Before arriving to Budapest I had no expectation, I had done little research and had a vague idea of what to see in Budapest, but I can tell you now that you should plan to stay more than a day because the city is so beautiful and there are plenty of awesome attractions to add to your list of things to see.
Budapest, the capital city of Hungary with population of 1.7 million, is a darling of a city, one of the most picturesque capitals in Europe and objectively one of its best nights out. Tourists, travellers, nomads and explorers alike have been wandering the streets of Buda and Pest for centuries, looking for excitement and experience in equal measure. The Hungarian capital doesn’t let the side down, and those serene thermal baths and spas are always on hand to provide a little rejuvenation.
The best attractions in Budapest are the greatest hits of sorts, showcasing the capital’s fascinating history, architectural majesty and fiery creative side.
The two most common ways of reaching Budapest are by plane or by train.
If you fly, Budapest International Airport is very well connected with daily flights available from anywhere in Europe and also international arrivals from Asia. And if you are coming by train, (and traveling around Europe by train is one of the best ways to get around at an affordable cost), daily trains operate in and out of Budapest Central Station, connecting Budapest to other major countries in Europe such as Austria, Czech, Slovakia, and Romania, to name a few.
How to get to Budapest Downtown
Taking Airport Bus 100E
This is the most popular way to get from the airport to the city center because it is affordable at 900 forints (less than $3) and has only a total of 3 stops. The journey takes around 30 to 45 minutes. The bus operates from 4.10 am to 1.05 am and leaves every 15 to 30 minutes depending on the time of the day.
The three stops are the following:
– Kálvin tér
– Deák tér (in that order)
These three stops cover the main touristic areas of the city center from the Inner District to the historic Jewish quarter to the Palace District. But it does not cover the Pest side of Budapest.
Tickets for the 100E airport can be purchased at the BKK customer service centers in both Terminal 2A and 2B, the BKK vending machine at the bus stop and thru the app BudapestGO.
Bus 200E and Metro M3 (Cheapest Way)
If you are on budget, combination of taking the bus 200E and Metro M3 is the cheapest way to get from Budapest Airport to the City Center. The bus 200E travels from the Budapest Airport to Kőbánya-Kispest Metro station, where travelers can hop on the metro and get to not just the city center, but any part of the city they would like
If your accommodation is not in the city center than this combinations suits you the most. The 200E and M3 both cost a single BKK transport ticket, which is 350 forints. You can buy 10 in bulk and pay 3,000 forints in total, or 300 forints each to save some money. The BKK ticket vending machine is situated adjacent to the 200E (and 100E) bus stop, so you can grab your ticket before you get on the bus.
Hour of Operation: Bus 200E runs 24/7, but the Metro only runs from 4:30 AM to 11 PM
Frequency: Every 10 to 60 minutes, depending on time of day
Cost: 700 HUF, 600 HUF if you buy tickets in bulk
Time to Get to City Center: About 1 hour
Bus 200E and Night Bus 914/914A/950/950A
If you arrive at odd hour when metro already stops operating you can replace the metro with night bus.
From 11 PM to 4 AM (when the Metro is not operating), Bus 200E makes an extra stop at Határ út station. From there, you can make a transfer to the night bus 914/914A/950/950A and go to different parts of the city center.
Hour of Operation: Bus 200E runs 24/7, the night buses run between 11 PM and ~4 AM (4 AM is the time when the metro and 100E start running again).
Frequency: Every 10 to 60 minutes for the 200E, depending on the time of day. The night buses run frequently (approximately every 10 minutes)
Total Cost: 700 HUF, 600 HUF if you buy tickets in bulk
Time to Get to City Center: About 1 hour
Shared Shuttle Services
One of the safest, cheapest, and quickest ways to get to the city center from BUD airport is taking a shared shuttle service such as the one offered by miniBUD.
MiniBud shuttle depart every 15 to 25 minutes from the airport and take you directly from the airport to your hotel in the city center and they offer 24/7 service. You can book from the official website.
Total Cost: starts from 6 Euro
Time to Get to City Center: About 30 minutes to 1 hour
Taking An Official Budapest Airport Taxi
Főtaxi is the only official airport Taxi company to serve the BUD airport. They charge a fixed of 400 HUF per kilometer, an initial fee of 1000 HUF, and a waiting fee. A taxi ride from the BUD airport to the city center costs around 9,800 HUF (29 USD), depending on traffic conditions. Főtaxis are bright yellow and hardly missable. You can make reservations for the taxi at the Főtaxi booth in both terminal 2A and terminal 2B.
Using Bolt, the Uber of Budapest
Lastly, if you have a sim card in Hungary or use the airport’s WiFi, then you can order yourself a Bolt, which is the Hungarian version of the ride-sharing app Uber. The cost of a Bolt is similar to that of a taxi, and often times, you do get a taxi when you order a Bolt.
Bolt is usually slightly cheaper than Official Taxi, but there is a risk of having a non-English speaking driver. And if you are arriving at night, you won’t find lots of Bolts to pick you up.
If you are arriving to Budapest by Train, Budapest has three international train stations:
– Nyugati (Western) Train Station,
– Keleti (Eastern) Train Station and
– Déli (Southern) Train Station.
Nyugati and Keleti Stations are on the Pest side, Déli Train Station is on the Buda side.
From the stations you can continue your travel in Budapest by metro. Keleti and Déli Stations are on the red metro line, while Nyugati Station is on the blue line.
How to get around
Thanks to plentiful buses, boats, trams and Metro trains, getting around Budapest is easy. The Hungarian capital is highly walkable, and for the times when you need to go farther afield or get somewhere quickly, there are plenty of transport options.
Budapest Közlekedési Központ (BKK) runs the city’s transport network, which includes metro lines, trams, buses and even boats in the summer. BKK has a handy app for journey planning, so you can see when the next bus, tram, boat or metro is scheduled to arrive – it’s particularly useful in winter, when temperatures regularly drop below -1C.
You can buy a ticket for a single journey or buy a travel pass valid for anything from 24 hours to a month, covering all forms of public transportation run by BKK. Prices start at 1650 HUF (US$5) for 24 hours. Like any other capital city, Budapest also have Budapest Card which includes travel on public transport, as well as free entry to sights and attractions; it costs from 6,490 HUF (US$20) for 24 hours. You can buy tickets for public transport from ticket offices in metro stations or at the purple self-service ticket machines at most metro, bus and tram stops. If you get a single ticket, make sure you validate it when you enter the metro station or get on board the bus or tram.
Walking is by far the best way to explore Budapest. A walk through the backstreets of Budapest could lead to the discovery of your new favorite cafe, and every stroll feels like a spontaneous tour of beautiful Budapest architecture.
Budapest is a very cycle-friendly city. You’ll find bike paths crisscrossing the center and winding through the outer districts, with the Danube-side cycle paths in Buda being some of the most popular routes for visitors. It’s easy to rent a bike in Budapest – just look out for the green stations of the MOL BuBi bike-sharing scheme – you can rent bikes easily and cheaply using the app, with costs starting at 20 HUF (US$0.06) per minute; when you’re done, simply return the bike to one of the many bike stations you’ll find dotted around the city to stop the meter.
The metro is the quickest way to get around Budapest, and it comes into its own during the frosty winter months. There are four metro lines, with Metro Line 1 (also known as the Yellow Line) being the oldest underground railway in continental Europe – and a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Metro line 1 runs from Vörömarty tér to City Park, below Andrássy Avenue. Metro Line 2 (red) goes from Széll Kálmán tér in Buda to Örs Vezér tér in Pest. Line 3 (blue) crosses Pest from north to south, but the line seems to be in a state of permanent construction, so you may need to get a replacement bus. The gleaming modern Line 4 (green) goes from Keleti train station to Kelenföld train station.
The tram network covers most of downtown Pest and Buda and extends out into the suburbs. Trams are quick and easy to use and are usually much faster than buses, and you also get to see some of this famously beautiful city as you travel, unlike riding the metro underground.
Tram 2 is one of the most beautiful tram routes in Europe, skirting the Danube banks on the Pest side of the river and rattling by the Hungarian Parliament with views of Castle Hill on the other side of the river. Tram 4 and 6 link Buda and Pest from Petőfi Bridge to Margit Bridge, crossing the Grand Boulevard in Pest.
Bus and Trolley Bus
Buses and electric trolleybuses cover the city all the way to the outer suburbs. The regular blue buses that run all over the city are a good option if you want to go up to the Buda Hills or the Castle District. Buses 16 and 16A bus will deliver you to the castle, while buses 21 and 21A go to Normafa – the highest part of the city – which is popular for its parks and hiking trails. On the Pest side, red trolleybuses link downtown with neighborhoods beyond the Grand Boulevard.
The suburban train network known as HÉV (Helyiérdekű Vasút) is great for day-trippers looking to visit the fascinating small towns just outside of Budapest, such as Szentendre, a picturesque town that was once home to a substantial Serbian community and a thriving art colony.
The easiest way to get to Szentendre is to take HÉV H5, which runs from downtown Buda. Other useful lines for travelers include the HÉV H8, which runs to Gödöllő – home to the elegant Baroque Gödöllő Royal Palace – and the HÉV H7 going south to Csepel Island.
Summer time Boat
In the summer months, BKK runs a special boat service along the Danube, connecting various stops on the riverbanks. The ferry can get you to some of the city’s most prominent landmarks, including the Castle Garden Bazaar, the Hungarian Parliament and Margaret Island. The boat is not the fastest way to travel, but if you want a city tour on a budget, it’s worth the 750 HUF (US$2.30) ticket price to enjoy the city from the water. Check that the service is running before heading to the riverbanks because it can be erratic.
Bolt – Ride Sharing
If you need to get back to your hotel late at night and prefer to avoid the gamble of taking a cab on the street, download the Bolt app (formerly known as Taxify). It works the same way as Uber (which no longer operates in Hungary), and you can get a ride in a matter of minutes in most parts of the city.
Conventional taxis are commonplace in Budapest, but it’s best to use a reputable taxi firm such as City Taxi, Fő Taxi, 6×6 Taxi or Taxi Plus. Don’t flag down a cab on the street because there are some unsavory taxi drivers – although there are fewer of these characters nowadays than there were in the past. You can easily order a cab by phone or via the companies’ apps, or most restaurants and hotels will happily order a cab for you.
Top Things to Do
Crowning the city atop Castle Hill, Buda Castle is one of the city’s most recognisable monuments. It dominates the cityscape with its neoclassical Habsburg-era grandeur and reconstructed copper-green dome (the original was damaged during the Second World War). Fittingly for such a grandiose landmark, the castle terrace boasts sweeping views over the Chain Bridge, Hungarian Parliament and the rooftops of Pest.
After being razed and rebuilt over the centuries, you can see history written in Buda Castle’s walls and rooms with traces of its Renaissance, Ottoman, Habsburg and Communist past. The complex is now split up into a handful of excellent museums. The Hungarian National Gallery occupies the main wings facing the river and displays an extensive collection of Hungarian art from Medieval triptychs to avant-garde 20th-century works. The southern wing is home to the Budapest History Museum which charts the city’s tempestuous past from prehistory to communism, while the western wing encloses the National Széchényi Library.
Opening hours: Castle courts and courtyards open every day. National Gallery open Tue-Sun, 10am-6pm. National History Museum open Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm March 1-October 31; Tues-Sun, 10am-4pm November 1-February 29
Built between 1895 and 1902 to celebrate the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian state, the Fisherman’s Bastion is an impressive neo-Gothic viewing terrace situated on the Buda bank of the Danube on Castle Hill.
For unforgettable views in a fairy-tale setting, there’s nowhere better. Climb the ornate turrets and peep at boats bobbing lazily down the Danube before popping into one of the city’s most famous patisseries, the 200-year-old Ruszwurm Confectionery, while you’re up there.
St Stephen’s Basilica
This domed basilica is Budapest’s most photographed monument and its tallest building at 97 metres (tied with the Hungarian Parliament). Go inside for the spectacular frescoes and the mummified hand of Hungary’s canonised first king. Make sure you head to the viewing platform for 360-degree views over the city. For a truly magical experience, check out an organ concert.
Hospital in the Rock
This underground hospital saw action in the Second World War and the 1956 Revolution before it became a nuclear bunker. For decades it was top secret and only became declassified in the early 2000s. Today it offers a fascinating insight into frontline medicine in Hungary, with guided tours through the hospital, now enhanced with creepy waxwork figures. The bunker’s decontamination chambers are brilliantly eerie, too.
Get out of the city centre and escape to the Buda Hills on this nostalgic 45-minute train ride through the forest. Why ‘children’s’? It’s not aimed at kids, necessarily – but run by them. This vintage railway is a remnant of a communist youth programme called ‘The Pioneers’, which encouraged children to develop a work ethic and learn about responsibility. These days, a staff of uniformed children still operate the narrow gauge railway, but sans propaganda. Fortunately, the drivers and engineers are grown-ups.
House of Parliament Building
Budapest Parliament building has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987 as part of the Banks of the Danube. The building dominates the Pest side of the river with its neo-gothic spires, gargoyles and a dome that peaks at 97 meter. You can tour the building, see it from a boat or simply look over from Buda.
If you tour inside the building here’s the route you will take:
- The City Side Staircase XVII: This gold-plated corridor, enriched with decorative paintings and lined with statues and colourful glass windows, leads to the magnificent main floor.
- The Chamber of Peers: Today, the old Chamber of Peers is a conference venue. The hall, which boasts excellent acoustics and a multilevel gallery, is decorated with panels made of Slavonian oak and densely trimmed with gold. The main wall displays painted coats of arms of Hungary’s royal families.
- The Lounge of the Chamber of Peers: Besides Europe’s largest hand-knotted carpet, the Lounge is adorned with statues evoking old Hungarian ethnic groups and trades. The latter were made at the Zsolnay porcelain factory in Pécs, an outstanding player in the history of Hungarian industry, having won many a world exhibition award.
- The Dome Hall: The Hungarian Holy Crown and the Coronation Insignia have been kept safe in the Dome Hall 24 hours a day since 2000. The statues of Hungarian rulers on golden pedestals under canopies of gold are on display here.
- The Grand Stairway: The last station on the tour of the House of Parliament, yet with so many lavish sights. On the ceiling, admire the artistic works of Károly Lotz, one of the defining figures of Hungarian wall and portrait painting, and the dazzlingly ornate glass windows of the glass painter and mosaic artist Miksa Róth on both sides of the hall. And it is also home to those eight granite columns.
Royal Postal Savings Bank
Near the Hungarian Parliament, the Royal Postal Savings Bank is one of the city’s most spectacular buildings. You can’t go inside, but it’s worth simply getting up close and admiring this outlandish construction by Ödön Lechner, Hungary’s most renowned art nouveau architect. To truly get a sense of its remarkable design, head up to the rooftop bar of the Hotel President for a bird’s eye view over the undulating yellow and green ceramic roof. Pay attention to the little details, like the dragons on the roof or the façade’s folk motifs.
The Shoes on the Danube Bank
The sculpture series, designed by Can Togay and Gyula Pauer, remembers the victims who were murdered by Arrow Cross militiamen at the Danube banks. The victims were told to remove their shoes before they were shot, and their bodies fell into the river.
The shoes are a stark and poignant memorial to over 3,000 people, including 800 Jews, killed at the riverbank by a fascist group during World War Two.
Heroes’ Square bookends the north-eastern end of the elegant Andrássy Avenue. It feels more like a memorial than a square, thanks to the arcade filled with statues of Hungarian kings and leaders. In the centre, a column rises with the Angel Gabriel at the top; at the bottom, you’ll find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Each side of Heroes’ Square is flanked by two neoclassical, temple-like buildings: The Museum of Fine Arts and the Kunsthalle.
Dohány Street Synagogue
It’s hard to miss this neo-oriental building, topped as it is with two gold-dappled onion-dome turrets. Inside, the synagogue dazzles with its rare rose window, lavish gold leaf detailing and carved wood features. A poignant graveyard marks where some 2,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust, alongside a weeping willow sculpture that bears the name of the victims on each of its leaves. Europe’s largest synagogue definitely merits a visit, but you can only go in with a guide.
Memento Park may be on the city’s outskirts, but its graveyard-like array of communist statues is well worth the trek. Bronze statues of Lenin and Hungarian political figures from the Communist Party are dotted around the vast park alongside monumental pieces of street propaganda. Don’t miss the barracks next to the main gate where you can watch films from the secret service. And make sure to have a go on the time-travelling telephone booth just inside the entrance.
Take a plunge in Budapest’s most famous thermal bath. The Széchenyi Baths are a visual feast with their canary-hued colonnades and steaming outdoor thermal pools. Make sure you go inside to explore the vast interior clad with ceramics, marble and mosaics. Budapest is known as the ‘City of Spas’ for its 120 geothermal springs – so don’t miss out.
Central Market Hall
If you’re feeling peckish, make this your first stop – and don’t get too distracted by the surroundings (save that for afterwards). This red-brick building, with its striking yellow and green tiled roof, is a big draw for architecture buffs. And the cavernous interior, accented with steel beams, is even more spectacular. But most importantly, the ground floor bursts with a cornucopia of fruit and veg, sausages, cheese and pickles. Game and fish counters populate the labyrinthine basement, while the first floor is split between folk art and embroidery and an effervescent food court.
The 2.75-kilometre-long Margaret Island stretches from Margaret Bridge in the south to Árpád Bridge in the north. Apart from the local bus, most of the island is traffic-free, and it’s a refreshing, leafy hangout for Budapestians and visitors alike. Visit the ruins of a medieval convent, climb an art nouveau water tower, kick back in the Japanese or rose garden, or picnic by the musical fountain. The island also boasts an open-air art deco thermal bath, the Palatinus.
How long should you stay? If you are wondering how many days in Budapest you need, stay at least two days to see the whole city. Three days is best as it allows you to get to more of the top attractions at a slower pace and maybe give you a chance to relax and soak in one of the thermal baths. Enjoy!