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Ah, the captivating city of Budapest! As one of the most enchanting cities in Europe, this Hungarian gem is known for its rich history, stunning architecture, and bustling atmosphere. If you’re heading to Hungary’s capital for the first time, check out these Budapest tips to ensure you make the most out of your visit.
As one of the most popular places to explore in Eastern Europe, Budapest draws in millions of visitors each year. With its unique museums, budget-friendly activities, and world-famous thermal baths, there are many reasons to visit this incredible city.
In this post, we give you the complete rundown of things you need to know before visiting Budapest. From general travel tips and hidden gems to how to get around, we’ll help you plan your ideal trip to the Hungarian capital.
Let’s get to it!
Budapest Tips For First-Time Visitors
Before heading to Budapest for the first time, there are a number of things to keep in mind, such as…
The local currency is NOT the Euro
As a European city, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Budapest’s main currency is the Euro. However, that’s not the case. Budapest (and Hungary as a whole) operates with the Hungarian Forint. Despite that, the Euro is widely accepted across the country.
You need at least 5 days in Budapest
Most people only spend a few days in Budapest. This is especially true if they’re interrailing through Europe with a jam-packed itinerary. However, with so many incredible activities on offer, you should aim to spend longer in the city.
If you want to hit up all the top attractions, spend a day relaxing at the thermal baths, and have time to visit some hidden gems, you should aim to spend at least five days in Budapest. If you’re hoping to explore further afield on a day trip, book a week-long journey to the Hungarian capital.
This way, you can delve deeper into local culture, explore lesser-known attractions and take in the atmosphere of Budapest without rushing around.
Wear comfortable shoes
One of our top Budapest travel tips is to wear comfortable shoes. As such a walkable city, you’ll clock up A LOT of steps as you check out the main sights, especially if you opt to join an informative walking tour. The last thing you want is blisters or sore feet! By wearing comfy shoes, you’re setting yourself up for a positive day of sightseeing.
Travel outside of peak season
Budapest is one of the most visited cities in Europe. This means that during peak season (between May and September), the city is overwhelmed with tourists. If you prefer fewer crowds, opt to visit during spring instead.
April is a fantastic month to visit Budapest. As well as fewer tourists, the weather starts to get much nicer at this time of year. You might even get treated to some sunny days!
Consider purchasing the Budapest Card
City cards can be a great way to save money while exploring a new city. Budapest is no different! The Budapest card offers free admission to a number of popular attractions, such as Matthias Church, St. Lukács Thermal Bath, and attractions within the Budapest History Museum. It also includes free walking tours, additional discounts, and free travel on public transportation.
However, depending on your planned itinerary, the card might not be worth buying. If you prefer to take things slow, it could be a waste of money.
How to get to Budapest
As one of the most popular cities in Europe, there are lots of great transport links in terms of getting to Budapest. Some of the most popular are:
Flying around Europe is made easy with low-cost airlines such as Easy Jet and Ryanair. Many travelers from across the globe land at Budapest International Airport each day. With frequent buses, it’s nice and easy to get into the center of Budapest in less than 40 minutes. Winner!
If you are interrailing around Europe, traveling by train is the best way to get to Budapest from elsewhere in the continent. If this is the case, you’ll want to book a train ticket that takes you to Budapest Keleti Station, which is the main train station in the city.
The train station is a little out of the center, especially on foot. As such, if you’re in a rush or have lots of luggage, hop in a taxi to your accommodation to save time and energy.
Another popular way to get around in Europe is via bus. Often offering a cheaper alternative to trains, companies such as FlixBus and Megabus run services between well-loved European destinations.
Budapest is no different! Direct buses run from cities such as Prague, Vienna, and Zagreb in as little as three hours.
How to get around in Budapest
Wander around on foot
Budapest is a very walkable city. For the most part, you can visit all the main attractions on foot. This is ideal if you are exploring the capital on a budget. However, there are public transport options if you need to travel further afield.
Jump on the metro
The city has a great metro system connecting the key spots in the Hungarian capital. For example, getting from the city center to Szechenyi Thermal Baths by metro is super easy. You’ll need to download the app for the most efficient use of the metro.
Catch the bus or the tram
Getting around Budapest by bus and tram is a convenient and affordable way to explore the city. With an extensive tram and bus network, it’s easy to travel between the top attractions and different neighborhoods. Once again, download the app. The bus is the best way to get downtown from the airport and the least expensive!
There are so many things to see and do in Budapest. That’s why I highly recommend spending five days in the city! Within five days, you can explore the top highlights and delve deeper into local culture by visiting hidden gems.
Explore Fisherman’s Bastion
Constructed in the 19th century, checking out Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the top things to do in Budapest. Its enchanting architecture makes it a must-see for photography enthusiasts. Not only that, but the incredible views of the Hungarian Parliament and the Danube River are unbeatable.
One of the best things about Fisherman’s Bastion is it’s budget-friendly! Although you can pay a small fee to visit the towers, you can explore much of this attraction completely free of charge. No matter how long you’re spending in Budapest, this place NEEDS to be on your list.
Admire the Hungarian Parliament
Fancy getting up close and personal with the Hungarian Parliament? I don’t blame you! This is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive buildings in Europe. It’s also one of the most prominent landmarks in the city, making it a must-see if you’re exploring Budapest.
In addition to admiring the exterior, regular guided tours of the Parliament run daily, allowing you to discover more about its intriguing history with a local guide. During the tour, you’ll see the lavish interiors, the impressive main hall, the dome, and the Hungarian Crown Jewels.
Spend a day at Széchenyi Thermal Bath
Széchenyi Thermal Baths are a true oasis of relaxation in the heart of Budapest! As one of the most famous thermal baths in Europe, this popular Budapest attraction draws in thousands of visitors each day.
Housed within a stunning neo-baroque historical building, there are a wide variety of baths and pools to choose from. For example, you can opt to check out its main outdoor thermal pool or head inside to relax indoors. With a range of temperatures, it’s up to you whether you opt for cold pools or steam pools.
You’ll also find an array of saunas inside Széchenyi Thermal Baths, making for the ultimate day of relaxation. In my opinion, visiting the baths is best done at the end of your trip to ensure you feel rejuvenated for your journey home.
Visit lesser-known thermal baths
One of my top tips for Budapest is to do as the locals do. To do this, you should look beyond the top attractions and explore lesser-known spots in the city. The world-famous thermal baths give you a great opportunity to do this.
Although Széchenyi Thermal Bath is well worth visiting for its vast amount of pools and chilled-out vibes, it’s also the most popular spa in Budapest. If you want a more local experience, you should opt to visit a less popular option instead. For example, Gellért Thermal Baths, Rudas Baths, and Lukacs Baths are also worth considering.
Experience the ruin bars of Budapest
Exploring the ruin bars of Budapest is another must-do activity during your time in the city, especially if you like to experience nightlife when you travel.
Ruin bars are a unique style of bars in Hungary that are typically set within abandoned buildings, courtyards, or warehouses. Having been creatively transformed into trendy and artistic venues, they’re decorated with intriguing objects such as upcycled furniture, street art, fairy lights, and random curiosities.
The most iconic ruin bar in Budapest is Szimpla Kert, making it a hit on the city’s nightlife scene. This highly visited ruin bar attracts both locals and travelers looking for a drink or two in an interesting setting.
Whether you’re traveling alone or with loved ones, ruin bars can be a fantastic way to meet like-minded individuals as you explore the Hungarian capital of Budapest.
Check out the views from St Stephens Basilica
As one of the most significant religious and architectural landmarks in Budapest, St. Stephens Basilica is well worth checking out while in the city. Boasting incredible panoramic views from the tower, it’s a must-do activity, especially on a sunny day.
Inside the church, prepare to be blown away by its stunning interior. Adorned with intricate details, impressive ceilings, and statues galore, you won’t be able to stop snapping photos!
Cruise down the Danube River
Another one of my top tips for Budapest is to jump on a cruise down the River Danube. As one of the top activities in the Hungarian capital, you’ll see the city from a whole new perspective.
If you fancy watching the sunset from the river, this is your perfect chance! A sunset river cruise allows you to watch in awe as the city springs to life. Alternatively, with a range of cruises available, you can enjoy a romantic dinner for two, cruise with cocktails, or party into the night. The choice is yours!
Visit the Hospital in the Rock
Looking for unique things to do in Budapest? Then you need to check out the Hospital in the Rock. As one of the city’s hidden gems, not many people know about this intriguing attraction. So much so that many locals don’t even know it exists. Despite that, it offers something different from many other attractions in the Hungarian capital.
After the hospital opened in 1944, it became a safe place to get treated away from the WW2 aerial attacks happening outside. Throughout the Siege of Budapest, the hospital was overflowing with patients. All beds housed multiple patients, with every bit of space in the hospital filled up.
In the years that followed, the hospital provided ample space for producing vaccines, treated patients through the Revolution, and became a nuclear bunker all before turning into the museum that it is today in 2007.
These days, you can follow a guide around the underground bunker, discovering its history and gaining insight into how the hospital was run in previous years.
Eat local food at Central Market Hall
Travel allows you to delve deeper into local culture by trying the country’s unique cuisines. There are many dishes worth trying in Hungary, such as goulash, lángos, and chimney cake.
If you’re looking for a more authentic experience away from tourist trap restaurants, you should head to Central Market. Located in the heart of the city, Central Market is one of the city’s top landmarks and offers a deep dive into the Hungarian way of life. As the largest and oldest indoor market in the city, it offers a bustling environment to grab some lunch.
While downstairs is dedicated to local produce and souvenirs, you’ll find an array of Hungarian dishes to try upstairs. Catering to a range of dietary requirements, you’re sure to find something to rally up your tastebuds.
Shoes on the Danube River
As you stroll along the Danube next to the Hungarian Parliament, you may come across the Shoes on the Danube. This thought-provoking memorial is a somber reminder of past tragedies.
The moving installation honors the lives lost during the darkest days of World War II when innocent victims faced unimaginable suffering at the hands of Arrow Cross militiamen. These men murdered innocent Jews by shooting them before they fell into the river.
The memorial consists of a series of iron shoes, carefully crafted and placed along the riverbank. Each pair of shoes represents a life that was tragically taken by cold-hearted men.
Although it’s sad to see, it’s an important part of history in Budapest, making it a must-see while you’re in the city.
Watch the sunset from a stunning viewpoint
Watching the sunset from a beautiful viewpoint is one of the best ways to end a day in any city. Budapest is no different! If you’re on the hunt for a top-notch sunset spot, there are several to check out in the city.
For example, some of the best sunset spots in Budapest are Gellert Hill, Buda Castle, and St. Stephen’s Basilica (if you’re visiting at the right time of year). Alternatively, taking a cruise down the Danube during sunset is another great option as you’ll see orange and pink hues as the city lights up for the night.
However, the best sunset spot in Budapest has to be Fisherman’s Bastion. From here, you can enjoy one of the city’s most iconic views as night falls.
FAQs about visiting Budapest for the first time
How do I prepare for a trip to Budapest?
The best way to prepare for a trip to Budapest is to write up an itinerary. However, make sure you leave enough time for spontaneous adventures. You wouldn’t want to miss out because you feel confined to a rigid plan!
Do I need to tip in Budapest?
Tipping in Budapest is not expected. However, you should tip 10% – 15% if you have received great service.
Should I carry cash in Budapest?
Although most places are happy to accept cards, you may need cash for small purchases. For example, if you’re buying a quick snack or a small souvenir, it may be best if you pay with cash instead of a card.
Budapest Tips Final Thoughts
Planning a trip can get overwhelming when you’re heading somewhere for the first time. However, if you follow these tips, you will have an incredible trip to the Hungarian capital!
Check out these other related posts:
- 10 Hungarian Foods (and drinks) to Try and Where to Try Them!
- 15 Best Hungarian Souvenirs
- A Guide to Budapest’s Thermal Baths
- 10 Best Spots to Watch the Sunset in Budapest
Annick, The Common Traveler