A compilation of tips from locals and what we wish we knew before coming to Budapest. Thanks to our friends at Trip to Budapest Tours for the local tips and for making our experience so much more interesting!
1. Take a free tour.
Or two, or three, or four! Tours are important to develop a foundation of context for any city. Sure, you could do it on your own, but when else can you walk around snapping photos of everything guilt-free?
Trip to Budapest Tours offers some kick-ass tours led by local, professional guides. The best part… they’re actually free! The tours are based on tips depending on how much you enjoyed the experience. And trust me, we had a blast. Thanks to Annie and Orsi for giving us an introduction to the city.
Make sure to check out their Budapest Walk, Communist Walk, Jewish District Walk and Pub Tour. All tours conveniently meet at Vörösmarty Tér by the lion fountain.
2. Take a bath.
No, really… Budapest is known as “The City of Baths” thanks to its abundance of historical thermal baths. These include, Széchenyi Thermal Baths, Gellért Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool, Rudas Baths, Király Baths, Császár Baths – Veli Bej, and Lukács Thermal Baths.
We chose Széchenyi Baths, the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Opt for the cabin option for more privacy and to have a place to secure your belongings. Make sure to bring flip-flops and a towel, and check out the Hungarian men playing chess in the outside pool. Never fails! (Can you spot them in the cover image?)
2. Drink the water.
Tap water is generally safe to drink in Hungary, so fill up your CamelBak and stop wasting money on bottled water.
3. Visit a ruin pub.
Ruin pubs are a unique creation of Budapest, rising from abandoned, broken buildings mainly around the Jewish Quarter. Several young entrepreneurs have revitalized old buildings and converted them into creative, avant-garde spaces that serve alcohol, food, and coffee.
Ruin pubs typically offer more than just nightlife. These places are important public spaces for political and civic dialogue – Szimpla Kert, for example, hosts a “Living Library,” where instead of a book you can rent out a person and listen to their unique experiences.
4. Walk around.
Budapest is an eminently walkable city. It’s possible to learn the streets and districts like the back of your hand. It’s also incredibly easy and quick to get from one place of interest to another.
Walking around is the best way to explore this city. On any given day, you can stumble across street fairs, green parks, religious gatherings, quiet little peaceful nooks, and hidden coffee shops, all while walking through a city of old architecture, weathered by time and history.
Getting lost isn’t hard, but you’ll only think you’re lost. Orient yourself by the river and the sun. The Danube river divides the city between Buda and Pest, so if you know which side of the city you’re on, and you know the time of day, you’ll always be able to tell what direction you’re walking and what metro stops to expect.
5. Validate your tickets.
If you choose to take public transportation, make sure to validate your ticket by inserting a new one into the stamp machine every time you board the metro, bus, or tram.
Strict fines are enforced, and you may be asked to show your validated ticket by a ticket controller – this person may be in uniform or in civilian clothes. Trust us… if your ticket is not validated you will be fined.
6. Have a picnic on Margaret Island.
Located in the middle of the Danube, Margaret Island is full vast, green spaces perfect for relaxing.
Explore 13th century ruins of a Dominican convent, take a stroll with a view of the river, or claim your own space along the grass for a quiet and peaceful picnic.
7. Get lost in the labyrinth.
The labyrinth of caves underneath Buda Castle is partially open for exploration. Although our expectations did not match reality, it was still a fun experience.
For many years the caves and the labyrinth itself were part of a rich and grand exhibit showcasing ancient and medieval history of Budapest, but in 2011 the local government raided the place and shut it down. Now much of the area underground is closed off and visitors are left with a spooky Dracula-themed tourist attraction.
A bit overpriced seeing as it’s not as cool as it used to be, but you can get a discount if you show a student ID.
8. Walk along the Jewish Quarter.
As we already boasted before, the Jewish District was one of our favorite parts of Budapest. Just by walking a few blocks west, we found ourselves in the middle of the district. It has nightlife, it has culture, it has amazing food, and it has an international population of young and old travelers who have converged together in the city.
Get lost in these streets and we promise you won’t regret it.