A city with all the power and beauty others with intense culture and an optimism for growth, Budapest has been out from the Communist rule almost 20 years and is now more beautiful than ever. Experience the east with ease here.
Transportation: German wings flies directly to Budapest or you can fly into Vienna and drive. Budapest is only 2 hours away, so it’s easy to see in combination with Vienna and Bratislava. Prague isn’t too far either. If you have a car, you can see all four amazing cities easily in one trip; however be aware of the highway requirements. Austria and Hungary require highway stickers. I think Czech Republic does as well. You can get them at gas stations near the border crossings. They are usually good for about a month.
Currency: Hungary still uses the Forint. There are ATM machines and banks everywhere, so it’s very easy to get cash when you need it. Budapest is VERY credit card friendly. Unlike our local GK area, you can use your Visa/Mastercard almost everywhere.
Getting around Budapest: I’ve heard that the street cars and buses are easy to use. They certainly are accessible. I saw them everywhere and at all the tourist spots. I went without children though, so I walked the entire city very easily. Some of the distances would be too far with little ones though.
Sightseeing: Budapest, like Paris, is divided into districts. When I planned my trip, I made a list of what I wanted to see and organized it according to district, so it was easy to see and do everything while I was in the area (worked great with restaurants!). So, I’ll organize this the same way. The DK book doesn’t use the district method, but I picked up a tourist map there… it helped a lot.
District 1 (Castle District) Buda side:
The castle district is largely made up the Royal Palace which houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Old Town which has beautiful old cobblestone streets, cute cafes, the Matthias church, and the Fisherman’s Bastion with an amazing view of the Pest side across the river. If you take advantage of the tours and visit the museum, then this district alone can easily fill your entire day. If you walk, take pictures, and skip any indoor visits, then you can see most everything on the hill in just 1/2 day and still have time to see Gellert hill or Margarite Island.
(I spent 1/2 day walking all over the area, through the old streets and around the castle and Fisherman’s bastion. There’s a lot to see and fantastic views just from walking around. We had coffee and cake at Ruswurm and spent the rest of the time just walking and taking pictures. There are old ladies selling embroidered linens. And, nothing is free. A man with a hawk asked if I would like to hold the bird, then told me this was his business and he needed to make a living, hint, hint… You’ll see a lot of musicians too who will watch you as you take pictures and expect a bit of change for their trouble.)
- Hungarian National Gallery: http://www.mng.hu/en
- Medieval Jewish Chapel: 1014 Táncsics Mihály utca 26 Open: 1 May to 31 October:
Tues-Sun: 10am – 5pm
- Labyrinth of Buda Castle: http://www.labirintus.com/
- Matyas Church (Templom): http://www.matyas-templom.hu/
- The Castle, Fisherman’s Bastian, St. Matthias Church
To Eat: The Castle district is extremely touristy, so the restaurants there cater to the tourists needs quite well. You’ll see several restaurants with the “tourist menu” including a meal, dessert, and drink for a reasonable price.
Ruswurm pastry shop
I., Szentháromság u. 7.
Open: summer 1000-2000, winter 1000-1900.
“Not to be missed! The country’s oldest, 173-year old pastry shop in the Castle District. Biedermeier interior, period furniture. The cakes are still made to the original recipes. The specialties include the Ruszwurm coffee and cake, and the Ruszwurm cream-filled pastry.” This place is known and can be hard to get into. It’s in a great location, has a nice ambiance, and the coffee is delicious. The desserts are wonderful too, but very intense. I had the Dobos Torte and it was good, but way too heavy. The Dobos at the Fröhlich Pastry Shop (district 7) is less expensive and WAY better. But, for variety and location, you can’t do much better than Ruswurm.
District 2 – Buda side:
District 2 is a bit more residential and not so touristy, but it you’re in the area, I do know of a good pastry shop that comes VERY highly recommended from a local.
* Address: District II, Szepvoelgyi ut 50, Buda Hills, Budapest
* Phone: 1/335-2253
* “It’s with good reason that this popular confectioner has lines outside the door each morning. Every pastry here is delicate and light. Even a novice can taste the real butter cream in the famous Eszterhazy torta, which is a truly magnificent cake. Locals say the Sacher torte is every bit as good as it is in the famous Sacher Hotel in Vienna. It’s usually crowded on weekends with families eating ice cream.”
District 5 – Pest Side:
Downtown! This is the main shopping area full of wonderful shopping streets, great restaurants, and a wonderful waterfront complete with the Palinka square, the beautiful Four Seasons Hotel, and the Parliament Building. The Vaci Utca leads from Vorosmarty square (which has a great bakery) all the way to the beautiful old enclosed market building with it’s multicolored tiled roof. District 5 also includes the impressive parliament and the adjoining business district.
(We stayed in District 5, so saw it every day in bits going in and out. The Parliament is amazing. Look at the plaque near the flag behind it. It explains the hole in it and makes the history more real. The Shoes memorial is especially vivid if you’ve done the tour at the Synagogue on Dohany street. Vaci street is really fun – great if you’re a shopper and the market is just too cool, but you’ll see things you’ve probably never seen before. We ate on the waterfront at a restaurant just in front of the statue of the boy on the embankment railing on the corner of Palinka square… good food and fun atmosphere.)
Shoes on the Danube embankment
A memorial to the Jews who were shot at the bank of the Danube during WW2, this series of iron shoes sits on the embankment between the Parliament and the Chain Bridge.
Someone said this was the largest parliament building in the world. Either way, it is amazing, beautiful, and worth walking around even if you don’t have time for a tour. Tours are available daily. http://www.budapest-parliament.com/
The Great Market Hall
On the southern end of the Vaci Utca is this old market building with all the necessities downstairs and all the souvenirs upstairs. Great for shopping and people watching. Most of the vendors upstairs do take credit cards. You can find embroidered linens, dolls, china, jewelry, and more. Open Mon-Sat. Closed on Sundays.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Romanesque church. Church entrance is free. Tower and treasury tours available for a nominal fee.
Fatál (not to be mistaken by the femme fatale, since “fatál” is a Hungarian word meaning “wooden plate”) is a place with great atmosphere and good Hungarian and international cuisine. Prices are a bit higher then average, but they are reasonable for the quality you get.
The place is open from 11:30 AM until 2:00 AM.
Address: Vaci Utca 67
Phone: (+36 1) 266-2607
Directions: Walking along on Váci Utca, you just have to enter the little alley by the number 67 and you will find “Fatál”. It’s between Ferenciek square and Fövám square. The food was plentiful and delicious. The service was strange, but ok. They seated us at a table with other people and were fairly slow in bringing us the bill… Still, the atmosphere was good and the portions were excellent – good food for a good price.
1051 Budapest Vörösmarty tér 7-8.
The most famous coffeehouse in Budapest – gorgeous interior, gift shop, and to-go items available. I wouldn’t take young children here, though it would probably be fine. This is one of those places you want to go to sit, relax, and soak up the atmosphere. Yes, it tastes as good as it looks.
Districts 6/14 – Pest Side:
Running east from district 5, these districts include the fancy Andrassy Street where many embassies reside, the cultural center of Budapest, and the famous Opera house (District 5). Andrassy Utca also runs directly into Heroes Square the the beautiful Varosliget Park which houses a beautiful replica of the Vajdahunyad Castle (it’s a full sized replica, so, a castle itself and very pretty), a huge ice skating rink in the winter time, a lake, the famous Szechenyi bathes, a zoo, a funfair, and a huge green space with playgrounds and a dog park (District 14). Ok, so technically, Heroes Square and the City Park are in district 14, but they are right next to each other and quite easy to explore on the same day.
(We spent our morning walking down to the Great Market Hall, then looped up towards the Jewish quarter, saw that area, then walked all the way to City Park, through it, then to Heroes square and down to the waterfront again. It was a lot of walking, but a great day. City Park often has festivals, so we lucked out and found ourselves in the middle of one near the castle. I really didn’t see enough of the City Park either… we could have seen more…)
Heroes Square – One of the most important squares in Budapest, this was the main gathering place for the Communist holidays, and an important junction between Andrassy and the Varosliget park. With an art museum on either side and an impressive display of statue depicting Hungarian history. The Millennium Monument sits in the center holding statues of the leaders of the seven tribes that founded Hungary in the 9th century along with others.
Varisliget Park (City Park) – The saving grace for bored children, this park is just that – an enormous green space with a place to run around and several nice play grounds on the southern side. The Funfair and zoo are nearby on the North End, the baths are a must see, and the castle with the lake where you’ll get a beautiful family photo for next year’s Christmas card. With everything to see here, you could easily enjoy an entire day just here if you want a slower, more fun pace.
Museum of Fine Art
Mucsamok Palace of Fine Art
House of Terror
Address: 1062 Budapest, Andrássy út 60.
Open every day except Monday: 10.00 am-6.00 pm
Weekends: 10.00 am – 7.30 pm
Muvesz Cafe – Reader recommendation
1061 Andrássy út 29, Budapest
“The Művész Café (the meaning of the Hungarian word is Artist) is located diagonally across from the State Opera House. Its atmosphere and décor resembles a 19th-century grand salon, with golden stuccoes and frames, copper coat-hangers and a grand mirror. The green plush chairs and the marble tables look a little worn-down, but this just adds to the feel of authenticity. The patrons of this café are mostly elderly Hungarians huddled over yesterday’s papers and tourists.”
Gundel Restaurant: Several locations within City Park – expensive, but worth it for something special. Listed among the top 50 restaurants worldwide. http://www.gundel.hu (361) 468-40-40
District 7 – Pest Side: District seven includes the Jewish ghetto with the Dohány or Great Synagogue – the largest functioning synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. It is also the home of the Jewish Museum, a small Jewish cemetery, and a beautiful memorial in the form of a sculpted willow tree behind the synagogue. Tours are available in English, but yo can also just walk around on your own. It’s absolutely beautiful inside. Men are asked to wear a yarmulke (small hat worn by Jewish men). They are provided at the door.
(I spent a little over an hour walking through the synagogue, cemetery and the courtyard around the Memorial tree, stopping here and there to listen in on tour guides. The tour guides had a lot to say. If I were to do it again, I’d take the tour. They give you a lot of history that is heartbreaking, but puts everything you see in perspective. A good cure for melancholy is a coffee and cake at the pastry shop around the corner. Dobos torte will cure anything.)
Dohány Street Synagogue 1074 Dohány utca 2
1074 Dohány utca 2
1072 Nagydiófa utca
Mikve (Ritual Jewish Bath)
1075 Kazinczy utca 16
1075 Kazinczy utca 29
Fröhlich Pastry Shop
Address: 1072 Dob utca 22
A famous traditional Jewish pastry shop and cafeteria, offering a wide range of traditional Jewish pastry in Budapest (such as the flódni). I had a coffee and the Dobos torte. By the end of my trip, I’d had the Dobos at several other bakeries and was by far the best tasting and at less than half the price of others. So delicious. This bakery isn’t fancy, but it’s well worth stopping in for something sweet.
New York Kavehaz (Coffehouse)
Erzsebet Korut 9-11/on the Ground Circle Road
Reader Recommendation…“Now, this is really beautiful – I only saw it while it was still under renovation, but even back then it was pretty amazing. I heard it’s overpriced, and service is a hit and miss, but the building is beautiful inside and out.”
District 11: Buda Side
Gellert Hill: I personally didn’t have time for Gellert Hill on my trip, but a walk there would have been nice. It’s a beautiful park area with lots of trails, monuments, and the small community of Taban. There are three large bath houses here as well – something that Budapest is known for.
Cave Chapet (cave church)
Next to the Gellert Hotel, it’s a rock church built in the 1930s that was walled-up by the communists for a while
Margarite Island: This is another one of those wonderfully relaxing places that the children will love. Playgrounds, walking paths, rental bicycles and carts, fountains, boats, swimming, tennis… the list goes on. The island is easy to get to via public transportation though we walked there from Castle hill (through a not so nice area… wouldn’t have done it with kids). A great place to spend some time and relax. Good for kids or a slow paced vacation. Not necessary if you’re trying to pack a lot into a short period of time.
The Palace of Miracles: A science center for kids. You’ll spend 3-4 hours there.
Fény u. 20-22. , 1024 Budapest
Outside websites are better. The Palace main website is only in Hungarian and difficult to navigate.
Memento (Statue) Park
www.Szoborpark.hu — All the informatinon that you need is on the website including bus transfer options. Corner of Balatoni út and Szabadkai utca.
Outside the city:
Ecseri Flea Market (1194 Nagykőrösi út 156.)
(Hard to find, but worth it. It is on a narrow side road paralleling the freeway and it is bland and doesn’t stand out in any way. But there is a sign if you look for it. I was just sad that I had to fly back home, because it severely limited my shopping. Beautiful things, ok prices. Lower than Tongeren, but not dirt cheap either. Tons of Communist era memorabilia of all kinds. Furniture, statues, street signs… I will go back. Too fun.)
The market is over four acres big, and since nearly all of it is under cover it is still comfortable to visit and browse around in bad weather. Open: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m. – 3p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Serious bargain hunters will be found there first thing on a Saturday morning, before most tourists have even risen from their bed! Public transport: No. 54 bus from Boráros tér; average off-peak journey time 22 minutes.