The article is a guide for first-time travelers to Budapest. It covers where to stay, the best cafes and restaurants, trying Hungarian cuisine, Budapest tours, public transportation, and getting around the city. It touches on essential aspects to simplify your trip.

Budapest: Overview

Key points to know about Budapest:

  • Budapest is Hungary’s capital, its largest city, and the country’s economic, political, and cultural hub.
  • Around 1.8 million people live in Budapest, while the country’s second-largest city, Debrecen, has just 200 thousand residents.
  • The combined population of Hungary’s top 10 cities is less than Budapest’s. Life thrives here; beyond the capital, time moves slowly, and most cities are asleep after 9 PM.
  • Budapest offers various public transport options: metro, buses, trams, and trolleybuses. In most cases, the metro is sufficient and reaches nearly every city attraction.
  • Detailed information about Budapest’s public transport, prices, schedules, buying tickets, transfers, and tourist passes is available in the article.
Budapest transport how to travel
There’s even a funicular in Budapest. The photo shows the famous Széchenyi Bridge and the cable car to Castle Hill.

City History, Briefly

I won’t reiterate Wikipedia, but here are some intriguing historical facts useful for tourists exploring Hungary’s capital.

Interesting to Know:

The city’s age often surprises tourists. Hungary as a state has existed for almost 1,500 years, with the earliest written records of settlements at the site of modern Budapest dating back 2,000 years. Many cities begin counting their founding date from such events.

Walking Budapest’s streets, every building boasts a history of three or five centuries. Each corner breathes the spirit of history. Yet, when tourists learn Budapest is only 150 years old, many are taken aback.

Useful to Know:

On November 17, 2023, Budapest celebrated its 150th anniversary.
history of budapest briefly
Can you guess how old the castle in central Budapest is? 300 years? 700? Correct—it’s 100. It was built from scratch only in 1906 as a decoration for celebrations.
  • So, Budapest was formed in 1873 by merging three villages: Buda, Pest, and Óbuda. Hence the city’s name.
  • Today, the city’s two main districts on either side of the Danube are named Buda and Pest.

Locating Buda and Pest:

To simplify: the side with Buda Castle on Castle Hill is Buda. The opposite side, where the Hungarian Parliament is located, is Pest. Óbuda is situated north of Buda.

Despite Hungary not being at the forefront of technological progress in Europe at the time, many innovations were swiftly introduced, like:

  • In 1873, electric street lamps illuminated the newly founded Budapest.
  • 1885 saw the city’s first telephone and phone booths.
  • 1887 saw the launch of the first tram line.
  • 1896 witnessed the opening of the metro. Interestingly, the Hungarian metro was the first on mainland Europe; prior to that, metros were only in London.
where to stay in Budapest
While the tram lines in the capital are old, the trams themselves are modern.

Another fascinating historical period in Budapest is World War II, with some important facts:

  • Hungary was Germany’s ally until the very end.
  • The Soviet army besieged Budapest in early 1945, a siege lasting 108 days.
  • The storming of Budapest lasted over a week. German troops blew up all bridges across the Danube, including the older-than-Budapest Széchenyi Bridge.
  • After the hostilities, 25% of Budapest’s buildings lay in ruins. The city’s reconstruction took the next 20 years.

These were the major historical milestones that became iconic for the city. Further details about Hungary’s history are available in the linked article.

Where to Stay in Budapest

There’s no shortage of accommodation options in the Hungarian capital. There are thousands of choices to suit every taste and budget—from numerous upscale hotels of world-renowned chains to apartments rented out by locals and hostels.

Important Note:

With several hundred thousand tourists arriving in Budapest daily, good options at reasonable prices tend to fill up quickly. Always book accommodation in advance, especially during weekends or holidays.

Here are two helpful articles about Budapest accommodation:

safest area in Budapest to travel
Budapest Center—the best area for tourists to stay a couple of days—is marked with a red oval. Everything is conveniently located here.

According to the author’s opinion, the best district for finding accommodation is marked on the map above with a red. It’s the Pest area.

Use metro stations as landmarks: Deák Ferenc tér and Kálvin tér. This is the heart of the city, where many attractions, the main pedestrian street, the Hungarian Parliament, and famous ruin pubs are located. Also, these two metro stations serve as transfer points, allowing easy travel in any direction.

Tip:

Check out the article on the top 30 Budapest attractions; it includes coordinates, prices, and opening hours for all interesting places. There’s also a map showing where most tourist attractions are concentrated.

For accommodation, search on major rental platforms. Here are the most popular ones in Budapest:

  • Hotellook—compares hotel prices among dozens of providers.

Best Restaurants and Cafés in Budapest

Finding a place to eat in the capital is not a problem; there are dining spots at every turn. Below, I’ll share a few eateries and fast-food places that I personally like. They might not be the absolute best, but they’re tried and tested, and the food is delicious. But first, two super helpful articles for tourists:

best restaurants in Budapest
At Budapest’s central market, on the second floor, you’ll find many Hungarian cuisine spots. The portions are huge, but the prices aren’t exactly budget-friendly. Just know that such places exist, and you can try a lot there.

Best Budapest restaurants for tourists. The list includes places serving Hungarian cuisine, offering generous portions, and moderate prices:

Also, while walking the streets of the capital, you’ll frequently come across fast-food spots with a Hungarian touch. They bake tasty lángos and make Hungarian kürtőskalács. Try them all; don’t just pass by.

where to eat in Budapest places
In places like this, you can buy Kürtőskalács—Hungarian traditional pastry, similar to trdelník in the Czech Republic.

Cruises on the Danube and Sightseeing Tours in the Hungarian Capital

For details on tours, their features, types, and a rundown of the best ones, you can find it all in the article about Budapest and Hungary tours. But for those visiting Hungary briefly, there’s a popular and must-do activity: a river cruise on the Danube in central Budapest.

There are plenty of options—from the standard 1-hour cruise along all the major city sights to 3-hour cruises with Hungarian dinner and drinks. Some river cruises offer no meals but provide unlimited wine or prosecco.

river cruise Danube Hungary
A Danube river cruise is just as essential as canal tours in Amsterdam. The crucial point is to sail during sunset.

Tip:

The best time for a Danube river cruise is during sunset and immediately after. Budapest looks stunningly illuminated at night. Daytime cruises won’t give you the same thrill.

Standard prices for such activities are approximately:

  • Around 10 euros for a standard 1-hour cruise
  • 25-35 euros for cruises with unlimited drinks
  • About 70-80 euros for 3-hour cruises with dinner, alcohol, music, and all of this during sunset.

It’s advisable to book these cruises in advance, especially for evening hours, as spots often sell out a couple of days in advance. You can find an providers of river cruises in Budapest via the provided link: Viator or GetYourGuide.

In conclusion: Budapest is a beautiful city. Its entire infrastructure is tailored for tourists, and tourism holds a significant place in the country’s economy. Many visitors stop here in transit for 1-2 days, which is significantly insufficient for such a magnificent city. If you’ve read the article on the top 30 Budapest attractions, you’d understand that 3-4 days is the minimum needed to explore the city, visit thermal baths, and take a ride on a Danube riverboat.


IMPORTANT: Below are useful links that will help organize your trip to Hungary and Budapest:

  • Flight: Aviasales – compares prices for flights among 30+ airlines flying to Budapest.
  • Tours and excursions:
    • Viator and GetYourGuide – the best services for finding tours in Budapest and Hungary with the largest database of activities in Hungary. They offer river cruises on the Danube, tickets to baths, and 1000+ tours (available in different languages).
  • Accommodation, apartments, hotels, hostels:
    • Hotellook compares the prices among dozens of other booking services and offer the best price
    • Booking – the most popular booking platform
    • Agoda – even more accommodation options in Hungary
  • Car rental: DiscoverCars – the leading and largest car rental service in Hungary.
  • Travel Insurance: EKTA.
  • eSIMAiralo virtual SIM card in Hungary.
  • Taxi and airport transfers: Intui.Travel