While Prague may get the highest concentration of foreign visitors to Eastern Europe, the real show-stopper is found in Hungary, Budapest, to be exact. This perfect marriage of old and new, humble and vivacious, is topped with that charming European elegance and a dash of mystique. All of these wonderful adjectives to describe Budapest is still not enough to describe what it feels like being in its welcoming arms. Let’s take a quick dive into the various sights, sounds, and pleasures to be found in Hungary’s capital.
Divided, but not Separate
The very first thing you will notice about Budapest, if you have no previous knowledge about the city, is that it is split down the middle by the Danube River. You have one side of the city, Buda, representing much of the country’s historic side, and Pest, which contains the ‘big city’ European attractions. The division of old and new is not restricted to these geographic sides, but it is worth noting for those trying to simplify their stay in the city. For example, if you are aiming for a posh, historic, and elegant hotel that is surrounded by landmark castles and relics of the communist era of Hungary, then you’ll want to stay at a hotel in Budapest’s ‘Buda’ sector.
The great thing about this city, along with its unique geographic foundation, is that it is infused with a rich history of immigrants, from Asian, Turkish, German, Jewish, Roman, and more. This is one of the big draws to Eastern European countries like Hungary. The diversity is what makes the cuisine, culture, and people so great, which is partly why staying in a place like Budapest feels so progressive and liberating. With that said, let’s move onto more travel tips that will help you make the most of your first trip to Budapest.
Visiting Natural and Man-made Sights
Budapest is sprawling with a mixture of amazing countryside towns, forests, its own lake, and plenty of outdoor adventures to embark on, if you’re looking to step away from the bustle of the city. Head up north and you’ll find vineyards located in quaint and humble little villages like Tokaj. Moving south from the city will bring you to some breath-taking expanses of the Great Plain, which is the largest of its kind in all of Europe. This is a place that will keep any nature-lover occupied for days, if not weeks. Finally, another favorite escape route from the city is Lake Balaton on the west side. This is a favorite among romantics, it offers a unique view of the country, with plenty of luxury resorts to pamper guests and activities on the lake.
A Day in the City of Budapest
Now that we’ve covered all of the roads traveled around the city, let’s walk through some of the biggest attractions within the walls of Buda and Pest. Besides staring at all of the exquisite architecture on both sides of the river, it would be wise if you were to stop along the many great restaurants and cafes. The Hungarian coffee is the stuff angels are made of, rich, bold, and plenty of caffeine to keep you skipping along the cobblestone streets. The cafes are historic landmarks in of themselves, due to having a complete ban on their existence in the country’s past as part of a futile fascist effort to stomp out dissidents. Today, we see them restored to their former glory with age-old coffee recipes revived to knock coffee-lovers off their feet once again!
Besides the unforgettable café experience, Budapest’s biggest public draw would have to be their public thermal baths. This experience is nothing like what you’ll find in America, not only due to the baths themselves. People from all different backgrounds, shapes, sizes, and colors gather in large numbers to feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and enjoy the many pools together. You can hop into any of the saunas, baths, or pools for about $15 US at a place like Szechenyi. We must warn you, though, you’re probably going to start daydreaming about what it would be like to move into your own apartment in Budapest and do this every day for the rest of your life. And early retirement, maybe?
Budapest knows how to Party
One of the best things about a city that combines modern and historic traditions is that you get such a wide breadth of things to do for the evening. From the world-renowned Opera House, National Theater, Erkel Theater, to the Comedy Theater of Budapest. There’s something for everyone to enjoy, and without breaking the bank. After you’ve had your fill of performance art, you can quickly find a nearly unlimited supply of bars and pubs along the streets of Budapest.
You can really get lost in the lively atmosphere of Budapest’s nightlife. The streets will literally be filled with crowds of happy, laughing, and dancing people, so don’t plan on driving through the streets of Kazinczy or Kiraly because there’s no stopping the partying until the early morning. Now let me continue with some information on hotels in Budapest.
Budapest Hotels, BnBs, & Hostels
Invest a little extra time into researching all the accommodations that are made available to travelers in Budapest online. There is a great variety of prices, locations, and styles of accommodation, which means that you’re more likely to find a great deal that exceeds your original expectations. You will have traditional hotels in Budapest to choose from, rented out homes and apartments for B&B hosting, as well as very humble and often comfortable hostels that you can stay for very small budgets. Generally, you’ll find the most selection available on the Pest side, but let’s look at a few examples of what you can discover.
The Buda side may not have the greatest selection, but they are truly a shining example of outstanding service. This one comes with exclusive access to the Royal castle, and the interior of itself is fitting for a royal stay. All the amenities you can ask for, and then some, including an in-house restaurant and fully-loaded cocktail bar.
We jump to a hotel/B&B hybrid apartment building that offers a great price for its humble offerings. What sets this hotel in Budapest apart from the rest is its ‘Hard Rock Café’ style of design. Walls covered in art deco and pop art paintings, vivid colors paint the furniture, and friendly staff make you feel like you’re staying inside one of the city’s iconic cafes.
These are two examples of hotels in Budapest, with varying degrees of luxury, novelty, and service that goes beyond your typical night’s stay at a Hilton or Mariotte, not that there’s anything wrong with those choices. Budapest’s small bed and breakfasts are charming and often the best value for your money, however, hostels can surprise you on the true value that they provide, despite missing out on modern amenities, like Wi-Fi or televisions. The humble roads traveled often provide the best experiences and are often located in the best proximity to the biggest landmarks and attractions.
Shopping like a Local as a Tourist
Now that we have discussed hotels in Budapest, let’s move on to shopping! It’s important to know where to shop for authentic souvenirs, art, and other items that you can’t find anywhere else, so while you’re in Budapest it’s important to know that the best deals and the best kept secrets are found in their large flea markets. The City Park of Budapest is where you want to be for the greatest selection of clothes, hand-made souvenirs, and even some cheap jewelry.