Budapest might just be my favourite city I’ve ever been to. Don’t get me wrong, I love the beauty of Paris, the variety of Barcelona, and the buzz of Tel Aviv, but Budapest basically has it all. Furthermore, it’s an incredibly affordable city, with no experience being out of reach. I was fortunate enough to spend my Birthday in Budapest as a group of 4 friends, and while this *may* just rival Vegas in terms of being the Bachelor Party capital, it would be just as wonderful travelling as a couple or especially flying solo.
From our recent trip there, I’ve compiled a list of my Top 10 Things to See & Do in Budapest, in (my personal favourite) order. As per usual, I’ve marked all my favourite spots on an interactive Google Map which can be found here:
>> GUIDE TO BUDAPEST MAP <<
My Top 10 Things to Do in Budapest:
1. Relax at a Thermal Bath
The thermal baths are such a unique experience, and being the water baby that I am, were by far the highlight of the trip. We visited the two most famous ones, Gellert Thermal Bath, and Szechenyi Baths and Pool, and both were spectacular in their own completely different way.
For stunning architectural interiors, visit Gellert Spa & Bath.
For the beautiful outdoor pools area, visit Szechenyi Baths and Pool.
Note: we went to this one in the early evening, just before the sun set, and I highly recommend it.
2. Eat Cake at the New York Cafe
The minute I set foot in this iconic cafe, it’s interior took my breath away. With almost every surface intricately carved and guilded, you can’t help but just stare in amazement at its sheer opulence the entire time. I especially admire its historical significance, dating back to the early 20th century, when the Cafe would allow writers and artists to sit and eat for free, simply because they valued their creativity. Now that is my kind of place!
3. Take a River Cruise – During the Day & At Sunset
There are many options for Danube river cruises, but we lucked out by purchasing a ticket that was valid for two days. So one day we did the 2+ hour leisurely ride far down the river, seeing the sights during the daylight. We also expertly planned to take the 1 hour cruise just as the sun was about to set, which was magical. We saw the city from the water bathed in “magic hour”, a gorgeous sunset, and all the prominent building all lit up as the sky turned dark. I highly recommend both!
4. Eat Sausage & Goulash
Although we went during the summer months, Budapest would be ideal to visit during the winter, as their entire cuisine is perfect cold-weather comfort food. That being said, it is still a must to try out some of their delicious sausage varieties and homemade goulash soup. I absolutely loved the creative take on classic sausages at Faszaládé The meat-only menu is made grilled to order, and offers unique pairings like Pistachio-embedded sausage alongside a pea-green french macaron, aka perfection.
5. Explore the Buda Side
For reference, they say that if you’re looking down below at the landscape then you’re in Buda, but if you’re looking up at something, then you find yourself in Pest. Pest is better known as the area to stay, for its trendy restaurants, bars, and many attractions (like the Parliament Building). However, Buda is where the historical sights are, and is most definitely a mandatory visit. Cross one of the many beautiful bridges, and walk up the hill to admire the Royal Palace, Fisherman’s Bastion, and Matthias Church.
6. Experience a Ruin Bar (or Three)
Ruin Pubs are infamous hotspots in Budapest, and are located in formerly abandoned buildings throughout the city. We tried out three distinctly different ruin pubs, each one yielding its own perspective on this unique entertainment culture. Of course the first one on my list is Doboz Ruin Pub, which was recently transformed by architect Péter Szendrő, and has a much more contemporary look and feel to the rest, with a refined interior, while still retaining some of the characteristics of a derelict building.
Next up, the most famous of Budapest’s Ruin Pubs, and the one that started it all: Szimpla Kert. Simply put, there is nothing like this place in the world. The atmosphere in here is unbeatable and it just has to be seen for itself.
One of my favourites, though, more of a backyard oasis hangout than a full-on indoor club. Kőleves Vendéglő is an open-air self-service restaurant and bar, and is a must-try (if you are lucky enough to find a seat). We made our way all the way to the back (and I mean allllll the way in the back), and ordered Philly Cheesesteaks (to die for), along with a few rounds of mojitos.
*Photo c/o budapesttimes.hu
7. Do like the Young Locals Do
For the average tourist, there isn’t a shortage of sights to see and activities to do in Budapest. But after it is all said and done, why not do like the young locals do by partaking in some of their favourite pastimes?
Hang Out & Drink Wine in Public: we loved chilling in Erzsébet Tér Park, near where we were staying (it’s where the giant ferries wheel is). It was absolutely PACKED with Budapest’s young crowd, sprawled out on the grass, passing around an open bottle of wine or two. We also noticed groups sitting along the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, doing the same thing. So it must be a thing, and I have no problem doing it.
Visit a Market : The markets vary, from the Central Market Hall for snacks and picnic items, to the various vintage & design markets throughout the week. I personally loved the Friday market in Gozsdu Court, as well as the the Saturday design market in Erzsébet Tér Park.
Shop at a Pop Up: I love a good pop-up, and Budapest definitely takes the cake for the best ones. In fact, I was completely surprised at the sheer amount of them, despite their weird opening hours. I mean, how gorgeous is this set-up?
8. Try a Trendy Restaurant or Cafe
Prior to arriving, I had spent countless hours researching the hotspots in Budapest, and plotting them all on my map. In hindsight, it was mostly a useless task, as once we arrived we soon realised that everything is cool in Budapest. Seriously. Almost every restaurant is beautifully designed, enticing passerbys (or just me) to try out every single place. My favourites included:
Á la Maison, for brunch.
ZONA, for a special birthday dinner.
Desszert Neked, for cool treats.
9. Visit some stunning architectural sights.
Budapest’s architecture rivals that of any major global city. In fact, I preferred the urban fabric to that of Vienna’s, for example. While just as visually stunning, Budapest’s buildings seem to have more character, with varied pastel-coloured facades, intricately-detailed rooftops and turrets, and a wise range of architectural styles.
The obvious choice is the Hungarian Parliament Building. I saw it from all possible angles, and I still can’t get over just how spectacular it is.
There are, however, so many more options. My friend Jess was lucky enough to just go, and she loved the Museum of Applied Arts (Iparművészeti Múzeum), which she said has “one of the best exhibits on the architect” who designed the Art Nouveau building, Odon Lechner. I am totally cursing myself for not going, and am already planning my next trip back with this at the top of my list.
10. Just look up.
Be sure to pin my Guide to Budapest Map, which has all these places pinned onto an interactive Google Map, and more!