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.
At A Glance
Jump ahead to a section of our guide that interests you most.
- Three Reasons to Visit Budapest
- Things to See & Do in Budapest
- Cafes in Budapest
- Restaurants in Budapest
- Nights Out in Budapest
- Plan & Book Your Visit to Budapest
Don’t forget, you can jump to the top of this guide at any time by clicking the arrow button in the bottom right of the page.
Three Reasons to Visit Budapest
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 Szechenyi which is 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. Szimpla Kert 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.
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 Baths
Thanks to being located on a geological fault, Budapest has a network of thermal bath houses. 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 Escape Room
Since the first one opened in 2011, Hungarians have really run with the concept of escape rooms. 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 Museum
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 brutal regimes.
Pro-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.
Gyermekvasút – Children’s Railway
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, look out for the diligent salutes from the children.
Cafes in Budapest
Budapest’s cafe scene is alive and well. Here are our favourites places for a hot drink in the city.
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.
Budavar Ruszwurm Cukraszda
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
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.
Restaurants in Budapest
Budapest has a burgeoning food scene with more palates being catered for each day.
Please note, we visited Budapest before we had become vegetarians and the following recommendations may therefore not be veggie/vegan friendly.
The Bigfish Seafood Bistro
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.
V/Ve: Sorry, nothing here for veggies or vegans.
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 even 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.
V/Ve: A good selection of vegetarian options.
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. Make sure you accompany your meal with an ice tea.
V/Ve: Veggie, vegan and lactose/gluten-free friendly!
Nights Out in Budapest
Budapest is famous for its ruin pubs. Here are our two favourites.
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.
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.
Plan & Book Your Visit to Budapest
Getting to Budapest
Thanks to it’s geographic position, Budapest is very easy and often inexpensive to get to. Most foreign visitors arrive by air and by train.
Get to Budapest by Air
Budapest is served by Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport which is located 16km (9.9 miles) southeast of the city centre. A significant number airlines operate to and from the airport, offering both short and long-haul services to/from destinations all over the world.
Find the cheapest flights from your local airport to Budapest using Kayak*, our preferred flight search engine.
Get to Budapest by Train
Budapest is near to a number of other countries and it’s therefore common for tourists to arrive in Budapest by train.
Common train routes undertaken by visitors to Budapest include;
- Bratislava to Budapest* (2h22m)
- Vienna to Budapest* (2h38m)
- Prague to Budapest* (6h27m)
- Munich to Budapest* (6h50m)
You can find and buy train tickets to Budapest with Trainline*, our preferred train ticket partner.
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
Budapest’s city centre is compact enough to traverse on foot.
When you want to save your energy or travel to attractions further afield, 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.
Places to Stay in Budapest
Accommodation is Budapest is generally a bit cheaper than it is in other European capital cities. With this in mind, it’s worthwhile searching for smarter, more luxurious accommodation to see if it’s cheaper than you think.
Hotels in Budapest
We found an incredible deal on a room in the lavish Corinthia Budapest*, a hotel that would normally be considerably out of our price range.
When searching for hotel rooms, we recommend TripAdvisor* as it searches several hotel booking websites all at once so that you can compare the prices. Go to TripAdvisor* now to start looking for deals.
Airbnb in Budapest
Tours of Budapest
Budapest is included in several great sounding tours that cover many of Hungary’s neighbouring nations. If you’re not the sort of person who likes to plan and book things individually, tours are a great way of seeing Budapest without any of the hassle.
Practicalities & Local Customs
In the final section of our guide, we have collated all the extra bits of information you’ll need to know before you go.
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. For the best prices, pay in HUF as the conversion rate may not always be favourable.
It is customary to tip bar & restaurant staff, hotel porters and taxi drivers. Generally speaking, 10% of the total is appreciated in all cases with higher percentages for exceptional service. For hotel porters, give 300-400 HUF.
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. Tips should be handed directly to the individual rather than left on a table as the later method is considered rude.
The national language in Hungary 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.
Sockets are predominantly rounded two-prong Type C (Euro), though very occasionally you’ll find Type F sockets in older buildings. The voltage is 230V at 50Hz.
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 when toasting their drinks. While the unofficial ban expired in 1999, many still uphold the tradition. Visitors are encouraged to do the same.
Find out more: We have two other posts on Budapest. ‘Budapest: 13 Things To Know Before You Go‘ goes through even more things you should know before visiting Budapest, while ‘11 Reasons Why You Should Visit Budapest In Winter‘ stacks a case for why Budapest is an awesome Winter destination.
We hope you’ve found this post useful. If you have any additional tips for visitors to Budapest or if you have any questions, drop us a comment into the box below.