LIVING IN BUDAPEST
Anyone who knows me or has followed me for any amount of time, knows my love for Hungary's capital. Budapest sits right in the heart of Europe and, in my opinion, is the perfect city for backpackers, solo travellers, gap year students and everyone in between. Affordable, fun and so much to do, there is something for everyone, whether you're interested in visiting the Ruin Bars or exploring the sites.
My first trip to Budapest was in 2017 with my at-the-time boyfriend. He had planned a surprised trip for my 19th birthday, and while that trip was fun, I wanted to revisit the city solo and discover it for myself. In 2019 I found a £30 flight from London and took that as a sign to book it and go, even though flights are always very cheap.
The original plan was to spend 5 days in the city, before moving on to Austria, Czech Republic and Croatia, then home, however 3 days in to my stay at Vitae Hostel, one of the best party hostels in the city, I got offered a job and decided to travel back to Budapest after my time in Croatia. 5 days turned into over 2 months, and I fell more and more in love with the city throughout that time.
Budapest is one of the best European cities to visit, hands down, and I'm so thankful I got to spend my summer there. I love getting to know a city really well and I am so thankful I can share all my best recommendations with you!
If you want to read more Budapest content you can check out Bratislava to Budapest and My Experience Living and Working in Croatia and Hungary.
SHE TRAVELLED THE WORLD - BUDAPEST, 2017
HOW TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT INTO THE CITY
The airport is fairly far out from the city centre and costs around 7000 HUF (£20) to get a taxi. An alternative, much cheaper way to get into Budapest is the 100E bus, which frequently runs from the airport (approximately every 20 minutes). The bus costs 900 HUF (£2.30), and you can purchase tickets from the purple public transport ticket machines, however make sure you buy the right ticket and not a normal bus ticket which costs 300 HUF.
WHERE TO STAY
As I mentioned earlier, during my time in Budapest I was living and working at Vitae Hostel - you can read more about my experience here. Vitae is a part of the Budapest Party Hostel chain, which was made up of 5 hostels, however since COVID 3 of them have permanently shut down. Grandio and Retox were two of the most famous party hostels in Europe as well as Meander being a great hostel option, too. However Carpe Noctem, the original hostel in the chain is still open and is awarded the best hostel in Hungary, and Vitae is still looking to reopen soon.
Hostel One is a chain that runs throughout Europe and also has a hostel in Budapest, so while I can't talk from personal experience, I've heard it's a lovely hostel to stay in!
WHAT TO DO IN BUDAPEST
ST STEPHEN'S BASILICA
Right in the heart of the city on the Pest side of the river is St Stephen's Basilica. This Roman Catholic Basilica is named after the first King of Hungary and stands at 96m tall, which is the same as the Hungarian Parliament building. Like all European Basilicas, the church is intricately decorated on the outside and inside. The interior is free to enter for the public, and I personally think it's one of the most beautifully designed Basilica's I've seen, particularly the dome laced with gold paintings.
You can also walk up to an exterior balcony around the base of the dome. Up here you can have 360 degree views of the entire city and it's an amazing photo opportunity. You have to pay to enter this part of the Basilica and it costs 1000 HUF (£3), however it's definitely worth it! You can either opt to walk up the stairs or use the elevator, if you choose the stairs just be warned that it is very steep, narrow and spirals upwards to you do get a bit dizzy! I would recommend going in the morning before it gets too busy, otherwise there is a bit of a traffic jam on the staircase!
Buda Castle sits atop a hill on the Buda side of the city. Home to the old Hungarian King's this Castle is uniquely designed and a stop off you must visit! There are several ways you can access Buda Castle, whether it's walking through the park or taking the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular, which is the tram that leads from Széchenyi Chain Bridge to the entrance and vice versa. The funicular runs from 7:30am to 10pm and costs 120 HUF (30p).
The Castle isn't gated so you can walk around the grounds any time of day, and a lot of people come to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the views over the Danube and Pest. There are plenty of places to sit and relax as well as viewing points with pier binoculars that look over the city. Inside the castle now hosts the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum, which can enter for 3200 HUF (£8).
HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT BUILDING
The uniquely shaped Hungarian Parliament building is one of Budapest's iconic monuments that you can spot from pretty much anywhere in the city. Whether you explore it up close on the Pest side or you wander over to Buda to sit and admire it from across the Danube, it is truly amazing to see. When you walk around the building it's easy to spot the intricacies of its construction and you can even pay to enter to see in the interior!
By far my favourite part of Budapest and a place with an array of character is the Jewish Quarter. Situated on the Pest side of the river, the Jewish Quarter has rich history and is now one of the liveliest parts of the city. There's vibrant restaurants and bars, quirky shops, street art and is also home to Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe and second largest in the world.
The Jewish District/District 7 is a great area to walk around and you'll discover some great spots on your own, however here are a few things that stood out to me that you should definitely consider visiting. The first is Karavan, an outdoor street food eatery that is home to 7 - 8 different food vendors, all serving delicacies from across the globe. Each food truck looks delicious in its own right and it's pretty hard to decide what to pick - whether it's traditional Hungarian goulash, a vegan burger from Las Vegans, something cheesy from Paneer or there are some Mexican and Italian options too. The food prices are pretty reasonable and they range from £5 - £10. Once you get your food you can either choose to sit and enjoy on one of the benches inside Karavan, or take it for on the go.
Once you've got your goulash for the road, you should take your time walking around the streets and enjoy the street art that is scattered around the walls of the buildings. The street art was initially painted to try and liven up the once very dreary Jewish Ghetto, and now is one of the main reasons people visit the district!
RUIN BARS + SZIMPLA KERT
The ruin bars are completely unique to Budapest and attract both tourists and locals alike... as well as an overwhelming amount of stag parties. These ruin bars started popping up in the early 2000's as an experiment to try and uplift District 7 that had previously been the Jewish Ghetto. Szimpla Kert is the most famous among the ruin bars, when you walk in it's almost like stepping into a psychedelic version of the 90's. There are lamps and chairs secured upside down on the ceiling, old box TVs that play static, bathtubs that have become a pretty popular photo spot, it's all a little weird, which I think is what makes it so appealing to visit.
As well as Szimpla Kert there are plenty of other ruin bars you can visit in District 7, including Anker't, Ellatohaz, Ellatokert, Fogás and Instant. They are all within a few minutes walking distance of each other and you can easily make a little pub crawl out of all of them. Each has a very unique vibe, some even have live music. If you're someone who wants to party, you can follow the copious amounts of Stag Parties to Fogás and Instant. These clubs are linked and sit right next to each other, both with 3 floors and each floor holds at least 8 rooms, each with different live DJs playing. As you could imagine it packs out every night of the week, mainly with tourists, and it is VERY easy to get lost! Even though the Ruin Bars are one of the most touristy spots in the city, the prices have been kept very reasonable, which is another reason you must visit!
The Fisherman's Bastion is one of my favourite parts of Budapest and is a must when visiting the city. I recommend getting there early so you can have it to yourself for a while before the endless crowds arrive. The walk from Pest is deceptively long and to get to the top takes 30 - 40 minutes if you're walking from the Jewish Quarter. The unique Neo-Romanesque lookout terraces look over the whole of Pest, and highlights a particularly stunning view of Hungarian Parliament.
Up the top of the Fisherman's Bastion also has rows of restaurants, market stalls, shops, view points, etc which you can explore, and there is also a path up to Buda Castle. The Bastion is not gated and so you can walk around any time of day!
Sitting on top of Gellért's Hill, the highest point in Budapest, is the Citadel. The Citadella is an old Hungarian Fortress, however is now a place where people come to enjoy the panoramic views of the city. You can either walk to the top or take the public bus, however you should be warned, the walk is fairly long.
Once you arrive at the Citadel there are a couple of places you can sit. First is by Liberty Statue, which is Budapest's symbol of Soviet Liberation after the Second World War. Here you can look over the Danube and enjoy the views over Pest. If you continue walking past Liberty Statue, with the Fortress on your left, you'll find a clearing with some seating, in my opinion this view is the best in the city. Here you can spot all of Budapest's best sights, including Buda Castle, Parliament, Széchenyi Bridge and Margaret island. These views are both spectacular during the day and night, so I recommend visiting at sunset so you can see the city light up.
Budapest's thermal baths are a highlight of visiting the city and is one of the best parts of visiting the city. The mix between the stunning architecture and relaxing in Budapest's beautiful pools is an absolute must see and you can easily spend a whole day here. The two most popular baths are Gellért and Széchenyi, situated in Buda and Pest, respectively. The baths are reasonably priced, and only cost between £10 to £15 to enter, depending on which one you go to. You can either book online beforehand or buy a ticket when you're there, however pre purchasing a ticket means you can get through a lot faster. Before you go make sure to check who can enter, some of the baths have single sex days only!
There is a total of nine medicinal thermal baths in the city, and each are very different. Szêchenyi is by far the most famous, and you've probably seen its recognisable yellow exterior. Both the interior and exterior have plenty of different baths for you to choose from, ranging in temperatures, and Gellért even has its own wave pool!
HOP ON HOP OFF BUS
You can find Hop On Hop Off buses throughout most major European cities, and typically they would be something I would skip over. In saying that, however, I made an exception and spent an afternoon travelling around Budapest on the top deck, bottle of wine and a group of friends. While you're technically not allowed to drink on these buses, it's easy to sneak some water bottles of drinks.
You can jump off the bus at any point and explore the city, and it's legal to drink on the streets if you choose to, so there are a lot of places you can enjoy and you could make a day of it! The hop on hop off buses cost around 6000 - 7000 HUF (£15 - £17.50) depending on the company, however your pass runs for 24 hours, so you can do one full day or split the pass over 2 days.
BUDAPEST BOAT PARTY
The Danube is the heart of Budapest and visiting the city wouldn't be complete without a cruise down the river. There are plenty of companies that offer different boat cruises, party or otherwise, however in my (biased) opinion the events run by Budapest Party Hostels and Budapest Party Bookers is the one you can't miss.
Budapest Party Bookers runs different events throughout the week, including boat parties, bus parties, bingo nights and pub crawls. The events cost anywhere from 6000 HUF - 11000 HUF (£15 - £35), depending on which you choose, however throughout these events you typically need to pay for drinks. These events are heaving in summer, the boat party can fit over 400 people!
In my opinion the best event is the bus parties. Everyone packs in to bendy buses that are decked out with lights, a smoke machine and a stripper pole. Speakers blast some absolute bangers as you jump around and (try) to dance, it's a little hard when the bus is moving. Throughout the event you stop off at some of Budapest's best sites including the Citadel, Parliament and Hero's Square. Did I mention it's BYO?
WHERE TO EAT IN BUDAPEST
Vegan burgers are, and will always be, one of my favourite foods, so having Las Vegans right around the corner from Vitae was a dream. There are a couple of locations across Budapest, including across from Szimpla bar, Karavan and the Vegan Garden, which holds 5-6 different food trucks to choose from. There are only 6 burgers to choose from, however each is completely different so there is something for every vegan taste. I highly recommend trying out the Magic Mushroom burger and the vegan nuggets!
Most of my meat- eating friends were absolutely in love with Zing Burger and I would often find them munching away on them. I only tried the fries, which were delicious, but I have heard from an endless amount of people that the burgers are bomb, too!
If you're a lover of sushi like me, than Itoshii is the perfect spot for you. You can either visit and eat a normal amount of sushi, however, if you're going to visit, you have to do it properly. Itoshii offers all you can eat and drink for 2 and a half hours, that includes all food off their menu and unlimited beer or wine. It's a great activity to do with your friends or people you've met at your hostel, and it's pretty good value for money! For the 2 and a half hour session it will cost you between £19 - £23, the price changes depending on the day you visit!
Ice cream is one of the simple pleasures in life and Hiszteria provides some that rivals the best! There are dozens of flavours to choose from, including plenty of vegan options, then you pay based on the weight! I only visited a couple of times during my months in Budapest, however I did have a vegan blueberry and mint flavour that was absolutely delicious!