!  Buying 10 tickets will reduce the cost per ticket. There is also an option for a “Travelcard” which is good for 24 hours, 72 hours or a week. This card is good for all forms of transportation, and it is very convenient. This type of cards do not need to be validated.  There is also a family ticket for 24 hours, which is a good deal. You can calculate and decide the best deal for you.

Bus tickets can be purchased on the bus or at the bus stations. Bus tickets must be validated in the machine on the bus.

Another great way to tour the city is the tourist bus.  A ticket is good for 48 hours, and you can hop on and off as many times as you like.  Its route passes through all the main attractions, including Buda side.  The ticket also includes sailing on the river and a discounts for various city attractions.  Tickets are sold at the stop stations around the city, and at hotels’ information desk.

Sightseeing Cruises

A recommended vendor is Legenda. It is located at deck 7, south of the chain bridge, Pest side.  There is a free drink included, and dinner is also an option.  The tour takes a bit over an hour, and a magical evening tour is amazing.

Sunday markets

Some of the shops will be closed Sunday afternoon, but the malls and the restaurants are open.  Two markets you may visit on Sundays are: Gozsdu weekend market, kiraly 13, and Szimpla sunday farmers market , szimpla kert.

Shopping in Budapest

Vaci street has many shops and may be enough for the common person’s shopping needs.  However, to be fully satisfied, we usually do need to visit at least one decent shopping mall… 🙂

As for shopping malls, Arkad is claimed to be the cheapest one (last stop of the red Metro), Westend is huge and is  recommended for its variety of shops, and decent prices.  Arena is also a big mall, including ice skating, but prices are claimed to be a bit higher.   A different mall to visit would be AsiaCenter, selling all kinds of ‘made in China’ products real cheap. A small recommended mall with special shops is called Corvin Shopping Center.

Restaurants

Budapest has plenty, and good ones. A few recommendations:
Comme Chez Soi – Italian style restaurant near Vaci steet.  The place is small and busy, so you’ll need to book a reservation many days in advance.  Booking may be done via their mail commechezsoi@gmail.hu
For Sale – pub and restaurant.  The decoration is special – come and see… The Goulash soup is served in huge dish, and is very tasty.  As for the service and the rest of the dishes – don’t expect much…
Menza
and Mania Gourmet Bar are also recommended.
Pizzica – One of the best pizza in Budapest, near the Opera building.

Bors GasztroBar – A great soups restaurant in the Jewish district.

Kürtős Kalács (Kiortosh)

The local pastry, can be found at various places and prices in Budapest.  A recommended one is in the Vaci street, near Cafe de Paris, a huge piece costs 2000 ft.  But this price fits the high class location.  In the middle of the Vaci, across the Buddha hotel, you may find a delicious Kiortosh at 990 ft., and their coffee is also superb.    If you want cheaper prices, you can find all over the city, mostly around 400 ft.

SIM cards

If you didn’t prepare communication for Europe in advance, you may want to buy a local SIM card for internet access. The prices are relatively cheap.  There are Vodafone shops in various center places in Budapest, like near the Central Market, in Arena mall, in Arcade mall, near the entrance to the Metro station deak ferenc etc.  There are also T-Mobile shops.

Recommended Hotels in Budapest

Sofitel Budapest – a five star hotel, located at the very center.  A bit expensive.  A view to the Danube river is worth the extra cost, and breakfast is awesome.  A small supermark right next to the hotel is open 24/7.  Very convenient. 

7Seasons Apartments – High end apartments hotel, in the best location, and close to a metro station.  A kitchen in every apartment is very convenient. There is an option for breakfast, but it is also easy to prepare your own breakfast – a bakery is located just under the hotel, and a supermarket is near by.

Exe Danube – a perfect 4 stars hotel, at the best area of Budapest.

A small tip about water bottles

A bottle with a blue top is soda!  A pink top is still water.

Visit Lake Balaton

A huge lake, one hour drive south of Budapest.  Around the lake there are many attractions and sports activities.  The lake is very pleasant to walk by, swim, or just sit on the bank and have a picnic.  The main village is called Siofok on the east bank. It has shops, a market and good night life. An amazing boutique hotel right on the lake is call Mala Garden. 

The most amazing small villages would be found on the west bank. Such a village is called Tihany, sitting right on the water.  You will not want to leave this magical spot…  You may take a ferry to cross the lake there, including with the car. 
There are also water parks on each bank.  Not huge, but fun for the children.

Near a village called Heviz, there is a huge lake of thermal water. Children will also enjoy this lake, if they don’t mind a bit of a sulfur  smell. A recommended high class spa hotel, surrounded by a forest, is called Lotus Spa.  A bit expensive, but worth it.

Zamardi, a challenging adventure park (ropes park) is very recommended.  It is located near Siofok village.  There are routes for kids (less than 130cm), juniors (130-150cm), and adults (over 150cm).  There is also a high tower with a slider going down over the lake – scary and fun.

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