“Have you ever seen pictures of Budapest? I feel like people are always talking about it but never post pictures.” – Bijan
“You know, I don’t think I have ever seen photos of Budapest. What are we supposed to see here?” – Me
If you are like me and Bijan, wondering WTF there is to do and see in Budapest, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Budapest was never high on my travel list, but it was definitely a city I wanted to visit. With my buddy living in Berlin, Luana, preparing to head back to her home country, Budapest was a great city to visit as one final girls’ trip. It fit our goal of wanting to visit an Eastern European country while not wanting to spend a lot of money.
I can truly say we didn’t have many expectations. Though when we were still in the process of decided between Budapest and Prague, almost everyone told us to go with Budapest. I for one am glad we listened. Budapest is a stunning city with wonderful energy and picturesque sights. It is the perfect place for a bit of escapism, partying, and relaxation on any budget.
The Need to Know
How many nights?: 4 days/ 3 nights
Time Zone: GMT+1
Transportation: Bus, Tram, Metro
Plug socket: European
Currency: Hungarian Forint
Language: Hungarian (But English is common)
Weather: September (warm and sunny) High 70s/ Low 80s (25-28 C)
Budget: 85 USD
Due to work obligations, my friends couldn’t join me until Saturday morning which meant I had a full day to myself to explore the city. If I had been better at communicating my moves this summer, I wouldn’t know my friend Annabel was still in the city and could’ve grabbed breakfast with her on Friday morning. But we were where we were supposed to be.
Best of Both Worlds
Since I had online classes to teach Friday morning, I didn’t venture out of my hostel until about 1:30 PM.
Architecturally speaking, Budapest is a lovely city to see. I stayed on the Pest side my first day alone and discovered multiple areas where the views and vibes changed while complementing the architecture. Somehow I spent about two hours browsing record shops, searching for a few Motown Classics. Much to my delight, I was able to snag some Stevie Wonder for my mommy.
After aimlessly wandering the city, popping in and out of quaint shops I made my to Elizabeth Square to grab some cash. I hate the airport markup and usually wait until I’m in the city center to retrieve cash. Wanting to enjoy the beautiful sunset and live music, I grabbed a cider and chatted with some people on vacation from the UK. It was a lovely way to spend my day alone.
I could have joined in on a walking tour but I wanted to see certain sights with my girls. The lovely girls in my hostel invited me to join them on a nighttime party cruise, but I wanted to enjoy my latest read. As a textbook only child, I had no problem busying myself. But it is nice to know there are many activities for solo travelers to partake in.
Where to Sleep In Budapest
Budapest is a cheap city to visit. Your euro/pound/dollar will go far. We could’ve stayed in a hotel with reasonable prices but we wanted something homey and intimate, so we opted for an AirBnB situated in the downtown area. With Saturday check-in and Monday check out we spent $155 (150 euro) in total.
It had the cutest Art Deco vibes with a great deal of natural light. The main ruin bars of Budapest were only a couple of blocks away with many late-night restaurants. Additionally, the downtown area offered a couple of supermarkets very close by. If AirBnBs aren’t your thing, I spent two nights in a cute little hostel for 10 euros a night that I booked last minute. Breakfast was provided, and they even offered walking tours, luggage storage, and weekly events if you’d like a lively atmosphere.
We were able to spread out, making ourselves at home to stay up until the middle of the night watching throwback clips on YouTube and playing drinking games. Our host had provided us with ample blankets and pillows to sprawl out for a long night of girl time.
When I was researching, I came across many luxury four-star hotels between $55-$80 per night. Which was on par with our AirBnB pricing. If you’re someone who appreciates the traditionalist of hotels and want to be located in the heart of Budapest you don’t have to break the bank. From what I discovered, you’d get phenomenal views with plenty of amenities to sweeten your stay. If you’re wanting to whole yourself inside for the stay, the breakfast and lunch options as these establishments looked reasonably priced.
As mentioned above, I traveled there around my birthday so mid-September. This offered such lovely weather. It was a nice break from the sweltering Spanish sun. I opted for a leather jacket to keep me warm at night, RIP to my denim jacket, as there was a nice little breeze most nights. I packed a printed, spaghetti strap, cotton dress for a day. Additionally, I brought two pairs of bright colored cropped chinos, two printed tops, two plain t-shirts, swimsuit, and one black bodycon dress. Since I wound up spending an extra night, I am grateful I packed something extra. For footwear, I opted for my Dondii Sandals by Steve Madden in black and my white Grandpro sneakers by Cole Haan. Both made for comfortable walking shoes.
I wanted to create pieces to mix and match as well as give myself something to change into if we went dancing or a place bit swanky since it would’ve been affordable to do so. My color palette consisted of mustard yellow, black, white, and plum. With the prints in my shirts, it was easy to pair them with a solid colored trouser.
It is rather sunny this time of the year, so I would recommend some sort of hat to protect your face and eyes from the sun. I opted for a baseball cap as it’s easy to fold and pull in and out of my purse. I carried most of my day belongings in my Longchamp Le Pilage bag. I was able to store
- Water bottle
- iPhone 8 Plus
- iPhone 6s
- Portable charge
- Three apples
- A bag of chips
- Hard glasses case
- Soft sunglasses case
- Small cosmetic bag
- Kindle Paperwhite
- Baseball cap
Where to Eat
Living in Spain means living in a world of blandness unless you’re cooking at home. When I travel I like to enjoy traditional dishes as well as foods from other countries. My friend Annabel suggested a great Thai place called Kis Parazs and it didn’t disappoint. It’s located in the Jewish Quarter. I got the Shrimp Pad Thai (yes I’m basic) and Mango Sticky Rice.
The food had all the traditional flavors and dishes labeled spicy were actually spicy. There was a couple sitting next to me and the waiter warned the guy several times the food was going to be spicy. He was adamant he could handle it but the waiter didn’t buy it until the woman said she’d trained her man well. I would occasionally glance over at him and watched as his face reddened but he smiled in delight with each bite.
We had great luck finding a breakfast spot. Despite what reviews claimed, we did not have to wait in line for a spot at STIKA. Though this might be because we didn’t mind not sitting outside. Not that I could blame those wanting to take advantage of the nice weather and a perfect spot for people-watching.
STIKA offered traditional American and Hungarian breakfast choices. Recovering from a rather rough night, we wanted greasy comfort food. Being the stereotypical American I chose pancakes topped with fruit and syrup. Of course, there was a side of crispy bacon. Gotta have that bacon. The pancakes were a tab fluffy which I appreciated and the syrup wasn’t overpowering.
The vibes reminded me of cozy brunch spots in Chapel Hill and New York City I love to frequent. A chill atmosphere with a killer playlist of old school and new school R&B, a nice amount of natural light in the front, and a dimly lit comfy setting in the back. I appreciate the well-kept restrooms and outlet plug in the seating area.
When it came to traditional Hungarian Cuisine, it wasn’t high on our list of these to try, but we decided to make the most of it. Getto Gulyas was the place to dared to throw caution to the wind. We stumbled upon this restaurant not too far from our accommodations that was busy, had great reviews online, and didn’t have a long wait. I enjoyed the house red wine with lamb goulash and butter noodles. The environment was modern vibes but the food was all traditional.
Unlike Spain, the food was properly seasoned and the flavors went together effortlessly. The dish was filling and would have been perfect for a cold winter day but you’re in need of something hearty. With all the walking we had planned for the day, I was glad I had chosen that dish.
The parliament is absolutely stunning. Luckily for us, we arrived during the changing of the guard. Since there were a lot of people and we were limited on time, we decided not to go inside. But the outside architecture was a masterpiece.
We ventured over here because we had a bit of time to kill and it was on the sights to see list. We didn’t think it was all that worthwhile. So if you’re on a time church you can skip it. That said, there is a nice bridge and waterway nearby if you’d like to take a stroll.
Gellért Hill itself if a rather large statue. But the reason to visit is the stunning view of the city that’s offered. You will be blessed with a panoramic view of Budapest. So bring your best cameras people and try to make it before the sun sets if want a free spot to view it.
Crossing over to the Buda side of the river, Buda Castle is a UNESCO site and rightfully so. We decided to walk up to the castle instead of taking the cable car. Sticking with the budget-friendly theme, entry to the grounds is free. It’s a great place to get shots of the Pest side and the Danube.
The Fishermen’s Bastion
This is a definite must if you’re visiting Budapest. Pictures did not do the architecture justice. It was like something straight out of a fairytale. It would be worth it to go at sunrise to get quality photos with good light and little waiting. There is also the option to tour the catacombs underground, so plan accordingly.
We ventured We had so much fun taking pictures here. I was afraid of falling to my death because I don’t do heights. But climbing up on the bridge was worth it. We had such good chats up there as we snapped photos and tried to crop out the dude-bros drinking their beers behind us. It’s completely free and often referred to as the Pearl of the Danube.
This is the shortest bridge in the city. It’s felt more crowded during our visit but we were still able to get nice city views and photos. It and the Chain Bridge were both destroyed by the German Army in 1945. If you’re lucky enough to make it to Budapest during the summer you’ll likely fit it closed to traffic for fun events like yoga on the bridge.
How to Get There
I traveled to Budapest on WizzAir from Madrid and flew back on AirFrance WizzAir is like EasyJet, RyanAir, or Spirit airlines. The seats are a bit uncomfortable, they’ll charge you for everything that isn’t air, but you’ll get there dirt cheap. It took a little over three hours to get there from Madrid. The flight was fine, even amusing, with a group of 12 guys roaming the aisle as they were pre-gaming for bachelor party festivities.
My flight back had a mini layover in Paris, so I had time to kill and sit at a Starbucks getting work done. Since I used my Delta miles to upgrade, I got two meals during my flights. Which made the extended travel time worth it.
You’ve gotten to the end of this post and likely asking your “where are the thermal bath photos?” Who goes to Budapest and doesn’t go to the thermal baths. It makes up 90% of the Budapest photos out there. Well, I hate to tell it to you, my friends and I didn’t visit any of them. And it’s not because of poor planning.
Unfortunately, while there, we all got food poisoning from a well-known burger spot. One day when I’m a very famous writer and all my friends are established in their careers, I will tell you all about The Terrible. Until then, just know it was hellish and it took me about a month to fully recover. Because of this, we were unable to visit the infamous thermal baths.
I will be returning to Budapest one day. Maybe for a wild bachelorette party. Perhaps I’ll convince my future boo to take a cute little romantic getaway. Or I might even head out there by myself and get some writing inspiration. Overall it is a lovely city to visit and I think everyone should have it on their list of European places to check out.