Budapest

Our Complete Guide on What to See & Do, Where to Eat & Drink and Where to go for a Night Out

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 Three Reasons to Visit Budapest

Budapest is not often featured on bucket lists, but omitting it is a mistake in our opinion. The Hungarian capital is full to bursting with stunning architecture, unique attractions and great places to eat and drink. Prices are generally cheaper compared with other European capitals and flights in and out are also great value, making it a fantastic city break destination.

If you’re only in town for the weekend, here are three things you must do while you’re visiting.

1. Soak at a Thermal Bath House

Budapest sits on a geological fault and therefore benefits from geothermal activity. This energy is harnessed and used to warm the waters of beautiful bath houses across the city, the most famous of which is 1Szechenyi just to the north of the city centre.

2. Crawl the Ruin Pubs

The city suffered in World War 2, leaving a legacy of bombed out buildings. In more recent times, these buildings have been repurposed into characterful pubs, often sprawling across several floors. The larger ruin pubs cater to everyone from sociable drinkers to party animals. 13Szimpla is a must visit before you discover your own favourites.

3. Play an Escape Room Game

Budapest has an unusual obsession with escape room games. There are allegedly over 60 to choose from, each offering a different theme and cunning chain of challenges to complete. Prepare for surprises, laughter and a massive feeling of accomplishment when you and your team emerge from your locked room within the time limit.

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 Things to know

Before you go, here are some things you’ll need to know.

 Getting from the airport

The airport is a 20 minute drive away from the city centre. The most convenient way of getting to your accommodation is by taxi. Ignore the touts in the arrivals hall and head outside, following the signs for ‘Taxis’. Here you’ll find a booth for Fõ Taxi. Tell the person inside the booth where you’d like to go. They’ll probably speak English, but it is recommended you have your destination written down just in case. You will be given a receipt with a predicted fare (normally between 6000-8000HUF, though your final fare will be determined by a meter) and the registration plate of your taxi. Wait a few moments and your cab will pull up in front of you. Your driver will probably want to see your receipt, so have it to hand.

 Getting Around

Budapest is small enough to traverse on foot. When you want to save your energy, the city’s efficient and inexpensive bus, tram and metro network will get you to where you need to be. Tickets should be purchased from self-service machines before boarding. It is important you validate your ticket at metro entrances or on board buses and trams as tickets are routinely checked. Simply insert your ticket into the validation machine for a few moments. As for taxis, the general advice, despite recent regulation, is still to call a reputable company and place a booking (even if you need to get somewhere immediately). Hailing a cab from the street may result in you getting ripped off. Companies deemed safe and trustworthy are Fõ Taxi and City Taxi. We can personally vouch for both of these firms.

 Currency

The currency of Hungary is the Hungarian Forint (shortened to HUF). Occasionally, you will find prices quoted or shown in Euros (€), but you will always be able to pay in HUF.

 Tipping

It is customary to tip bar & restaurant staff, bellhops and taxi drivers. Generally speaking, 10% of the total is appreciated in all cases with higher percentages for exceptional service. For bell hops, give 300-400 HUF. Tips should be handed directly to the individual rather than left on a table. It’s important to note, if you say ‘thank you’ when handing cash to restaurant staff, they will assume you don’t want change. If you do want change, hold your thanks until the transaction is complete.

Language

The national language is Hungarian, but Hungarians don’t expect visitors to be fluent. We found Budapest to be very English-friendly. Almost everyone we encountered spoke English well and most menus and notices (particularly on public transport) had English translations.

 Electricity

Sockets are predominantly rounded two-prong Type C (Euro), though very occasionally you’ll find Type F in older buildings. The voltage is 230V at 50Hz.

 Cheers!

Thanks to an urban legend about Austrian generals allegedly clinking their beer glasses to celebrate the execution of the 13 Martyrs of Arad in 1849, Hungarians don’t clink their glasses together. While the unofficial ban expired in 1999, many still uphold the tradition. Visitors are encouraged to do the same.

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Things to See & Do in Budapest

The Hungarian capital is packed full of great things to see and do. Here are our favourites.

Szechenyi Thermal Bath, Budapest

1 Szechenyi Thermal Baths

 Állatkerti krt. 9-11 |  M1Széchenyi fürdő
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Budapest reaps the benefits of sitting on a geological fault in the form of thermal baths. Szechenyi is the most famous and the most visited for good reason. Depending on the time you go, there are at least 15 pools available, some indoors, some outside, each boasting unique health benefits. We recommend starting outside where you’ll find a whirlpool and hot tubs. Then, go indoors and dip into as many pools as you can. You’ll also discover saunas and steam rooms. Hungarians use thermal pools as a place to relax and socialise, so take your time, take it easy and get to know those around you. You’ll want to spend at least 3-4 hours here to get the most out of your visit.

Tips: If there are two of you, we recommend paying extra for a cabin, where you can get changed and store your belongings. We strongly recommend taking flip flops, towels and robes, particularly if you visit in Winter.

MindCrime, Budapest

2 MindCrime Escape Room

Katona József utca 21 |  M3Nyugati pályaudvar
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Since the first one opened in 2011, Hungarians have really run with the concept of escape rooms (find out more about escape rooms here). There are now estimated to be at least 60 different games to choose from, each more elaborate and fiendish than the last. We chose MindCrime as it was one of the few escape rooms that had a discounted price for two players. The game itself was cleverly arranged, exciting, surprising and had a great theme. We managed to complete the game with 55 seconds to spare and felt a huge sense of accomplishment at the end. We totally recommend it!

Don’t worry: This escape room isn’t scary and doesn’t include live actors, so it’s great for all ages.

House of Terror, Budapest

3 House of Terror Museum

Andrássy út 60 |  M1Vörösmarty utca
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Hungary has been through a great deal of pain and heartache over the course of its history. Two particularly dark times – the Nazi occupation during World War 2 and the Soviet occupation thereafter – are documented in all its harrowing detail at the House of Terror. The building in which the museum is housed was the setting for actual imprisonment, interrogations and executions during both of these bloody times, bringing particular poignancy to the impressive exhibits. The tour around the building culminates in a visit to the prison cells in the basement and a beautifully haunting memorial to those that suffered at the hands of these brutal regimes.

Tip: Help yourself to the multi-lingual information sheets in each room to find out more about the exhibits. The sheets are pretty wordy, so the audio guide might be worth investing in for a more immersive experience.

Childrens Railway, Budapest

4 Children’s Railway

Bátori László u. | Railway line 60
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The Children’s Railway isn’t a railway made for children in the traditional sense. Children are certainly welcome to go for a ride of course. The difference lies in how the railway is run. Save for a few adults guiding the way, the line is run entirely run by children. Sure enough, when we arrived at the practically deserted station, we were greeted by a lad of about 11 years who sold us our tickets. When the train arrived, we were helped aboard by more children while others checked our tickets and announced the stations. The sheer novelty combined with beautiful passing scenery made for an experience not to be missed.

Look out: As the train passes the platforms and signal boxes, the children manning them salutes.

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Cafes in Budapest

Budapest’s cafe scene is alive and well. Here are our favourites places for a hot drink.

Barbers Wife, Budapest

5 Barber’s Wife

Király u. 6 |  M1/2/3Deák Ferenc tér
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We headed into Barber’s Wife looking for a hot drink and emerged with a wonderfully thick and creamy cup of homemade hot chocolate. Serve yourself from the dispenser on top of the counter, and don’t forget to add lots of toppings.

Ecocafe, Budapest

6 Ecocafe

Andrássy út 68 |  M1Vörösmarty utca
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Budapest’s version of Paris’ Champs-Elysee is the last place you’d expect to find a student hangout like Ecocafe. Selling organic, healthy and ethically-sourced food and drink, Ecocafe manages to feel cosy despite the minimalist decor. The cafe is popular with students and creatives with laptops in tow, keen to make good use of the fast, free wifi.

Ruszwurm Cukraszda

7 Budavar Ruszwurm Cukraszda

Szentháromság u. 7 | Bus 16 or 16A
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This classically styled cafe dates back to 1827 and can get incredibly busy during high season. People flock here to choose from a selection of traditional cakes and tortes, the recipes of which probably haven’t changed very much since they started making them. The classic Hungarian cake is the Dobostorta, a chocolate buttercream-layered sponge cake, topped with caramel and nuts. Mmm!

Zhao Zhou Tea Shop, Budapest

8 Zhao Zhou Tea Shop

Lánchíd u. 5 | Bus 109/16 or Tram 19
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Away from the tourist trap, on the Buda side of the Danube, you’ll find this modern tea shop specialising in selling and serving Puer tea. Puer tea is made from leaves plucked from ancient trees and is said to contain many health benefits. You can order from a wide selection of tea (not just Puer) served in individual tea pots (‘tea to go‘), or you can brew some yourself at your table. Staff are keen to help you choose and answer questions. A lovely experience and a comfortable place to relax and enjoy a hot drink.

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Places to Eat in Budapest

Budapest has a burgeoning food scene with more palates being catered for each day.

Big Fish Bistro, Budapest

9 The Bigfish Seafood Bistro

Andrássy út 44 |  M1Oktogon
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A modern restaurant serving a variety of fresh and inventive seafood dishes. Unusually, orders have to be placed at the counter when you arrive, where a selection of fresh fish is on display. The menu is written on a large blackboard behind the counter, making deciding what you want to eat a little bit awkward. Prices are higher than average, though still reasonable considering the quality of the produce. The cold starter platter is fresh and tasty and enough for two. The battered prawns are huge and the accompanying fried potatoes are very addictive.

Sorry, nothing here for veggies or vegans.

Most Bistro, Budapest

10 Most Bistro

Zichy Jenő u. 17 |  M1Opera
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For a tasty and filling brunch, head to this hipster hangout. The quiet street and understated entrance masks a restaurant and bar fit for any millennial. At the weekend, the excellent value brunch menu includes a drink, main and desert (who knew brunch also included a desert). Food is beautifully presented, fresh and tasty while the interior screams of ‘Shoreditch‘. Try the Eggs Benedict, which comes with a side salad and potatoes. The portions here are huge, so come with an appetite.

A good selection of vegetarian options.

Magyar Qtr, Budapest

11 Magyar Qtr

Belgrád rkp. 18 |  M3/4Kálvin tér
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An unassuming facade and interior hides a restaurant whose food is a little bit more sophisticated and therefore a little bit pricier than average. Fear not though, as the food is flavoursome, inventive, well presented and therefore, very much worth it. We loved the Rose duck breast with cabbage pasta roll and prune compote. The prunes combined with the duck tasted divine and the flavours beautifully complimented each other.

A few vegetarian options.

PadThai Wok2Go, Budapest

12 Padthai Wok2Go

Multiple locations |  Multiple locations
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There are branches of this noodle bar chain across Budapest. Build your noodle box from the list of noodle types, toppings and sauces and place your order at the counter. Every dish is freshly made to order and served at the hatch. Simply wait for your number to appear on a screen, then go help yourself. Delicious, healthy and not too expensive. We really liked the Satay Chicken. Make sure you accompany your meal with an ice tea.

Veggie, vegan and lactose/gluten-free friendly!

Nights Out in Budapest

Budapest is famous for its ruin pubs. Here are our two favourites.

Szimpla Kert, Budapest

13 Szimpla Kert

Kazinczy u. 14 |  M3/4Kálvin tér
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Szimpla is Budapest’s original ruin pub and therefore an essential place to visit for a drink or two. The place is huge and full of nooks and crannies filled with bric-a-brac, art and graffiti. Szimpla attracts locals and visitors of all ages, therefore the atmosphere is welcoming and not at all intimidating. There are several bars including one serving cocktails and there are lots of interesting places to hang out, including a bath tub and an old Trabant with the roof removed. There’s also a counter serving hot traditional Hungarian food. A programme of live music and events are held regularly so check their website throughout your time in Budapest.

Red Ruin, Budapest

14 Red Ruin

Irányi u. 25 |  M3Ferenciek tere
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This ruin pub is very small and mostly frequented by students, but it’s worth a visit to see the Russian communist-inspired decor that adorns every inch of the walls. The drinks are cheap and the music tends to lean towards angsty nineties grunge and rock. Avoid the range of imported bottled beer and get a local brew on tap. Staff will be happy to recommend their favourites.

Budapest: Our Complete Guide on What to See & Do and Where to Eat & Drink

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