Last updated: January 3, 2024
I said I was going to Budapest, and my friend Zach Linder emailed me these helpful tips.
THINGS TO DO BY NEIGHBORHOOD
Leopold Town (Lipótváros)
The quiet banking and business district with many of Budapest’s best and most famous monuments:
• Hungarian Parliament — An absolute must. English tours at 10:00, 12:00, and 14:00, but sometimes more. Make a reservation in advance (jegymester.hu/parlament) and check in at the visitor center at the north end of the building.
• Holocaust Monument — The famous row of empty bronze shoes commemorates the Jews killed by the Nazis’ puppet government, the Arrow Cross, who shot them and let their bodies fall into the Danube. You’ll find this on the bank of the river just south of the Parliament.
• Szabadság Tér (Liberty Square) — A beautiful park that includes the Soviet War Memorial, which commemorates when the Soviets forced the Nazis out of Hungary. On the Parliament side, there is confusingly a statue of Ronald Reagan, revered by Hungarians for his role in the Cold War. Hilariously, not understanding nuances of American politics, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was invited to the unveiling.
• St. István’s Basilica — Large church topping off an impressively large square.
• Gresham Palace — Famous old building now restored as a Four Seasons, and a nice excuse for a bathroom break.
• Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchid) — Iconic bridge stretching the Danube with famous lion statues.
Town Center (Belváros)
The gritty urban area. Beautiful & ugly. The real Budapest.
• Vörösmarty Tér — Lively square in the heart of Pest with fun food stalls at night. If you see Langos here (or anywhere), get it. It’s a big hunk of deep fried dough, spread on top with garlic, sour cream and shredded cheese. Typical Hungarian street food. This is also a good place to find a stand selling goulash.
• McDonald’s on Régi Posta utca — Sure, it’s McDonald’s. But it’s also the first one that opened behind the Iron Curtain. I’m lovin’ it.
• Vaci utca — Budapest’s famous and touristy commercial drag. Avoid this and it’s eateries as much as possible.
• Great Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok) — Famous and enormous food hall. Pick up some paprika, why dontcha.
Famous boulevard connecting Pest to the large City Park.
• Földalatti (“underground”) — If you want to bypass any of Andrassy Ut, the very shallow M1 yellow Metro line runs the length of it. It was the first subway line in continental Europe, and is a sight to see in its own right.
• Opera House — English tours are approx. 45 min long at 15:00 and 16:00, or get a cheap ticket to a performance in advance.
• Párisi Nagy Áruház (Paris Department Store) — The now closed legendary department store is now an Alexandra Bookshop with a grand old café upstairs.
• Franz Liszt Square (Liszt Ferenc Tér) — Full of hip cafes filled with yuppies.
• House of Terror (Terror Háza) — One of my favorite things to do in Budapest. A building in the former torture houses of the Nazis and Soviets, now an absolutely incredible museum looking back at both of those dark eras.
• Heroes Square — Incredible monument featuring famou Magyars through the years. Used to be crowned with a massive statue of Stalin, now long gone.
• Vajdahunyad Castle — Built for a festival and never torn down due to insisting from locals. Fun to walk around.
• Széchenyi Baths — The single best experience I have ever had traveling. Not hyperbole. It’s intimidating at first, but you need to try it. Bring a swimsuit, flip flops and nothing else. Here’s the protocol: Enter through the “swimming pool entrance” facing the zoo away from City Park. Pay the cashier and get a wristband. I like a cabin, but you can pay a little less and get a locker instead. Go downstairs and get a towel, then head up to the row of cabins. Hold your bracelet up to the electronic panel on the wall and you’ll be assigned a cabin number. The bracelet will then lock/unlock that numbered cabin to change in and store your belongings. Then go have fun. There are two outdoor pools. One has cooler water, and is a little rowdier. The other is warmer and more calm. Inside the yellow building are the weird thermal baths. They smell weird. Some like the Gellert Baths at the Gellert Hotel in Buda, but Széchenyi is a more authentic experience.
Synagogues, hip restaurants, interesting flea markets, and the hottest nightlife area in the city, this is one of the most fascinating neighborhoods in Europe.
• Ruin Pubs — This is THE nightlife scene in Budapest. Huge bombed-out, sometimes abandoned looking buildings now filled with the coolest bars in town. Sometimes referred to as kerts (gardens), mulatós (clubs), or kávézós (coffeehouses). The biggest and best is Szimpla Kert, filled with large halls and courtyards, tons of rooms with different vibes. Szoda is another great spot, but less of a ruin pub and more of a bar, filled with old seltzer bottles. Garzon Café, Fogasház, and Mazel Tov were also great. There are tons in the area. Just google around for lists and find your favorites.
• The Great Synagogue — The second largest synagogue in the world (the first is on the Upper West Side), and miraculously still standing after World War II. Thinking about what this building means to Eastern Europe is truly mindblowing. Buy a ticket to tour the synagogue at the Jewinform (not a joke) booth at the front of the building. There are several options, but for most, the quick 45 min tour of the synagogue and the Tree of Life garden in the back is plenty.
• Frölich Cukrászda — Delicious authentic bakery in the heart of the area.
Buda / Castle Hill
You’ll spend most of your time in Pest, but walking around Castle Hill is worth a morning and afternoon in Buda.
• Funicular — Walk the Chain Bridge from Pest to catch the funicular up to Buda.
• Hit all of these sights in one swoop:
o Royal Palace (Királyi Palota)
o King Matthias Fountain
o Walk down Tárnok utca
o Matthias Church
o Fishermen’s Bastion
• Hospital in the Rock — Difficult to find, but worth the effort. World War II-era hospital built in an underground bunker in a labyrinth of tunnels. The tour is amazing. One of the coolest things I have ever seen. Closed Mondays.
• Memento Park (aka Statue Park) — When the Soviets fell, all their statues were knocked down and moved here to this fascinating park on the outskirts of the city. There is a direct bus everyday at 11:00 from Deák Ferenc tér / Deák tér in central Pest. Flat rate includes an English tour at the park, and you can save 25% by booking online the day before.
• Danube Boat Tour — One of the best things to do in Budapest. It’s touristy, but a tour on one of the Legenda boats is fantastic and gives you a sweeping view of the grand skyline glowing at night. Includes booze and commentary on headphones. Go on a warm night and sit outside.
PLACES TO EAT
* Gerlóczy Café — Fantastic café in Pest Town Center for coffee or a full meal. Somewhat of a Parisian feeling here.
* Café Gerbaud — At the top of Vörösmarty Tér, an iconic & lavish old café & bakery.
Callas Café — Good spot for food/coffee on Andrassy Ut overlooking the Opera House.
Müvész Kávéház — Another café on Andrassy Ut, circa 19th century, famous for being a hangout of actors and musicians performing nearby.
* Menza — Communist themed restaurant on Franz Liszt Square.
* Café New York — 10-15 min walk from Oktogon on Andrassy Ut, an insanely opulent Italian renaissance café will be the coffee break of a lifetime. It has palm trees inside.
Café Kor — Stylish spot for Hungarian and Mediterranean food near St. Istvan’s.
* Köleves — Hip spot in the Jewish Quarter with trendy Jewish food. Really fun place.
Circusz Café — Fun little spot in the Jewish Quarter, good for brunch.
* Vintage Garden — Bizarre trendy restaurant in the Jewish Quarter with an Alice in Wonderland theme. This place is a must-see.
Ruszwurm Café — The oldest café in Budapest, and the only place worth eating up on Castle Hill in Buda
* Hungarikum Bistro — The perfect homey place for traditional Hungarian food. Popular with locals and tourists, so make a reservation.
Read about my absolute favorite spots in Budapest.
Thanks Zach for sharing these! For more from Zach Linder, check out his Twitter here.