Budapest is one of the picturesque cities often advertised on the front of travel magazines and luxury river cruise brochures. It is an enticing destination that has been on my bucket list for years as I dreamed about exploring the sights along the Danube and finally seeing the iconic Hungarian Parliament Building that first peaked my curiosity about the city’s grand architecture.
No matter how often I travel, flying makes me nervous but the comfort of a first class pod and sleeping under a fluffy duvet definitely made the journey more enjoyable and helped reduce jet lag. After seven and a half hours we touched down in Budapest and I began exploring the bustling streets as the flower fuzz of spring wafted through the air.
From the airport you can book a shuttle service directly to your hotel - prices are based on drop-off location so rates shouldn't vary. As you exit the baggage area there are also taxi and car companies offering their services but getting a fair price can be tricky.
The city is divided into 2 sides connected by bridges – Pest (where I stayed) has flatter landscape, more tourists and an abundance of hotels while Buda is hilly with banks that showcase the royal palace.
Since Budapest (pronounced Buda-Pesht) is a very walkable city, staying in or near the city center puts you in close proximity to many of the main attractions, shopping and dining areas. I decided to book at the 4 star Boutique Hotel because of the amazing location, positive ratings and modern decor. The hotel is just steps away from Central Market Hall, the famous pedestrian shopping street Váci Utca and the Danube River.
(Photo from hotel website: boutiquehotelbudapest.com)
Although the suites are quite small (which is common in Europe) the room was rather cozy and came with breakfast buffet and wifi. The bed was too low and firm for my comfort but the open lobby and large skylight above the lounge/bar area is a nice place to relax in the evening after an exhausting day touring. The front desk staff were friendly and very helpful but the maid service failed to clear dirty dishes on a daily basis and the weak AC didn’t do very much to cool the room. In terms of TV channels there were only about 3 or 4 in English but overall I definitely recommend this hotel based on cleanliness, style convenience and service.
(Photo from hotel website: boutiquehotelbudapest.com)
You can visit the hotel website by clicking HERE but I booked the room online via expedia.ca which is priced in Canadian dollars.
**Travelers Tip: before booking a hotel read traveler reviews on sites like Trip Advisor and Expedia
There are a few great tour companies in Budapest with buses that take you throughout the city. After doing some research I booked the Big Bus Tour (hop-on-hop-off) which I have also used in other cities including Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, San Francisco and Chicago. This double decker bus tour is a great way to see many of the major attractions without having to walk everywhere or take public transit and there is historical guided commentary in various languages. You can reserve tickets online before departure but I recommend talking to a tour operator in the city as they often give you additional discounts. I booked the 2 day/48 hr deluxe tour which cost €29 and was discounted to €23 per person.
The tour also includes:
-Walking tours of the city
- Unlimited use of the river cruise tour boat (day and night).
-One hour night tour on the bus
-City Map with bus routes and stops
It does not include entrance to any of the museums or attractions but often stops in front or nearby.
** Travelers Tip: be sure to take both river tours – the day cruise is great for photo opportunities and at night you can enjoy the city lights. I also recommend doing the night bus tour but make sure to arrive at the stop at least 30 mins early for good seats.
Attractions: Things to do
There are many amazing things to see and do in Budapest so do your research and make plans based on what your interests are. Some of the top sights and places I visited include:
St. Stephens’ Basilica
(A Roman Catholic Basilica named after the first king of Hungary)
Entrance to the church is free but donations are customary upon entry (usually about HUF 200 or €1). The colors inside the church are stunning and I highly recommend paying the HUF 600 or $2.95 CAD to take the elevator up to the dome for an amazing view of the city!
*Note: HUF is the currency symbol for the Hungarian Forint
(A beautiful terrace on the Buda bank of the Danube)
Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the most popular attractions in Budapest for its panoramic city views and it is free to explore! The Big Bus Tour does not stop there during the day so you can take a taxi up (which is a good idea in the summer) or commit to the long walk uphill with many stairs and paths (it was a good workout!).
Once you reach the top of Fisherman's Bastion you are rewarded with a fabulous birdseye view of the river, parliament building and surrounding landscape with cool breezes and a small cafe if you'd like a drink or gelato.
**Travelers Tip: Make sure to pack comfortable walking shoes because you'll need them!
(Roman Catholic Church)
At the top of Fisherman’s Bastion you will also find Matthias Church. You can purchase tickets for entry (HUF 1 500 / $7.38 CAD) and the mosaic tiles on the roof are just as colorful as the eccentric pillars and arches inside.
(One of the main pedestrian streets and perhaps the most famous in central Budapest)
Since this street was just steps from my hotel I spent a great deal of time shopping, having dinner at the outdoor patios and sitting by the monument at night enjoying the atmosphere with a gelato or Kürtőskalác in-hand.
(An elegant boulevard with restaurants, cafes and high-end shops)
Andrássay Avenue is on the way to Hero Square so you can hop off the tour bus and stroll up the street which is shaded by large trees.
Budapest is well known for warm thermal baths supplied with water from underground springs that are said to have healing properties. Soaking in a public bath/pool with a large number of near naked travelers from all over the world is not my cup-of-tea but many people do enjoy the experience.
Hungarian Parliament Building/ Parliament of Budapest
Although I didn’t have time to see the inside of the building, tours can be booked in advance.
**Travelers Tip: The best panoramic view of the Parliament Building is from Fisherman’s Bastion but the best close-up photos can be taken from a river boat with an open deck. At night the building is beautifully illuminated which also makes for a great photo.
Danube Cruise and Promenade
Along the river there are restaurants, patio bars and many places to sit and relax. As mentioned earlier, the Big Bus Tour includes a sightseeing cruise but lunch and dinner cruises can be booked separately.
**Travelers Tip: look for dinner cruises online before your trip to compare traveler reviews, food quality and menus. Booking in advance can also save you some money.
You can take the funicular up to Buda Castle for about HUF 1 800 / $8.86 CAD. The buildings themselves house beautiful art galleries (which you can enjoy for an additional fee) while the outer grounds and gardens offer spectacular views and a small souvenir shop where I found some unique scarves.
(Monument featuring the Magyars and other important national leaders)
**Travelers Tip: Make note of the hours of operations for the sites/attractions you want to visit since many museums are closed on Monday.
I didn’t try much Hungarian food like Goulash Soup or Paprika Chicken but I did have the Chimney Cake or Kürtőskalács which is a light dough (similar to pretzel bread but not as dense) cooked over hot coals and rolled in your choice of toppings like chocolate, cinnamon and nuts.
Curry House serves traditional Indian cuisine and savory dishes like biryani with creamy butter chicken and naan.
*Address: Budapest Bródy Sándor u. 21 1085 Hungary
Bangkok Thai Restaurant is located just steps away from Boutique Hotel (directly across the small street) and the food is delicious! I recommend the Pad Thai and make a reservation if you’d like a table during the evening rush.
Gelarto Rosa (close to St. Stephan’s Basilica) is very popular with tourists for their signature rose designs but the scoops are small and the gelato is mediocre. If you want a cool Instagram photo go for it, otherwise there are better gelato shops around.
Central Market is a great place to find local produce and delicious pastries, I picked up some local honey.
There are many types of cuisine in Budapest including Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern and American chains like KFC, Burger King and Soul Food.
When you get tired of walking, simply sit back on a park bench or relax on the open deck of a tour bus and take a moment to appreciate the sights, smells and sounds of daily life in Budapest. It’s not uncommon to unexpectedly come across a local craft market or festival. The city is energetic and lively with astounding beauty and rich culture
Stay tuned for my article on Vienna Austria!