In the last 10 to 15 years, numerous Eastern European capitals have undergone drastic transformations to improve their image and boost their attractiveness, yet very few have rivalled Budapest’s unbroken rise to fame.
Few European capitals nowadays compete with Budapest in terms of popularity but then few European capitals can challenge Budapest’s stunning architectural beauty, its picturesque riverbanks and its astounding array of attractions. Here are some suggestions on how to explore this magnificent city.
History and overview:
The 1.8M inhabitants capital of Hungary has a long and impressive history. The city was originally founded as a Celtic settlement in the Roman era before the Hungarians (one of the oldest nations in Europe) claimed the area in the 9th century.
Budapest has since been pillaged by the Mongols, risen to cultural prominence in the Renaissance and endured Ottoman rule for nearly 150 years before the Hungarians re-established the city’s independence and unified the two parts separated by the Danube river, Buda and Pest, in 1873.
The unification heralded an era of economic prosperity and global influence in the context of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Empire collapsed in 1917 and after the terrible war episodes of the mid 20th century, Budapest fell into the hands of the communists, which led to the famous Budapest Uprising in 1956.
The fall of communism in 1989 saw Hungary regain its path to economic success and provided the first steps for Budapest’s new prosperity.
Budapest is nowadays Hungary’s economic and political centre as well as one of the most flourishing cities in Central Europe. The advent of low cost airlines and the accession to the European Union has moreover boosted Budapest’s tourism industry making it one of the most visited cities in Europe, for good reason.
The best area to stay is the Old Town of Central Budapest or Budapest V – Belvaros. In this area you are in walking distance to all the main sights and well connected with sights which are further out.
Bohem Art Hotel: A great hotel situated in a quiet central area and close to all the major sights. Its modern and crisp design rooms are topped only by its amazing breakfast buffet.
Iberostar Grand Hotel: A beautiful boutique hotel situated right in the heart of Budapest’s growing business district. This hotel offers everything you need on a short trip, from a great location to elegant and crisp rooms.
Budget option: Best Choice Hostel: The budget option for Budapest! Right in the centre and well equipped, this hostel will delight you with the kindness of its staff and the quality of its service while furthermore enabling solo travellers to meet other wandering souls.
Cultural offer and activities:
Chain Bridge and Old Town: One of the landmarks that will catch your eyes is the Chain Bridge which has been recently renovated and has thereby regained its former glory. In addition to the Chain Bridge, the beautifully restored buildings in the Old Town have lost none of their charm and epitomize the architectural genius this city was based upon.
Thermal Baths: One of the most well-known particularities of Budapest is its impressive number of thermal bath complexes, some are from the 19th century, some are from the communist era and some have been recently modernized. Our suggestions would be: Széchenyi Baths (Állatkerti krt. 9-11) and Gellert Baths (Kelenhegyi út 4), the former being very crowded in high season but nonetheless an amazingly maintained historical location, especially when the occasional party is organized in the baths.
Hungarian National Museum: (Múzeum krt. 14-16) The ideal place to learn more about Hungarian culture and the very specific place that the Hungarian nation and language occupy within Europe’s cultural landscape.
Hungarian Parliament Building: An architectural masterpiece that can be admired from the riverbanks, which are also an ideal place for a romantic walk or a casual stroll. Finished in 1904, the Gothic building is 268m long and has 961 rooms. It is still the tallest building in Budapest with its height of 96m.
Gellert Hill and Buda Castle: Hiking up Gellert hill is a favourable nature related activity and on top you will be rewarded with breathtaking views over the city.
Buda Castle, the historical residence of Hungarian kings is another stunning feat of architecture that should absolutely not be missed during your trip to the Hungarian capital.
Danube Cruise: A cruise on the river enables you to marvel at the beautiful riverside architecture during the day or to enjoy a few drinks on one of the many partyboats at night.
Market Hall:(Vámház krt. 1-3) The Market Hall is an excellent place to shop for local delicacies and it offers a wide range of traditional goods produced in Hungary.
Fisherman’s Bastion (Castle Hill) This neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque terrace veiwpoint is situated on Castle Hill on the Buda bank of the Danube river and contains seven towers representing the seven ancient Magyar (Hungarian) tribes that settled in the area in 895. The towers that were nearly destroyed during World War 2 offer excellent views over the city and the hill presents a nice opportunity for a hike.
Wine & Dine:
Much like its language, Hungarian cuisine is unique and has its very own origins and style. The most famous dish is Gulash (gulyás) which is a something in between a soup and a stew with veal or pork. Other dishes include Fisherman’s soup and Lángos (a deep fried flat bread).
Buddha Bar Budapest: (Váci u. 34) The legendary Buddha Bar chain also has a restaurant in Budapest which is exactly like the other establishments… amazing in every way.
Zeller Bistro: (Izabella u. 38) Our favourite local restaurant in Budapest. If you are looking for authentic, priceworthy, high quality local cuisine, look no further.
El Asador de Pata Negra: (Paulay Ede u. 39) A high end Spanish restaurant with absolutely delicious meat platters and fabulous steaks.
Szimpla Kert, Ruin Pubs: (Kazinczy u. 14) The mother of all ruin pubs. The Hungarian capital has a very lively ruin pub culture and Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden) is the pioneer of this type of pub, an absolute must when in Budapest, although a bit mainstream.
Instant: (1072 Akácfa utca 49-51) The largest ruin pub in Budapest and an ideal place to have a casual drink before partying until daw. This bar has everything you need and stays open very late which makes it one the best places to go out in Central Budapest
Akvarium: (Erzsébet tér 12) An amazing bar in the centre of the city with great cocktails and Palinka (the most famous Hungarian liquor) and a nice terrace for warm summer nights
Oetkert: (Zrínyi u. 4) A good option for pretty much everyone. Oetkert is one of the most well known clubs in Budapest and frequented by locals and tourists alike. The bottom line is business as usual, well priced drinks, great atmosphere and a mixed crowd.
Nomuri: (Sas u. 15) One of the top electro clubs in a very cool factory-like setting. The place for electro lovers in Central Budapest
Ice Bar Budapest: (Váci u. 40) A bit touristy but still a unique experience in Budapest’s nightlife landscape.
Final tips & verdict:
Budapest has an excellent metro, tram and bus system and taxis are also cheap. It is therefore fairly easy to get around in the Hungarian capital. Akin to Prague, Budapest’s infrastructure is very developed and although it is a large city, it still feels a lot cosier than Paris, Rome or London. This uncanny mix of great cultural activities and high liveability makes Budapest a marvellous Central European capital.
Budapest is one of our favourite cities in Europe, there are very few disadvantages apart from mass tourism and its beauty sweeps most people off their feet right away. If you haven’t visited Budapest yet and live in Europe, seriously, you don’t know what you are missing.
The video city guide: 10 things to do in Budapest