A venerable city that once found itself behind the Iron Curtain, the Hungarian capital has since blossomed in recent years to become one of the most popular city break destinations for Irish holidaymakers. Read up on my Budapest travel guide and discover what it is that makes a holiday to Budapest a must for anyone and everyone!
Budapest’s history is a long one. The result of a merger between the towns of Buda and Pest, the capital city of Hungary has seen itself in the centre of countless turning points in European history. Everywhere you turn you’ll be greeted with beautiful monuments, historical buildings and interesting neighbourhoods.
But that’s not the only thing that sets Budapest apart from the rest. The abundance of thermal baths and spas means that any trip to Budapest will guarantee the pampering of a lifetime, and you’ll come back home feeling as fresh as a daisy! Read up on my guide on the top things to do in Budapest and experience this fascinating city like a local!
Just 3 hours in the plane aaannnd… that’s it! Flying to Budapest is pretty much a piece of cake, and there’s several options to choose from when making your way to the centre of town. The only airport in Ireland served by direct flights to Budapest is Dublin, with flights being operated by either Ryanair and Aer Lingus. From other airports in Ireland there will be a stopover along the way – depending on the airline you’ll more than likely be stopping in Amsterdam Schiphol or London Heathrow.
When it comes to getting to the city centre from the airport, there are plenty of public transport connections you can take. The easiest is the direct bus service between Deák Tér square and the airport, launched in summer 2017. The 100E service costs 900HUF for a one-way ticket, which comes to just under €3. The journey takes around 35 minutes, so it’s a good balance between speed and price. Another option is to take the 200E bus to the Kőbánya-Kispest subway station and changing for the M3 metro line which will bring you into the city centre. While it does last longer (around 50 minutes), it is half the price at just 530HUF for a so-called transfer ticket (€1.69).
Similarly you can also take taxis from the airport, but be sure that you don’t hail a random taxi from the street! It’s not unheard of that some taxi drivers in Budapest can rip you off. Főtaxi is perhaps the best taxi company in Budapest, and it’s possible to book a taxi ride at the Főtaxi desks situated within the airport terminal. That way you’re guaranteeing a reasonable price. For taxi rides to the centre of the city you should be looking at an average price of approximately 6,500HUF (€22).
Gurutip: To save even more money during your stay in Budapest, I really recommend getting yourself a travel card. While the 100E busses aren’t valid with this ticket, it does let you enjoy unlimited public transport, meaning that you can hop on the trams, busses, subways and even certain services operated by the Hungarian State Railway, provided you’re travelling within Budapest. It’s especially worth it if you decide to opt for the 200E/M3 method of airport transfers as they are essentially included in the price. You can get an overview of all available tickets over at the BKK Centre for Budapest Transport‘s website.
The Essentials – Budapest Attractions & Sights
There’s so much to see and do here that it can be hard to know where to start. But I’ve put together an essential list of sights in Budapest for first timers so you can get a real feel for the city and its character!
One of Budapest’s landmarks, the impressive Parliament Building is one of the most instantly recognisable buildings in the entire city – despite being finished in 1904 it’s still the tallest building in Budapest and the largest building in Hungary! It was built to signify a new, unified parliament for the country once the towns of Buda, Pest and Óbuda were united to create the capital city we all know and love today. On the inside, the chambers and halls on either wing of the building are exactly identical. One is used as the actual seat and debating chamber of the parliament, while the other is used for guided tours.
Széchenyi Lánchíd – The Chain Bridge
One of the main landmarks of the city, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge is the city’s most prominent river crossing. In actual fact, this bridge is a larger scale version of bridge designed by the same engineer in the small countryside town of Marlow in Buckinghamshire. It was the first permanent bridge to be made from stone that connected Buda and Pest, so understandably the bridge is very important in Budapest’s social and cultural heritage. I especially love the view of it at nighttime when the arches are lit up – definitely take the time to see it up close during a river cruise along the Danube!
The Fisherman’s Bastion & Buda Castle
High up on the hills of Buda overlooking the River Danube, the white spires of the Fisherman’s Bastion are hard to miss. Known as Halászbástyain Hungarian, this beautiful terrace was finished in 1902 and is easily one of my favourite spots in the city. Its seven spires represent the seven Magyar tribes who when on to establish the foundations of Hungary as we know it today. Next door is the equally striking Matthias Church, also constructed in brilliant white sandstone. I recommend taking a look inside as the interiors are incredibly detailed – all the vaulted arches and columns feature awesome patterns!
And of course, you can’t talk about Buda without mentioning Buda Castle. Having served as the seat of Hungarian kings since the 13th century, this massive castle complex overlooks the whole city. Most of its Baroque-styled structures were added later in the castle’s long history, but many of the medieval fortifications and walls have been restored and rebuilt. If you’re interested in seeing what things look like inside, it might be worth booking one of the guided tours – lots of them are in English and prices start from around €10.
Margit-sziget – Margaret Island
This lush island in the Danube River serves as the city’s green lungs. In Medieval times it was a place of religious significance with several monasteries and convents on the island. This all changed when then Ottoman Empire occupied the city, demolishing many of the religious structures that were built here. Over time it was eventually transformed into a resort for the aristocracy – nowadays you’ll find several wellness hotels, a water park and acres of parks and green spaces. A great little place to check out if you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the busy city centre!
Nagyvásárcsarnok – The Great Market Hall
A focal point for life in the city, this is one of the best market halls I’ve ever seen in a city. The Great Market Hall spans an area of a whopping 10,000m² and the market stalls spread are spread over three storeys. It’s not uncommon to see locals do their day-to-day grocery shopping here and it’s definitely worth having a little wander around to soak up the busy atmosphere. You can pick up local specialities and produce such as paprika and honey, however it is worth having a little look around first so that you can be sure you’re getting the best prices.
Budapest’s Thermal Baths – the best spas in Budapest
One of the city’s biggest draws is its wealth of beautiful thermal baths and spas. The presence of natural springs in Budapest has been utilised for centuries – their usage spans all the way back to the ancient Romans and Celts. The Ottomans also built upon this bathing culture, having established many Turkish baths across the city. Some of them are still in use today! Here’s a quick list of some of the most important and most popular baths in the city:
Széchenyi Thermal Baths: Pretty much the thermal baths that first come to mind when many people think of Budapest. Its brightly-coloured Baroque architecture and huge outdoor pools are a must for many a tourist looking for that typically Budapest experience, though you will spot locals having a game of chess while they let the waters work its wonders as well. Gurutip: Nearby is the Vajdahunyad Castle – well worth a visit!
Gellért Thermal Bath: Another heavyweight in the world of Budapest spas, the Gellért Thermal Baths occupy a beautiful Art Nouveau-style building spanning several indoor pools and treatment rooms. A popular choice amongst Ottomans during the occupation – you know it must be good!
Király Baths: Admittedly this spa looks a little rough around the edges, but it’s one of the best and and most traditional Turkish baths in the city, dating back to the Ottoman era.
Rudas Baths: This is the most famous Turkish spa in the city – its focal point is the incredible octagonal pool flanked by vaulted arches and domed ceiling.
Veli Bej Baths: Another excellent choice for those looking for that Turkish baths experience and is actually one of the oldest Ottoman baths in the city.
Gurutip: Before you go, be sure to check opening times and entry restrictions. Some spas do have male-only and female-only days, while others are solely mixed. Check in advance to avoid any disappointment on the day!
Dining in Budapest
For all you foodies out there, I can only recommend Budapest. Cuisine from all over the world is on offer here, and you could almost say that the city is in the midst of a culinary revolution of sorts. I also really recommend trying your hand at some local Hungarian specialities as well. It’s some seriously moreish stuff and some of the heartier dishes are just perfect for the winter time when the weather gets fairly cold outside! Here’s some of my favourites:
Lángos: Pretty much the opposite of healthy, lángos is so bad, but tastes so so good! It’s essentially the Hungarian answer to pizza – dough is deep-fried and then topped with garlic butter, sour cream and grated cheese, plus other extra toppings such as ham if you want them. The perfect little pick-me-up during a long day of sightseeing. One of the best lángos stands in the city is Retro Langos, situated next to the Arany János metro station. Another tip-top choice is Langos Land in the Fény Street Market, just a short walk away from the Széll Kálmán Tér metro station.
Goulash: Also known as gulyásin Hungarian, this hearty soup features vegetables and meats such as lamb, veal, pork or beef that’s left to simmer with spices such as paprika, garlic and caraway seed. The result is a spicy, wholesome strew that really warms you up on a cold winter’s day. It’s considered to be one of Hungary’s national dishes. Some great places to try goulash are Gettó Gulyás, Menza and Baltazár.
Chimney cakes: A common sweeet treat, kürtőskalács are made by wrapping dough around a baking spit, basted with butter and dusted with sugar, which caramelises as it cooks. The result? A sweet, delicious and dangerously moreish pastry that will satisfy any sweet tooth. I recommend picking one up at Molnár’s Kürtőskalács – you can grab a coffee to go with it as well.
Trendy Restaurants in Budapest
Fancy checking out a hip locale during your time here? These are some of my personal favourites – here you’ll find great food served with great vibes!
Khan: This small but mighty Asian restaurant opened only recently, but it’s already turning heads with its fantastic mix of Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and Mongolian cuisines.
Tuning Bar&Burger: This popular burger joint in the Jewish Quarter always receives rave reviews. The menu is diverse and offers everything from classic cheese burgers to towering creations with fried egg, onion chutney or even shiitake mushrooms.
Kiosk Budapest: Situated in a grand building pretty much right by the Danube River, this bar makes fantastic cocktails and great food in a lovely setting – think modern meets fancy.
Spíler Bistro Pub: This über-hip place really knocks the concept of “industrial vibes” out of the park! Expect awesome street food-style cuisine in a laid-back, easy-going atmosphere.
Csendes Vintage Bar & Café: The walls and frescoes of the original interiors are absolutely covered in artwork, graffiti and street art. An amazing place to get a taste of those ruin bar vibes, and enjoy a great bite to eat while doing so.
If there’s one thing that Budapest is famous for besides all the sights and architecture, it’s the ruin bars. A distinctly Budapest-ian take on nightlife, these quirky, one-of-a-kind venues make use of abandoned buildings and turn them into thriving bars! You’ll even find some used for live concerts, films, flea markets and events as well. The biggest name amongst ruin bars is Szimpla Kert. It’s a very popular place to be, so things can get a little crowded (expect queues!); however it is a place you definitely have to check out at least once during your visit to Budapest. It’s the epitome of your typical ruin bar – it occupies old apartments and factory spaces that would otherwise have been demolished. The bare brick walls are covered in graffiti, the furniture is a collection of vintage bric-a-brac and there’s random things like bathtubs and scrapped cars lying around. But this is the place that started the ruin bar trend and despite being frequented mostly by foreigners rather than Hungarians, it is still an essential and vital part of Budapest’s cultural scene.
Other fantastic ruin bars you can also check out are Mazel Tov and Anker’t, which are both fantastic choices in the summer time thanks to their amazing courtyards. I’m also a massive fan of Fogas Ház, which tends to have a lot on offer in terms of music and even hosts a vintage shop! Instant is perhaps the largest of the ruin bars in Budapest, yet despite the size you’ll still be able to find quiet and chilled out corners in case you want to take a break from the action and have a good chat with pals.
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