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Budapest Unlocked: Exploring the Heart of Hungary

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Budapest is such an underrated city and I loved my trip so much, I hope it stays that way. From its breathtaking thermal baths to the underground ruin bars that kept me up all night, this city has something that can satisfy the whole friend group. The prices in Budapest absolutely shocked me and were some of the most affordable I have experienced in all of Europe. For college kids on a budget this is a great destination to study abroad or visit for a weekend. Unlike the rest of Europe’s tourist destinations, Budapest is free of the typical crowds and you can experience its culture without the long lines. The city itself is separated by the Danube River and has two incredible sides to explore Buda and Pest. There is so much to do here, below are my top picks for tourist attractions, clubs, and more while you’re in town. 

Top Areas To Check Out: 

(Széchenyi Thermal Bath)

Belvaros – Downtown Budapest 

Belvaros is considered the inner city of Budapest and is a must for checking out during your visit. This is where you will find all the main tourist attractions like St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Hungarian Parliament Building. Belvaros is also the ideal area for shopping so don’t miss a stroll along Vaci and Deak Streets also known as the Fashion area. Along the cobbled streets here you can find tons of food and drink options but the prices are a bit higher here than the rest of the city because it is such a tourist hub. Still, this beautiful area has so much to see it will not disappoint. The Budapest Central Market is a good starting point if you are looking to walk around. 

Things To See In Belvaros: 

St. Stephen’s Basilica 

You can go inside and if you go up to the roof there is a beautiful view of the city. Entrance is free except for the dome part, which is only open during autumn and spring. 

Hungarian Parliament Building

The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most iconic buildings in the city located along the Danube River. The entrance to the Parliament is around 18 UDD. I highly recommend checking out the view of the Parliament Building at nighttime. 

Shoes on the Danube Bank

About a 12-minute walk down the river from the Hungarian Parliament building you will find a memorial of shoes along the River. This memorial is a tribute to the Jews who were shot and killed along the Danube River during World War 2. 

(Via Great Central Market Website) 

Great Central Market 

Great Central is the most famous market in Budapest with a wide selection of street foods, handmade crafts, and local dishes. This is a great place to check out some traditional Hungarian food, my favorite is Palacinta! 

Vaci Street 

Vaci Street has amazing shopping and is lined with boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. I highly recommend taking a stroll down this street for some ideal window shopping and tons of cafe options. 

Jewish Quarter 

The Jewish Quarter is a great part of the city to check out with so many different things to do. Just walking around here is an experience with gorgeous architecture and awesome street art murals lining the neighborhood. During the day you can check out the famous synagogues, cozy cafes, or one of its bustling markets. This area is also so fun to explore in the evening with tons of “ruin bars”, these are super cool bars that were built in formerly abandoned buildings and can be found in warehouses, historical buildings, and more. Gozsdu Courtyard is a great starting point when exploring this neighborhood.

Dohany St. Synagogue

Dohany is absolutely stunning, it’s one of the largest synagogues in the world and has a unique architectural style. The synagogue is more than a place of worship, it also is the Jewish Museum and Holocaust Memorial Garden. A visit here will teach you a lot more about the history of this neighborhood. 

(Via New York Cafe Website) 

New York Cafe 

This is deemed the most beautiful cafe in the world and the inside lives up to its name. It is truly an experience to have a coffee or tea in this and try one of their incredible pastries while listening to the live piano. This cafe is on the pricier side, if you are looking simply for a beverage to wake up and want to skip the grandeur check out the below. 

Dorado Cafe

This is an awesome pastry and coffee shop that doesn’t mind if you want to linger and do some work. They have really good coffee and I loved their avocado toast. Their prices are also wonderful. 

Retrock 

This is an awesome vintage clothing store with a huge selection for both men and women. Even if you aren’t into vintage pieces this is worth checking out because they have so many cool Hungarian and Austrian pieces you won’t see anywhere else. 

(Via Sizimpla Kert Instagram) 

Sizimpla Kert 

Sizimpla is one of the many “ruin bars’ ‘ in the area and a must-see. It’s basically a laid-back garden bar with lots of greenery, comfy seats, and a cool drink menu. Great spot to catch some live tunes and see the creative side of Budapest. 

(Castle District) 

Castle District 

This district is one of the most beautiful in all of Budapest. The name gives away what this location has to offer but what it doesn’t mention is the stunning views. The panoramic sights here are Instagram-worthy and so beautiful to catch for sunset. Follow the winding cobblestone streets and you’ll end up not only at historic landmarks but some pretty incredible cafes and restaurants as well. This part of the city really feels like you are walking through a movie set. A good starting point in this area is Clark Adam Square. 

(View from Buda Castle) 

Buda Castle

You can get up to the top of the castle in many ways. On the bottom of the Lanchid Buda side is the funicular that takes you up to the Castle (your weekly ticket will not work, you need to purchase a roundtrip or one-way ticket, and opt to just walk down. Under the castle, there is a labyrinth that is a must-see. The huge network of tunnels goes underground for miles and has over 2000 cave rooms. 

(Labyrinth under Buda Castle via Buda Castle Website) 

Hospital In The Rock 

The Hospital in the Rock is a once top-secret nuclear bunker located deep in the Buda Castle. This hospital is hidden within the labyrinth underneath the castle and was classified until 2002. This is not your typical museum experience. Once in the bunker expect to lose phone service and really feel like you’re stepping back in time. A tour of this facility usually lasts about an hour. 

(Via Ruszwrum’s website) 

Ruszwurm Cukrszda

Cukrszda is Hungarian for “sweet shop”. This store has been around since 1827 and after trying their pastries you’ll understand why. All of their sweets are out of this world but they are most known for their Ruszwurm cake. This is the perfect reward for a long walk up to the castle. 

Experiences In Budapest: 

(SPARTY at the Szechenyi Bathhouse Via Szechenyi Instagram) 

Thermal Baths 

Everyone has seen the iconic photos of Budapest’s thermal baths and a trip to one of them is a must while you’re in the city.  This is the perfect way to relax and recharge from lots of walking or keep the party going at one of the nighttime events that can be thrown here. If you’re looking for a less crowded bath experience, I suggest showing up earlier as these are super popular. You will want to make sure you come prepared with a swimsuit, towel, and flip-flops or slides. Many will make you pay for flip-flops or slippers if you don’t bring your own. Once inside you’ll leave your valuables in a locker and wash off in one of the showers before entering the bath. If you purchase a Budapest card (mentioned in the transportation section) you will be able to get a discount on entry to many of the bathhouses. 

(Gellert Bath House Via Gellert Website) 

Szechenyi bath

This is the most famous thermal bath in all of Europe and is extremely popular. I suggest paying online before, this will allow you to get a fast pass and skip the usual line for entry. Your day pass will get you entry to the 18 pools here (some are indoor and 3 main outside) as well as all the saunas. You can add on a massage and other services for extra but it is a bit overpriced. The baths open at 6 am and if you go then you will have the entire place to yourself which is ideal for photos of the impressive outside pools. This bathhouse sometimes throws night-time raves also known as SPARTY, they usually take place during the spring, info can be found on the SPARTY official website. 

Gellert bath 

Though not as popular as the Szechenyi baths, Gellert is equally as stunning and worth a visit. I suggest pre-purchasing tickets to the Gellert bath house online as then you are able to simply walk in without any issues. The best time to visit the baths is on a weekday in the morning to have the whole place to yourself. The inside of this place can be a bit overwhelming as it’s huge and filled with so many beautiful rooms, but this only adds to the allure. It’s easy to spend hours here and a great spot to nurse a hangover from the night before. 

(Via Budapest Boat Party) 

Budapest Boat Party

Don’t leave the city without experiencing one of the iconic river cruise parties! This was truly one of my favorite going-out experiences abroad. This is an awesome party experience and the views of the city at night are truly unbeatable. 

Bars: 

Nightlife in Budapest is incredible with so many different options. When traveling it can be exhausting seeing the city and having a night out. However, in Budapest you have so many options on how to spend your evening. Rather you want to go bar hopping, go clubbing on a boat, or sit back and relax in a cocktail bar, the possibilities are endless and the prices are hard to beat. 

(Via 360 Bar Website) 

(Via For Sale Pub Website) 

For Sale Pub

Despite the name, this place isn’t going anywhere. This is a really quirky pub with great food and prices. The inside has such a cool look with tons of papers covering the ceiling. My friends and I loved starting a night with dinner and drinks here. 

360 Bar  

360 is such a cool experience. Not only does the venue have a 360 view of the city but it also has a really cool igloo dining experience. You definitely should make reservations in advance. I suggest ordering their famous fondue for a meal that will be an unforgettable time. 

Vittula

This really cool underground ruin bar isn’t as well known among tourists and lets you drink with the locals. When you arrive it feels like you’ve stumbled upon a secret dive bar. The drinks are extremely cheap as well.  

(Via Botiq’ Bar Instagram) 

Boutiq’ Bar 

This cocktail bar is the perfect place to unwind and relax. The atmosphere is very classy and the bartenders love to cater to your personal cocktail preferences. The mixology here is extremely impressive and the prices are fair for the service and quality. They have so many creative cocktails so be sure to ask your waiter the drinks of the day. 

Restaurants: 

The culinary scene in Budapest is crazy, I was shocked I had some of my favorite meals for such affordable prices. If you are a foodie, below are some of my favorite restaurants in the city. 

Bestia 

This is a popular street food restaurant offering fun twists on classic Hungarian dishes. They also have a great selection of beers and wines. 

(Via Twenty-Six Budapest Website) 

Twenty-six Budapest 

This restaurant is a bit on the pricey side but the venue itself is so cool it’s worth it in my opinion. They offer Mediterranean dishes in what can be described as an urban garden. Even if you just go for appetizers this place is totally worth seeing. 

Gozsdu Udvar

This is a really cool food court with tons of different drinking and eating options. They often have live musical performances here too. I loved coming here to people-watch while trying traditional Hungarian dishes at the restaurants inside. 

(Via Ghetto Gulyas Facebook) 

Ghetto Gulyas 

This is a traditional stew restaurant located in the Jewish Quarter of the city. The food is unreal and I am still thinking about their soup to this day. The prices are also extremely fair for how high the quality of the food is. 

Clubs: 

Prepare yourself, Budapest knows how to party. A typical evening here can start around 11 pm and go all the way into the morning. The city is also considerably safe to navigate at night though I do always recommend sticking with your group. Below are some of the clubs I am already dying to go back to. 

(Via A38 Club on Google Maps) 

A38 Boat Club

This club is located on a Ukranian ship and it’s seriously one of the coolest venues. The club comes with three areas: the main building and two warehouses, which they use for exhibitions and performances. Plus, they’ve got a recording studio and a bookshop on site. Check their website for events and ticket information before you go. 

(Via Instant Fogas Website) 

Instant Fogas

This club has seven dance floors, all with different styles making for an epic night out. They are open every day from 6 pm – 6 am and it is seriously one of the craziest party venues I have ever been to. Check their website to see what parties they have going on, they often have promotions for free entry. 

Doboz Nightclub

This large “ruin pub”  located in the center of the Jewish Quarter is a really popular bar among younger crowds and students. They are open on Fridays and Saturdays and have the coolest interior of any bar in the city. Something unusual is that the club employs clowns to hang out in the streets and keep people quiet so crowds leaving do not wake up the residents in the area. 

Transportation Tips In Budapest

  • When you arrive at the airport take a regular taxi (the stand is on your left it will cost you

  8000-10,000 Hungarian Forint  Around $15 USD) They take credit cards.

  • In Budapest, they got rid of Uber but if you download the app BOLT, it works exactly like Uber.
  •  If you stay for a week, get a 1-week ticket which is good within the city for everything

metro, bus, and tram (you can get those at every major station from a ticket machine). They cost 8000 Forint. Use Google Maps for up-to-date information on public transport.

Foods to Try 

Goulash – A beef stew, known to give an energy boost! 

Lángos – Deep-Fried Dough, a street food often topped with savory ingredients 

Chimney Cake- This is a spiral-shaped pastry often coated with cinnamon or nuts 

Hungarian Strudel – A traditional thin pastry usually filled with fruit or poppy seeds 

Palacsinta – Hungarian crepes, served either sweet or savory

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