We lived in Hungary for about a year and a lot of people ask us whether to include Budapest on their European itineraries and what to do there. The answer to the first is always an emphatic yes, the answer to the second is so long we decided to write it up here.
Some general tips and must-dos:
If you only have a short time in Budapest, here are a few things you should definitely do:
- Grab a bottle of Hungarian wine, don’t pay too much for it, and head to Margithíd. Eat some lángos and enjoy everything about your afternoon.
- No clinking of beer glasses.
- Take a dip in the Széchenyi baths, (Széchenyi Fürdő metro station).
- Eat at Kiadó Kocsma. It’s tucked into Jókai Tér about a block SW of the Oktogon on Andrássy Street (Andrássy Út). Order anything that looks good, they change the menu monthly so I can’t say what will be good except that I’ve never been disappointed.
- Walk, the city is amazingly walkable, especially if you have a good map. Save public transit for longer journeys or for when you’re tired out, also, taxis are pretty affordable, especially for two people
- Just before sunset walk up to the Citadel (you may want to grab some more wine and possibly some cheese) and observe Budapest in all it’s glory from the top of the citadel. It’s really quite the view from up there. Beware, the paths leading up to the citadel are not lit, so when it gets dark it’s very hard to find the way down, it’s not dangerous, but you might take a flashlight.
- Another sunset activity is to grab more wine and sit on the low parts of the Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd, the big green one).
- Eat dinner at Jelen Bisztró on Blaha Lujiza tér. It will not let you down.
- Spend the rest of your night at one of Budapest’s famous ruin pubs. Szimpla Kert is the most popular one, the “original” so they say, but there are many different and equally cool/weird ones to visit. (There’s also a great taco joint around the corner from Szimpla.)
If you have more time to spend in Budapest or want to see more of Hungary here are some other tips:
Things for a longer trip:
- Moha Kávéház, located near Gellért Tér in Buda, one of the only good and affordable places on the Buda side of the city
- Menza étterem és Kávézó, located on Liszt Ferenc Tér, near Oktogon
- Calvin Cafe, located near Kelvin tér
- Eat a Montenegrin food here (try the burgers).
- Grab snacks at the central market before heading out for your picnic
- Pogácsa is a delightful biscuit-like pastry, flaky and buttery. often cheesy. Strong recommend.
- The Terror House (Terror Haza) museum (free for teachers and students) is one of the most powerful museum-going experiences in the world.
- Parliament, even to walk around outside.
- The opera house (Opera metro station) is also beautiful and they have cheap tickets for young people.
- St. István’s Cathedral. It’s beautiful and free.
- Most museums have a discount or are free for students and teachers. Even if you don’t have an ID or it’s old and expired, it’s worth a shot. Sometimes they just give you the discount.
- A trip up the Danube bend for hiking around the town of Visegrád. (Trains are the best way to get there)
- Take a walk around the castle grounds and check out Fisherman’s Bastion (Halaszbastya) for a great view and good history of the city.
- The Central Market is a good spot for Hungarian food at a reasonable price, not to mention a beautiful building.
- Fogas Ház (Akácfa u. 51. (Dob u.), Budapest)
- Szóda Kávézó és Mulató (Wesselényi u. 18., Budapest)
- Instant (I think there’s two of them, one is here: VI., Nagymező u. 38)
- Or any of these
Hungary has some of the best wine in the world.
- Egri Bikavér for a strong red from the Egér region (pronounced egg-air)
- Tokaji for a very sweet white, the most famous of the Hungarian wines, from a region called Tokaj (pronounced toe-kai)
- Kékfránkos for an interesting, less abrasive red (pronounced cake-frahnk-osh).
Hungary also has a few distinct wine regions. To help you understand the labels, they are:
- Sopron on the northwestern side or Hungary
- Balaton, around the north side of the lake. Typically acidic Rieslings, the Olaszrizling, in particular.
- Pannon, and particularly, Villanyí is a region in southwestern Hungary that produces many varieties, typically reds, of wine
- Tokaj, in far northern Hungary, famous for the immensely sweet desert wine but there are a few Tokaji reds that we’ve seen.
- Egér, home of the bulls blood, Egér is a city and region in northeastern Hungary.
- Duna, and particularly, Csongrád, along the eastern bank of the Danube river
Other things to drink
- We’re told there’s a good craft brewing scene in Hungary these days.
- Drink pálinka
- Avoid unicum (or drink it! It’s a cultural experience!)
Day or weekend trips
If you have time for a longer journey or want to get out of the city, head to these spots:
- Szeged, the fourth largest city on the border with Szerbia and not far from the Romanian border. It’s a big university town and Greg had a lot of fun in his one day there but don’t have any specific recommendations.
- Pécs (pronounced pay-ch) is a personal favorite about a half an hour south of where we lived. The German name for the city is Fünfkirchen, or five churches, and it features a beautiful synagogue, a giant cathedral, and a fascinating church that used to be a mosque. It also is one of a few Ancient Roman settlements in Hungary and she can visit some ruins if you’re into that. Pécs is tucked into the Mecsek mountain range and has some good hiking. Drink Villányi wine while kickin’ it on the beautiful outdoor public areas around the old town. There are also some funky cafes and bars in town.
- The towns of Villany (pronounced vhee-lhan) and Harkány (pronounced harr-khan) are worth a visit from Pécs.
- Egér is worth the short train ride from Budapest, we recommend staying at least one night so you can take in the city at night. In particular, the valley of beautiful women is a great stop for nighttime wine tasting.
- Sopron (pronounced show-prone) and Győr (pronounced something like d-yer) are both a good time. There’s a big old brewery there called Soprano. You’ll probably see it on signs and in bars around the country, but they also have one of the more interesting Hungarian wines: Kékfrankos (translated: blue Frankish). Definitely make this kind of wine one of the bottles to brings with on a Lángos eating trip if you don’t make it for a day trip.
- Lake Balaton is a ton of fun. Stay on the south side of the lake because it’s cheaper and less overrun with (mostly German) tourists. We stayed in Fonyód. Tihány, I’ve heard, is a good Balaton trip, too. There are ferries to get there from Siófok, Fonyód, and a few other places. I’m pretty sure there’s a dormant volcano in the national park surrounding Badacsony (there’s wine there, too).
- If you want to see a workaday city in western Hungary, visit Kaposvár. The city is quiet but full of parks and good little restaurants. Let us know if you end up there.
- Especially if you’re there in time for Busójárás (Carnival season, called Farsang in Hungarian, ends Ash Wednesday), go to Mohács.
If you have a little more time:
- Vienna, Zagreb, Ljubljana, and Venice are all on direct trains from Budapest. Probably doable in a weekend, but better if you have three or four nights, esp. for Vienna and Ljubljana. ❤️❤️❤️ Ljubljana. Plitvice Lakes National Park is well worth a day trip from Zagreb.
- Köszönöm szépen (ker-ser-nem say-pen): thank you very much
- Jó reggelt (yo regg-elt): good morning
- Jó nappot kivánok (yo nahp-ot key-vahn-ohk): good day
- Szia (see-ah): Hi/bye
- Kavé (kah-vay): coffee
- Bor (boar): wine
- Sör (sure): beer
- hús (hoosh): meat
- disznó (deess-no): pig
- levesk (lev-eshk): soup
- Beszelsz angol? (bess-ales angol?): Do you speak English?
- Hol a WC? (hole ah vay-tsay?): Where’s the bathroom? (hopefully they can speak English to give you directions)
- éttérém (ate-tare-em): restaurant
- kávézö (kah-vay-zoer): coffee shop
- tér (tare): square