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10 things to do on a city break in Budapest
The Hungarian capital is currently one the best-value cities to travel to in Europe, having come top of the Post Office’s City Costs Barometer earlier in 2013. This research looked at the cost of meals, drinks, sightseeing, city travel and accommodation in 25 cities.
The exchange rate in Budapest is also strong, there are a large number of restaurants, bars, hotels and shops competing for your holiday money, and, most importantly for me, there are numerous things to see and do to make your trip go with a swing.
Plus, Budapest is an easy city to navigate, whether on foot (my choice), by bus, metro or city sightseeing hop-on-hop-off tours.
Here are my tried-and-tested top 10 recommendations of things to do.
1. Admire the setting
This is a city in a stunning location and whichever side of the River Danube you’re on you’ll be able to enjoy the dramatic setting. The historic area of Buda and the more modern area of Pest straddle the mighty Danube and are linked by bridges.
Looking down from the Castle District or looking up from the commercial area to the historic sights on Buda Castle Hill are the views you are most likely to see in photos.
Head to the river for great photo opportunities and views – you could even take a sightseeing trip by boat along the fast-flowing waters.
2. The Castle District
Sitting high on Buda Castle Hill, this area is full of historic charm, from cobbled streets through to some of the top attractions in the city such as Matthias Church, the Fisherman’s Bastion and the imposing frontage of the former Royal Palace (now used to house some of Hungary’s best museums and galleries).
There is a lovely old-world atmosphere here, plenty of places to eat and drink, and views across the city to die for.
3. Chain Bridge
A stroll across this bridge is a lesson in history. Built from a design by British engineer William Tierney Clark in the 1840s, it’s one of the earliest suspension bridges with imposing lions at either end of the structure guarding the crossing. It’s an iconic Budapest sight.
4. St Stephen’s Basilica
Situated in Pest, this is one of the largest churches in the country and is an imposing domed building packed with religious artefacts and art including the slightly bizarre (for British tastes) mummified hand of Saint Stephen himself.
Keep an eye out for classical concerts and services taking place in the church to enjoy the building at its best.
5. Hungarian Parliament Building
The enormous Hungarian Parliament Building sits on the bank of the River Danube. Modelled on the House of Commons, you can take a tour around the impressive rooms and halls – but book early each day as tours sell out. The decoration and scale of this building are breath-taking.
6. The House of Terror Museum
Apart from the city’s setting, this, for me, is the highlight of a visit to Budapest. Set in a building formerly used by the Hungarian Secret Police, this is a challenging and thought-provoking exhibition of life under a controlling state, Communism and the former Nazi regime, and tells powerful stories of the Hungarian people.
State-of-the-art presentation and design make it a must-see and a really educational experience.
7. Heroes’ Square
Heading along Andrassy Avenue from the House of Terror you’ll come to Heroes’ Square. This vast expanse bordering the City Park has been used in countless films and videos, and has historic links back to celebration of the Magyar Dynasty.
Explore the square with its museums and galleries and then enjoy the park with its zoo, amusement park, boating lake and ice skating in winter.
8. Central Market and Vaci Street
Love to shop? Then start in Central Market, a vast indoor market selling a huge range of foods and everyday items with snack bars and a chance to see the citizens of Budapest going about their daily business.
Then head along pedestrianised Vaci Street to visit high-street names for fashion, luxury goods and traditional Hungarian souvenirs.
9. Spa baths
Budapest is a spa city and there are a range of baths to pick from. Go for the traditional Ottoman style of Rudas Baths with atmospheric steam rooms and bathing areas under an ancient domed roof. Or, if you want a complete contrast, opt for the vast complexes of the Gellert Baths or Szechenyi Baths with huge outdoor pools, marble treatment rooms and a list of treatments that will keep you entertained for hours.
For locals, visiting the spas is a sociable way to catch up with friends while enjoying the medicinal waters and maybe an invigorating massage, body scrub or beauty treatment at the same time.
10. Food… and drink… and cake too
Budapest is home to many places to eat and drink. However, make sure that you take time to sample the local dishes such as meat-heavy goulash, fresh-water fish such as carp and perch, strips of beef called modra served in creamy sauce with peppers, and fried potato cakes and sausages.
My highlights were the puddings and cakes though. Rich gateaux, pastries and sweet nibbles were my weakness and are available seemingly everywhere.
I washed them down with local beer and wines, and excellent fresh coffee – and put on weight!
The facts you need
How to get there
Fly to Budapest on year-round, non-stop flights with British Airways, Wizz Air, Ryanair and Jet2 from around the UK. Or take connecting flights via Amsterdam, Paris or Germany. Flights have been known to be on sale for as little as £29.99 one way, however prices can vary dramatically up to £300 one way.
The airport is 10 miles from the city. Airport bus connecting to the metro takes around an hour and costs approximately 90p one way.
A shared transfer will cost around £8 one way and is far quicker offering a door to door service to your hotel in mini buses taking around 30 minutes.
- Two-star hotels cost from £20 per room, per night
- Three-star hotels cost from £18 per room, per night
- Four-star hotels cost from £31 per room, per night
- Five-star hotels cost from £68.50 per room, per night.
Prices taken from TravelSupermarket for stays in October 2013 and are based on a two-night stay for two people on a b&b basis.
Consider packages and compare these against separate flight and hotel costs. Packages offer ATOL protection.
There are a range of hop on hop off buses across the city offering the key places of interest and some including boat trips as well on the Danube. Prices are from around £14 per person for a 24 hour ticket. A variety of tickets are on offer.
The bus and metro system is excellent. A standard single ticket costs 90p, books of ten are sold at a discount or you can buy the Budapest Card including lots of free admissions to attractions from £12 per day upwards.
Walking is also a great way to get around or you can hire a push bike too.
Eating and drinking
Coffee – £1.20
Bottle of beer/lager – £1.52
Three-course meal for two – £24.80.
Prices taken from the Post Office City Costs Barometer, March 2013.
Hungarian Forint or HUF – approximately 340 Forints = £1
Please note: All prices and deals were correct at the time of writing (September 19, 2013).