Let’s begin with the common misconception that Budapest is one city. This was definitely my understanding until I learned that Buda and Pest are separated by the Danube river and connected by beautiful bridges. A simple way to distinguish them is that Buda is the side of town with the Castle District and Pest, which is pronounced “pesht”, is the one with the Ruin Bars, aka the fun part of town!
I really recommend booking a walking tour so as to hear all the amazing history behind every district and beautiful castle. I took Generation Tours and was very pleased since the tour guide started by handing out a cheat sheet with some basic Hungarian:
Szia/Sziasztok = Hello
Jó napot = Good morning
Viszlát = Goodbye
Köszönöm = Thank you
Szeretlek = I love you
Jó = Good/Ok
Igen = Yes
Nem = No
Egészségedre = Cheers
Bor = Wine
Sör = Beer
AKA Dracula Castle! It is not near the center but it’s next to the Széchenyi Baths.
Ironically, it is now an Agriculture Museum, but the park surrounding it and the castle itself are both gorgeous and eerie; dating back over 100 years!
“Dracula’s character was most probably inspired by Vlad the Impaler, the 15th-century Transylvanian prince, also known as Vlad III Dracul of Wallachia, who was imprisoned by John Hunyadi in Vajdahunyad Castle for years.”(source)
St. Stephen’s Basilique
Beautiful cathedral in the city center and the biggest church in Budapest.
It hosts classical concerts indoors.
Best views of Pest! Free balconies located in the Castle district in Buda from where a castle used to be. Some cafés in the area taking up some of the viewpoints.
Hungarian Parliament Building
Enormous and gorgeous gothic building by the Danube river. It’s located in Pest, but you get the best view from across the river on Buda. Check out the website for up to date visiting hours and prices.
There are a few sculptures of shoes along the Danube River, in front of the Parliament Building. Their purpose is to remember all the Hungarian women, men and children killed whose bodies were thrown to the Danube river during WWII. It’s very emotional and definitely worth a visit.
If you’re visiting during the summer, you’ll be able to hang out and party ON the bridge. The city closes the bridge to vehicles for the weekend so locals can picnic on the bridge. There’s local artists performing, as well as some hammocks hanging for your convenience.
Stop by the market and get some cold beers or a bottle of wine to share, along with some snacks because there are no sellers on the bridge. Seems like a missed opportunity, but I’m guessing it has to do with this being a sort of new tradition.
“My friend and I literally gasped when all the lights on the bridges and castles in Buda were lit .”
This beautiful stone-bridge is known for its lion statues. It is said that during the inauguration, a child noticed that the lions lacked tongues. So the architect decided to jump off the bridge after hearing about his unforgivable error because that’s a normal reaction (sarcastic tone). I’m sure this is just a rumor since other people say the tongues can be seen from above. Still, makes for a fun story.
Another thing worth mentioning about Chain Bridge is that locals enjoy the gorgeous sunset on the steps next to the bridge on the Pest side of town, overlooking Buda. Public drinking is permitted, so bring a bottle of wine! The view is indescribably beautiful. My friend and I literally gasped when all the lights on the bridges and castles in Buda were lit.
I know that after a day of exploring the city, either in the scorching sun or the freezing winter wind, it isn’t easy to go out and party at night, but when in Budapest, RUIN BARS ARE A MUST! I also recommend checking out some of these ruin bars during the day. It’s a completely different experience since you’ll be able to appreciate the random decor best during daylight. Below are just a few:
The most popular ruin bar in Budapest, and for GOOD REASON. It has maaany bars to choose from. Most have similar menus and prices with slight variations. For instance, some carry craft beers. This is definitely one of the bars with a completely different vibe at day vs. night. During the day you’ll be able to notice all the random objects, plants, paintings, murals, graffitis and mirrors decorating the endless bar. At night, however, you’ll be able to experience the ambiance the colorful lights give, as well as enjoy the local DJs and bands performing.
During the day, make sure you check out the Design shop in the entrance. It has endless creative designs of anything you can think of: jewelry, art, toys, bags, decor, souvenirs, etc. All by local artists. FYI, they’re closed on Mondays. Also, be mindful of the exchange rate.
Not the biggest one, but definitely worth checking out.
Known as a nightclub, but you can still go in casual clothes like all ruin bars. It’s up to you if you rather dress to impress.
Best places to get cash:
Remember that Hungary’s currency is the Hungarian Florints (HUF or FTS). As of August 2018, 300 HUF is about 1 EUR. Not easy to remember, so be mindful of the conversion rate. Especially when tourist places charge in EUR.
They charged the equivalent of about 1 EUR for the withdrawal. The exchange rate was also the best in comparison to other banks.
Food… my reason for traveling!
For Sale Pub
Do not be fooled by the name. This place was recommended by a local when I mentioned I wanted to try some legit Goulash. This place has a “cowboy saloon” look. It has random decor, hay on the ground, peanuts for aperitive, and you can even throw the peels on the floor. The food, however, is very Hungarian. The portions are HUGE. I wasn’t able to finish my Goulash, so I took it home and had it for dinner for the next 3 days! The food is not only big, but it’s also delicious and quite homey. The Goulash came with all the sides you pour into the stew. It very much reminded me of Mexican pozole.
I’m not sure if it’s only open during the summer, but this cute little garden kept bringing us back. It has all types of food, and of course, a bar… with Hungarian trivia.
My favorite thing about this place is this vegan gyro pizza that I still dream about! I completely adore Tzaziki sauce, and the fact that it’s dairy free, it makes me want to overdose on it even more!
Where to get souvenirs:
When shopping, remember to be mindful of the exchange rate.
This place offered the largest variety of souvenirs, as well as the some of the best prices. There are other local shops that had more creative designs of magnets, postcards, etc, but Paprika has everything with paprika! From honey to jam and even Pálinka with paprika.
Pálinka is the local liquor. It has a high alcohol percentage and it’s mostly fermented with different fruits such as pear, grape, berries, etc. My favorite was the spicy version I tried at this market. I, unfortunately, did not purchase a small bottle so I could get a bigger one at the airport. BIG MISTAKE. Nobody else carries Pálinka with paprika. If you like spicy food or drinks, I suggest you ask for a sample. You’re also able to taste the many sauces, jams and honey they carry. People at this shop, and all over Budapest for that matter, are the friendliest.
There are plenty other things to see and places to visit while in Budapest. I didn’t include all the gorgeous and unique castles in Buda nor the street art, which I’ll save for another post. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time in Budapest no matter what you do. Other nearby cities I recommend are Vienna, Prague, and Krakow. Have fun and remember, even when the weather is bad, BE PRESENT and enjoy every moment!