Budapest is probably our favourite European city break we’ve done so far. Stunning architecture shoots up across the city and the river Danube slices through to create a weekend break where you feel like you’re getting two cities for the (extremely reasonable) price of one. We made some bad decisions and we made some incredibly great decisions, so please learn from our mistakes if you’re planning a trip to Hungary for a few days in Budapest.
We flew from East Midlands Airport and bagged some cheap flights through Jack’s Flight Club, if you aren’t using these email alerts, I’m telling you you’re overpaying for your flights (alerts are free get on them). We took a taxi from the airport to our Airbnb which was in the heart of the Jewish quarter and was perfectly decorated. The taxi was just under £20 which was about 7,000HUF at the time, and took about 25 minutes. We paid with our Starling Card to get the better exchange rate and no fees, and the taxis all accept card so don’t stress about getting money out at the airport – the UK currency exchanges will overcharge you anyway!
|Table of contents|
|Day 1 in Budapest|
|Day 2 in Budapest|
|Day 3 in Budapest|
|How much money to take to Budapest?|
|How to get around Budapest?|
|What to book in advance for Budapest?|
|Where to stay in Budapest?|
Day 1 in Budapest
So after we hit the ruin bars the night before (more on that to come) we got up, and headed out for breakfast. We ate at STIKA which was a great little spot for some tasty breakfast. The menu was fairly varied, the staff were friendly but it was bloody cold sat outside and there was a faint whiff of sewer too. We’d definitely go again, it’s averagely priced, but we would advise you to try and get a seat inside!
St. Stephens Basilica
Next we headed to St. Stephens Basilica right in the heart of Buda. If you weren’t aware, Budapest is split into Buda and Pest with the river running right through dividing the two. Buda has the older more historical bits whereas Pest has the nightlife and less of the touristy spots.
The Basilica provides huge views over the city and was only a couple of quid to get up to the top to see some amazing sights. I personally hate heights and I handled the many many stairs well enough, there is a lift though for any disabled visitors.
- For 500 HUF (£1.40ish) you can go to the top to see amazing panoramic views. It’s an absolute steal.
The Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church and Buda Castle can all be done in one round trip. When you get to the bottom of the hill just off the Danube bridge, you’ll see a load of tour guides offering their services as well as the old-school Funicular. Our advice – dive on one of the hop-on-hop-off carts dotted around. They’re essentially large golf buggies but they’re the best value for money (aside from walking) as the Funicular just goes to the Castle and back.
The Fisherman’s Bastion itself is glorious. The views of the Danube are magnificent, however it can get a bit crowded with everyone trying to make the most of the amazing views and ivory towers. There’s a few cafe’s dotted about and even a fine-dining restaurant overlooking the river. If you’re after a munch, you’ll be paying tourist prices up there so we advise waiting until you’re back down or eat a big breakfast beforehand!
- Some areas are locked off and you will have to pay a 1000 HUF (£2.75) entry fee if you want to go deeper into the structure
Matthias Church is right next to the Bastion so you’ll probably have already seen this depending on where you walk. Either way it’s in keeping with the cold white architecture and provides plenty a photo opportunity. When we visited there was a duet playing some acoustic music in Hungarian sat on the fountain. They weren’t pushing for cash but they provided a tranquil backdrop to some beautiful landscape and buildings. Between the church and Bastion there’s even a Starbucks if you need a caffeine kick, I expect there’s cheaper coffee to be found literally anywhere else however.
The main attraction itself! It’s pretty big even if you only wander around the grounds and have a look at it from the outside. Every hour, on the hour you can see the changing of the guards at the castle so try and stick around for that procedure. If you so happen to be at the castle on the final Saturday of the month you might even get an orchestral piece to accompany the guards. To visit Buda Castle is free and there’s no charge to stroll around the fountains and turrets. Again, the views are spectacular and we were exploring just as the sun was setting, so the river started to light up as did the Castle. You don’r particularly need to be at the Castle for nightfall, but you should definitely try and get your eyes on it at some point in the dark, I’d argue it looks even better with spotlights shining on it.
With these golf buggy passes we mentioned earlier, the Citadella is often included for an extra couple of quid, if you’re keen on seeing this up close, make sure your ticket involves this too – P.S haggle if you’re in a group!
Full disclosure, we decided against trekking out to the Citadella as we were short for time so never saw it close up, but I’ve included it in this itinerary as it’s an easy jump to it from the Castle. It’s high up so I imagine the views are equally amazing, so feel free to throw it on your list.
River Danube at night
Once you’ve tackled all these sights on your list, you should definitely take a stroll along the river. The River Danube at night is just spectacular. The buildings are all lit up and the river reflects everything it’s genuinely stunning. If you wish to take a trip on the river on a boat, we advise you book in advance and find out where the boat departs from with good time left to find it!
Mazeltov restaurant in the Jewish Quarter
The crown jewel of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter: Mazeltov! We’d heard a lot about this place from blogs, forums and people so we had to pay it a visit. This did mean walking back from the Danube to the Jewish Quarter but this was where our Airbnb was located so do bear that in mind across this entire itinerary!
The food was top notch, the prices reflected the quality but were still what I’d consider cheap considering the HUGE portion sizes. There was something for everyone and I will genuinely say that is the best falafel I’ve ever eaten. The Middle Eastern influence across a lot of Budapest’s food scene is truly apparent in this place. Pro tip: it gets crazy busy so try and book ahead, maybe even before you go! We were lucky and got seated within 5 minutes but we did eat relatively early and it was a Thursday in the off-season so do go prepared if you fancy a proper naughty dinner option.
Now you’re in the Jewish Quarter it would be wrong to not go and visit several ruin bars if you’re that way inclined. They’re all cheap, the atmosphere in every one was fun, and there were a fair amount of locals, too which is always a good sign. Something to be aware of though, the ruin bars are used for the city pub crawls so expect the odd group of lads out on the bloody sesh. There were a fair few people who looked like they were out on their first night out, it was cute, but generally we didn’t have any trouble in these places at all. For your first night you might want to try the main ruin bar Szimpla Kert which has plenty of rooms, variety of drinks and is an intriguing place to visit in itself.
- Most ruin bars are free to get in apart from the larger clubs
Karavan street food market
You’ve had a few bevs, you’ve walked a lot all day – you deserve some filthy street food. The Karavan street food market consists of two rows of about 15-20 street food stalls and there is literally something for everyone. For the vegans among us there’s Viva Las Vegans (more on that later) and some falafel trucks, for everyone else, you’ve got pretty much every type of norty van food you can think of including Budapest’s famed chimney cakes!
It’s free to get in, its heated, but it isn’t sheltered so do bear in mind if it’s hammering it down and you don’t fancy a soggy 1am burger.
Day 2 in Budapest
We got ourselves up bright and early, had breakfast at a local small cafe, and then we headed out. We strolled on over (it’s a fair walk from the Jewish Quarter be warned) to the Heroes’ Square and thermal baths, but we’d recommend you catching the metro to the Szechenyi stop and starting your tour from there!
Széchenyi thermal baths
So for some reason we thought we deserved a bit of relaxation on our second day – perhaps it was all that walking? The thermal baths are a must-see but they are fairly expensive if you don’t plan on staying long (it was about £14 a ticket without any rentals included). If you are adding this on your itinerary, be sure to check out our 5 things to know before visiting the thermal baths in Budapest.
- £14 a ticket for normal entry and locker hire
- Paid extras include slippers, towels and swimming caps
This castle is a gothic wonder to look at alongside it’s accompanying little lake, but it isn’t huge. All cards on the table, we took a brief look around but decided to spend more time in the baths than going around the castle itself. It’s great for a quick pic even if you’re just passing by!
Heroes’ Square (Hosok Tere)
This place is bloody huge and understandably full of tourists so try and go earlier than later. It’s only a short couple minutes walk from the baths so feel free to throw all this into one big trip. The statues are pretty incredible here so be sure to get some snaps and have a look up close.
The millenium monument is the big bad boy you see right in front of you when you reach the square. At night, the spotlights make the statues of horses and gods look even more magnificent.
The art museums on the square are marvels in themselves without even going in but there is one for contemporary art and one for well..older stuff. If this is your thing, it’s all easily accessible from the square so plan your day accordingly. We opted to not go into the museums purely to get more time soaking in the baths. Bubbles > Culture.
Seen as we’re a veggie/vegan travel blog at heart we had to include this little number. After a good old soak we went an dived back on the metro to the Jewish Quarter. We got to try Viva Las Vegans which was a proper naughty food truck in this little square of street food eateries called the Vegan Garden. We had disgustingly good seitan chicken burgers which were seasoned to perfection and it makes me want to book a flight just to grab one of them right now oh my gosh. We went in November and it didn’t open until 4pm though and there was little activity, so this is definitely one for the evening – despite what Google Maps says!
I mean we were in the Jewish Quarter anyway so… why not try Ellato Kert? This one is smaller than the main ruin bar but it’s still equally as cheap. It’s a bit like walking into a butchers and the chairs and decor could do with some money but I guess that’s kind of the point. They do cheap tacos here too, we didn’t try them so can’t say as to whether you can get veggie/vegan ones though!
Day 3 in Budapest
We’ve made it. You’ve drunk a lot of beer and ate a lot of falafel, it’s time for day 3.
Street art in Jewish Quarter
If you’ve only been wandering around the Jewish Quarter at night you may have missed the huge mass of street art dotted about. Entire sides of buildings are covered in a colour explosion picturing birds, landscapes and architecture – there’s genuinely some really good stuff to be seen – take a look!
We decided to spend the majority of our final day over on Margaret Island – the Central Park of Budapest. It’s deceptively big so be sure to account for enough time to get around it. Pro tip – if you get on the island at the southern entrance and leave at the other end you might find it hard to get transport back out to the main city – we ended up using Taxify (knock off Uber) due to time constraints but something to bear in mind if you get engrossed in the walking!
Rent a bike, kart or scooter
The island itself has a small zoo, fountains, immaculate scenery, Japanese gardens some street food stalls and a whole host of ways to get around. BUT a lot of this won’t be open if you’re there in the off season – sometimes it pays to be a summer holiday tourist. Even though a lot of things were shut, we still hired these Mario Kart-esque buggies and peddled around a good chunk of the island in the hour we hired them. We highly recommend you get some form of bike or buggy as it is a lot of fun – just watch out for obstacles such as rocks, benches and people…
Eat at a Hummus bar
For our veggie and vegan fam you need to go eat at a Hummus bar! They are literally bloody everywhere in Budapest and that is great. Their falafel is top drawer and it’s remarkably cheap all round. Would recommend, would return, would hummus again.
Where to stay in Budapest?
If you think of Buda as having all the old cool historic bits and Pest offering a bit more of an urban scene, you can easily choose where you want to stay. We did a whole heap of research beforehand and decided that staying within the Jewish Quarter in Pest was the best decision for us. This was based on being in close proximity to bars so we didn’t have a long walk after a few £1 Kozels. Now this isn’t to say that we were staying right on a party strip; the Jewish Quarter is cultural and edgy af, too. We just wanted a nice location with good access to transport. We would advise checking Airbnbs within this area and particularly looking at the reviews mentioning the noise. Our Airbnb, whilst near many ruin bars, was silent at night because it was in an enclosed courtyard, and this was a lifesaver. If you’re new to Airbnb (or a member of your group is), feel free to use our Airbnb link to get £25 off your first stay! For the particular stylish Airbnb we stayed in check it out here. It was a painless stay, the flat was exceptional and it was dirt cheap for what we got.
If Airbnb isn’t your thing, there are plenty of hotels, which are going to cost more, but you’ll be far more centralised. When doing your research, check the distance from a metro station as this will save you a lot of time when hitting up the main sights.
How much money to take to Budapest?
Budapest definitely doesn’t need to break the bank. We used Starling to get the best exchange rate but you’ll get the same on any MasterCard credit card, Revolut or Monzo. We spent around £150 per person and that covered, taxis to and from the airport, city metros, breakfast, lunch, and dinner out and some evening bevs. A pint of local draught beet should be around £1-£2 so getting a round in is cheap and cheerful. So in short, expect around £50 per day if you’re eating out all the time. If you haven’t got a ‘challenger bank’ card, we’d recommend Starling Bank over the popular Monzo, as the latter charges you for withdrawals over £200 a month, where as Starling does not.
How do you get around Budapest?
Budapest apparently outlawed Uber at some point but they have their own version called Taxify which is worth downloading. It’s essentially an Uber clone but it’s a bit slower and the UI isn’t as good. It’s pretty affordable and we had no issues with it. Other than that, there are official taxis that will take you from the airport for example. This was a little bit more expensive than Taxify but it was still cheap (about £19 from the aiport to the Jewish Quarter) and we could pay by card.
A one way ticket on the metro is about 75p so it’s bloody cheap and extremely easy to navigate. Check the map, find your destination, get on the tram that goes that direction. Simple. We read we needed to validate our tickets, so we did at any station we were at, but honestly, we didn’t see anyone else doing this – better safe than sorry!
There are bikes to rent scattered around the city and it works with an app – however, all the reviews we read about this weren’t exactly positive. A big part of the problem was that it takes out a huge deposit from your bank for the bike and if you don’t have that money readily available you might be out of pocket with overdraft fees etc. Definitely check out the reviews and guides for this before you book one of these green bikes for hire!
Things to book in advance for your Budapest trip
The following is a few things we learned when in Budapest for 3 days. We think you would benefit highly from booking these things in advance, let us know if there’s anything else.
There are a variety of river cruises you can do and we naively presumed we would be able to turn up and get one immediately. We would highly recommend you do some research and pick one in advance. We’ve ready various reviews of people booking and printing tickets, so definitely check some out before you go.
If you’re in high season or going out to eat on a Friday or Saturday you need to make sure you book a table for Mazeltov in advance. They spoke amazing English on the phone so don’t feel bad for asking when you give them a call. We all had a great meal here so it’s a must visit for a Budafeast!
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