Budapest is a fascinating city with a rich history, fancy buildings in a variety of architecture styles and plenty of restaurants and coffee shops. A wide river separates it into two halves: Buda and Pest. Many large bridges connect the two halves. The city is also full of grand churches and has a rather impressive synagogue as well.
If you are travelling only in Budapest and the surrounding area, I recommend dedicating three to four days to Budapest itself and another day or two to the Danube Knee area. Alternatively, you can combine a trip to Budapest with a trip to nearby Slovakia.
There is no need to rent a car for a trip to Budapest. Public transportation is excellent, and walking along the city on foot is recommended as well. This way you will get to experience the city best. However, if you are going to continue to Slovakia afterwards, you should of course rent a car in Budapest and drive to Slovakia while visiting the Danube Knee on the way.
A pleasant and easy way to start your visit to Budapest is with a guided tour of two or three days. It feels great knowing that your guide will meet you as soon as you land in the airport, ready to show you every corner of the city and provide many tips along the trip.
If you would like to see the eighth district of Budapest – the gypsy district, exposing a different side of this multicultural city – can join a tour of the company Beyond Budapest. The tour is done in small groups and lasts about three hours. It will show you the authentic, non-touristy Hungary.
Must-see Sites in Pest
A tour of the Jewish district, from the big synagogue on Dohany Street which is one of Budapest’s most impressive buildings – – to the Jewish museum next to it.
Take a tour on foot through Andrassy Avenue, which has many attractions: The House of Terror museum, the opera house (where you can take an hour-long guided tour), the Heroes’ Square, and many embassies.
On the river bank near the parliament building is the monument of discarded shoes, commemorating the Jews who were killed and thrown into the Danube River in the years of 1944 and 1945.
I also recommend visiting the Szent Istvan Bazilika, the biggest (and second-holiest) church in the city. Climb up to the viewing platform on the roof of the church – the view you will see from there is worth the effort.
You should also visit the big and colourful market where you will see an interesting variety of meats, sausages, and dried red peppers which are used to make paprika and are one of the symbols of Hungary. On the second floor are stands selling various souvenirs and clothing.
The largest city park is called Varosliget. It is a great place to visit with children. It has an amusement park, zoo, circus, a lake with an island (where you can take a boat), trampolines, and great green expanses in which to run.
Szechenyi Thermal Bath is also located in this park.
This is the only bath house in the city to have mixed bathing for men and women. This is a large bath and spa with both indoor and outdoor pools, Jacuzzis, and saunas. The bath house is in an impressive Art Nouveau-style building with beautiful mosaic decorations.
Must-see Sites in Buda:
In the centre of Buda is Varhegy fortress hill. You can reach in by the Budavari Siklo funicular which links Clark Adam Square and the fortress on the hill.
In Clark Adam Square you will find the Zero Kilometre Stone, from which all road distances to Budapest are measured.
The restored Buda Castle is now home to two museums: The Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. The national library is also in the castle. The castle stables have been turned into the residence of the president of Hungary.
A short distance away from the castle is Matyas Templom church, where King Matyas was married.
Near it is the Fisherman’s Bastion, with its seven pointed towers. Climb up the bastion to see an incredible view of Pest and the Danube River.
Parts of the church have been preserved and can be seen through a glass wall inside the hotel.
A great tour you can take on foot in Buda is to the Citadella on top of Gellert Hill. You can climb the hill via a variety of hiking trails, getting a beautiful view of Pest, the Fortress Hill and the bridges connecting the two parts of the city. At the top of the hill are the remnants of a fortress containing a museum and the Liberty Statue, a 30-metre tall statue of a woman holding a palm leaf.
The view from the top of the Citadella is magnificent, revealing the entire city in all its beauty. On the way you will pass a sculpture of Queen Elisabeth and the Gellert monument, especially impressive after dark.Those unable to hike up the hill on foot can get to the Citadella by car. Down the hill is Hotel Gellert, a first-class hotel with a bath and spa (where, most of the time, baths for men and women are separate).
Between the two parts of the city, in the heart of the Danube (linked by bridges to both sides), is the island of Margit, which is one of the first parks in Europe. The island is a favourite of sports enthusiasts and lovers of active vacation. This is the place to rent a bike and drive safely along bike trails through green scenery and a variety of flowers and plants. The island has a sculpture garden, a rose garden and a Japanese garden, as well as plenty of sporting and vacationing facilities which include a pool, water slides, and a theatre under the stars.
Both parts of the city have many museums, including several art museums, the national Hungarian museum, an anthropology museum, and a marzipan museum (featuring famous buildings of the city and fairytale characters made entirely of marzipan). Visiting the marzipan museum’s store is a real treat. The museum is located on the fortress hill, right next to the Hilton hotel in Buda.
Restaurants and coffee shops:
Even on days where you don’t cook your own meal, you will not go hungry…
Budapest is known for its rich food and excellent selection of restaurants. It is also famous for its wonderful cakes.
One of the fanciest restaurants in the city is Gundel, found near the city zoo. In the evenings its prices are high and formalwear is required, but in the afternoons (Monday to Saturday) there is a business menu which includes appetizers, a main course, dessert and even a glass of wine at a fair price. The service, the class and the design of the restaurant are all amazing! I recommend sitting inside the beautiful restaurant and not outside it.
A buffet-style chain of restaurants found in Budapest is Trofea Grill, which has two branches in Pest and one in Buda, near Margit Island. The variety of different foods available in the restaurant is great and includes both Hungarian and international food. Especially excellent is the area of the restaurant where fish or meat of your choice is cooked right in front of you along with any sauces and sides you ask for. Desserts are good as well.
Speaking of desserts, the best cakes in the city can be found in the Mariott hotel on the riverbank in Pest. Every day from noon to late evening there is a cake and dessert buffet available in the lobby (including savoury baked goods and great variety as well). At a great price you can eat cakes to your heart’s content, drink as much wine and you want and get one free coffee. Highly recommended, unless you are watching your figure…